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One of the small, but notable, steps you take as a child on your way to adulthood and total independence is the moment when you insist to your skeptical parents that you are old enough to choose what you wear rather than have them pick your clothes out for you.

Maybe for some of you that came rather late in life, but the earlier this happens, and the more insistent you are in demanding the right to dress yourself as you see fit, the better off you’ll be.

In music The Five Keys were still meekly letting their parents – Eddie and Leo Messner, owners of Aladdin Records – lay their clothes out for them before they went to school each day. Or rather, pick the songs they were going to sing when they went into the studio.

Not surprisingly the other kids… err… the other groups in rock… mocked them for this in class each morning after which they were ostracized on the playground as the rock fan avoided artists like this who didn’t have the courage to stand up for themselves.


Every Road Has A Turning
At a certain point this is no longer an aberration, it’s who they are… whether they like it or not.

The Five Keys reputation as well as their commercial success (or lack thereof thanks to constantly mining twenty and thirty year old songs for their output) are taking hits across the board the longer they allow this to happen.

Sure, they’re still getting paid (pennies on the dollar no doubt) and they’re getting records released and are travelling the country putting on shows, and to be fair they’re still admired for their vocal talent, but they are no longer striving to be a rock group and receiving the appropriate adulation for their talents in that field.

That’s because they, or more accurately Aladdin, wants them to be a pop group.

Never mind the fact that black vocal groups outside of The Ink Spots and Mills Brothers have had no sustained success in the pop market, never mind that the primary pop music listener (middle aged white women) have no desire to hear young black artists, nor any awareness a group called The Five Keys even exist, but since the group had scored their one massive hit by reviving an old standard, it stands to reason that to Aladdin Records they need to keep doing the same damn thing, at least until they finally run out of moldy oldies to take a stab at.

So here we go again with I Cried For You, a song dating back even further than usual, 1923 to be exact, which over the years it was done by a lot of different acts in different styles, none of which were rock.

That’s okay, because as we said The Five Keys aren’t really rock any more themselves. They’re a lame pop group who just happen to have much better singers than white pop groups, but that’s where the compliments come to a thudding halt.

What A Fool I Used To Be
If we put together a playlist of 1952 pure pop records and let each one play seven seconds like it was an old-school terrestrial radio auditorium music test where the participants rate the song snippets, and we slipped in this record – the only black artist, the only ones identifying as a rock act and maybe even the only record on an independent label – chances are nobody in that room would notice it didn’t belong.

They might not rate it quite as highly because that intro wasn’t as familiar as the current Pop Hits, but it wouldn’t be graded poorly because with its supper club piano and desexualized vocal it was certainly not ill-fitting stylistically in the pop realm.

That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how dreadful I Cried For You is in a ROCK playlist, which is what we care about. That’s where it would stick out like a sore thumb and cause most passionate rock fans to turn off their radio in droves should this be added to their playlists amidst the scalding sides we just covered by the likes of The Dominoes, Shirley & Lee, Big Jay McNeely and Little Willie Littlefield.

Even among the more average sounding sides we’ve looked at of late, this would still be woefully out of place because the song itself is so ill-suited for rock, the arrangement they give it is pure pop and the singing, as good as the voices themselves are, has been mostly toned down so as not to upset the balance of the song… or to scare off members of the PTA in New Rochelle.

Maybe if the song itself was better we’d be a little more lenient with our views. But the melody is limited to begin with and Rudy West does nothing to try and accentuate it to make it more lively, which wouldn’t be at all hard to do if his heart was in this, just by bearing down on the words more and letting himself go a little.

At least if he’d done that then the weak passive attitude in the lyrics would at least have an undercurrent of emotional resonance, as if West was merely trying to put on a front that was about to crumble and it’d change the perception just enough to make it tolerable.

Instead he plays it straight while the others are given little to do but hum unobtrusively for the most part. When Dickie Smith comes in with the bridge he appears to add some more gravitas with his slightly rougher edged voice, but when you study what he’s actually trying to convey – the same sappy story of course – you see that it’s nothing worth getting excited about.

Meanwhile the musical backing by some cut-rate studio orchestra is only numbing your senses even more. The idea that Aladdin actually thought that rock fans would tolerate this is laughable. Yet the thought that white adults were going to somehow be able to even find an Aladdin single, let alone decide to buy it on their own based on the song title presumably, is even more outrageous.

Once again we have a record label turning their back on the community that made them successful in favor of one who wouldn’t open the door to let them in if the Mesner brothers were being mauled by lions. Let’s hope the lions are hungry and leave no traces of their rotten corpses after yet another indefensible attempt to dress The Five Keys in someone else’s idea of a classy suit of clothes.


It’s Your Turn To Cry
We can always forgive somebody for making a mistake, even if from the outside it seemed obvious from the start that it was a rather obvious and easily avoidable mistake, but what’s harder to overlook is when the same people double-down on their mistakes… over and over and over again.

Maybe something SEEMS as if it should work, but when you get no positive returns on these things it’s time to rethink your strategy.

The rock fan of 1952 laughed at I Cried For You – and increasingly disregarded The Five Keys – because they knew it was not being made for their ears. When your job as a record label is to sell records and you continually misread the market by aiming the releases of The Five Keys at middle-aged white women rather than young black kids, you’ve earned your failure and you’ll get no sympathy for being so stupid.

Yes, Rudy West is a good enough singer where his talent alone can keep this from the ignominy of getting a bright red number at the end of this review, but no matter how well it’s being sung on a purely technical level, it’s still a 1923 composition that can’t help but be miles behind authentic contemporary rock material sung with far more intensity than is shown here.

Intent is everything. If you turn your back on this community after we built your record label into a viable business, essentially telling us our tastes are no longer worth your time when it comes to this group, then don’t be surprised when we tell you and that group to go fuck yourselves in return.


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