1950s EASY-POP Songs and Singers...on the verge of Rock 'n Roll
The term ‘cover recording’ referred to a record company practice in the fifties of
utilizing a popular singer to record a version of a song that was very
similar to an original recording from a less-well-known singer.
Fifties 'Cover' Recordings:
Song Record Label Artist Year Highest Chart Position
Ain’t That A Shame
DOT cover by Pat Boone 1955 #1 IMPERIAL original by Fats Domino 1955 #10
CORAL cover by Teresa Brewer 1956 #17 IMPERIAL original by Fats Domino 1956 #35
CADENCE cover by Andy Williams 1957 #1 CAMEO original by Charlie Grace 1957 #1
Cindy, Oh Cindy
RCA cover by Eddie Fisher 1956 #10
GLORY original by Vince Martin & the Tarriers 1956 #9
Crying in the Chapel
RCA cover by June Valli 1953 #4 JUBILEE cover by the Orioles 1953 #11 VALLEY original by Darrell Glenn 1953 n/a
Dance with Me Henry (the Wallflower) (Work with Me Annie)
DOT cover by Georgia Gibbs 1955 #1
(The Wallflower) MODERN original by Etta James 1954 n/a
(Work with Me Annie) FEDERAL original by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters 1954 n/a
DOT cover by Gale Storm 1957 #4
DOT original by Bonnie Guitar 1957 #6
MERCURY cover by the Crew-Cuts 1955 #3 SOUND cover by Gloria Mann 1955 #18 DOOTONE original by the Penguins 1955 #8
Eddie My Love
DOT cover by the Fontane Sisters 1956 #11 CADENCE cover by the Chordettes 1956 #14 RPM original by the Teen Queens 1956 #14
CORAL cover by Teresa Brewer 1957 #13 ATLANTIC original by Ivory Joe Hunter 1956 #43
Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight
CORAL cover by the McGuire Sisters 1954 #7 RCA cover by Sunny Gale 1954 #26 VEE-JAY original by the Spaniels 1954 #24
Hearts of Stone
DOT cover by the Fontane Sisters 1954 #1 DE LUXE original by Otis Williams & the Charms 1954 #15
I Hear You Knockin’ (But You Can't Come In)
DOT cover by Gale Storm 1955 #2 IMPERIAL cover by Fats Domino 1961 #67 IMPERIAL original by Smiley Lewis 1955 n/a
I Understand (Just How You Feel)
RCA cover by June Valli 1954 #6 JUBILEE original by the Four Tunes 1954 #8
I’m in Love Again
DOT cover by the Fontane Sisters 1956 #38 IMPERIAL original by Fats Domino 1956 #3
VERVE cover by Ricky Nelson 1957 #17 IMPERIAL original by Fats Domino 1957 #4
FRATERNITY cover by Cathy Carr 1956 #2 DOT cover by Gale Storm 1956 #6 DE LUXE original by Otis Williams & the Charms 1956 #11
Just Walking in the Rain
COLUMBIA cover by Johnnie Ray 1956 #2 SUN original by the Prisonaires 1953 n/a
Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)
RCA cover by Perry Como 1955 #2 MERCURY cover by the Crew-Cuts 1955 #6 COMBO original by Gene & Eunice 1954 n/a
MERCURY cover by the Diamonds 1957 #2 EXCELLO original by the Gladiolas 1957 #41
Long Tall Sally
DOT cover by Pat Boone 1956 #8 SPECIALTY original by Little Richard 1956 #6
DOT cover by Gale Storm 1957 #77 ATLANTIC original by Ruth Brown 1957 #25
Pledging My Love
CORAL cover by Teresa Brewer 1955 #3 DUKE original by Johnny Ace 1955 #17
DOT cover by the Fontane Sisters 1955 #13 EXCELLO original by the Marigolds 1955 n/a
DOT cover by the Fontane Sisters 1955 #3 MERCURY cover by Rusty Draper 1955 #18 KING original by Boyd Bennett & his Rockets 1956 #5
MERCURY cover by the Crew-Cuts 1954 #1 CAT original by the Chords 1954 #5
Shake Rattle & Roll
DECCA cover by Bill Haley & his Comets 1954 #7 ATLANTIC original by Joe Turner 1954 #22
MERCURY cover by the Diamonds 1957 #10 ABC-PARAMOUNT cover by Steve Gibson 1957 #63 CAMEO original by the Rays 1957 #3
CORAL cover by the McGuire Sisters 1955 #1 CHESS original by the Moonglows 1954 #20
A Tear Fell
CORAL cover by Teresa Brewer 1956 #5 ATLANTIC original by Ivory Joe Hunter 1956 n/a
DOT cover by Pat Boone 1956 #12 SPECIALTY original by Little Richard 1956 #17
MERCURY cover by Georgia Gibbs 1955 #2 ATLANTIC original by LaVern Baker 1955 #14
Two Hearts, Two Kisses
DOT cover by Pat Boone 1955 #16 COLUMBIA cover by Doris Day 1955 n/a DE LUXE original by Otis Williams & the Charms 1955 n/a
Why Do Fools Fall in Love
DOT cover by Gale Storm 1956 #9 MERCURY cover by the Diamonds 1956 #12 DECCA cover by Gloria Mann 1956 #59 GEE original by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers 1956 #6
DOT cover by Tab Hunter 1957 #1 MERCURY cover by the Crew-Cuts 1957 #17 CAPITOL original by Sonny James 1957 #1 RCA earlier by co-writer Ric Cartey 1956 n/a
The Controversy over 'Cover' Records
The decade of the fifties saw a transition in popular music. During the forties there were three distinctive types of recordings—‘pop,’ ‘race,’ and ‘hillbilly’—and the success of each of these types of recordings was measured by its own popularity chart. Rhythm & blues recordings and country & western songs did not enter into mainstream popular music until the mid-fifties, and the timing coincided with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
‘Pop’ music records were usually released by one of the six major labels: Capitol, Columbia, Decca, MGM, Mercury, and RCA Victor. The large majority of popular vocalists were under contract to one of these major recording companies or their subsidiaries. ‘Race’ and ‘hillbilly’ records were usually the province of one of the specialty recording companies. These independent labels were scattered all over the country: CHESS in Chicago, KING in Cincinnati, PEACOCK in Houston, SAVOY in Newark, MODERN in Los Angeles, SPECIALITY in Hollywood, and the largest, ATLANTIC in New York. In the fifties, ‘race’ music became known as ‘rhythm & blues,’ and the success of its recordings was measured on the R&B chart. ‘Hillbilly’ music became ‘country & western’ and was measured on the C&W chart.
