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FEDERAL 12088; JULY 1952



Here’s a case where we actually get to witness everything we’ve always asked of vocal groups through the years when discussing how to approach their singles.

For starters they go to great lengths to make the two sides of the single discernably different by eschewing their usual ballad approach for an uptempo song this time around.

They also use this opportunity to hand over the lead vocals to somebody other than their usual frontman, as Henry Booth rather than Charles Sutton gets the job, not only ensuring that another member gets to enjoy the spotlight for a moment, but also to give audiences a slightly different listening experience.

Lastly, unlike a lot of vocal groups of late where the label dredges up old standards to prove they have class, or worse yet, force feeds them current pop songs to cover, this side was written in house by the entire group, guaranteeing the image they’re projecting is one of their own choosing.

All of which is exactly what we want. Of course, if we’re already going to ask for that much you probably guessed that we’re not going to be shy about asking for a slightly better song in the bargain.


Baby, If You’ve Ever Wondered… Wondered Whatever Became Of Me…
Okay, okay… while this is not a song deserving of becoming a hit, it’s actually plenty good enough for a B-side, where all you’re really after is something interesting enough to earn a few spins on its own.

Now granted, in 1952 the majority of rock listeners were probably still getting their bulk of their exposure to these records via the jukebox, so when you have something as stunningly great as Moonrise on one side, you’d be far more likely to invest your second nickel in hearing it again rather than checking out something that’s a clear step down.

But of course you won’t know that unless you cough up that other nickel to take a listen to this at least once. If you do, while you probably won’t be one of the three or four contrarians who prefer Fifth Street Blues, you almost certainly won’t be kicking the side of that jukebox, hoping to get your five cents back either.

Truth be told, like the single, this May session it came from was the ideal situation in that the four songs cut that day featured three lead singers – including the first by newest member Hank Ballard – and the fourth was a dual lead. That’s about as democratic as you can get and the songs showed incredible stylistic diversity as a result.

But that being said there are always going to be songs that stand out as clear A-sides and others, like this, which are best suited as a flip.

When more of the rock audience started buying records, particularly once the 45 RPM took hold in this field, then a song like this would probably get a little more mileage, as you wouldn’t need to keep plugging nickels in a jukebox to hear a tune whose lyrics were the primary drawback… unless you were headed to Cincinnati and needed directions, in which case this might be better than the Auto Club… or at least more entertaining.

I’m Livin’ On The Air In Cincinnati
Certain cities seem to draw songs to them like magnets. Kansas City is one that elicited a surprising amount over the years, but obviously the big metropolises like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have had their fair share as well.

But Cincinnati?!?

Obviously King Records was located in The Queen City, which is why the song was placed there, but when The Royals come in singing about it – not about anything notable there mind you, just crooning the city and state names in harmony and then the others using “O-HI-O” as the primary backing vocals – you realize that this must’ve been one of those tunes they came up with at 4 AM the night before the session out of sheer desperation.

Maybe they thought they were being clever, but lyrically Fifth Street Blues is so ridiculous that quoting it at length would send you to the travel agent to make sure your next flight hits a different city for its layover. Making it worse is how Henry Booth is attempting to sell you on the town by claiming all the hot girls are not only bald but “short and fat” to boot.

Gee, no wonder they used to call it The Paris Of America!


It’s a shame too, because otherwise Fifth Street Blues is pretty strong in every department. Despite of the tripe he’s singing, Booth shows he can handle a lead vocal just fine, his more gravelly tone contrasting nicely with the silkier voice that we’re used to from Charles Sutton.

Meanwhile the group has no problem pulling off faster paced, more rhythmic material… something which they’d soon prove beyond a shadow of a doubt once Hank Ballard moved to the forefront.

Lastly, the studio band, despite having no real recognizable names, comes across quite well, laying down a nice party-like atmosphere with Robert Darby’s tenor work standing out.

With the group adding shouts of encouragement and handclaps to bolster the beat, the song has a great groove to it that never lets up. Darby’s sax solo, while not scalding by design, certainly is plenty hot and while it wanders a bit at times, it never loses sight of keeping your feet moving which is paramount on an uptempo song such as this.

Surely on stage (assuming their road unit or the house band at whatever joint they were playing that night had capable musicians in it) a performance like this would provide a welcome respite from the dreamy ballads they specialized in at the time. Heck, it may even have gotten the kind of enthusiastic responses on stage that prompted Ballard to start heading in this stylistic direction once he became entrenched as the lead singer and songwriter next year.

But the fact of the matter is that with such a pointless story affixed to it, the record itself wasn’t going to stir much interest outside of the Cincinnati Chamber Of Commerce even if we’ll commend their attempt to mix things up.


Maybe Think Of Me Once In Awhile
An artist’s formative years are often much more interesting than their hit years, simply because it’s when they’re free to experiment because they have no expectations to meet, no established fan base to satisfy, no record company mandates to follow in order to keep the gravy train rolling.

There’s bound to be some creative missteps along the way but it’s also how a lot of acts tend to stumble into a winning formula.

Fifth Street Blues is both a creative miss, lyrically at least, but also hints at what might be a potentially winning formula.

Of course a lot of things would change before they capitalized on that, including switching out Booth for Ballard on the faster songs and changing subjects to come up with something enticing and racy rather than a plot lifted from the city map you happened to pick up at the gas station on the way into town.

As long as you don’t try and make too much sense out of what they’re singing here and focus instead on how they’re singing, or rather how they and the band are urging one another on, you’ll always be happy enough to get a B-side like this, giving you enough differences from their usual fare to keep you engaged.

Then again, there’s a chance that King Records might just have been using this side as a form of cheap advertising for their gift shop should any listener be tempted to wander down to the old ice house from which they ran their operations.

If you do happen to stop by that part of town, pay no attention to the short dumpy man in Coke bottle glasses with the raspy voice trying and sell you some swag from the back of his car.

That’s just Syd Nathan and whatever he’s got to pitch to you can probably be gotten for half the price at the local Woolworth in much better condition.


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