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Knowing the way these things work, where scarcity rather than quality is the determining factor in assigning monetary value on original pressings of old records, you’d expect it be something like this that would wind up being the most treasured rock single ever released.

Not the best, not the most unique, not the most cherished for its contents, but merely the rarest and therefore the one sought after more than any other. The going rate for it at last sale – more than twenty years ago now – was just shy of twenty grand.

Twenty thousand U.S. dollars for a record that its owners probably wouldn’t dare to play even once for fear of ruining it and for a record which the actual group who sang on it wouldn’t want you to play because they themselves didn’t think it was any good.

The story behind however is very good.


Don’t Know Why…
The website on which ours is shamelessly modeled on, the sadly dormant Motown Junkies, had a similar record to review during its heyday… the rarest – and thus most expensive – of its kind by Frank Wilson called Do I Love You (Indeed I Do).

The difference between that record and ours, was that one had gotten pressed in 1965 but never officially released and when one found its way into the United Kingdom it became a phenomenon in Northern Soul circles and as such stolen copies of the unreleased test pressings sold for even more than our own (barely released) record today. Twice as much in fact!

That song prompted Steve, the esteemed proprietor of Motown Junkies, to write the longest ever review on his site, giving it a hallowed ★ 10 ★ that he handed out as his choice for one of the Fifty best Motown records ever made.

Here we won’t take up nearly as much space, nor will it be getting anywhere near that score at the end of the review, but hopefully the brief story of The Five Sharps, who made just this one record in their lives, will be every bit as compelling.

Unfortunately there’s not much to tell about the group itself, at least AS a group, since they came and went in the blink of an eye. With the rock vocal group scene taking off nationally over the past few years, there were obviously a lot of young enthusiastic fans with enough talent to form their own groups, inspired by the sounds all around them, hoping to sing like their idols.

The Five Sharps were mostly just high school kids in Jamaica, Queens, New York, yet among the burgeoning acts in their neighborhood, which was stacked with future doo wop groups, they were the ones who first got a record deal first thanks to a performance where they caught the eye of someone who knew Jubilee’s Jerry Blaine.

It was as sort of a favor to him that Blaine assented to cut The Five Sharps, something borne out by the fact that they cut only two songs, not four as a normal session would produce, and for their big break the group worked up an arrangement of the standard Stormy Weather along with an original of their own.

Also bearing out the favor aspect of this was how few copies were pressed… it only made it into two record shops in the immediate vicinity and plans for a 45 RPM issue were scrapped, reputedly after they were pressed and then had them recycled since the material was more valuable than what was on the records… or so they thought.


Just Can’t Get My Poor Self Together
As for the contents themselves, vocal groups of the 1950’s would frequently cut older pop or jazz standards because, as seen with The Five Sharps, they were amateurs looking to sing on street corners or park benches, with no accompaniment and needed melodic songs with good lyrics… better material than they’d likely be able to come up with on their own. These songs were familiar enough that everybody knew them, but it was in how you rearranged them to suit this new approach to singing them which allowed you to flex some creative muscles.

But vocal groups weren’t the only ones tackling songs like Stormy Weather, as earlier this month Dave Bartholomew’s version of that came out on the B-side of his last Decca single… but he stuck too closely to poppish jazz for us to review it.

The Five Sharps though definitely brought something more original to their rendition, though a lot of that was found in the overdubbed sound effects of thunder and rain that kicked this off and appeared intermittently throughout the record… inventive, though not a first for rock, but distracting all the same.

Taken at a crawling pace the lead of Ronald Cuffey is actually pretty good. He’s got a nice enough voice and since it was his choice to do this twenty year old song in the first place he pours himself into it with emotional conviction, something we keep insisting is rock’s most important aesthetic requirement.

The others behind him are mostly just adding wordless sighs, though Mickey Owens’ bass voice gets to freestyle a little before singing the middle-eight solo which is followed by the best moment as Clarence Bassett’s falsetto leads back to Cuffey’s lead to close it out. The vocal arrangement is as sparse as can be though, something accentuated even more because the only accompaniment was their own piano played by group member Tommy Duckett, which sets a fragile scene.

It’s all taken a little too slow for its own good as there winds up being too much dead time in between notes robbing it of the melodic flow. Since they’re not using that space to inject more emotion with elaborate backing vocals, instrumental breaks or even just some impassioned testifying out of Cuffey, it struggles to build in a way that would best showcase their abilities.

As a result, while not nearly as bad as its reputation once held (The Doo Wop Box by Rhino Records, arguably the most crucial one-stop overview of the vocal group scene ever done, called it “relatively dreadful”), it’s also not nearly as good as some misty eyed collectors would have you believe.

Basically, it’s exactly what you’d think of a song like this cut by an amateur group with modest talent at a thrown-together session done as more of a favor than a commercial excursion.

Little did Jerry Blaine realize that the commercial aspect of the single would dwarf anything he could possibly imagine, even if he never benefitted from that at all.


Everything I Have Is Gone
So here’s where the story gets interesting – and for even more depth check out the great Marv Goldberg’s writing about it, whose site I gleefully plundered much of this information from.

There was understandably very few copies of an unknown group’s debut pressed up and even The Five Sharps themselves had to buy their own copies from stores, but the unsold ones were scrapped (as were the unissued 45’s – the one shown above is a 1970’s printing), melted down presumably and probably re-pressed as Andrew Wildman records to meet the demand for his next release – Pig Tails – or something!

Nobody would’ve cared if not for one record collector a decade later who was a habitué of Irving “Slim” Rose’s famed Time Square Record Shop which specialized in 1950’s vocal groups. The collector had found a copy of Stormy Weather issued on Jubilee, a well known label for sure, by The Five Sharps a group he’d never heard of… since this was their only single. He brought it to Slim who borrowed it to play on his radio show and accidentally broke it, having no idea it was so rare.

That set off a frenzied search for another copy, first just to replace the one he’d broken, but then as no copies turned up and Slim offered more and more for it (a running promotion of his store was to request rare issues in exchange for money which of course brought in more customers). It quickly became the record collector’s holy grail.

In 1968 another (cracked) copy finally turned up and that was used to dub the song (the masters in Jubilee’s vault had been destroyed) which was licensed from Jubilee in 1972 for a printing on 45 by the label started by the record collecting magazine Bim Bam Boom so that everyone could actually HEAR what all the fuss was about… and presumably shrug their collective shoulders in response.

A few years later, in 1977, another original 78 RPM version was found and sold for just under $4,000, making it at the time the most expensive rock record ever sold at auction, and the second most expensive record of any kind to that point.

This got a lot of press and ensured The Five Sharps would be remembered for more than they bargained for when spending four hours in the studio toiling over this song in October 1952. Then in 2003 another copy sold for $19,000, setting a new record in the process, but a few years later, a fifth copy of it – verified as being purchased in a store in 1952 – failed to meet the $20,000 minimum price and went unsold.

If you have a few grand taking up space in your bank, or stuffed under your mattress causing you sleepless nights, feel free to make them an offer. In 2024 it’s not even THAT much money any more, but then again it’s not all that great a record either.

The story that goes with it however, which tells of the obsessive devotion of collectors and the way in which rock ‘n’ roll in particular held such fascination with the public who grew up with it, might actually be worth its weight in gold.


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