No tags :(

Share it

ALADDIN 3085; APRIL 1951



Perception based on information acquired after the fact is never reliable yet human beings tend to do it anyway, almost as if they’re compelled to have their eventual knowledge of something factor in to how they view whatever preceded that event.

Case in point: when looking at big name artists throughout history there’s always those who will wince at seeing a less than spectacular debut single, as if the record company hampered their rise by releasing something not reflective of their genius right away.

That’s nonsense of course, great artists grow with experience and just because some acts have their best work come first doesn’t mean that’s the standard… nor any guarantee of sustained brilliance.

But in this case the record company may have indeed stunted The Five Keys’ emergence, not because they picked the wrong song – though they did that as well – but rather because they screwed up which versions of the song they did choose for the single and then compounded it with more mistakes along the way, ensuring few people heard the group at their best… or in some cases, heard the group at all.


I’m So Bewildered
In 2022 none of this really matters. The correct versions of songs are usually able to be found somewhere without having to track down the original 78 RPM pressings from seventy years ago, but in 1951 buying the record or playing it on a jukebox were the only ways you were going to hear what a group was putting out unless you happened to catch them in person somewhere.

Thus the records being issued had to be the songs you wanted to have heard.

Aladdin Records had been around for years, had plenty of hits and were one of the better run independent labels in the country so this was not indicative of their usual quality control, but through a series of screw-ups the song that had been designated as The Five Keys initial offering was not a song by The Five Keys at all but rather by Floyd Dixon that had been grabbed by mistake.

That’s pretty hard to beat when it comes to ineptitude but this IS the record industry we’re talking about and so it’s probably an even money bet that with a little effort they’ll be able to top that and make matters worse.

According to the always invaluable research of Marv Goldberg, the group cut their first session in February at which they recorded six songs, including their first attempt at this one. Aladdin deemed that take not up to par however and had them come back a month later and re-do it.

But after pulling the erroneous Dixon side off the market Aladdin then grabbed the wrong version of With A Broken Heart, choosing the rejected first pass rather than the designated master cut from a few weeks later, meaning that record buyers back then either heard Dixon’s nasal voice without a group of any kind singing a totally different song, or they heard The Five Keys singing the right song but in a less polished manner.

So much for getting things off on the right foot.


I’ll Die A Thousand Times
I’m not sure that even without all of that confusion this side of the record wouldn’t have been met with indifference anyway because while it does contain some excellent singing it is lacking the smaller touches that could set it apart, not to make it a potential hit but just to make it something better than average.

The song was written by group member Dickie Smith who also sings lead, both of which are good signs. Artists who write their own material have an advantage over those who don’t simply because they aren’t reliant on outside sources and can better control their own artistic path.

However With A Broken Heart is a little too much of a stock song that needs a better arrangement to fill it out. Maybe the fuller produced version had that, but the way this unfolds you see the bigger issue is in the vocal arrangement which is much more simplistic than their work on the other side, Too Late, which featured shifting dynamics whereas this is block harmony 101.

The focal point of it all, Smith’s lead, ranges from mediocre (the first line sounds as if he’s got a cold) to contrived (“darling, darling”) to absolutely splendid when he rises up to express joy and drops again to show his despair. Some passages are really strong, holding notes effortlessly, while others are sort of meandering along, almost unsure of where to take it.

The problem is while it’s sung very melodically from line to line, there’s no consistent melody to it all. Aside from the basic rise and fall of the progressions you’d have a tough time whistling or humming this back five minutes after hearing it.

When critiquing the much better flip side the one drawback of it was there was no hook to the song, but at least there what they did have was top shelf singing, a more involved backing vocal arrangement and a musical bed that while simple was still fitting for the tune itself.

Here they have some good singing but hardly anything beyond that. The backing vocals are certainly pleasant but totally nondescript, just a lot of wordless “oohs” and “ahhs” for huge swaths of it. When they DO expand on that with a brief Bernie West bridge and some soaring high notes behind that, it markedly improves, but there’s really only one point, the falsetto “Please come back” answering line, where you’d really stop and take notice of them and any time you reduce their presence as much as this song does it’s a grievous mistake.

Meanwhile the music is so sparse you have to strain to hear the rudimentary drumming and basic piano chords. On top of all that the lurching rhythm of the song never changes and so it all starts to get tedious after awhile.

It sounds like a demo in other words, a talented group using their voices to create a fairly nice sound but without the distinctive characteristics that make for a really great record.


I Saw The Light Of Day
Even with its flaws this is still a pretty song even if it’s a much more limited one. The guys do nothing to hurt their case as solid vocalists and even with the bare bones arrangement it manages to sound alright, certainly not unfinished in any case, even if it pales in comparison to the more dense tracks, instrumentally as well as vocally, of their peers at this time.

But putting aside any of the aforementioned post-career evaluations of their skills in retrospect, it seems doubtful that had you been around back then and heard With A Broken Heart as your introduction to the group, few people would’ve predicted greatness from them. It’s not something that screams “Hit!” or “future stardom!”, no matter how much you liked the vocal qualities.

This performance reveals a more discreet sort of skill, both because of the nature of the song itself and because of how it’s framed. It’s a modest effort that succeeds in those terms when maybe what they needed was a more daring leap where even if it fell short you’d be impressed by the sheer attempt alone.

Aladdin would right the ship next time out and maybe the group wouldn’t suffer much for the missteps, but it might not be total revisionist history to suggest that had the company released their best sides first the image of The Five Keys going forward might have been better served.


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