Who Did It First?: Great Pop Cover Songs and Their Original Artists

Who Did It First?: Great Pop Cover Songs and Their Original Artists

by Bob Leszczak

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“Everybody has to start somewhere. Businessmen start on the ground floor and try to work their way up the corporate ladder. Baseball players bide their time in the minor leagues wishing for an opportunity to move up and play in the majors. Musical compositions aren’t very different—some songs just don’t climb the charts the first time they&rsquo…  See more details below


“Everybody has to start somewhere. Businessmen start on the ground floor and try to work their way up the corporate ladder. Baseball players bide their time in the minor leagues wishing for an opportunity to move up and play in the majors. Musical compositions aren’t very different—some songs just don’t climb the charts the first time they’re recorded. However, with perseverance, the ideal singer, the right chemistry, impeccable timing, vigorous promotion, and a little luck, these songs can become very famous.” So writes Bob Leszczak in the opening pages of Who Did It First? Great Pop Cover Songs and Their Original Artists. In this second volume in the Who Did It First? series, Leszczak explores the hidden history of the most famous, indeed legendary, pop songs and standards. As he points out, the version you purchased, swayed to, sang to, and grew up with is often not the first version recorded. Like wine and cheese, some tunes do get better with age, and behind each there is a story. Included are little-known facts and amusing anecdotes, often gathered through Leszczak’s vast archive of personal interviews with the singers and songwriters, record producers and label owners, who wrote, sang, recorded, and distributed either the original first cut or one of its classic covers.

