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FEDERAL 12064; MARCH 1952



The stories of being “discovered” by a big name and turned into stars is one of those fantasies that Hollywood loved to churn out leading every kid who ever sang a tune to dream it might happen to them as well. But unfortunately the magical scene depicted in those films is rarely ever as picturesque in real life as those movie fables make them out to be.

Here’s one however that actually had all the fairy tale trappings firmly in place. The talent show pitting them against a litany of budding stars, the discovery by an established bandleader who happened to be there looking to scout somebody else entirely and was wowed by their performance leading to an immediate recording contract with a top label and a hasty session before a looming deadline that threatened to sink their chances and featuring a song that would become a well-known classic, all of which led to stardom for the group.

Okay, so the last few events would take awhile, but as true stories go this would make for pretty hard to believe fiction.


There’s A Beat For You
They’re not the first rock vocal group to come along under one name and rise to fame under another, but they are the most significant to this point and any introduction to them today has to acknowledge that pending change on the horizon.

While obviously that turn of events won’t happen for awhile now, and will include the arrival of a new singer and a subsequent rougher edged style down the line, the fact remains that The Royals history unto itself is a quaint short-story, whereas the unexpurgated full-length saga of the group as they transitioned into The Midnighters is a juicy novel.

In 1952 however they were just another candidate in the growing vocal group sweepstakes that was rapidly re-defining rock ‘n’ roll in this era. As such it’s hardly surprising that the Detroit quintet calling themselves The Falcons were heavily influenced by a veritable who’s who in rock circles, primarily The Dominoes and Five Keys, as they came together to form a group of their own and began to compete at local amateur contests.

It was at one these events in October 1951 at Detroit’s Paradise Theater that they scored their big break when they were seen by Johnny Otis who was in town and had been hoping to catch a different act there who had competed a week earlier. This is reputedly the show where other contestants included Jackie Wilson, Levi Stubbs and Little Willie John and quite naturally Otis wanted to sign all of them to Federal where he was planning on going as soon as his Savoy contract was up at the end of the year.

At the last minute Johnny would land elsewhere, but Federal – and the parent company King – didn’t make out badly, eventually getting three of the four acts for themselves. At the time though it was just The Falcons, who after changing their name to The Royals to avoid conflict with another group with that name, who got their chance at stardom as the new year dawned.

Otis was gone by that point, signed with Mercury, but he hadn’t left them completely high and dry, writing Every Beat Of My Heart for them which was unlike anything he’d come up with before, primarily because he’d been lacking a close harmony vocal group the last few years to delve into this kind of thing.

Though The Royals couldn’t break through with it, a decade later Gladys Knight and The Pips scored their first smash with it, showing the timeless quality of the composition, something already evident in the original rendition that seems to have floated down to earth on a cloud.

I’ll Keep Dreaming
With delicate chimes sounding like a child’s music box playing a lullaby, this is a long ways off from what the remnants of the group will sound like in just a year’s time when they establish themselves as an aggressively ribald act with snarling electric guitar and fast paced rave-ups about sex.

By contrast this is like a wistful late afternoon daydream before the bombs start to fall.

Charles Sutton sings in a halting voice, reminiscent of his first rock idol, Sonny Til… minus the raging insecurities that is. Though he too is presumably pining away for someone just out of his reach like Sonny always did, he’s not tentative to declare his love nor does he seem to doubt his chances to win her over. In fact, he’s not really asking her to consider him, at least not directly, he’s simply stating how much he adores her and thanks to Otis showing he can be far more poetic than we’re used to in his songwriting, the task is made a whole lot easier.

What girl could possibly resist the sincerity shown here as Sutton navigates the terrain cautiously in the highest part of his range, approaching each note with extreme care yet with an underlying confidence that he won’t step wrong.

As good as he sounds much of the credit has to go to how Johnny Otis wrote Every Beat Of My Heart, as ingeniously he chooses not to resolve the primary melody line in the expected way. By avoiding the root note so Sutton has to go up at the end of the line instead, it has the effect of not providing closure, almost as if it’s leaving the final outcome of his dreams up in the air. This simple maneuver works so well that even when the vocal line is carried by something else in instrumental versions by James Brown and Booker T. & The MG’s a decade later it conveys the same tenuous feeling.

That in turn makes the words Sutton is singing all the more potent because we know his future happiness is not assured in spite of his heartfelt declarations. Yet because he never gives in to that uncertainty, never resorts to begging for attention, he doesn’t lose your rooting interest.

Maybe we could downgrade this slightly due to a lack of imagination in the backing arrangement – the wordless harmony vocals are sublime, but simple as can be, while the bridge takes a page from The Orioles by letting baritone Henry Booth take it and deliver the exact same lines, offering no new perspective or information in the process, but he’s a better vocalist than George Nelson and so we don’t mind nearly as much.

Besides they had to move the recording date up a month to accommodate Lawson Smith being drafted so whatever time they needed to work something else up was gone. But even so the gently swaying melody, the pensive lead of Sutton and the fragile ambiance of the production make this far too magical to find fault with it.


Though We’re So Far Apart, My Love Is True
As stated at the beginning, normally when a group changes its name along with key personnel before breaking through, we treat their initial offerings as merely a prelude to the main event… sort of a sneak preview or added bonus to be lumped in with the more widely known name and career arc.

Ultimately I suppose we’ll do that here too, but it’s hardly the easiest decision, not only because they eventually headed in a radically new direction making their early singles seem like a totally different group even though the core membership remained the same, but also because The Royals output, while small, was pretty damn impressive in its own right.

Maybe they wouldn’t have wound up in The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame had those changes never took place, but Every Beat Of My Heart assures they’d have been remembered.

The kicker to the story though is while the full transformation took some time, the first piece to that puzzle was about to fall into place. Just a week after this was laid down, Smith headed into the Army, presumably to be used as target practice halfway around the world in Korea… a common occurrence back then which probably isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds.

In the door walked his replacement, John Kendricks… otherwise known as Hank Ballard, and while they’d remain primarily dreamy balladeers for awhile longer, the wheels of change were already in motion before this record even hit the streets.


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