Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The "5" Royales

  • The Five Royales [King, 1960]  
  • Monkey Hips and Rice: The "5" Royales Anthology [Rhino, 1994] A
  • The Very Best of the 5 Royales [Collectables, 2004] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Five Royales [King, 1960]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

Monkey Hips and Rice: The "5" Royales Anthology [Rhino, 1994]
Competing double-discs by Clyde McPhatter's Drifters and Harvey Fuqua's Moonglows convince me that these guys were the shit. The Coasters still rule, but the Coasters' sui generis wasn't their own, and beneath the musicianship they were basically comedians. Lowman Pauling's hard-touring sextet did it all, laughs included, and although Pauling's thought-through songwriting and groundbreaking guitar made him the auteur, singer Johnny Tanner deserves more grafs than he'll ever get in the prehistory of soul. They were sincere. They were dirty. They were smart. They were stoopid. They were great artists. They ended up working nine-to-five and going to church on Sundays. A

The Very Best of the 5 Royales [Collectables, 2004]
Rhino's Ed Ward-picked Monkey Hips and Rice exemplifies the compiler's craft. It doesn't rank with Robert Palmer's Elmore James or Ken Braun's Franco only because the 5 Royales aren't quite in that league. But these North Carolinians certainly outshone such oft-mourned '50s also-rans as Charlie Feathers and Orioles, as anyone who owns Ward's long-deleted 1995 comp is aware. Anyone who doesn't, however, may be put off by collector prices that start at $45 for two used CDs and quickly rise into triple figures. So here's a starter kit, which adds 11 good-to-excellent tracks to 14 of the 41 keepers Ward chose. Presumably the idea was to target doowop nuts, who like things slow, and skip uptempo finds--although not such essentials as "The Slummer the Slum" or "Monkey Hips and Rice." Even the more generic new selections demonstrate that Lowman Pauling wasn't the group's only weapon--singer Johnny Tanner presages doowop's evolution into soul with a lot less market calculation than Ben E. King. And it's really too bad Ward didn't squeeze in the four-minute group workout "I'm With You" or the barely articulate "My Wants for Love," where Johnny lets his brother Eugene grab the lead and the opportunity moves him very much. A-