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ALADDIN 3099; JULY 1951

 
 

 

Though it’s generally not included in the short list of “greatest year in rock history” discussions, Nineteen Fifty-One is a sneaky dark horse in the debate for the simple fact that the music was entering its second phase when the original rockers had now been around long enough to have inspired a new generation who were just starting to enter the studio bringing with them new ideas along with some creative refinements to old approaches.

The artists from this era would of course reach a wider audience than their predecessors and in turn they’d influence the music embraced by an even bigger pool of fans in the mid-1950’s, making the hits of this period generally more familiar to later generations.

This was one of the most enduring records of the early Fifties and still considered an all-time classic of the vocal group idiom not to mention being The Five Keys biggest hit, the song for which they’ll always be remembered.
 

 

Let The Clouds Roll By
We’ve usually been pretty harsh (okay, VERY harsh) when it comes to rock acts – specifically vocal groups who seem most susceptible to this – reaching into the pop realm to cut standards, for as we all know it’s most often done to court mainstream listeners by companies who feel the rock audience is not nearly as important in the big scheme of things.

The Ravens have tried time and again to appeal to blue haired garden club members with revivals of hoary classics like this and failed miserably in their attempts because those people will not under any circumstances listen to records made by artists such as The Ravens… or Orioles, or Clovers… or Five Keys for that matter.

To not grasp this reality shows how nearsighted these indie record companies truly were. No song, no matter how well known in earlier renditions and how well done they may have been by the rock acts, was enough to overcome the entrenched racism and ageism of the mid-century American white middle class. Period.

So on the surface seeing The Five Keys doing a Benny Goodman song from 1936, presumably in the hopes of crossing over to a wider audience, was distressing… if that’s what the group themselves had actually been trying to do with this, which thankfully they weren’t.

If you listen to Goodman’s version with a vocal by Helen Ward you’ll find a good composition rendered largely ineffective because, like so many of the aforementioned rock acts going pop for broader appeal, that performance was also adhering to the established requirements of swing music to satisfy the dominant market at the time. Some things never change!

Because of this Goodman and company treat The Glory Of Love frivolously, turning the catchy melody into music that sounds as if it’s being played for the carousel at the county fair while Ward sings it much too fast and with an artificial smile that completely robs the song of its lyrical depth.

It may have been successful commercially – a #1 hit – but Goodman’s record is an innocuous trifle because its shallow pandering comes at the expense of the content of the song.

By contrast The Five Keys did not try and stoop so low and give an established audience what was expected here, but rather they trust in the beauty of the composition itself and have the confidence to sing it in their own natural style to draw out its most powerful elements and as a result it’s they who define the song for eternity.
 


 
 

Win A Little
To give credit where credit is due, the one thing music of the thirties did more consistently well than other periods is craft lyrics as if they were carved in granite by using a universal language that was all but impossible for a listener not to relate to the words being sung.

Songwriter Billy Hill paints with a broad brush here describing the ups and downs of love, wisely leaving out any specifics that might bog him down and instead uses only generalities that can be made to fit any one person’s circumstances in a way that’s poignant and heartfelt no matter how simplistic it really is at its core.

His genius would actually be called laziness if he was just a little bit off in his assumptions of how The Glory Of Love will be received, as all he really does throughout the song is offer contrasting points of view to every example. “You’ve got to win a little, lose a little” before wrapping it up with a line – “And always have the blues a little” – that’s made to seem profound, but is really just noncommittal.

Call it confidence or chutzpah, but either way its effect is transcendent because who CAN’T see the logic in something as illogical as love when he puts it in such basic terms? Everybody has wanted someone at some point and thought it futile, just as everyone has kept falling for those out of their reach anyway. It’s human nature.

Likewise when that magical connection DOES happen, what person isn’t going to take credit for their perseverance and belief in themselves as the song attests with the simple commandment that adorns each line… “You’ve got to…” – which of course is just basic advice for any circumstance in life.

It resonates because every stage of falling in love is being covered, and every conceivable outcome is alluded to, both good and bad. Yet throughout it all the mood remains optimistic, acknowledging the tribulations of the process itself but ultimately confirming the trouble will be worth it, provided you stick with it long enough to be rewarded when you find the right one.
 

We’ve Got This World And All Of Its Charms
Of course without a great melody that flows effortlessly to frame these thoughts maybe it all falls apart, but this is one that could practically sing itself, rising and falling as it does like gentle waves on a tropical shore.

The Five Keys are so skilled they simply float over the top of it as if they were a cork on the ocean with Rudy West (their third lead vocalist in three released songs!) exerting minimal pressure to keep it steered in the right direction. His voice is breathy without being melodramatic, focused without being too intense and comes across as almost carefree without ever veering into sounding nonchalant.

The others back him with ethereal wordless harmonies that give the song a distant haunting aura, almost as if you were watching a flickering scene conjured from memory alone, fading and out of focus with a few frames missing, but retaining the essence of that image from your past, all while West is selling The Glory of Love as if he knows he’s found the meaning of life in its simple message.

The arrangement doesn’t have many twists to it yet its greatest attribute is how ad-libbed it sounds at times. Dickie Smith doesn’t even get a chance to sing the full bridge in his deeper, scratchier tone before West comes soaring back, almost seeming as if he cut him off, yet clearly worked out beforehand to raise the stakes even more. Contrived though it may be it never fails to connect, you’re so caught up in his increasingly yearning hope that you’ll follow him anywhere.

Each vocal inflection he delivers along the way, from doubling certain words to his airy modulation in the fade, is so expertly chosen that to hear this sung any other way seems almost blasphemous.
 


 

That’s The Story
There’s nothing that can be said about this record itself that isn’t simply more effusive praise, so the only things that cast a bit of a shadow on it are the events surrounding the release which puts Aladdin Records – and the industry as a whole – in more of a negative light.

Since The Glory Of Love had long been The Five Keys signature number – they’d sang it as their theme in 1950 while hosting a radio show in their home state of Virginia – and since they cut this at their first session back in March where it was easily the standout performance, the fact that Aladdin didn’t release it first is incomprehensible.

As their sophomore effort it still hit #1 but with so many new groups coming out of the gate strong over the past few months, the need to hit the ground running was never more evident and a great debut has a way of defining a group’s image that is lasting… in many ways The Orioles were still cashing in on their debut from three summers ago!

Whether it would’ve made The Five Keys more consistently successful had this come out first is debatable, but there was no reason to hold something this good back for a later date.

More troubling though is how the impact of this single would arguably hurt them down the road when the company increasingly looked to replicate this success by having West handle most of the leads as they scoured the past hit parade for pop ballad chestnuts, thinking it was the material’s source that was the reason for its popularity, rather than the fact the group had made it uniquely their own through their distinctive vocal approach.

But in the summer of 1951 none of that mattered… and truthfully, in the next century it hardly matters either, because for as long as human beings care about such things as hearing five voices intertwined to express the purest form of human emotion, this record will endure for the ages.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
The Hollywood Four Flames (August, 1951)