Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One of the very first 45s I wanted was Boyd Bennett's “Seventeen,” from the summer of 1955 when rock and roll was new.

As a teen who knew nothing about cover records, I was surprised to find several different versions of that song for sale. That was my introduction to covers.

I later learned how quickly the original versions of most popular songs in the 1950s faced stiff competition from other labels wanting a piece of the sales pie.

Jumping ahead 10 years, it seems cover versions were practically non-existent. Would you agree?
—Sandy Stover, Santa Rosa, Calif.

DEAR SANDY: Not exactly, only because covers were still fairly common in the 1960s. There were far fewer then than a decade earlier, and were rarely successful, but not uncommon.

I can quantify this using the Cash Box Top 40 (which routinely listed both originals and covers) for the last week of August 1955 — when you bought “Seventeen” — followed by the Top 40 for the same week of 1965.

In 1955, when covers were the rule rather than the exception, 32 (80%) of the Top 40 were available by more than one artist. And this excludes instrumental versions of songs that by no means competed with the hit vocal, such as the MGM Studio Orchestra's “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock.”

Note also that only single releases can accurately be considered covers. An LP track can never be a true cover record!

Here then are the eight tunes (20%) of the Top 40, with their position, for which there no qualifying cover versions:

3 “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” (Bill Haley and His Comets)
5 “Hard to Get” (Gisele MacKenzie)
12 “Tina Marie" (Perry Como)
20 “The Longest Walk” (Jaye P. Morgan)
28 “If I May” (Nat King Cole and the Four Knights)
31 “Pancho Lopez (Davy Crockett)” Lalo Guerrero
34 “My One Sin” (Nat King Cole)
35 “Honey Babe” (Art Mooney and His Orchestra)

Somewhat surprisingly, 10 years later the numbers are almost exactly reversed.

Mid the British Invasion, 33 (82.5%) of the Top 40 were unopposed, with only seven involving a cover record:
4 “Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan), covered by the Soup Greens
15 “All I Really Want to Do” (Cher), covered successfully by the Byrds with both making the Top 40
17 “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” (Mel Carter), covered by Lanny Duncan, and Karen Chandler (who had the true original in 1952)
20 “What's New Pussycat!” (Tom Jones), covered by Burt Bacharach, co-writer of the song
21 “The 'In' Crowd” (Ramsey Lewis Trio). First instrumental issued in mid-'65 is by Gene Barge, making the Lewis version the cover
22 “It Ain't Me Babe” (Turtles), covered by Joe & Eddie, and Vern Swain
27 “Houston” (Dean Martin). First issued that summer by Sanford Clark, making Dino's version the cover

DEAR JERRY: Now that middle-age is in the rear view mirror, I am relating more and more to songs like Roy Clark's “Yesterday, When I Was Young.”

There was another song from those days with a similar theme. It's either Roy Clark or another tenor with a beautiful voice.

I thought the title to be “Minstrel in My Time,” but my searches for those words result in nothing helpful.

What is it, who wrote it, who sings it, and where can I find it?
—Clint Yarrow, Salt Lake City

DEAR CLINT: One line in this song is “Minstrel of My Time,” but the title is “I Didn't See the Time Go By.”

You have every reason to associate this poignant ballad with “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” because both express a comparable sentiment, and both are from the pen of the legendary Armenian-French singer-songwriter, Charles Aznavour.

The recording you seek is probably by Glenn Yarbrough, and is easily available on his 1996 CD “Live at Harrah's Reno” (Increase B00003Q07E) — truly a tour de force performance.

IZ ZAT SO? Discussing cover records brings to mind a fascinating trivia tidbit first mentioned here many years ago:

Neither the Beatles nor Elvis Presley ever made a cover record! Never. Not even once.

Both artists recorded lots of other people's songs, but never as a single to compete with someone else's original.

Presley even refused to allow RCA Victor to release a single of his “Blue Suede Shoes” until after the Carl Perkins original ran its course. He didn't want his friend Carl to lose sales. Throughout his life, Perkins often referred to this as one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for him.

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