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ALADDIN 3127; MARCH 1952

 
 

 

If someone wanted to be well-liked they’d probably find better ways to spend their time… maybe giving away money at the supermarket… helping old ladies across the street… buying beer for high school kids each weekend… raking the leaves, shoveling the snow and mowing the lawns of everybody in their neighborhood “just to be nice”.

They would NOT write about the history of rock music and risk receiving vile insults by giving numerical grades for records that somebody, somewhere, hold near and dear to their hearts.

Or if they did that, they’d merely hand out high scores to every record that had a modicum of lasting approval by crazed, wild-eyed zealots of ancient musical history.

But what fun would that be?
 

 

I’m Trusting In… YOU?!?
The existence of this website is due – in part – to the fact that something as transient as the popular tastes of rock music at a given time was given an outsized measure of historical importance by countless people who came before me.

On one hand I should thank them. Their dedication to music of the past, their valiant efforts to preserve the recordings themselves, collect the stories from the participants and celebrate and promote those records have made my job easier.

On the other hand I wish many of them had liked Welsh folk music or Viennese waltzes instead.

When it comes to 1950’s rock vocal groups the first generation of collectors, fans and historians gave this oft-overlooked segment of rock ‘n’ roll a much more visible profile… and in the process tainted it irrevocably in everybody else’s eyes. From calling it something as juvenile as “doo wop” which denotes a harmless frivolity that stripped away the massive cultural and racial revolution it was a part of, to the fact that these people tend to be… (how can I say this nicely?)… awfully “white”, the unflattering image of these collective fans has replaced the image of the original artists and fans who created this music to begin with, often to the harm of that music’s lasting legacy.

Now I’m sure these people who came of age in the mid-to-late 1960’s or early 1970’s were not all hapless losers, but they WERE people who were hopelessly disconnected from their own era, awkward and uncomfortable with their more popular peers who naturally gravitated towards current music, and thus they sought to go back in time to find a place where they hoped they’d have fit in better.

The obvious flaw in that – aside from costing themselves a more well-rounded social life and a lot of great music – is that these kids would NOT have fit in back then at all. For one thing they were white and in 1952 white kids were not even aware this music existed – and no, if you were around back then you would not have been the exception to the rule, no matter what you say.

But two, as evidenced by their inclination towards the pop material such as Red Sails in The Sunset that groups like The Five Keys were forced to record in a failed effort to reach a white audience, these later “doo wop” fans have tastes that were far removed from what made rock vocal group music actually important historically, not to mention commercially successful.

In other words, if these people had been around back then with the same tastes and were the ones determining the hits and misses, then rock ‘n ‘roll as we know it would have ceased to exist.
 


 
 

Swift Wings We Must Borrow
This is one of those songs that those fans absolutely LOVE.

I’ll admit, it’s very well sung. Rudy West’s crystalline lead is exquisite from a technical point of view, especially when he’s singing in his lower register (his higher range here however is a little too florid), and the wordless harmonies of the others floating behind him are as nice as can be. Meanwhile Dickie Smith’s impassioned second lead towards the end gives this far more emotional resonance than it deserves and at least keeps it loosely tethered to the dominant rock fan base’s expectations in the process.

But the problem is this song should never BE sung by a rock group in the first place because it’s so woefully out of place thematically.

At least when they did The Glory Of Love its subject suits any era, any age and any cultural perspective, but while this is ostensibly a love song too, it’s a stilted artificial song with outdated phrasing – “she sailed at the dawning” – and a lilting melody that makes any rhythmic modifications all but impossible.

Yet the idiots at Aladdin Records felt that if you got a #1 hit from adapting one pop standard from the 1930’s then doing a second – actually a third, since their last effort was also a recycled standard – would be just as profitable, showing that they were viewing The Five Keys’ work as formula, where inspiration and creativity didn’t matter at all.

While they sang this garbage as well as it could possibly be sung, Red Sails In The Sunset did not give them another hit, which is good news because if it had then they’d never escape this artistic quicksand… not that they did very easily anyway.

Worse though was that by constantly pulling songs out of the past labels like Aladdin failed to realize they were competing in the present with artists who were actively charting the course for the future!

The Five Keys should have been those who were at the forefront of those changes. They clearly had the talent for it, they had songwriters in their midst who would’ve allowed them a far greater hand in shaping their own destiny than those who had to rely solely on outside material, yet because of their early success with the one standard they’d worked up and reconceived on their own they were forced to largely shelve their own subsequent ideas and toe the line, mere employees with a job to do, but little say in what those jobs would be.
 

Go Sailing No More
Obviously there are a sizable chunk of faithful readers who will be angry, even offended, at this review.

Good.

This website is not trying to court widespread agreement, which would be futile anyway, but rather is an attempt to accurately chart the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll as it happened at the time, not only judging records on their aesthetic merits compared to the music of the day, but also trying to discern what avenues were worth pursuing and which were not if the genre itself was to reach its maximum potential.

Red Sails In The Sunset was the absolute wrong route to travel in that regard. While it can definitely be praised for the vocal abilities shown, even appreciated to a degree for the melodic rise and fall in the chorus as written, the lack of relevance to the intended audience, the absence of any musical innovation, the utter desperation shown in trying to recapture the success of an unlikely hit, and the company’s complete disregard for the distinctly different needs of rock ‘n’ roll compared to pop music… especially pop music from the ancient past… makes the decision to release this a mistake.

Like it all you want for your own personal pleasure, nobody’s stopping you. But let’s not forget those who invariably will protest its “comparative” dismissal here are likely the same people who when they were 17 back in 1967 or 1972… or 1990, 2008 or last week for that matter… were not in tune with what was popular at that time.

This just proves that if they were 17 in 1952 they wouldn’t be in tune with what was popular in rock then either. If nothing else I guess congratulations are in order for at least being consistently out of touch.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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