The Checkers

Checkmate: Complete King Records 1952-1955

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Here's another "just what the title says it is" compilation from the fine archivists at the Ace label, presenting all 26 of this obscure R&B vocal group's recordings. In addition to both sides of all ten of their King singles, it has four previously unissued alternate takes, as well as two takes of the previously unreleased "Friend in Need." A minor-league Dominoes and early Drifters vibe permeates the proceedings, as befits an act that included some members of those groups. Still, minor league doesn't always mean useless, and these are accomplished early- to mid-'50s doo wop sides that usually exhibit an admirable sense of spirited fun, even if there's a lack of songs that really deserved to be hits. That was the case despite several contributions from important R&B/early rock & roll producer Henry Glover and a few tunes co-written by Lowman Pauling of the "5" Royales. Maybe the ebullient "You Never Had It So Good," the best cut here (with a fine lead bass vocal from Bill Brown), could have been a breakthrough. But it, like some other tracks here, might have been a little too close in style to the Dominoes to stand out -- in fact, "Don't Stop Dan" is sort of a follow-up to the Dominoes' classic "Sixty Minute Man," and not a bad one, though it can't help but stand in the shadow of the original. Like many other, similar groups of the time, the Checkers were also adept at mixing roughly equal portions of jump-paced R&B with smoochy ballads. The uptempo jives are the better outings, though, and their brisk take on "White Cliffs of Dover" rates as one of the finer unknown R&B vocal arrangements of a pop standard.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:29
2 2:27
4 2:23
5 2:53
6 2:52
7 2:30
8 2:45
10 2:23
11 2:19
12 2:43
13 2:39
14 2:45
15 2:20
16 2:59
17 2:37
18 2:47
19 2:42
20 2:58
21 2:42
22 2:32
23 3:07
24 2:37
25 2:58
26 2:26
blue highlight denotes track pick