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ALADDIN 3113; NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

There’s an unstated pressure on artists and their record labels when it comes to following up a breakthrough hit.

The unexpected popularity of their previous offering will almost surely guarantee a higher level of interest for whatever they put out next, but you want to use that subsequent single to take that interest to another level and not give back any of the stock audiences have put into them with a bad choice.

That’s why so many artists play things safe and take a conservative approach by trying to replicate the sound or style of their first hit much too closely, thereby giving the impression to listeners that they’ll never take risks and expand their scope and can probably be cast aside without a second thought.

Give credit to The Five Keys however, for while nobody could call their choice of a nursery rhyme standard a good artistic move to make on first glance, they also couldn’t call it a safe, predictable or boring choice.
 

 

Hit Me On The Head With A Rolling Pin
Watching Kendrick Lamar tear shit up on his current Big Steppers Tour, one thing came immediately to mind in the form of a question: Do you know what was conspicuously absent from his set list? He wasn’t rapping about barnyard animals in a kid’s song that’s been around for… checks notes… three hundred and sixteen years!

Hard to believe, I know.

We’ve probably seen the last of that kind of thing in current popular music.

But once upon a time that wasn’t the case. The industry-wide trend for cutting standards dominated the thinking of producers and A&R men for years and that tended to filter down even to rock artists for the first fifteen years or more of the genre’s existence.

Vocal groups in particular were prone to cutting standards simply because they needed to practice their harmonies and work out vocal parts and familiar songs provided them with a widely known blueprint they could always tweak to suit their needs.

On the surface however this kind of standard might be aiming a little too low, both in terms of musical simplicity and audience recognition, but at least we’re not quite to the point in rock’s evolution where the demographic focus shifted to an ever younger fan base and the record companies undershot the targeted age by looking to children’s songs like Old MacDonald as a viable commercial move.

In this case though the reason The Five Keys chose this was far more primal and should any unwitting tyke in kindergarten stumble across The Five Keys decision to rock up their sing-along ditty, they were in for a rather big surprise.
 

Always Jumpin’ And Havin’ A Ball
In rock ‘n’ roll one thing is abundantly clear… you can resort to juvenile material in order to court the (much) younger set in hopes of getting a handful of sticky nickel and dimes from their piggy banks, OR you can pervert that material to entice the slightly older crowd who would get a rise out of envisioning an X-rated version of the events on the farm to create a buzz among those with hair on their chest.

Thankfully for all involved The Five Keys do the latter and prevent us from having to lecture them on the appropriateness of cutting songs where the primary fans of those tunes have an eight o’clock bedtime… which is at least an hour before you’re scheduled to hit the stage each night, to say nothing of the fact those who stay up late and sneak in the clubs will have a hard time convincing all but the most nearsighted of bartenders that they’re really 21.

Instead The Five Keys turn Old MacDonald into an ode to sex using the animals as stand-ins for the horny adult human beings this song really aimed at, in the process making the record a perfect fit for rock ‘n’ roll after all… and one that your nieces and nephews can sing along to while surreptitiously learning about the birds and the bees!

With its rolling boogie piano setting a strong foundation for what is to follow, the familiar song starts off as if nothing is amiss with the group enthusiastically singing the chorus featuring a nice transition from the “E-I-E-I-O” hook to the extended “OHHHHH” that lead singer Maryland Pierce uses as the lead in to each stanza.

Pierce was the primary uptempo lead vocalist in the group and that alone is a good sign because this moves along at a brisk pace which naturally invites head-bobbing, shoulder-grooving, hip-shaking responses from the listener regardless of their preconceived notions about the unbecoming nature of using such source material to grind in the dark with your baby.

The original composition that children learn focuses on the noises that each animal elicits during their turn in the spotlight – it’s a song ostensibly meant to teach kids these things in case they want to know the last sounds their dinner made before being slaughtered – but The Keys are focused on just two animals, chickens and ducks who are taking on the female and male roles in this naughty bedroom tale.

Changing the tag-line of the timeless “Chick Chick Here, Chick Chick There” to “had fine chicks every doggone where” you know pretty quickly they’re not scattering feed around the barnyard, but are encamped in the coop with the fat ducks scrambling some eggs with the hot chicks as it were.

Old MacDonald veers further off its accepted course when the ducks start bragging about cheating on their spouses back in the nest at which point Junior might start to ask a few embarrassing questions. At this point it’s probably best to tell him to just focus on the music which is holding up its end of the bargain nicely as pianist Joe Jones and the studio drummer shows just how vital a stripped down rhythm section can be if they put their minds to it.

It’s not a very complex arrangement but it’s an invigorating one and even if you prefer to think of these water fowls and their land bound companions as innocent creatures who would never succumb to such wanton lust as this, it’s still a record that will put a smile on your face just due to the sheer energy and vocal skill displayed.
 


 

I Dare You To Try It Again
Music is meant to move you… be it physically, emotionally or even intellectually with the combination of melody, beat and the presentation of lyrics and in the end fulfilling those goals are paramount to a record’s success no matter the brand of music we’re talking about.

In rock ‘n’ roll the first example – getting you to shake your ass – may take precedent, but if you can add in something sly and wicked to the latter form of appreciation you generally won’t find too many listeners asking for their money back.

While corrupting impressionable youths who will soon be your main constituency when they hit puberty might not be a bad idea in of itself, it’s not going to win you too many friends in the music press and so it might not be best to keep returning to this particular well too often, lest it become seen as a cheap gimmick with subversive aims.

So instead Old MacDonald serves as more of a calling card for the entire genre’s sense of irreverent fun and devious intents as well as providing The Five Keys with a racier dance song to whip crowds into a frenzy on stage after melting their hearts with some timeless ballads.

This may not be high art, it may not be very original, it may even be an opportunistic shortcut to shock listeners with a novel twist on something emminently familiar, but it’s more than good enough to kick up some dust around the barnyard.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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