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Whenever young untested artists come out with a surprisingly good debut we may sit up and take notice but we don’t exactly start planning their Hall Of Fame induction just yet.

In vocal group circles, probably more than any other rock subgenre, there’s a lot of first-time gems to be found as chances are the group would have been rehearsing that particular song for awhile and had worked it up to as close to perfection as they were capable of doing before committing it to wax.

So the real test as to whether or not they’d have staying power was more often than not found on their second side, sort of the rock graveyard for many artists who quickly show that the high hopes you might’ve had for them just a few months back would ultimately be for naught.

The best of these groups would at least manage to give glimpses of what made their first effort seem special, even if it was a clear step back, while the weakest of them would have you taking bets as to whether or not they’d make it to the end of the year before breaking up.


All I Do Is Pray
Though the primary reason The Five Crowns remain at least a moderately recognizable name in 1950’s rock is because the later incarnation of the group would be signed almost wholesale to become the “new” Drifters who struck it big in 1959, this version of the group has just one member in it (Dock Green) who’d make it that far.

But that ultimate transformation down the line shouldn’t be the only reason why The Five Crowns get remembered, as their debut, You’re My Inspiration, was a really good record all things considered.

Though it didn’t crack the national charts in Billboard, it was unquestionably a legitimate HIT no matter what history may tell you, as it reigned on the Cash Box regional listings for much of the fall in a variety of locations in the Northeast and Midwest, which is all the more impressive on a label like Rainbow which didn’t have the organizational might of some of the bigger independent companies to get it heard.


As nice as the record was however, there was still a ragged amateurish quality to their performance, which on one hand was good because it suggested they weren’t trying to imitate pop vocal groups, but on the other hand it meant that they probably had a smaller margin for error going forward.

Sure enough on their follow-up, Who Can Be True, their weaknesses which they’d managed to overcome last time out, become much more noticeable and while there remains a few signs they might rebound with some additional practice, that doesn’t do THIS record much good.

Needless to say, this one didn’t sniff any chart, no matter how small a region we’re talking about.


Please Help Me
Maybe this seems to go without saying, but it still needs to be stated every now and then just so that we never forget that groups like this who get together in their teens and practice singing as a group have no real knowledge of HOW to do that effectively.

All they really have are their own ears – and the occasional bellow from a nearby apartment window telling them to “Knockitoff already, willya!” – to provide them with constructive feedback.

If none of them own a piano, or guitar, or have some reliable way of finding the right notes they’re looking for it means they’re going to be trying to harmonize based on methods that would never be taught in any reputable school. That can of course be a benefit, because few schools out there would have come up with such distinctive backing vocals as rock ‘n’ roll tended to use over the years which is what helped to make this style of singing so popular for a decade.

But on the other hand without first learning how to sing in key, all of the creative instincts you may have are going to still wind up sounding bad if you can’t pull the performance together better than they do on Who Can Be True, where at times it seems to be a contest to see which of them will end up losing track of the melody the most.

My guess is that, maybe because he sings lead and can’t hide behind the others, the clear winner in that regard will be James “Papa” Clark, the sixteen year old who never seems certain what note he’s supposed to land on from one word to the next.

At times he sounds pretty good, certainly authentic if nothing else, as he’s crying over a relationship that seems on the verge of collapsing. There’s even one stretch during the first bridge where he’s managing to wrestle the song into submission, but he invariably loses his grip before long and it slips out of his grasp again.

Perhaps to cover for this alarming lack of vocal pitch he’s trying to over-emote with lots of unusual wavering tones, unexpected pauses and doubling up on words, all of which only adds to the confusion even if it does manage to distract you from his other shortcomings.

It’s not helped by the fact the others are vague and indecisive in their backing harmonies, wandering around aimlessly at times, each one taking their own road to destinations unknown. The second bridge, taken by a different member, is better and shows that one of them COULD sing reasonably well if absolutely necessary, but apparently someone at Rainbow Records didn’t think it was necessary enough to insist upon it by the entire group… or for the entire take for that matter.

With lyrics that don’t always make sense either, at times seeming as if the lines were edited in the dark, it’s not as if they’re rescued by the story they came up with, which can’t help but contribute to the ramshackle feel of the record by a group that at this point has far more enthusiasm than polish.


Will You Return?
In spite of the many drawbacks found here there’s actually a reasonable amount of charm to their performance. Maybe it’s sympathy we feel because they’re clearly trying really hard without knowing what they’re doing and we tend to admire effort even if it amounts to very little in the final analysis. I’m sure however that for many readers any sign that they care so much is going to be enough to overcome their common sense and they’ll stubbornly insist that this is somehow a “much better” record than our score – and their ears – tell them.

It’s not.

But effort is not something that can be dismissed out of hand either and if you’re feeling generous then it’s understandable that you’d try and convince yourself that the manner in which they never give up no matter how much it starts to come apart at times is almost enough to get it up to average… until you consider that if average means off-key singing of songs with unfocused grade school lyrics then rock ‘n’ roll as a whole is going to be in trouble, so we’ll restrain ourselves just a little.

Let it be said though that the record is still a fascinating one to study because with We Can Be True we get the chance to hear an untutored group singing in the way you’d have encountered them in their natural habitat after dark. Usually though, to get on record, they’d have to be tamed a little more than this. Not domesticated mind you, but just reined in enough to be sure that they wouldn’t accidentally maul you in captivity with their singing.

If what they say is true and practice really does make perfect, these guys still have a lot more practicing to do.


(Visit the Artist page of The Five Crowns for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)