Cover Records

By Gary:

This subject came up in a conversation with a friend the other day and of course I started thinking.  Cover Records or Covered Recordings, which means same song and writer, usually a different Artist. 

Now way back when Dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was teenager, cover records were just part of the start of Rock and Roll.  Today you still have covered records, but really different, usually they cover a song done 20 years prior, BUT in my day it was very different. 

Cover Records were all about money, distribution and making it to the market first.  Unfortunately the Original (probably a black artist) was outsold by the Covering artist and usually white.  It was all about the bottom line.

Sh-Boom / The Chords / recorded on Atlantic Records Subsidiary Cat Records / released late April 1954 / reached # 1 R&B and # 9 BB /
The Toronto Group “The Crew Cuts” rushed into the Studio and released a more traditional version in June of 1954 / David Carroll & his Orchestra / Mercury Records (which was very large and powerful) entered the charts in July 1954 and was # 1 for Nine Weeks during August and September / they got National TV coverage “Ed Sullivan” and spent 20 weeks on the chart / just a huge success/ this was one of the first huge successes for cover records or White groups covering Black R&B Artists.
The same song, very different and the cover version made so much more money and was much more successful. They were “White”, Mercury was powerful and They used TV. Trust me, The Crew Cuts would strike again.
Hearts of Stone / Otis Williams & the Charms / released on Deluxe Records late September / # 1 R&B # 15 Pop / 
Hearts of Stone / The Fontaine Sisters / Dot Records / released November / reached # 1 Feb/55 / Sold over 1 Million Records / received a Gold Record (very difficult in 1954) / TV exposure Perry Como /
Again Same Song / same time period / White vs. Black R&B / huge difference in sales
Personal Note:
I purchased Otis Williams and the Charms
The other versions were easier to get, I mean much easier and I lived in Toronto
Distribution was the secret
Ain’t that a Shame / This is a huge one for me, because I remember it so vividly / written by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew / # 1 R& B / # 10 BB
But Pat Boone (He wanted to change the name to “Isn’t that a Shame”) / one month later, but had the power of Television (The Arthur Godfrey Show) and it went to # 1.  Produced by a large Record Company “Reo” plus Television, they just out-produced Fats and Pat was white and “Clean”, it was just how it was.  The first version I could purchase was Pat Boone, but once I heard Fats, I never listened to anything else.
Now another one I really remember.
Earth Angel / The Penguins (the best and only version for me) / they wrote it and actually recorded it in September 1954 / recorded on Dootone records and actually crossed over and hit # 10 on the Pop Charts.  Oh yes and it was the B side.
actually peaked at # 3, I own both but only the Penguins for me.  Again, Mercury Records, large company, great distribution, Television and again they were white.  It’s just how it was in 1955.
Tweedle Dee / Lavern Baker (again for me the only version) / Atlantic Records / Novelty Song / reached # 14 Pop Chart /
Georgia Gibbs / Mercury Records / Better distribution, larger company, Television and White / reached # 2 Pop Charts
This one I still don’t understand.
I Hear You Knocking / with Huey Smith on Piano / reached # 2 on the R&B charts / Imperial Records /
Then a TV Actress named Gail Storm (My little Margie) / recorded for Dot Records large company and it was # 2 on the Pop Charts and sold over 1 Million Records / Television, distribution and attractive white woman.

Gail Storm manages to be a successful wife, mother and actress. She gives her secret for managing three careers without succumbing to nervous tension. Gail stars in the radio and TV series, “My Little Margie.” (1954 file photo)

