“Dedicated to the One I Love” (the Shirelles, the Mamas & the Papas), “Think” (James Brown), and “Tell the Truth” (Ray Charles). All hits. All originally written and recorded by the “5” Royales, who just got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Which is great … almost. ‘Cause it’s not like anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the group’s music even noticed.
And when HBO telecasts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2015 gala induction ceremonies tonight, the “5” Royales will be lucky to see 60 seconds’ worth of screen time.
For one thing, all the guys in the group have long since shuffled off this mortal coil, so they won’t be performing or sharing the stage — or even watching from the audience — while some far more telegenic, more contemporary hitmaker delivers maybe one of the “5” Royales’ best-known songs.
There’s also absolutely no vintage video footage of the group, be it lip-synched or even silent, to be shown in their stead.
And … instead of being inducted by someone with the marquee value of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, or Miley Cyrus, the “5” Royales were inducted by Steve Cropper, best-known as the guitarist for Hall of Fame members Booker T. & the M.G.’s and his soulful role cutting and co-writing hits with Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, for openers. He also spearheaded the Dedicated album, an all-star tribute to the “5” Royales that was issued back in 2011. He’s a genius in his own right and a musician with a clear tether back to the Royales, but he’s sadly lacking in name recognition among the average American TV viewer.
Finally, there’s the nagging matter of the “5” Royales getting inducted in the “Early Influence” category, which is the pictionary definition of “damning with faint praise,” seeing as how it implies the group is some kind of dry as mummy dust, historical artifact, a museum piece to be stuffed and mounted in a wing that’s somewhere off to the side of the main room.
Righteous indignation aside, it’s Trunkworthy’s mission to spotlight things that deserve greater attention and bring them to a wider audience. And, here, in the case of the “5” Royales, is why we care (and you should, too):
In 1953, they recorded the raucous “Baby, Don’t Do It” – featuring the inspirational verse: “If you leave me pretty baby, I’ll have bread without no meat” – and it hit No. 1 on the R&B charts. The similarly styled “Help Me Somebody” did the same.
It’s worth nothing that this was a year before Elvis Presley first set foot in a recording studio or Bill Haley & His Comets covered Joe Turner’s then-current R&B chart-topper “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” And that “5” Royales singer Johnny Tanner’s raspy, full-throated soul-shouting predates Ray Charles’ adoption of a gospel-derived, vocal style or Sam Cooke’s forays into secular music.
They returned to the R&B Top 10 with “Think,” featuring guitarist/songwriter Lowman Pauling’s jagged, bluesy fretwork. (Taking his cue from James Brown’s abovementioned cover, Mick Jagger followed suit on his 1993 solo album Wandering Spirit.) Then came “Dedicated to the One I Love,” which millions of people would learn from the Shirelles’ cover and millions more would come to know by the Mamas & the Papas. There’s also a sultry cover by the Temprees that’s a perennial late-night dedication on L.A. radio. But none captures the raw longing of the original.
By all accounts, the “5” Royales were also a house-wrecking live act, and this kept them on the road until they called it quits in 1965. They all took day jobs, except for Pauling, who worked as a touring guitarist for B.B. King and Sam & Dave. Reportedly plagued by alcohol problems, he wound up sweeping out a Brooklyn synagogue, and died from a seizure at age 47. No one ever even thought to interview him.
But the “5” Royales had recorded four albums and dozens of singles during the course of their career, and word-of-mouth turned them into cult-jams. In 1992, the then-surviving members received a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award that came with a check for $3,000. Two years later came a fine anthology, Monkey Hips and Rice. And just last year came Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales, an insanely enjoyable set, which helped pave the way for this induction.
That might sound like overkill. But, truthfully, the “5” Royales made more great records than we’ve had space to highlight here. And anyone who’s a fan of proto-soul singing, enduring songwriting, and slashing guitar stylings should dive in and drink deeply from the group’s vast, cask-strength catalogue. ‘Cause listening to the “5” Royales isn’t some sort of swirl, sip, and savor academic exercise for only the most sophisticated palates. This is music to be played at a house party. Loudly. And to be danced to.