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ALADDIN 3131; MAY 1952



Yup, as evidenced by the title even the group themselves knew what this was.

Unfortunately they couldn’t convince Aladdin Records (a label that had actually thrived as one of the most potent rock outlets on the market the last six years) that it was folly to cast aside a loyal, fervent and growing audience in favor of the pipe dream of capturing… who exactly?

Their parents? The white families who live across town and would literally recoil in terror if they saw five young black men – even singing sweetly like this – on their street corner? The reviewers at Billboard magazine?

That’s your goal?

That’s your business model?

That’s what you’re betting your future on?

Well… okay.

That’s your company going down the drain then. I hope you’re happy.


Fall Like Raindrops
The point has been made… it’s been made again… and again and again. Yet we can’t simply discard our vitriol and pretend the situation is any easier to bear this time around than the last few dozen times we encountered this self-induced mess a record label has gotten themselves into.

After all, we’re not just here to review the individual records in a vacuum, but to try and explain how and why rock ‘n’ roll evolved as it did and what artists, records and labels helped in that cause and which hurt that ultimate goal of turning rock ‘n’ roll into a self-sufficient creative and commercial powerhouse unto itself.

Records like these were Mistakes, ones which unquestionably… inarguably… irrefutably hurt that objective. You can like it for the vocal skills shown and you can even appreciate pop-centric music every bit as much as rock, but what you can’t insist is that rock would still have taken the same course – with the same outcome – if these records had succeeded along the way.

Maybe it shouldn’t be an either/or situation, but tell that to Leo and Eddie Mesner, owners of Aladdin, who envisioned using The Five Keys to appeal to a bigger market and continually pursued that at the expense – some would say the outright neglect – of OUR market, the thriving black community that vaulted their company to the upper echelon of independent labels and who propelled The Five Keys to the top of the charts a year ago.

For them it WAS either/or and they chose the “or”… as in “or we’ll try and woo somebody else because they have more dough, more class and will give us more respect if we win them over”.

In the end they got what they had coming to them with these attempts – utter failure.


Goodbye To You
I’m sorry I can’t hand out paper bags here to to anyone brave enough – or stupid enough – to listen to the song above, as the first ten seconds of this record are enough to make you sick to your stomach. The dainty piano, the florid melody, the light harmonies, the catering to an audience who would reject you with every fiber of their being.

But this is something the Mesners could never comprehend. They might view the failure of it to reach that audience as bad luck, or a case of that demographic being completely unaware of their product, but they failed to see that for the actual Five Keys fan who bought their records in good faith, how something like this was a slap in the face with a hand dipped in cement.

You were essentially telling the rock audience that all that their tastes, their experiences, their entire culture didn’t matter in the least… not if there was white dollars to be had!

As for The Five Keys themselves… well, they should’ve known better, but again, in 1952 the number of black singers who’d “crossed over” and were pop stars were so few that it was a carrot on the stick that made conceding to this mindset tempting, especially when you realize that even a modicum of success in it would get you more comfortable and better paying club work rather than sticking to the chitlin’ circuit.

But regardless of the musical intention, this IS still The Five Keys we’re talking about and they could definitely sing, even songs that were clearly Mistakes to try.

True to his reputation Rudy West invests his heart and soul into this song, taking it so slow in the process and trying to extract the emotional essence from each line that his singing manages to even lag behind the hesitant pace of the piano which is about the only notable accompaniment here.

But those last words mark the OTHER problem with this, namely that the other four Keys are conspicuously muted throughout much of the record. Sure, they’re laying low so as to allow West’s tender thoughts to be better appreciated, but at what point does it stop being a rock vocal group record and start being a pop record where typically the anonymous choral voices were only there to add a faint wisp of sound rather than anything meaningful?

When one of them does come in as Dickie Smith takes the bridge alone, his lively emoting changes your impressions of the song, but maybe it’s a case of changing them from bad to worse. It’s not that he doesn’t inject some genuine spirit into what he’s saying, but the problem is that it’s totally contrived – like most pop music of the time – and so while individual words may be delivered well, they’re phony in the context of the song.

Meanwhile the other three guys have already left the studio and are hopefully rolling craps in the hallway while drinking heavily in order to forget they were stuck in a man-made hell they couldn’t escape.


The Biggest Mistake Of All
It’s entirely possible – despite what some defenders of this record and this lightweight style in general might think – to actually appreciate the singing while detesting how it’s sung.

Rudy West and Dickie Smith both show they haven’t lost their vocal abilities, but they’re being used for a purpose that has clearly lost its way.

Like so many record companies, Aladdin didn’t see the music as an expression of its artists’ experiences, or that of its audience, but rather they viewed it as merely product… like cereal or laundry detergent. As such they treated it in much the same way.

If an old standard had been a hit as The Glory Of Love had been, the Mesner brothers couldn’t possibly conceive that it had been successful because of the WAY in which it was transformed by The Five Keys, instead they simply looked at the surface attributes and sought to replicate that.

Hence since that song hit they’ve recorded almost nothing BUT Mistakes, including this song which originated in the 1920’s and which had been done again by Al Morgan this past winter in a version so revolting that rock fans who heard it by accident were said to have punctured their eardrums with ice picks.

In fact ALL of the songs The Five Keys laid down in the spring of 1952 were from the 1920’s and 1930’s leading to the question of whether the Mesners were even aware that it was 1952!

Now we can allege that this made sense in a way because that was when Leo and Eddie Mesner came of age, but they were never music fans, not then, not now… they could care less about the originals – if they even knew them – all they cared about was selling records that just so happened to have music on them.

Well, this one didn’t sell – nor should it have – and it didn’t sell because unlike Aladdin’s owners the rock fan DID care about music and this was not the kind of music that was made for their ears.


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