Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Though I read your column every week, I must have missed the one where you expained the difference between a "cover" record and a remake.

Also I am quite curious as to why they call it a cover? I'm a deejay in Tampa, as well as a cover freak, and I feel remiss not knowing the answers to these questions.
—P.H. Lee, Maderia, Fla.

DEAR P.H.: Occasional references notwithstanding, it has been 19 years since we really addressed this issue. Clearly, it is time again to cover "covers" — the most frequently misunderstood and improperly used term in music jargon.

Amatuers can be excused, but it is disturbing to see the glut of professionals — even writers whose works appear in major publications and as liner notes — who do not yet know a cover from a remake.

In those thrilling days of yesteryear, when songwriters were songwriters and performers were performers, rarely did the talent write their own songs. (Note I say "rarely," not "never." For every Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, or Little Richard, there were a hundred artists who relied on writers for new material.)

Whether created at "Tin Pan Alley" (i.e., the Brill Building), or elsewhere, when a good new song became available, most, if not all, the major labels would have one of the stars in their stable record it.

Likewise when a strong new country-and-western or rhythm-and-blues release came out. Most of the majors would immediately assign the song to one of their pop acts, resulting in a vocal and musical arrangement as close as possible to the original. These cover versions often hit the streets within a day or two after discovery of the original.

As for how the copycat versions became known as covers, one might assume it reflects their attempt to "top" the original release. That which covers is usually above that which is being covered.

Here then is the condensed distinction between a cover and a remake:

A cover record has always been a single (45, 78, etc.), issued around the same time as the original, and made specifically to COMPETE with the original for airplay and sales. Compete is the key word.

There can be many covers, but only one original exists. Any recording of anyone else's song that is NOT intended to compete for sales with the original, is either a remake, or just simply "their version" of the song.

That is all you have to remember to avoid the cardinal sin of labeling a remake a cover, something no amount of misuse can make acceptible. This is an especially important distinction when dealing with the performers, since calling one of their remakes a cover might be viewed as inappropriate. Those who did thrive from covers may be proud of the recordings themselves, but not of having made cover versions.

It is also impossible for a song recorded as an LP or CD track to be a cover version. The Beatles did not cover Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music," and the Shirelles' "Baby, It's You." They didn't re-record them either. They simply recorded them, remade them, or revived them. Rain may be a band that plays Beatles music, but they are not a Beatles cover band (even though they themselves don't realize it). In fact, there really is no such thing as a cover band.

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

Both recorded lots of other people's songs, but never as a single to compete (there's that word again) with an original. Presley even refused to allow RCA Victor to release his version of "Blue Sude Shoes" as a single until after the Carl Perkins original ran its course. He didn't want his friend Carl to lose sales, and throughout his life, Perkins often referred to this as one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for him.

Then what is a "re-recording"? This is a similar sounding but completely different term than a remake. A re-recording occurs when an artist remakes their own recordings.

For example, Chubby Checker's original 1960s hits were for Parkway. In the '90s, he re-recorded many of them for the Dominion label.

Since we probably won't discuss this again for another nine years, consider bookmarking or saving this column. Then you can send a copy to those you catch who are still jumbling the terms.

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IZ ZAT SO? Many rock music historians point to the 1954 Chords' release of “Sh-Boom,” that the Crew-Cuts covered so successfully (they reached No. 1 while the Chords peaked at No. 9), as one turning point. After “Sh-Boom,” countless pop stars began covering R&B tunes.

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