It’s no secret that the accomplishments of many rock & roll pioneers were downplayed solely on the basis of their race. Many black artists who practiced on street corners or in deserted hallways, perfecting their sound and hoping to be discovered, were lost in the shuffle of corporate politics. And, those who were lucky enough to “make it”, were often used by record companies to stimulate black record sales.
Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, along with Paul Ackerman of Billboard Magazine are credited with coining the term, “rhythm and blues”, thus giving credence to a new and vibrant form of rock and roll. However, record representatives decided that the original R&B records (“race music”) needed “cleansing” to receive proper airplay. As a result, in the early fifties, white performers began to cover black artist’s songs and the “cover record” came into vogue. These white artists took many of the black artist’s compositions into the studio and released them as if they were their own. America loved the music and bought records, leaving only crumbs for the black R&B singers.
This practice was accepted until a few brave disc jockeys with plenty of clout became fed up with the clean, polished versions of R&B records and said, “And now, here’s the original version…” Soon after, the airwaves become a battleground between rock purists and the white song salesmen who looked good and made a ton of money for the record companies.
For instance, “Sh’boom”, performed by The Chords, was not intended to be the “A” side of the record. It sold moderately well until The Crewcuts released it. Then, the whole world began to sing along with that catchy tune. To get an accurate picture of the Crewcuts’ cover versions, listen to “Oop Shoop”, originally done by Shirley Gunther and The Teen Queens, “Two Hearts” originally done by The Charms, “Earth Angel” originally done by The Penguins, and “Ko Ko Mo” originally done by Gene and Eunice.
The following songs were covered by “Mr. Clean”, Pat Boone: “Ain’t That a Shame” (Fats Domino), “At My Front Door” (The Eldorados), “Gee Whitakers” (The Five Keys), “Tutti Fruitti”, and “Long Tall Sally” (Little Richard).
Perhaps the most noteworthy of all cover bands, The Diamonds became very wealthy by redoing these hits: “Nip Sip” (The Clovers), “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers), “You Baby You” (The Cleftones), “Church Bells May Ring” (The Willows), “Love, Love, Love” (The Clovers), “Every Night About This Time” (The Ink Spots), “Ka Ding Dong” (The G Clefs), “A Thousand Miles Away” (The Heartbeats), “Hearts of Stone” (The Jewels), “Rock Love” (Lula Reed), “You’re Mine” (Shirley Gunther), and “I’m in Love Again” (Fats Domino).
The Diamonds finally stopped covering other artist’s material after releasing “Still” by Laverne Baker. Baker was so upset about her composition being covered that she even demanded a congressional investigation into the practice.
There are many other songs which have been covered in one way or another, far too many to mention in this column, but my only advice to you is the next time someone says, “Now here’s the original version”, give it a listen… you may just find the true feeling and meaning of the song!