Often cited as the vocal group's vocal group, the Five Keys formed in the mid-'40s as a gospel ensemble called the Sentimental Four, but inspired by the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots, they added guitar player Joe Jones (who was later replaced by a piano player, also named Joe Jones) and a fifth vocalist (while still calling themselves the Sentimental Four -- perhaps the two Jones guys and the new singer weren't particularly sentimental) and began to do more secular material. The group didn't really hit its stride until 1950, however, when Maryland Pierce joined up, bringing in his distinctive bluesy tenor to the vocal mix. By this time they were calling themselves the Five Keys and were no longer a gospel act. This very generous 30-track collection brings together the group's early sides (recorded between 1951 and 1957) for the Aladdin, Groove (a RCA subsidiary), and Capitol labels and features a confident mix of doo wop, jump blues, elegant R&B, and edgy (for the time) pop that rotated lead vocals between Rudy West, Dickie Smith, and Pierce, allowing the Five Keys to exhibit an impressive versatility. By the end of the decade, though, the group splintered into divergent touring ensembles, and aside from a couple of one-off brief reunions in 1983 and 1991, the original Five Keys have no recording legacy outside of the 1950s, although various configurations continued to tour under the Five Keys name into the 21st century. As this set shows, though, the original ensemble was not only versatile but a whole lot of fun, and songs here like the wry "How Do You Expect Me to Get It?," the bouncing "I'm So High," the street-smart "Come Go My Bail, Louise," the skewed but somehow wise "I Wish I'd Never Learned to Read," and the striking ballad "Wisdom of a Fool" are a distinct cut above the kind of things most vocal groups were performing at the time, ranging from barroom romps to tears-on-my-pillow ballads, all handled with verve and energy, and with wonderful vocal harmonies. The Five Keys may not have seen the level of commercial success that came to their heroes the Mills Brothers or the Ink Spots, but they may actually have been more influential on the vocal groups that swept in with the 1960s doo wop revival. Thanks to Revola for compiling this fine set from one of the best and most unsung vocal groups to emerge in the 1950s.
Share this page