Rhythm and blues artists had difficulty getting their records played on white-dominated radio. Instead, mainstream artists recorded their own versions of R&B hits. The term ‘cover recordings’ referred to the record company practice of utilizing a popular singer to record a version of a song that was very similar to an original recording from a less-well-known singer, released by a small independent record label.
Black musicians found themselves isolated from the dominant recording companies and thus separated from the majority of the record-buying public. Worse yet, when a black artist developed an original, potentiallysuccessful tune through a small independent recording outfit, white artists, including Pat Boone, the Crew-Cuts, Gale Storm, and the Fontane Sisters, hurriedly supplied the white-record-purchasing-audience with an acceptable ‘cover’ version of the same tune. Popular fifties singers, Perry Como, Teresa Brewer, Eddie Fisher, and the McGuire Sisters, all recorded ‘safe’ sanitized cover recordings of material from black and R&B artists. The major record companies would use their influence to promote their cover versions to the exclusion of the work of the original performers.
The major record labels started recording covers in the early 1950s to deal with the threat of ‘cross-over’ songs from the rhythm and blues and country artists. The major labels didn’t want the specialized country, R&B, and black musicians to threaten the dominance the major studios enjoyed in the mainstream POP music market. Sometimes the covers of the original songs kept the same lyrics but re-orchestrated the music with arrangements that would burr off the rough edges and turn the raw, driving beat and the fast tempo of the originals into the familiar, mellow, and non-threatening style of white popular music. Covers of R&B songs might include the feelings of guitars and drums, but not emphasize them. Independent recording companies, Dot and Cadence, were formed in the fifties and specialized in producing cover recordings.
Perry Como covered Gene and Eunice’s Ko Ko Mo while the Crew Cuts covered the Chords’ Sh-Boom and the Penguins’ Earth Angel. The list of covers is long and most of the covers were the hit versions. Pat Boone covered Fats Domino’s Ain’t That a Shame as well as Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally and Tutti’ Frutti. June Valli had a hit with her cover of the Four Tunes’ recording of I Understand Just How You Feel in 1954.
Promotion man, Mickey Addy, at Dot Records in Gallatin, Tennessee, had a reputation for, and made a lot of money producing, cover recordings. Crooner Pat Boone, screen star Tab Hunter, and TV star Gale Storm performed with Billy Vaughn and his Orchestra often imitating an R&B record note for note, with a bit of cleaning and tightening and dressing it with saxes in rippling thirds. Mickey Addy also revived old songs and two of them, Love Letters in the Sand and Melody of Love, are in the all-time top ten of the fifties decade. (Whitcomb, 1974, p.222) Pat Boone had a number one hit with Love Letters in the Sand in 1957 but it had been a top ten hit for Ted Black twenty-five years earlier. The song was loosely based on The Spanish Cavalier written in 1881. Billy Vaughn’s 1955 instrumental hit Melody of Love was written in 1903.
Lavern Baker, whose Tweedle Dee was covered by Georgia Gibbs right down to the crucial arrangement, tried to get a law passed which gave copyright protection to arrangements—but her attempt was unsuccessful. In fairness it must be said that sometimes the cover versions sounded very different than the R&B original. Bill Haley’s Shake Rattle and Roll cover record was very different from Joe Turner’s original. Haley’s record was a hybrid and his was the hit.
Johnny Ace originally recorded Pledging My Love, but before it reached the top of the R&B charts, Johnny Ace had lost his life in a failed game of Russian roulette. Teresa Brewer recorded this beautiful song and it became a top-twenty hit for her. Most often the cover artist was white and the original artist was black but that was not always the case. Eddie Fisher had a hit with his cover of the Tarriers’ version of Cindy, Oh Cindy in 1956. Tab Hunter covered Sonny James’ Young Love and Gale Storm covered Bonnie Guitar’s Dark Moon.
Why did the ‘covers’ sell? Was it race prejudice, better distribution, or public taste? In many ways, the original was a rougher gem and the cover a more polished stone. Today, rock purists prefer the raw, rough, gritty original versions. Fans of fifties EASY-POP often prefer the softer, more professional ‘covers.’ The singers on the ‘covers’ almost always provided a recognizable sparkle in their voice, a more trained sound in their delivery, and the accompaniment was softer and more mellow.