Little Richard explodes onto the scene with Tutti Frutti (actually recorded November 1955) and Long Tall Sally (with Slipin’ and Slidin’ B side), which reach # 17 and 6 respectively.
Now again through the power of TV and distribution, Pat Boone records both and Tutti Frutti goes to #12, but the tide is starting to turn and Long Tall Sally, makes it to # 8.  Little Richard does better, but he takes a lot of sales away for Mr. Penniman.
Fat’s was back with a double sided hit (most of his recordings were like that) Now this one I remember vividly.  My Dad loved the “A” Side and me too, but I turned it over and there it was “I’m in Love Again”, great recording.  Made it to # 3 and this time the cover recordings could not out sell the original, because Fats was doing TV, touring and was established. and and live
Well the Fontaine Sisters with Billy Vaughn and Dot Records took a Run at the White Audience, they made it to # 38, not bad but that took a lot of sales from Fat’s.
Last for this year a classic from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”.  They made it to # 6 Frankie was 14 and made it to the Ed Sullivan Show, so nothing could stop them, but Frankie himself.  Live on the Frankie Lane Show 1956 –
But Dot Records and Billy Vaughn got TV Actress Gale Storm to record the same song and it made it all the way to # 9 White older audience, remember it was 1956.  Sorry but it was not a great recording, professional, but I bought Frankie.
The strangest cover record this year, for me, would be Young Love by Country Singer Sonny James which was great and went to #1.
and the recording
So this, to me, is the strange part – Tab Hunter – a Good Looking Movie Star (who could not sing a note) recorded it and it also went to # 1.  OK, so you don’t believe me, really watch this yep he cannot sing a NOTE!
We will return to the “Toronto” part of cover records.  The Gladiolas, with lead singer Maurice Williams wrote and recorded a # 41 Song “Little Darlin’”
They would later become Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs of “Stay” fame.
OK, in defense of the Diamonds a Toronto Group, their version was very different and I think a better commercial recording and it went to # 2.  Here they are in 1957 on American Bandstand with Dick Clark and in 2004 and
My wife loves only this version, so I will leave it alone.
Here is another one that is strange, because both Artists would eventually would record for the same Company, Imperial.  I will go back to Fats again with his song (which I love) I’m Walkin’ it went to # 4.
A young man who was just trying to impress a girl (man what we do) started his music career with his cover version.  He had good looks, the power of TV (the Ozzie and Harriet Show) and eventually surrounded himself with some of the best musicians and writers had a great career, troubled life and unfortunate end.  I’m talking about Ricky Nelson.  I’m Walking went to # 17 on Verve records.  He was a favourite of mine.
The first time we heard or saw him sing
The Genie was out of the bottle, Rock and Roll or Rhythm and Blues or Rockabilly was here to stay and the smaller labels either found out about distribution or got taken over by the larger labels.  Remember, Elvis did a cover record, “Blue Suede Shoes” written and recorded by Carl Perkins.
In the Future Cover records would take on a completely new vision, they were cover records, but in some cases 20 years apart.
Here is my one example, but there are so many.
In 1968 Tommy James and the Shondells recorded Mony Mony and it went all the way to # 3
Then 13 years later Billy Idol made a video, recorded the same song, it was not immediately a hit, but eventually became a huge dance favourite and sold multi-millions
I guess one of the most successful songs to be covered is a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It was a # 1 hit in 1962 and then 12 years (1974) later was a # 1 hit again and then fast forward 14 years (1988) and it was # 3 on the hit parade.  It was originally written for Dee Dee Sharp but after she turned it down the demo was recorded by Eva Boyd who was actually Carole King’s babysitter and went to # 1.
1962 Little Eva # 1
1974 Grand Funk # 1
1988 Kylie Minogue # 3

4 responses to “Cover Records

  1. GALE storm. FONTANE Sisters.

  2. Such a fun topic. There are so many great covers out there. Here is, arguably, the greatest cover record of all time: Billboard ranked The Twist as the most popular record of the rock and roll era.

    Hank Ballard And The Midnighters originally recorded it in 1958 and it had minor success, peaking at #28 in early 1960 I had a copy of it in my record collection. Too bad Hank Ballard wasn’t available when Dick Clark invited him to perform it on American Bandstand. Clark went out and got Chubby Checker to cover it then put him on the show instead doing an almost note-for-note copy.

    Chubby’s version of The Twist went to Billboard #1 in late 1960 then #1 again in 1962 (same recording but with a different song on the flip side). That success was mostly due to Chubby Checker’s appearance on American Bandstand.

    Others have also covered it. Most notably The Fat Boys in 1988 took it back to #1 in some markets – and yes that’s Chubby Checker in the Fat Boys video.

    There’s some controversy about the origins of the song but Hank Ballard is credited with writing the version he recorded.

    Hank Ballard also had some chart success in our market, Vancouver, with the songs Finger Poppin’ Time and Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go. They were very popular dance songs at our high school in 1960. Mostly though his best stuff was banned from radio – too risqué.

    • Lots of great information, Les. Thanks so much for sharing.
      I can remember playing sax for a Twist Marathon that was held at Honest Ed’s. Cathy Petri won. She was like a zombie by the time it was over.
      – Russ


    Gary you missed HANKY PANKY by THE RAIND

    ROPS the people who wrote the song also sang this winner that Tommy James and THE SHONDELLS recorded. It really got it start in PITTSBURGH, PA. played on the RADIO by a friend of mine named BOB MACK and he sold it to MORRIS LEVY at ROULETTE RECORDS.

    The Emperor of Great Music AND Parties


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