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At the time a change is taking place, even if it’s not intended to be a permanent one, you are never entirely sure of the ramifications… good or bad.

You want to try something new, in this case let others in the group have their chance up front, and since vocal groups have the appearance of democracy even if that’s rarely the case in reality, why not try and spread the wealth around and let others dip their bill as the saying goes.

Nobody, not the group, not the record label, and judging by lack of any immediate response by listeners, not he public knew when putting this on their turntable that they were hearing the future.

In fact, what most of them probably thought they were hearing was a spirited – but sloppy – demo that somehow got released by mistake.


No More Tears Shall I Shed
The first thing you should notice looking at the label scan are the song’s litany of writers. Five of them, each one a member of The Royals themselves, which is always good to see, especially with vocal groups who often are pushed into dredging up old standards or taking stabs at current pop tunes where the only thing they can really contribute is to the vocal arrangement itself.

As we’ve said before, while being a songwriter is different than being an artist and you shouldn’t think less of somebody AS an artist if they don’t write their own material, the fact is those who do are generally going to have more control over their careers than those who don’t, which inevitably gives them a leg up on keeping pace with the competition.

The Royals are off to a pretty good start in that department with I’ll Never Let Her Go, a song which is raw and messy in some ways, though you could suggest that’s intentional as it adds to the underlying turmoil within the story.

In any event, though it didn’t make a splash commercially, unlike their last regional hit in their normal approach, this is the first time they manage to give us a peak into the future when their musical direction will radically change, going from tender balladeers who were led by Charles Sutton to the raucous partiers shepherded by Hank Ballard which will reach fruition once they change their name to The Midnighters.

If you want to think of this as the end of the first era – even though there’ll be more of the smoother songs to come – or if you simply want to view this as a sneak preview at coming attractions, that’s okay. Every good story has plot twists and the career of a rock group is no different.

What this record shows though beyond merely being a turning point in their evolution is that they had the right formula from the start, they just didn’t have the polish needed to make something this raucous sound professional at the same time.

Happy As A Man Can Be
Honking sax, the drum laying down a beat that’s accentuated by hand claps and a general feeling of loose-limbed enthusiasm when the voices come into the picture, this is definitely what you’d call Royals 2.0 (or perhaps more fittingly, Midnighters 1.0).

Whether or not that’s a GOOD thing is yet to be determined, but since in 1952 we wouldn’t have any idea of what was still to come from them as Hank Ballard wrested more control over their direction and output as the lead singer and primary songwriter, I gotta say… I wouldn’t have been too pleased.

Hold on now, I’m definitely not saying that as one side of a lone single I’ll Never Let Her Go isn’t entirely welcome. It is. This fits every criteria we have for our ideal B-sides in that it was written by the group itself, it featured a different lead singer, it was uptempo whereas the flip was a ballad and it shows them doing something completely new besides.

That’s nailing all of the criteria we have for such things, even if they don’t always do it smoothly.

But because it is perfectly suited for what they wanted to achieve, which was to expand their sound and give other members opportunities to shine, we’re going to be a little more lenient when discussing its technical limitations starting with the startling lack of confidence Ballard has during this, his first time taking the lead on one of their records. It’s readily apparent that he seems unsure of how much excitement he’s allowed to show, possibly because he’s self-conscious doing so in a sterile studio, which would be completely understandable for someone who’d only been in the group a little over two months at that point.

But it could also be because this is a radical departure in contrast to everything else the group has done and he might be worried that it can’t help but fail as a result, and so he sort of pulls back at times as if afraid to take it too far. Then again it could just be his voice hadn’t been whipped into shape yet as he sounds a little hoarse and runs out of breath later on, so maybe this was take 16 and he was running on fumes.

The others are a little ragged too, for different reasons though, as their parts are sort of drifting in and out of focus at times. Truthfully they all sound like this is an early run-through of the song, not a master take… other than the musicians that is, who are on point throughout this. In fact it’s Robert Darby, the saxophonist, who gives I’ll Never Let Her Go some much needed direction, coming to the aid of the skimpy lyrics when his tight efficient solo manages to pull the song together to keep this record from sliding completely into irrelevancy.

His lusty lines along with the hand claps give the voices the excuse they need to pretend this is a house party type of environment where shoddy vocal work would be expected. That the group would later specialize in that setting, while tightening up the vocals considerably, shows how this was merely a first pass at their defining attributes and as such we in the present can admire that they stuck with it and worked out the kinks in due time.

But for those who bought it in 1952, maybe the reaction would’ve been to scratch your head and wonder what the hell was going on that day in the studio.


Everytime She Smiles At Me
Since we ARE trying to ignore the ensuing seven decades of developments in rock when judging these records, and even fighting against the urge to peak ahead at a specific artist’s later work when it comes to evaluating each individual release, let’s focus on the topic of the song and how that subject might give The Royals a pass for the overeager vocal chaos shown here.

Ballard is head over heels in love with some girl and like most guys regardless of age, but certainly more apparent the less experience you have in life, he’s at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to get a handle on these emotions and simultaneously how to try and influence the emotions of the girl he’s got his eye on who’s causing him to be on the verge of a total breakdown it seems.

When looked at from that perspective the lines start to make a lot more sense, as he’s left to kick himself for his early mistakes, vow to do better and in the process try – and yet still fail – to keep a lid on his own out of control hormones. None of it is poetry, but all of it is genuine, as anyone knows who’s been through the same tumultuous roller coaster of love can attest.

I’m certain he means it when he says I’ll Never Let Her Go if he gets another chance with her, but I’m pretty sure he won’t be able to hang onto her long if that happens because he’s just not experienced enough to handle this kind of intense feeling just yet.

But then again I’m also telling you that based on what’s shown here I’d be pretty confident saying that a Hank Ballard led group who were offering up a string of wild uptempo songs centered on unbridled lust – as appealing a package as that may be on paper – probably wouldn’t do better than the tender, beautifully sung ballads they’d done up to this point.

Of course I’d be dead wrong.

Still, as a standalone record circa late summer 1952, this is little more than a mild curiosity, engaging maybe, but hardly enduring… something which has the ring of certainty to it of other “famous last words”.


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