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We’re already in a period of transition with one of the more impressive vocal groups to come along over the past year whose commercial returns unfortunately haven’t come close to matching their artistic achievements thus far in their young career.

A few months back they released their first single to feature Hank Ballard on a lead, while normal lead singer Charles Sutton took the other side. This approach of splitting a single between multiple vocalists is a good one, but it won’t last long as Ballard’s more vibrant uptempo songs are going to soon phase out the exquisitely tender ballads Sutton specialized in.

Last time around we covered the Ballard led side first, so this time we’ll start with the Sutton track and try and determine whether the writing was already on the wall for this imminent change due to declining quality of the ballad output, or if it was merely a case of a more forceful personality wresting control of the group.

If the title of this offering is any hint, maybe you should lay your bets on the latter.


Hoping It’s You
One of the more interesting aspects of any group situation, be it a sports team, a college dorm, a jury pool or a vocal group, is how the individual personalities mesh or clash and how allegiences shift over time based on a number of factors.

There’s no evidence that The Royals were at odds with one another, for even though Charles Sutton would eventually be ousted that came well after the name change and hits galore, but it’s easy to see how the seeds of unrest might’ve already been taking root in late 1952.

Keep in mind the following… soon after signing with Federal Records they lost Lawson Smith who was kidnapped by the United States government and sentenced to two years in Army khakis. He was replaced by Hank Ballard, an outsider who was not a part of the original quintet and joined just one week after their first session. The dynamics of the group were bound to change with a new member, especially since the group’s only success to that point was getting the record contract itself.

Furthermore all of the Royals, including Ballard, worked on the Ford assembly line, except for Sutton who worked for Chrysler. Not that there’s a rivalry between companies they were compelled to uphold, but it’s just easier gossiping and bonding over shared experiences, not to mention hanging out in and around the plant with one another, which may have left Sutton as more of an outsider.

Ballard of course had his own dreams to fulfill and as a good singer and aspiring songwriter it was inevitable that he’d want the opportunity to showcase that. Without any national hits to provide firm resistance against making such a change, it wasn’t unreasonable for Ballard to get his chance as they searched for a hit sound and bankable identity.

Lastly, the group’s guitarist and primary songwriter Alonzo Tucker was about to step back from playing with them, focusing instead on other behind the scenes roles for the group, and it was Tucker who wrote most of Sutton’s leads, including What Did I Do.

So to answer that question for Charles Sutton, you didn’t DO anything to deserve a demotion, but fate and numbers were against you from the moment the personnel changed.

In My Lonely Room Waiting For The News
It hurts to say that as good as Charles Sutton sounds here for the most part, this composition isn’t on par with the top shelf ballads he’d gotten in the past, making his struggle to hold onto the frontman designation a more tenuous proposition.

It’s a perfectly adequate song, just not a special one like so many of their past sides, as it’s got an indistinct melody that at times lets the notes hang on a bit longer than the group can hold them.

Sutton’s clear as a bell tenor is fairly strong throughout, rarely wavering even as the song doesn’t quite know where it’s going. Yet he’s obviously propping this up with the quality of the voice itself and his own commitment to the performance rather than the material keeping its half of the bargain.

In case it isn’t too obvious from the title, What Did I Do is a post break-up song and though it contains the usual tropes for the subject, the lyrics themselves aren’t bad, even if they place him in a rather unenviable position within the story. Because Sutton is beyond the point of being able to do anything to actively change the outcome and thus is left in a passive role, just left to hope that the phone rings or the mail brings some attempt at reconciliation from a girl he’s not likely to see again. That’s not something a lot of listeners are going to gravitate towads, even if – or especially if – it hits a little too close to home with their own faltering love life.

The bigger problem than not letting him be more of a protagonist however is the actual song it’s attached to doesn’t distinguish itself in any way. There’s no catchy hook in the chorus, no addictive melody to get stuck in your head and no subversive instrumental lick to serve as a point of reference. Each time you think it’s getting steady on its feet, it starts to wobble around again, not sure of the direction it should take and ultimately not making a decision one way or another.

There’s still some really nice moments on the record, the voices alone make sure of that, as Sutton concludes a weakly written middle eight with his best delivered line – “Now has turned to rain” – and Sonny Woods has some very good bass notes here and there. Ballard takes a back seat in the blend for the most part, but the one moment where he steps out around the 1:10 mark with a three note refrain is a short-lived high point.

Structurally though the composition itself works against them, the slow pace gives them too much time to fill with not enough notes to use to fill them, and so too often they lose their grip on things and as a result it comes across as not nearly as tight and polished as their past work behind Sutton.

Their best stretch ironically comes right at the end, where they’re finally given more interesting things to do while joining Sutton for the coda. Maybe that helps to give an artificial boost to the impression it leaves, but it’s definitely not going to be enough to have anybody insisting on a hands-off policy for The Royals approach from here on in.


Leaving Makes Me Cry
One subpar – for them – release with Charles Sutton on lead, which is still makes the grade compared to the rest of the rock kingdom at this stage, is no reason to start selling your stock in his continued stewardship of the group, but it certainly isn’t doing his prospects much good now that he’s got a capable and determined challenger moving in on him.

For the time being though, no matter who’s out front, The Royals remain something of a commercial enigma… capable of some brilliant performances which has resulted in relatively little to show for it outside of some regional action.

With the ballad era of the rock vocal group format gradually giving way to a more raucous uptempo movement that will pay off more consistently in the market, the tide is starting to turn and favor somebody more suited to that approach.

If Sutton wants to at least keep his status as an alternate lead intact, he can’t be taking on the role he plays in this song and meekly asking What Can I Do. The answer is obvious, he can get better material that plays to his strengths, but since he’s not the writer that Hank Ballard will soon prove to be, that’s going to be a lot easier said than done.

The last two releases have basically pitted the two members against one another and left it to the public to decide. Last time out they chose neither and if you were judging it based on performances alone, Sutton got the slight edge, though neither really stood out.

With this one he repeats that decent but uninspiring showing, leaving the door open for Ballard to walk through on the flip side.

How’s that for an enticement to check back later and see how this round ends up in the scorecards?


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