The second in a series of titles devoted to the story of great songs and their revival as great covers, Who Did It First? Great Pop Cover Songs and Their Original Artists is the perfect playlist builder. So whether quizzing friends at a party, answering a radio station contest, or just satisfying an insatiable curiosity to know who really did do it first, this work is a must-have.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An argument settler if ever there was one, Bob Leszczak's (Who Did It First: Great Rhythm and Blues Cover Songs and their Original Artists) meticulously detailed assessment will help music aficionados set the record straight when it comes to song authorship. Music lovers who have long associated classics like "Always on My Mind" with Willie Nelson (originally recorded by Brenda Lee) and "I Will Always Love You" with Whitney Houston (originally recorded and written by Dolly Parton) are in for a surprise when they peruse this encyclopedic collection of cover songs. They'll discover that standards such as "I Write the Songs," popularized by Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers's iconic "The Gambler," and even Glen Campbell's hit "Rhinestone Cowboy" were all first recorded by others. Each entry is briefly detailed with a selection of factoids including chart position, sales numbers, and occasionally a list of additional artists who covered it. While entertaining, it's far from definitive: readers looking for Alien Ant Farm's popular cover of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" or a mention of Social Distortion's cover of "Ring of Fire" will find a great deal of omissions. Leszczak's sweet spot is pop music from the mid-‘50s through the mid-‘70s. Fans of those eras will likely find themselves humming many a long-forgotten tune such as "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" or "I Write the Songs" as they flip through the pages. (Mar.)
Leszczak appears to have listened to every record ever made, from the 78-rpm era into the digital age. He has also read all of the history and has heard all the stories. He's a very entertaining guide through the history of pop music and, no matter how well informed you are, will tell you things you didn't know. He will also bring to mind hundreds of songs you've completely forgotten about; you'll be happy to remember some of them and will wish the rest had remained buried in the trash bins of your mind. . . .This is the sort of information you'll find in Who Did It First and, trust me, you'll have a great time finding it. You'll be wanting to call all your friends, you'll even want to call people you don't know and tell them the great stories you'll read in this book.
Nearly 450 well-known songs, including 'Always on My Mind,' 'Blue Moon,' 'I Will Always Love You,' and 'If I Had a Hammer,' are profiled in this volume. Songs are arranged alphabetically by title, and each entry lists the composer, the original artist and year of release, the record label and number, and how it ranked on the charts. This is followed by information on the cover: the artist, year of release, record label and number, and how that version ranked on the charts. The narrative for each entry offers a brief history of both the original release and the release that made the song famous, along with other trivia. A must-read for music fans, this is a solid purchase for most circulating collections.
This second in a three-volume set by radio personality Leszczak provides an alphabetical list of over 400 songs that other artists covered after the originals were released. Volume 1, Who Did It First?: Great Rhythm and Blues Cover Songs and Their Original Artists, and a forthcoming volume emphasizing rock 'n' roll covers complete the set. Entries list original and cover artists, record labels, release years (1920s-80s), chart positions, and brief song histories, including additional versions. Fifty photographs display record labels and a few performers. Leszczak recommends 'using this book to quiz your friends at a party ... [or] listeners to your radio show, or just [to satisfy] your own insatiable musical curiosity.'. . . .Since works on cover songs (as well as mashups and sampling) are rare, any explorations of this major aspect of popular music are welcome. . . .For comprehensive collections. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers.
Music Reference Services Quarterly
Leszczak provides a panoptic list of songs that were originally rhythm and blues or pop songs, although they have been covered by an artist of a different genre later, and information about covers of those songs, using research he has compiled over his many years as a radio personality across the country, as well as a writer and producer of a syndicated music trivia program. Whether the reader is a researcher of scholarly information on popular music or just a music trivia aficionado, these books provide an excellent and quick reference to a solid list of great songs that required another artist to make them famous, with useful and necessary bibliographic information, such as dates and labels, peppered with interesting historical tidbits.
Popular Music & Society
Bob Leszczak has done an outstanding job of 'covering' his subject, and just about any serious pop music lover who wants to know more about the background to their favorite hits will find an abundance of fascinating information here.
American Reference Books Annual
Author of the earlier Great Rhythm and Blues Cover Song segment of this planned, three-book series, Leszczak, with his encyclopedic knowledge, provides here the definitive source on the best-known popular hits covering nearly a century between the 1920s through the 2000s. What better authority to bring us this work than the long-time radio broadcaster and DJ known to the baby-boom generation as 'the Bopper.' In his three-volume work, Leszczak sets out to illuminate and credit the genius and hard work behind cover songs, which often did not become sensations overnight. In this age of instant access to. . . .any song that fancies the younger generations and their short attention spans, this authoritative new guide will also serve as a historical record. Leszczak briefly outlines this new volume’s purpose as one of recognizing both the composers and the original recording artists behind famous pop songs as much as those who may have later brought these songs greater success. Arranged alphabetically by song title, each of the nearly 400 entries lists the song’s composers, original and cover performing artists, Billboard chart positions, record labels, and release dates followed by an anecdotal summary of usually one to three paragraphs highlighting the significance of the song. . . .While some original songs may have hit it bigger by way of a different artist within a year’s time ('Rhinestone Cowboy,' Weiss/Campbell), others scored equal hit status as much as 53 years apart (Irving Berlin’s and Taco’s separate versions of 'Puttin’ on the Ritz'). However, the reviewer notes that occasionally a subsequent hit nearly pales in comparison to the original (Maxi Priest’s vs. Cat Stevens’ 'Wild World'). This compact hardcover includes also a simple navigational list of songs, a list of illustrations, an integrated index, and an appendix of curiosities, such as Elvis Presley-covered songs, Phil Spector-produced songs, and songs known by alternate titles or those that crossed over from country music. Nearly 50 black-and-white illustrations accompany the text (most are 45-RPM record labels). Its usefulness to students of popular culture and music will make this is an easy addition to any library.
Library Journal
Following up on his recent similarly titled book about rhythm and blues songs, oldies on-air radio personality Leszczak (Single Season Sitcoms, 1948–1979) addresses popular songs from the 1920s through the 2000s. For each tune he lists composers, original and most-well-known cover artists, release dates/labels/charting information for both versions and provides a few paragraphs of interesting tidbits, including mention of other covers where applicable, and historical or cultural contexts for the melodies. The book is organized alphabetically by song title with appendixes by topic and a short bibliography. Some illustrations of actual record labels and a few portraits are included. Unfortunately, inconsistencies (some songs' Academy Awards are indicated, others are not) and speculations (Linda Ronstadt's Parkinson's disease diagnosis may impede her career, but pronouncing judgments on what she will be able to do is inappropriate) detract somewhat. VERDICT Trivia buffs and those interested in the history of popular music will welcome the title; poring over the entries evokes nostalgia for the eras when the songs were getting airplay. The author's definite opinions appear less designed to stimulate discussion than to show his erudition, but with these caveats in mind, readers can have an enjoyable few hours.—Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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Who Did It First? Series
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Who Did It First?

Great Rhythm and Blues Cover Songs and Their Original Artists

By Bob Leszczak


Copyright © 2013 Bob Leszczak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4422-3067-5





Composer: Buck Ram

Original Artist: the Colts

Label: Vita Records; Recording: Vita #112 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #11 Billboard R&B

Cover Artist: the Drifters

Label: Atlantic Records; Recording: Atlantic #1078 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #1 Billboard R&B

A black vocal group from Bakersfield, California, got their lucky break when the manager for the Penguins and the Platters, Buck Ram, visited the area. Ram inquired about local talent and was put in contact with the group that would become the Colts. Ram supplied them with a song he wrote titled "Adorable," and it was released on a small Pasadena record label called Vita. The handsome young guys even got a group photograph on the label, donning sweaters and freshman hats. The record began to take off, especially in the Los Angeles area, and the group made numerous local TV appearances. On June 2, 1956, they were announced as scheduled to appear on The Stage Show the following week on CBS. The Stage Show was a summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show, and was hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. It is unclear why the Colts did not appear on the June 9, 1956, episode of the program, as had been announced, but they were not rescheduled.

