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FEDERAL 12077; MAY 1952



If you do something really well – and I mean really well – and your success depends on gaining a broad public reception for it and you didn’t get that response with your recent first attempt, what should you do?

Try something completely different, figuring people have already had their chance to accept your best work in a certain style and failed to do so even though their reasons for that might not have anything to do with their opinion on its quality, but rather because they didn’t know it – or you – even existed?

Or do you double down on it and gamely try again by putting your best foot forward and hope that this time around it reaches a few more curious ears?


Whisper Sweet Words
In case you had any doubt, The Royals chose the latter approach, singing another yearning ballad in their inimitable way.

Yet for a second time in two attempts this also failed to connect.

It’d be at this stage that a lot of people might give up. They might not quit altogether and turn to another career, but they could decide that singing songs in heartbreaking fashion like this wasn’t the best direction to head in rock ‘n’ roll and maybe they should try a different style.

Maybe singing uptempo racy songs about sex.

Okay, okay, they DID that soon enough and they succeeded with it beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, but that only came after group member Lawson Smith left – just a week after this, their first session – and was replaced by Hank Ballard.

But even then Ballard wouldn’t take over as the permanent lead for awhile, as for the foreseeable future Charles Sutton was still handling the songs which, like Starting From Tonight, were still mostly ballads.

Listening to this – as well as their even better debut Every Beat Of My Heart, melodically similar, but written by Johnny Otis whereas this was penned by the group’s guitarist Alonzo Tucker – who could blame them?

This was the sound of young love on an early summer night, sounding as if it was being sung just minutes after dropping the girl you’ve had a crush on all school year and exchanging your very first kiss.

Yeah, I know, the nocturnal activities Ballard would soon be singing about might be a lot more fun to do with girls, but even so it’s probably not quite as magical.


Say You’ll Be Mine Forever
For any of you who think that we’ve been unduly harsh about rock vocal group ballads (not true at all, as the many perfect scores attest) simply because we DO take a dim view on pop oriented songs that are sung prettily, but not appropriately for rock circles, here is your chance to have the difference made clear.

This is as delicate a ballad as you could hope to find. It also expresses love as a daunting proposition coming from somebody whose confidence is tenuous to say the least… all of which would seem to be attributes that a lot of pop records utilize.

But the way in which Starting From Tonight expresses these things makes it perfectly suitable for rock ‘n’ roll.

For starters there’s the perspective itself. Yes Charles Sutton sounds fairly timid in his proclimation of love to this girl but that’s merely a reflection of his inexperience, not any moral quandary about what is and isn’t proper to say to a date on a record to be consumed by the public.

His nervousness is endearing because it’s so authentic. The quaver in his voice, the halting pace of his lines, the lighter airy tone of his voice are all reflective of his uncertainty about how to act. He doesn’t want to blow this obviously because he really likes this girl, but there are two vastly different ways he MIGHT screw it up. The first is to say too little and leave the girl wondering if he’s actually interested. The second is to say too much and overwhelm her with platitudes and future plans to be together.

So he sort of splits the difference here, leaning towards the latter with his confident declaration of love, but using the kind of apprehensive delivery to make it sound less intimidating to a girl with a shortage of experience herself. As rock ‘n’ roll audiences get ever younger, this is a key attribute to possess as listeners can not only identify with his uneasiness but may even find solace in records like this after feeling they’ve blown their own chance with someone they like.

If that’s the case the singing on Starting From Tonight almost has the ability to make the pain go away, as Sutton is again brilliant on lead. His delicate – almost fragile – voice almost sounds as if it’s seeping into your pores rather than hitting you in the face. His phrasing is exquisite, knowing just when to let his voice swell and when to allow it to flutter softly to the ground, changing his inflection in subtle ways and letting the others cushion every line, sometimes even seeming to let them bolster his final words of a line so you aren’t sure where he ends and the others begin.

The arrangement is equally gentle and just as effective. The drums are the only instrument that gets played with any emphasis and while it provides a steady beat, it does so using a very dry sound which doesn’t distract from the voices. Meanwhile the faint organ and chimes are adding shades that you can’t miss but even if you focus on them each specifically you’ll find it hard to single them out, making it a prime example of how to blend instruments to create an ambiance rather than have an arrangement that dutifully carves out individual spots for each musician where they are at risk for overwhelming a more sensitive approach like this.

The whole record though fits this description, making it the aural equivalent of a waking dream… one you don’t want to snap out of before the needle lifts.


Tomorrow Never Comes
The direction music careers take are determined by a good many things outside the artist’s control – though hopefully the artist is still the one making the decisions.

The Royals were a really good group comprised of excellent singers, a talented songwriter/guitarist and a style that fit nicely into the current rock scene by modernizing the past ballad approach with more prominent and diverse backing vocals plus an emotional lead in Charles Sutton.

As evidenced by their first two singles they did this incredibly well, but as with the last one, Starting From Tonight didn’t pay off commercially. Of course there was no promotion to speak of, no big tours to undertake, nothing except the sound of their voices on a record that potential converts would have to almost stumble across in order to hear.

Whether that was a factor in this not connecting we can’t say for sure, but when Lawson left and Ballard came in it gave the group a new wrinkle which took awhile to exploit but made them much more unique and identifiable, as his bluesier hard gospel songs of sex and smut became notorious and pushed Charles Sutton aside.

You can’t say they’d have been better off sticking with this, not when it wasn’t going to sustain a career, but isn’t that what B-sides are for at least?

Imagine getting something THIS good on the back of another “Annie” record – hopefully Annie Has An Abortion And Gets Her Tubes Tied – which might take some of the heat off the then-renamed Midnighters while allowing Sutton to still take a few leads and in doing so would also give them the diversity they started to lack as time went on.

You can say hindsight is 20/20, but considering how myopic the rock fans of 1952 seemed to be when it came to seeing how good The Royals were, maybe a trip to the optometrist would’ve done listeners well.

While there maybe stop in to the Ears, Nose and Throat doctor too with an emphasis on the first of those specialties.


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