THE ROYAL TEENS
Formed as an instrumental group called the Royal Tones in 1957, the Royal Teens changed their name when they discovered that there was already a group called The Royaltones, which also happened to play instrumentals. The Royal Teens hailed from Fort Lee, New Jersey, and were originally made up of Bob Gaudio (piano), Tom Austin (drums), Bill Crandall (sax) and Billy Dalton (guitar). In the summer of 1957, they were signed to Power Records, owned by Lee Silver. Their first single had a rousing sax-and-guitar instrumental on one side, "Planet Rock", and a silly semi-instrumental called "Short Shorts" (written by group members Austin and Gaudio) on the other. With the promotional help of Alan Freed and Dick Clark, "Short Shorts" began to take off immediately. When Silver found himself swamped with orders he could not afford to fill, he decided to sell. An astronomical (for those days) $ 14,000 was paid for the master by ABC-Paramount, after negotiations on New Year's Day 1958. The record shot to # 3 on the Billboard charts and the group set off on a heavy touring schedule, but without Bill Crandall, who resumed his education. His replacement was Larry Qualiano. Their second single, "Big Name Button"/"Sham Rock" failed to attract attention, but their next single, "Harvey's Got A Girl Friend" reached # 78. The group added a new member, Joey Villa from Brooklyn, in late 1958. Vocals had never been the Royal Teens' strong point, but Villa was an accomplished vocalist, who had sung with The Three Friends. By September of 1959, the group was a quartet comprising Villa, Gaudio, Austin and a new addition, Ray Mariani. Deciding that novelty songs were a dead issue, the group became serious in its attempt to become a vocal harmony unit. It was this line-up that made a brief comeback on the Capitol label, with "Believe Me", a beat ballad that cast them in the mould of Dion and the Belmonts. The song went to # 28 in late 1959 and signalled a radical departure from the instrumental and novelty rock 'n' roll that had characterised their earlier recordings and for a while it seemed as though their makeover had paid off. Then their career suffered a major blow. Two unnamed members of the group were freed on moral charges after a teenage fan had claimed attempts had been made to force her to commit "unnatural acts" in a theatre manager's office.
The group spent the next few years bouncing between labels, including Mighty, Jubilee, Blue Jay and Swan, and still appeared on shows like American Bandstand occasionally. Al Kooper played guitar with the group for some time, before moving on to much bigger things. Gaudio left the group in 1960 to join the Four Lovers who soon became the Four Seasons. Bill Crandall resurfaced in 1965 as leader of the Knickerbockers. In 1970, a group calling itself the Royal Teens recorded an album for Musicor Records of Hollywood. The LP, "Newies But Oldies" featured hits from 1968-69, such as "Honky Tonk Women", recorded as though they were from the 1950s. "Hey Jude" was issued as a single. Like the Royal Teens, "Short Shorts" also had a second career. In the 1970s, the song was used in TV commercials by the Nair hair removal product. The point being that if a lady was going to wear short shorts, she also needed to use Nair. And of course, the song has appeared on many compilation albums and in many movies about the 1950s. It just won't go away.
The only CD available by the Royal Teens (released in 1994) is "Short Shorts" on Collectables, which has only 12 tracks and not their best ones at that.
- Liner notes by Rob Finnis for "The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll", Vol. 6 (Ace 650) and Vol. 10 (Ace 850).
- Lee Cotten, Reelin' & Rockin' . Ann Arbor : Popular Culture, Ink., 995. Page 235-238.
- Bruce Eder, All Music Guide entry for the Royal Teens.
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