The story of "Adorable" does not end with the Colts. A cover version by the Drifters on the Atlantic Records label exhibited a lot more polish and savvy, and it became the definitive hit version. Even more importantly, it put the Drifters back on the map after the departure of their legendary lead singer, Clyde McPhatter, who was seeking solo success. It's interesting to note that the lead singer on the Drifters' version of "Adorable" is Johnny Moore, who, after a long absence, returned to front the group in the 1960s and is the lead vocalist on the group's final Top 10 hit, "Under the Boardwalk." Moore continued to perform until his passing on December 30, 1998.

"Adorable" was listed as a Billboard magazine "Best Buy" on October 29, 1955, in the following paragraph—"Since the appearance of the original Vita disk, excitement on this tune has mounted. The Colts started off with a bang in Los Angeles and later began making noise in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Buffalo. The Drifters record started later, but in areas where the Vita disk had not been distributed—and in many areas where it had—it showed very good sales, too. While the Colts are already on the national retail chart, the Drifters are not far behind."

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

Composers: Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

Original Artist: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Label: Tamla Records; Recording: Tamla #54149 (45)

Release Year: 1967; Chart: #19 Billboard Hot 100 and #3 R&B

Cover Artist: Diana Ross

Label: Motown Records; Recording: Motown #1169 (45)

Release Year: 1970; Chart: #1 Billboard Hot 100 and #1 R&B

Motown was known for attempting to make hits out of their song catalog more than once around. It worked well with "I Heard It through the Grapevine," and it worked well with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The latter was written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and recorded originally by the label's most successful duet pairing, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967.

It was even lovelier the second time around, however, when recorded by Diana Ross. Even though "Reach Out and Touch" (Motown #1165) was the first Ross solo hit, this was the one that really established her. This finely produced rendition with that very effective spoken part hit number 1 on both the Pop and R&B charts, and set Ross up for a long and successful solo journey.

"Ain't That A Shame"

Composers: Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew

Original Artist: Fats Domino

Label: Imperial Records; Recording: Imperial #5348 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #10 Billboard Hot 100 and #1 R&B

Cover Artist: Pat Boone

Label: Dot Records; Recording: Dot #15377 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #1 Billboard Hot 100

By 1955, Antoine "Fats" Domino, a native of New Orleans, had long been a staple on R&B radio stations, as well as a regular over-achiever on Billboard Magazine's R&B charts. However, crossing over to the Pop charts had proven elusive until this memorable release. It is unknown why the title on the original Imperial 45 and 78 was "Ain't It a Shame," even though "Ain't That a Shame" is sung throughout.

Even though this Domino tune managed to cross him over to new territory—the Pop charts—there were still some areas of the country reluctant to play songs (even popular ones) by black recording artists. The watered-down version by Pat Boone on the Dot Record label was the answer. It should be noted that the Pat Boone version correctly listed the song's title as "Ain't That a Shame." One would surmise that the original recording artists would be bitter about the cover version and the royalties lost as a result. Truth be told, most are actually glad (in retrospect) that their song was covered (especially those credited with writing their own songs) because of the enhanced popularity. Both versions sold a million copies and garnered gold records.

Later cover versions of "Ain't That a Shame" include a Top Thirty version by the Four Seasons (Vee Jay #512) and one by John Lennon (according to legend, this is the first song Lennon learned to play) on the Apple Records' (#SK-3419) Rock 'n' Roll album. "Ain't That a Shame" is part of the great oldies soundtrack in such motion pictures as American Graffiti, L.A. Story, and October Sky. It should also be noted that Fats Domino was among the very first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986). As of this writing, Pat Boone hasn't been nominated.

"Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby?"

Composers: Clyde Otis and Ivory Joe Hunter

Original Artist: Eddie Riff

Label: Dover Records; Recording: Dover #102 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1957; Chart: did not chart

Cover Artist: Elvis Presley

Label: RCA Victor Records; Recording: RCA Victor #8440 (45)

Release Year: 1964; Chart: #16 Billboard Hot 100

Not to be confused with the Jimmy Reed song (Vee Jay #168) of the same name, this "Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby?" was written by Clyde Otis (often paired with Brook Benton) and Ivory Joe Hunter. The first version of the song was by an African American rocker named Eddie Riff on the tiny Dover Records label, recorded in 1956 and released in 1957. The opening line about riding around the world in an old oxcart is very memorable. This version did not chart.

