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ALADDIN 3136; JULY 1952

 
 

 

Not again.

Please not another hoary old pop tune for these guys. Will somebody just let them sing a song of their own era, preferably one that originated with them, instead of some anticent standard from years gone by?

Does Aladdin Records ever check the date on a newspaper and see that it’s 1952 now, not 1938? In fact, do we know for sure whether the Mesner brothers have actually MET The Five Keys and seen that they’re young black men, not old white geezers… and that their fan base isn’t ready for the retirement home either?

How is this concept so hard to fathom for these record labels? Don’t they realize that time moves on even if they don’t?

Apparently not, because here once again we’re asked to relive Songs Of The Great Depression with one of rock’s most talented groups who had the misfortune of having their career undercut at every turn by the very company who signed them in the first place.

Yup, they don’t call the Nineteen Fifties “the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll” for nothing!
 

 

I Used To Lie Awake And Wonder
Have you ever noticed while walking around and interacting with the inhabitants of Planet Earth each day that most people are… idiots?

And small minded idiots at that.

One of the many reasons for this malady is that for some reason human beings have a tendency to put far too much stock in first impressions, letting an initial reaction to somebody shape the way they see them forever more.

In the case of The Five Keys it might not have been their very first impression that did them in, but since record labels typically don’t pay any attention to singles that don’t sell, Aladdin Records didn’t notice the group until their second release hit #1. Then, and only then, did the Mesner brothers (Eddie and Leo) look up and see that The Five Keys got this hit with The Glory Of Love, a song from 1936 and ever since they’ve been force feeding more and more old songs down their throats thinking that it was the vintage of that source material, not the group’s meticulously crafted soulful performance of that specific song, which was the cause of this success.

Did I mention that Eddie and Leo Mesner were also idiots?

So here we’re forced to deal with another moldy oldie, I Hadn’t Anyone Til You, a title which as you can see just rolls off the tongue of a 16 year old rock fan who was all of two years old, spitting up their Gerber’s baby food and wetting themselves when Ray Noble first gave the world this priceless gift which became a Top Five hit back then.

In case you were wondering, yes, this was the same Ray Noble born in 1903 and this is the same tune of which composer Alec Wilder said “It is a smooth, direct, slightly rhythmic ballad of no great range and unmistakably a song of its time, the late thirties”.

Ah, just what The Five Keys need to corner the grandmother demographic that, as we know, holds the key to the sales charts for rock records in the firm grip of their arthritic hands.
 

Cupid Took A Hand In It
You know what they say… it’s not the years, it’s the mileage and though fourteen years might not seem like too great a distance to reach into the past for a song, keep in mind that in the spring of 1938 when this came out Germany had yet to invade Poland and start World War Two… The Wizard Of Oz was more than a year away from release… television was barely a blip on the screen of life… and rock ‘n’ roll was nine years away from being born.

Another lifetime ago in other words.

But here’s the thing… and it truly pains me to say this… for once The Five Keys are actually able to make one of these decrepit tunes sound almost as meaningful as something coming from their own experiences.

Now I’m not saying that I Hadn’t Anyone Til You was going to be something that really appealed to your average rock fan of the day, not with the kind of sappy flowery sentiments that Noble offers up, but when the melody is pretty sturdy and you have Rudy West pouring his heart out as if he’s convinced the one he loves is actually going to be buying this record, well… let’s just say this might’ve been where the term “turning chicken shit into chicken salad” originally came from.

West is – most of the time anyway – really impressive here. We hardly need to remind you of the purity of his voice itself or the flawless control he regularly exhibits, but he sort of outdoes himself here, stretching out the lines to their breaking point, wringing out every drop of emotion he can in the process, and letting the feeling he pours into these lines overwhelm the sentiments themselves so you hardly notice the mawkish stiltedness of the words.

But what West really injects into this is a more appealing melody.

Oh, don’t misunderstand, the actual melody itself is the same, but on Nobel’s version – with Tony Martin singing – it’s largely buried in the fluff-laden arrangement that was commonplace for the times. The piano on that asserts itself the most, but the light fuzzy horns carry most of its weight and the way they’re played is so opaque that you lose its thread too easily.

But West, along with the discreet harmonies of the rest of the group, are what give this direction and shows that while it was hardly an optimal choice when it comes to relevant material, I Hadn’t Anyone Til You had a solid enough foundation to at least be adaptable for them.

Of course the bridge where Dickie Smith steps up the pace while the others sort of scat-sing behind him is utterly ridiculous, though luckily they stop that nonsense pretty quickly and dig deep to find the same gravitas that West brought to his part. But then, just when you think they’re going to nail the landing they deliver the closing harmonies like a bland pop group which only gets redeemed by West once again stepping out in front for the final line and reclaiming the emotional center of the song.

Obviously the record is far from perfect, but also because the group’s own talents overcome most of the issues thrown in their paths it’s also far better in a way than what we’ve come to expect from these misguided fools making decisions for Aladdin Records.
 


 

I Never Gave My Love ‘Til You
One look at the list of singers who tackled this over the years is like reading a roll call of legends from across the music spectrum. But in spite of the pedigree of the vocalists there aren’t very many truly outstanding renditions to be found among them making this a rather overrated standard.

Frank Sinatra is far too melodramatic and has the misfortune of having a scenic arrangement slathered over it. Billie Holiday is overwrought and far from her vocal peak. Julie London falls victim to the producer trying to turn it into a stage drama where she’s isolated in a stark setting for effect. Mel Tormé gets the full 1950 production techniques – lush chorus and strings – which ruin any chance of connecting emotionally. Of course the hit versions from the 1930’s are sung with all of the artifice that period was known for, so they’re made to sound dated before the decade was out.

Even the better stabs at it are all flawed to a degree.

Sarah Vaughan’s studio performance is disposable, but her live version on record at least has a subtle swing to it that’s worth hearing. Lena Horne benefits from a low-key arrangement to contrast with her brash yet sly vocals. Doris Day is typically classy but too frothy and lightweight to be more than slightly engaging music for a dinner party. Ella Fitzgerald sings it best on a technical level, no surprise there, but she’s presented in a way to sound tentative – almost scared to reveal herself – and so it sounds like we’re prying into her inner thoughts in a way that’s rather uncomfortable.

By comparison Rudy West transforms I Hadn’t Anyone Til You into something more heartfelt – and by extension, more honest – even though this was surely not HIS idea to crank out in the first place.

But as with those others, The Five Keys version is still held back by outside forces, the second half being a dramatic drop-off from the first half. Though it’s possible in this case to appreciate the quality of a composition like this from another period and genre, we can’t excuse the insipid reasons behind selecting a song that has little or no chance of actually connecting deeply with the intended audience.

Therefore, while we once again can lavishly praise Rudy West, we have no choice but to be a little more discerning when it comes to evaluating the overall record in the context of rock ‘n’ roll, circa 1952 and say that even though as rock fans we might still choose his lead vocal if forced to endure the song, Judy Garland, by virtue of her commitment to the inner feelings being expressed, carries it off best as Nelson Riddle’s arrangement is understated yet distinctive enough to give their 1958 rendition the championship belt.

But then again, what did you expect? This is a song made for someone like her, not someone like us or The Five Keys and the problem is somebody back then damn well should’ve known that.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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