The "5" Royales, Baby Don't Do It.
The "5" Royales, Laundromat Blues.
The "5" Royales, All Righty!
The "5" Royales, I Like It Like That.
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the greatest rock & roll group of the 1950s--the "5" Royales. Known today, if at all, for providing the original versions of the Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love" and James Brown's "Think", the Royales were visionaries and jokers, crafting a form of gospel-infused, soul-fired rock music that was years ahead of its time (perhaps it still is).
The Royales came from tobacco country--Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Lowman Pauling and Johnny Tanner began performing gospel together by the time they were in their early teens, and by 1943 they had joined a professional group, the Royal Sons, of which Pauling's brother Clarence was a member. By the end of the '40s, the Royal Sons were established as a popular regional gospel group.
Yet the lure of the secular world pulled at them. First Clarence Pauling bailed, heading up to Detroit to ultimately wind up with Berry Gordy, producing singles like Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike." And when the group signed with Apollo Records in 1951 (having changed their name to the 5 Royales), Apollo approached the group with a proposition--they were gospel singers, sure, but there was some money in making pop songs, and Apollo asked if the group would be interested. It didn't take much persusasion...
The core Royales lineup was Lowman Pauling (who played guitar and composed most of the group's songs), Tanner (generally the lead tenor vocalist), Obadiah "Scoop" Carter, Jimmy Moore (who could do falsetto), Johnny Holmes and Otto Jeffries. After Jeffries left the group, he was replaced by Tanner's brother Eugene.
So the "5" Royales were actually six. Ed Ward: "The '5' was written as it was to show that the group could, in fact, count."
Where to start? Why not with the group's first major hit, the epochal "Baby Don't Do It", released as Apollo 443 at the tail end of 1952 and a #1 R&B hit by early 1953. Apollo, convinced they had some hitmakers on their hands, hired a band to back the Royales--an all-girl orchestra headed by a character named Charlie "Jazz" Ferguson. If the couplet "If you leave me pretty baby/I'll have bread without no meat" isn't enough, enjoy Johnny Tanner's lead vocal, backed by the group's elaborate harmonies; or the stop-time bridge that leads to a wild chorus designed to drive a crowd into a frenzy.
The Royales' next single, "Help Me Somebody"/"Crazy Crazy Crazy", was more along the lines of standard R&B, but the B-side of the follow-up, "Laundromat Blues", released in July 1953 as Apollo 448, was filthy and crazy. Whether it's the spectacle of a gospel group providing truly nasty, moaning backing vocals, or Pauling using a coin-operated washing machine as a metaphor for his lover's prowess, the whole thing is pretty amazing.
"All Righty!", released in October 1953 as Apollo 449, was a showcase for the group's increasingly sharp and sophisticated harmonies--even Charlie "Jazz" Ferguson gets a little wild on his tenor sax solo. "I Like it Like That", recorded on Dec. 16, 1953 but released in April 1954, is another variation on the theme--amazing, at-times hilarious vocals; a loopy, sloppy sax solo.
It was just the beginning. By the end of 1953, the Royales were planning to leave Apollo for King Records--their greatest successes were yet to come.
The best place to find all these singles is on a lamentedly out-of-print compilation, Monkey Hips and Rice, a 2-CD set issued by Rhino in 1994, featuring invaluable liner notes by Ed Ward, but most can be found on The Apollo Sessions.
Top couple: Henry Moore's King and Queen.