Elvis Presley recorded a version of the song in 1958, but it was held in the can for six years. When finally released in 1964, it was paired with "Ask Me" on 45 and both sides made the Top 20 on the Pop charts. Both sides were later included on Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 4 (RCA Victor #3921).

"Ain't Too Proud To Beg"

Composers: Eddie Holland and Norman Whitfield

Original Artist: the Temptations

Label: Gordy Records; Recording: Gordy #7054 (45)

Release Year: 1966; Chart: #13 Billboard Hot 100 and #1 R&B

Cover Artist: the Rolling Stones

Label: Rolling Stones Records; Recording: Rolling Stones #19302 (45)

Release Year: 1974; Chart: #17 Billboard Hot 100

Smokey Robinson was replaced by Norman Whitfield as official songwriter for the Temptations as of this hit, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Just like the group's prior release, "Get Ready," the song hit number 1 on the R&B charts, but failed to make Top 10 on the Pop charts.

"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" did manage to sell a million copies for the Temptations. The song was covered about eight years later by the Rolling Stones, and once again it became a Top 20 hit on the Pop charts.

The Temptations' rendition of the song was later repopularized by its inclusion in the soundtrack for the motion picture The Big Chill.

"All By Myself"

Composers: Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew

Original Artist: Fats Domino

Label: Imperial Records; Recording: Imperial #5357 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #1 Billboard R&B

Cover Artist: Roy Hall

Label: Decca Records; Recording: Decca #29697 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: did not chart

It didn't make the Pop charts, but "All by Myself" by Antoine "Fats" Domino hit number 1 on the R&B charts. This was the follow-up to the smash hit "Ain't That a Shame," so it's odd that it didn't make the Pop charts.

Trying to cash in on that fact was an artist named Roy Hall, whose cover records resembled those of Bill Haley and the Comets. Hall was even on the same record label as Haley—Decca. This was one time, however, when the cover version of the song didn't catch on—even though it featured some fine guitar work, and it was released by a major label.

"All I Ever Need Is You"

Composers: Jimmy Holiday and Eddie Reeves

Original Artist: Ray Charles

Label: ABC/TRC Records; Recording: ABC/TRC #726 (LP)

Release Year: 1971; Chart: did not chart

Cover Artist: Sonny and Cher

Label: Kapp Records; Recording: Kapp #2151 (45)

Release Year: 1971; Chart: #7 Billboard Hot 100

Ray Charles's Volcanic Action of My Soul LP from 1971 didn't even make the Top 50 on the album charts. However, it did yield a famous song—famous for someone else.

Charles recorded the original version of "All I Ever Need Is You." It was covered late in 1971 by Sonny and Cher, and was assisted by frequent performances on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour on CBS. The tune worked very well as a duet and had a message similar to one of their earlier hits, "I Got You, Babe." The duo suddenly had themselves yet another Top 10 hit.

"Always Something There To Remind Me"

Composers: Burt Bacharach and Hal David

Original Artist: Lou Johnson

Label: Big Hill Records; Recording: Big Hill #552 (45)

Release Year: 1964; Chart: #49 Billboard's Hot 100 and #12 R&B

Cover Artist: Naked Eyes

Label: EMI America Records; Recording: EMI America #1855 (45)

Release Year: 1983; Chart: #8 Billboard Hot 100

Much in the same manner as Arthur Alexander, the very talented Brooklynborn singer Lou Johnson recorded several songs later made much more famous by others. Among them is "Always Something There to Remind Me"—a Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition. Johnson's version (along with a litany of other marginally successful versions by Dionne Warwick, Sandie Shaw, and R. B. Greaves) featured a very similar light and breezy Latin beat.

It would, however, take a whole new approach and direction for the song to finally become a Top 10 smash. This brand-new, innovative version came about almost two decades after the original when recorded by Peter Byrne and the late Rob Fisher—collectively known as Naked Eyes. This version featured a very loud orchestral opening and some very prominent percussion throughout. Gone was the Latin beat, exchanged for a more techno-pop feel. The group hit pay dirt one more time when their follow-up, "Promises, Promises," made it to number 11 on the Pop charts.

