Thursday, January 13, 2011

The "5" Royales: All Righty! The Apollo Recordings (1951-55)



The history and legacy of the "5" Royales was explored some months back in this space, coinciding with my own discovery of the woefully underappreciated R&B legends. The King recordings I reviewed at that time are genuinely unclassifiable; far more idiosyncratic than even the shining lights of rhythm and blues of their time, those singles with their bursts of exploding guitar are unlike anything I've ever heard in any genre.

I've now gotten my hands on a set of their Apollo recordings. The big hits I knew; "Baby Don't Do It" and "Crazy Crazy Crazy" are classic R&B staples I've played in DJ sets, "Help Me Somebody" is peerless, with its appalling rhythmic shifts, and "Laundromat Blues" is a priceless curio. The rest is new to me, and I reckon it's not really proper to call it a disappointment -- this, after all, is what gave way to the stunning music the group recorded for King, but it does seem accurate to label it generally far more conventional.

To be clear: some of it is conventional and quite wonderful; the early "Give Me One More Chance" (1952) is a shot in the ear, suggestive and wild, a direct contrast to the sacred sides by the Royal Sons Quintet, the group's earlier incarnation, also included here. "I Like It Like That" has a filthy saxophone bit worth the price of the set, and "What's That" is layered, unshakeable pop displaying a clear passageway back to gospel and ahead to the Isleys' "Shout."

This is essential for anyone who loves early R&B, at the point when its lineage was so fascinatingly naked, and anyone who loves the Royales' astounding later work, but the prospective listener new to the group is advised to proceed directly to the King records. You'll love these too, but you'll love them because of how they recontextualize and validate the King 45's. Great group, well worth exploring.

Complete King Masters (1954-60)

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