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The more rock ‘n’ roll established its own identity far removed from other genres of music, the more suspect those records that reached back to those pre-existing styles became in the eyes of its fans.

We’ve seen nothing good come of rock acts who’ve attempted to tone down the music’s excesses in a misguided attempt to court a presumably wider audience and now that more and more vocal groups are coming on the scene, what are we to make of their tendency to adapt straitlaced pop standards to a rock ‘n’ roll setting?

Should it be celebrated as a brazen takeover of the hallowed musical ground that the establishment fiercely guarded, or should it be derided for being a timid concession to blander styles by those who didn’t feel rock ‘n’ roll had the staying power to build a career on?

If ever there was a legendary group for whom this question went perpetually unanswered, it was surely The Five Keys.


By The Way…
A year is comprised of twelve months of roughly equal lengths and yet they are definitely not interchangeable when it comes to how record companies released their product.

December was the outlier for myrid reasons starting with the fact that while in normal retail circumstances companies would want to have fresh new product on the market to entice Christmas shoppers into making impulse buys to stuff something inexpensive into a stocking hanging next to the fireplace, in music this was definitely not the case.

Records tended to be passed over the last few weeks of the year – there were even times when trade magazines didn’t publish a hit parade the week after Christmas – and so there tended not to be a lot of new releases coming out during the twelfth and final month of the year.

In fact chances are a lot of the records we’ve put in last month’s queue were probably released in mid to late November at the latest. But the independent record companies, having essentially taken a few weeks off, would then jump the gun on January and start buying up ads in those trade magazines in advance of their first releases of the new year, something which during the other eleven months they tended not to do, waiting instead for the product to be on the market for a few weeks before they determined which to push based on early returns.

But the other quirk brought about by the last month of the year centered around holiday-themed records which tended to be released the last weeks of October through the end of November when they’d have their small window of opportunity to be heard because of course that’s when It’s Christmas Time.

Once Christmas was over however, they were often stuck with one side of that single that was left behind… one that was not a holiday tune at all and thus potentially losing out on some action it might’ve otherwise garnered on its own. So a lot of companies would pull the Christmas song from the release and slap a new song on it and ship these new singles out before you woke up from your drunken stupor on New Year’s Day.

Thus we get Yes Sir, That’s My Baby coming out on the flip side of a children’s nursery rhyme song that had originally been paired with a Christmas tune – with a different catalog number – just two months ago.

All things considered it seems like an awful lot of trouble for two songs that The Five Keys themselves had absolutely no hand in writing, but then again upon hearing them a lot of their fans would disagree.

No Sir!
It’s probably never a good thing when the song a rock group decides to record was first heard way back in 1925.

Granted that was only 27 years earlier than this rendition was put out, the same amount of time if we’re going backwards from when this review is posted in 2022 would land us in 1995 when the biggest songs included California LoveFake Plastic TreesGangsta’s Paradise… certainly not music that’s completely alien to today’s rock scene.

But then again those all come from the same genre, whereas Yes Sir, That’s My Baby most assuredly did not, or were you under the impression that Gene Austin was the lone rock act in the midst of Prohibition?

Now there were a lot of versions out that year in some widely divergent styles but no matter which you seem to think comes closest to the freewheeling spirit of rock in the future – I’d go with Blossom Seeley’s version myself – they were still about as far removed from our neck of the musical woods as possible.

But The Five Keys had already traveled a similar path and gotten not just a Number One record out of The Glory Of Love, a song dating back to 1936, but in the process came up with the definitive rendition of the song, one that will surely outlast any competing version from the last eighty-six years and counting.

So since this single was sort of a bastardized one to begin with, as Old MacDonald on the flip side had already been available on Aladdin 3113 since November, it wasn’t going to do much harm to see if maybe lightning could strike twice… and if not, no harm would be done, they’d just move on to a more well-planned release in a month’s time.


There’s No Use To Hide It
So which is it? An ill-advised attempt to recycle a successful formula or a stroke of genius to… recycle a successful formula?

Can you guess where this going?

The truth is it’s sort of both, for there’s no question this IS formulaic already, a troubling sign for The Five Keys’ creative evolution.

Now clearly they have the talent to impress you with songs like this containing good melodies and an obvious vocal hook, but when you reduce them to putting a modern twist on your parents record collection that certainly doesn’t bode well for them shaping the future of rock ‘n’ roll no matter how well they sing them from a technical point of view.

And they DO sing this well, as Rudy West takes the primary lead as he’d done on “Glory”, and delivers a soulful reading of it while the others shine in their backing harmonies. In fact, West’s emotional twists and turns along the way – holding certain notes, rising or falling on others in ways that were certainly not found in previous versions – almost makes you overlook the fact that the lyrics are pretty trite.

In that way Yes Sir, That’s My Baby definitely belongs to the 1920’s and the fact The Five Keys manage to make it palatable for the early 1950’s rock scene is a testement to their vocal abilities alone, since there’s not much musical accompaniment here to draw your interest. Dickie Smith’s baritone lead on the bridge adds another dimension that was unique for this and was a further reminder that Calvin Coolidge was no longer residing in the White House.

But while it all sounds pretty nice was this really the direction we wanted The Five Keys to be heading? They’d already shown themselves to be good songwriters and now they were being reduced to cutting songs older than they were. Furthermore the response to this meant that their next scheduled release got shelved altogether, never to see the light of day while they were an active recording group, although to be fair they weren’t new songs either.

No matter what you think of the aesthetic qualities of this performance there are plenty of troubling signs to be found here.


I’ve Decided
Any way you look at it The Five Keys are one of the handful of immortal acts of the 1950’s vocal group scene and for good reason… they could really sing!

Unfortunately they sang a lot of songs that hurt their creative evolution by attempting to duplicate what really should’ve been a one-off attempt at a standard. In turn that further reduced the roles the others played by having Rudy West handle most of the leads, all while increasingly shelving their own efforts as songwriters.

Yet as short-sighted as this decision was by Aladdin you have to admit that judging strictly on how this record sounds, Yes Sir, That’s My Baby is really good. It manages to stand apart from their previous re-worked standard by being a lot more uptempo and while it’s a much weaker composition they mask that fairly well thanks to their interpretive abilities and the inventive vocal arrangement.

So this is one of those cases where it’s perfectly fair to criticize the decision while praising the result.

Because of that we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here because it seems obvious that not even Aladdin had anticipated this half re-issued single doing anything more than keeping the song about the farmer on the other side in print, but it still serves as a warning sign that when you let a record company have too much say in the product they put out on you, their choices are oftentimes going to be more of a burden than a benefit down the line.


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