"Anna (Go To Him)"

Composer: Arthur Alexander

Original Artist: Arthur Alexander

Label: Dot Records; Recording: Dot #16387 (45)

Release Year: 1962; Chart: #68, Billboard Hot 100 and #10 R&B

Cover Artist: the Beatles

Label: Vee Jay Records; Recording: Vee Jay #1062 (LP)

Release Year: 1963; Chart: did not chart

Arthur Alexander was truly a great, unheralded recording artist in his day, and yet he had a huge influence upon some of the biggest names in music (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, to name a few). Alexander, a native of Alabama, never had a Top 20 hit of his own, but the amount and caliber of the cover versions of his songs sealed his legacy. He released his first recording under the name of June Alexander on the Judd Records label (Judd #1020) before signing with the much larger Dot Records label, where he would have a modicum of chart successes.

Because of their immense worldwide popularity, the Beatles' version of "Anna (Go to Him)" is the definitive one—the one most people will remember. However, surprisingly, that version never charted. In fact, besides its inclusion on Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles album (Vee Jay #1062), it only appeared on a couple of specially made rare 45s—a special EP titled A Souvenir of Their Visit to America (Vee Jay EP #1-903) and an even rarer special promotional 45 (Vee Jay Special DJ #8) on which "Anna" is backed with "Ask Me Why."

"Anna (Go to Him)" is the focus of a very memorable episode of Married with Children titled "Oldies but Young 'Uns" (season 5, episode 17), which first aired March 17, 1991. In the episode, Al Bundy is driven to distraction trying to figure out the title and artist of this song, which he heard on his car radio. He hums it for his family, but, as usual, they are of no help. It's interesting to note that playing in this episode is the original Arthur Alexander rendition. Featured in the episode is a young and yet unknown Matt LeBlanc as Vinnie, Kelly's dimwitted new boyfriend.

"Another Saturday Night"

Composer: Sam Cooke

Original Artist: Sam Cooke

Label: RCA Victor Records; Recording: RCA Victor #8164 (45)

Release Year: 1963; Chart: #10 Billboard Hot 100 and #1 R&B

Cover Artist: Cat Stevens

Label: A & M Records; Recording: A & M #1602 (45)

Release Year: 1974; Chart: #6 Billboard Hot 100

Produced by legends Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, a song written by Sam Cooke titled "Another Saturday Night" peaked at number 10 on the Hot 100 in 1963. The lyrics bemoan being new in town and not having a date on consecutive Saturday nights. We are also privy to the results of his disastrous blind date.

Over a decade later, a remake of the song by Cat Stevens reached an even higher position on the charts than the original. More importantly, however, the Stevens version encouraged new interest in the music of Sam Cooke, with more cover versions of his songs appearing (including "Only Sixteen" by Dr. Hook and "Wonderful World" by James Taylor—see the entry for each).

However, gone from the Cat Stevens cover of "Another Saturday Night" was Cooke's very cool and swagger-laden line, "How I wish I had some chick to talk to." Stevens only ever sings, "How I wish I had someone to talk to."

"Any Day Now"

Composers: Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard

Original Artist: Chuck Jackson

Label: Wand Records; Recording: Wand #122 (45)

Release Year: 1962; Chart: #23 Billboard Hot 100 and #2 R&B

Cover Artist: Ronnie Milsap

Label: RCA Victor Records; Recording: RCA Victor 13216 (45)

Release Year: 1982; Chart: #14 Billboard Hot 100

Burt Bacharach is best known for co-writing a laundry list of great songs with Hal David. There are a few exceptions, however, and the song "Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)" is among them. This one was co-written with former Tin Pan Alley lyricist Bob Hilliard. The tune was presented to Chuck Jackson (formerly of the Dell-Vikings doo-wop group)—a rising star recording for the Scepter Records' subsidiary, Wand Records, and it became his biggest hit. After a brief stay at Wand, Jackson tried his luck at Motown but met with only modest success.

Elvis Presley recorded a version of the song, and it was placed on the flip side of "In the Ghetto" on RCA Victor in 1969 (RCA Victor #47-9741). However, it was another version on RCA Victor by blind country singer Ronnie Milsap that truly gave the song a second life. Milsap was able to cross over to the Pop charts with many songs—among them, tunes from a bygone era ("Lost in the Fifties Tonight" and "Any Day Now").

Bob Hilliard was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1983, posthumously.

"At MY Front Door"

Composers: John Moore and Ewart Abner

Original Artist: the El Dorados

Label: Vee Jay Records; Recording: Vee Jay #147 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #17 Billboard Hot 100 and #1 R&B

Cover Artist: Pat Boone

Label: Dot Records; Recording: Dot #15422 (45 and 78)

Release Year: 1955; Chart: #7 Billboard Hot 100


Excerpted from Who Did It First? by Bob Leszczak. Copyright © 2013 Bob Leszczak. Excerpted by permission of THE SCARECROW PRESS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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