Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Your informative column about cover versions of hit records struck a chord with me.

In December 1958, Lloyd Price had a hit with "Stagger Lee." I have on tape two different versions of that song, both by Lloyd Price.

One has the original lyrics, about two men in a barroom argument which leads to some shooting, the second has the same music track, but a much different vocal track, this one dealing with two men arguing over a woman, but without any fighting or shootings. I assume this was done for the more conservative (read: white) audience.

Were both these recordings made and issued at the same time? Was this a fairly common practice when the lyrics might be considered objectionable to certain groups of record buyers? Thanks for any help you can give me.
--Bill Kelly, Largo Fla.

DEAR BILL: Every recording of the "Stagger Lee" story, previously sung with such modified titles as "Stack-A-Lee," "Stack-O-Lee" and "Stackolee," has slightly different lyrics and varying story lines.

Lloyd Price recorded his rendition on September 11, 1958, intending it to merely be the flip side of "You Need Love." Though "You Need Love" flopped, enough dee jays found "Stagger Lee" intriguing, especially the then-novel use of all-white vocal backing (Ray Charles Singers) by a black singer.

That "Stagger Lee" made its chart debut on December 8, less than four weeks after being recorded, indicates how quickly this B-side took off.

Your supposition as to why Price went back (on December 4) to record a sanitized version is fairly accurate, except it was made neither for the white audience, nor for record buyers. Credit - or blame, depending on how you rate the re-recorded "Stagger Lee" - Dick Clark. He felt lyrics like "the bullet went through Billy and it broke the bartender's glass" inappropriate for his American Bandstand TV show.

The reworked track, officially known now as "Stagger Lee (Bandstand Version)," was intended for American Bandstand play only; however, it mistakenly turned up on later Lloyd Price albums. Even today, some oldies stations, which should know better, play the Bandstand version thinking it to be the hit single.

By not being issued as a single, intended to compete with the original, "Stagger Lee (Bandstand Version)" cannot be categorized as a cover record.

For those uncertain as to which recording is which, the hit single begins by describing two men "gambling" in the dark. The remake says they are "arguing," not gambling.

DEAR JERRY: A group of us fifty-something folks at the office often debate our memories, or lack thereof. But now we need your expertise to settle a debate.

I claim that actor Sal Mineo once had a hit single, but I can't come up with its title. I even remember him singing it on American Bandstand - or is my mind just filling in the gaps. What songs did he sing? When? How high on the charts did his records go?
--Jim W., Huntsville, Ala

DEAR JIM: Sal Mineo, perhaps best remembered for his role as Plato in "Rebel Without a Cause," had several hits, including one that made Top 10, "Start Movin' (In My Direction)" (Epic 9216).

Mineo's other hit tunes are: "Love Affair; Lasting Love; You Shouldn't Do That; Party Time;" and "Little Pigeon."

Next time you're watching "Rebel Without a Cause," here is a famous Hollywood flub. When Plato is lying on the ground dead, his left shoe is missing. A few seconds later, a close-up of his feet shows his left shoe on and the right one is missing.

IZ ZAT SO? Lloyd Price partnered with tall-haired boxing promoter Don King to stage two of Muhammad Ali's most memorable matches: "The Rumble in the Jungle" (vs. George Foreman in Zaire) and "The Thrilla in Manila" (vs. Joe Frazier in the Philippines).

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