What is the place of the Royals in the annals of rhythm & blues and rock'n'roll? The surprising answer is "almost nothing". However, the important word here is "almost".
For two years (1952 and 1953), this underappreciated Detroit group struggled along, turning out a series of releases on King Records' Federal subsidiary. With Charles Sutton in the lead, they made some of the finest music that city had ever heard but no one seemed to care. Listen to Every Beat Of My Heart, Starting From Tonight, or the incomparable Moonrise, and see if you don't agree. Then Hank Ballard joined, to replace a drafted member, and gave us the bluesy Are You Forgetting, Someone Like You, and Until I Die. Wonderful material, but no one was buying.
Just when it looked as if the Royals would fade into the vocal group sunset, a Near-Miracle happened, followed by a Curious Circumstance. The Near-Miracle was a throwaway song: Work With Me Annie. The lyrics were simplistic, the beat was insistent, but mostly it was about as double-entendre as you could get and still be played on the radio (although it was banned by many stations). Sounds like a hit to me!
The Curious Circumstance actually did doom the Royals to obscurity (however, it was the name "Royals", not the group). King Records had been involved in some Byzantine wheeling and dealing to steal the hit-making "5" Royales away from the Apollo label. They finally succeeded, but this meant that there would be potential confusion between the two groups. Since the "5" Royales were vastly more popular at that point, it was the Royals who had to change their name. Thus were the "Midnighters" born.
Think about it: if the deal had happened a year later, it probably would have been the "5" Royales who changed their name. Why is that? Because Work With Me Annie wasn't just another risqu?© record, it turned into a cultural phenomenon that culminated with Georgia Gibbs' smash pop hit Dance With Me Henry. The Midnighters followed up with a string of off-colour hits: Sexy Ways, Annie Had A Baby, and Stingy Little Thing among them.
By the end of the decade, the hot Midnighters had cooled off. Then, they lucked into The Twist, which started a second cultural phenomenon. How many groups can you name who did that?
And now you can hear how it all began. The tracks on this CD represent the full singles output of the Royals, mostly from pristine master tapes, plus two alternate versions as bonus tracks. And this is only the first in a planned series of Ace releases by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (complimenting already-released Ace CDCHD 779 "Dancin' & Twistin'"). If you're unfamiliar with the majority of the tunes here, get set for some real listening pleasure.
(see Marv Goldberg's articles on the original vocal groups, including the Royals, at www.uncamarvy.com)
by Marv Goldberg