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ALADDIN 3099; JULY 1951



The rule for B-sides in the singles era should be simple enough to follow, most of which boils down to one thing above all else… use a song that has a slightly different stylistic approach than the top side. If it also happens to feature other key differences, like another lead singer, maybe a song written by a group member, than that’s even better.

The Five Keys check off every conceivable box with this making it an ideal B-side… almost a textbook of example of how to do it in fact. We get a different lead vocalist on an original song written by the singer himself whereas the top side was an old standard. On top of all that it’s one of the few uptempo songs they did on Aladdin to break up their reliance on ballads.

Because of this there are some who feel it’s actually too good for a B-side and deserved better than to be lost in the shadow of the more famous song adorning the top half of the single.

But if you were plunking down eighty cents for the record in 1951 you probably weren’t going to complain about getting more than you bargained for.


Get Your Baskets
Trying to come up with alternate histories of artists make for a sometimes fascinating – if fruitless – exercise because it’s all based on supposition.

The Five Keys had some diverse musical interests from their start as teen gospel group and their love of The Ink Spots pop in the mid-1940’s to their discovery of rock ‘n’ roll vocal groups with The Orioles and their unique blend with the five part, rather than four part, harmonies.

In other words they could have conceivably taken lots of different stylistic routes and theoretically succeeded with any of them, and that’s sticking entirely within the rock genre as a whole, not venturing outside of it altogether.

But when they connected with the top side of this single The Glory Of Love, a performance that was every bit as good as it was popular, their other avenues seemed to be increasingly closed off to them because, let’s never forget, the record industry was run by people who didn’t like music, didn’t care about music, didn’t know music and were hideously ugly and smelled bad besides.

Well, at least some of those are true as is evident by the fact that Aladdin Records quickly set out to duplicate that hit by trying to duplicate the surface components that went into it. Since that had been an old standard, then they’d keep doing old standards. Since Rudy West had sung lead on it, then Rudy West would keep getting leads even though they had two other singers who specialized in different types of songs.

So the alternate path of The Five Keys if their hit hadn’t been quite so big probably has a few more songs like Hucklebuck With Jimmy as part of their catalog… vibrant dance songs written and sung by Maryland Pierce. And while those may not have wound up being more successful than their subsequent singles in reality, they undoubtedly would have been more interesting if for no other reason than variety alone.


Comin’ Back Feelin’ Good
It wasn’t just their catalog on record that would benefit from a diversity of material, it was also how a group that relied heavily on ballads would be able to stir the crowds on stage when every tune was a heartfelt slow song.

As a result most acts would have a lively song that was designed to bring the house down and for The Five Keys it was this one… what they called their “bombshell” number.

That’s a promising mindset to have for sure and leads to some anticipation that this will be truly explosive with lots of moving parts, a raunchy sax solo perhaps and a wailing lead vocal. But while it delivers in many ways, it doesn’t quite go over the top as we’d expect it to.

Then again there are different size bombs and if Hucklebuck With Jimmy wasn’t an atom bomb capable of decimating an entire city, it definitely had the capacity to wipe out a block or two and have the concussion of the impact felt for a few miles.

With non-singing group member Joe Jones hammering away on the piano to open this, it barrels along from the moment the needle drops and when the Keys come in with a simple bouncy wordless refrain you hope for the best.

The problem is that while Pierce’s lead has the right idea he’s using the wrong voice for what it really needs to do… as in he’s using a head voice rather than a chest voice which has more resonance. Ideally he should be using a mix, the head voice for the higher parts, but the main delivery of the verses has to be using the more powerful chest voice.

I think he knows this too because he’s using an overabundance of gimmickry during his lead, almost trying to distract you from the reasons behind his inability to drop the hammer. This is a song that a better vocalist would go for broke on and it’s clear he wrote it that way, but he can’t fully deliver on that promise.

If you want to know the difference look to any great Roy Brown track – he has the power to knock you on your ass, yet can effortlessly rise to dazzle with his higher register. Pierce is stuck between them and as a result he’s by far the weakest part of his own showcase.

All of which is a shame because his composition is really good even if it’s mostly cribbed from a bunch of other songs, his enthusiasm is genuine and this is exactly the kind of song that they should be doing to offset the ballads.

The middle section improves things with an increasingly frantic atmosphere – though a honking sax at this point would’ve done wonders for it – and down the stretch they thankfully let loose which helps to send it over the top and make any concerns about its earlier approach all but irrelevant, so let there be no mistake about it, this IS still a really good record even if it falls short of being a truly great one.


Don’t Complain, That Woman Might Go Away
Most probably don’t care about technical mumbo jumbo because. let’s face it, you shouldn’t need a music degree to enjoy music. But when there’s an issue that’s so easy to remedy – and one that can hardly be missed, even if you don’t know the cause – then it’s necessary to call them out on it.

But hey, this is a B-side to a great record and as B-sides go Hucklebuck With Jimmy more than gets the job done by shaking things up in a way that makes it clear why they closed their shows with it for years. It’s fun, exuberant and a much needed change of pace.

The fact that this was in their repertoire from the start and came about organically from the group itself rather than letting the record company dictate their material, shows The Five Keys had the right idea when left to their own devices.

In the end we’re always going to support that kind of initiative, even if we know that just a tweak here and there might’ve made this a contender for the best two-sided single we’ve covered to date.

Still, if you were out on the floor cutting things up, you probably wouldn’t stop them on the bandstand to instruct them on more appropriate singing techniques because you’d be having too much fun to be bothered much by its deficiencies.


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