DEAR JERRY: I loved your recent column about the rise and fall of cover records.
The biggest shock was learning someone besides Ricky Nelson recorded "Poor Little Fool" in 1958.
Who was it that unsuccessfully tried to compete with Ricky on the song that became his first No. 1 hit?
Did this mysterious cover version even get noticed at the time?
Terry Campbell, Ojai, Calif.
DEAR TERRY: You are not the only music lover surprised by this one.
When researching 10 years of cover records, I almost didn't bother to explore the possibility of a "Poor Little Fool" cover, since, like you, I'd never heard of one.
Still, not wanting to risk being a poor, and careless, little fool, I researched nearly all the records issued in 1958. When I found one titled "Poor Little Fool," I assumed it to be a totally different recording -- one that coincidentally shared the same title as the song written for Nelson by Shari Sheeley.
Turns out I was about half right. It is totally different with regard to the arrangement, but very much the same song, and therefore is a full-fledged cover record.
This band's rendition is more frantic than Nelson's, leaning more toward rockabilly than pop-rock.
The artist credit reads "The 'Dodgers' and Johnny Angel," which seems like a less common way of saying Johnny Angel and the Dodgers (Skyway 45-119).
Whether that is a mistake is unknown, but what is a major blunder is Skyway's crediting Shari Sheeley as "Sharri Shelley."
Ricky Nelson's record, as well as the commercially available sheet music, properly credit Sheeley. In later years, Shari wrote as Sharon Sheeley.
Both versions of "Poor Little Fool" were reviewed in the same issue of Billboard, for the week of June 23, 1958.
Ricky's single (Imperial 5528) received the highest possible praise, in part because he is impeccably accompanied by the Jordanaires, and guitarist extraordinaire, James Burton.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Johnny Angel found themselves in a lesser regarded section of that week's new releases, along with this brief yet favorable review:
"Uptempo item with country touch gets a nice reading from the lead [Johnny Angel] and group."
Their tune did not show up on any national chart, and I find no mention of it on any regional charts in my vast collection of surveys.
You can hear it here!
Usually, a good record that sold poorly will be more valuable than a huge hit. In this instance, the scarce Skyway single sells for $40 to $50, while Ricky Nelson's million-seller can be had for around $10.
What is rare in the "Poor Little Fool" department is the Imperial 78 rpm by Ricky.
By mid-'58, nearly all the domestic labels had either ceased production or were in the process of doing so.
Here are the last three Ricky Nelson 78s made in the U.S., with each rarer and more valuable than the previous one:
Imperial 5528 "Poor Little Fool" (1958) $75-$125
Imperial 5545 "Lonesome Town" (1958) $100-$150
Imperial 5565 "It's Late" (1959) $300-$500
Then there is this 78 single, made and sold exclusively in Canada:
Imperial 5595 "Just a Little Too Much" (1959) $150-$200
IZ ZAT SO? This feat qualifies as a smashing debut:
"Poor Little Fool" was 18-year-old Sharon Sheeley's first attempt at song writing.
When the song topped Billboard's Hot 100 it made Sheeley the youngest woman ever to compose a No. 1 hit.
In the years ahead, Sharon "Shari" Sheeley teamed with other writers, most notably Jackie DeShannon (shown on many labels as Jackie de Shannon).
Here are a few memorable songs that were the result of those collaborations:
1959: Eddie Cochran "Somethin' Else" (with Bob Cochran, Eddie's brother)
1961: Brenda Lee "Dum Dum" (with Jackie DeShannon)
1961: Fleetwoods "(He's) the Great Imposter" (with Jackie DeShannon)
1962: Brenda Lee "Heart in Hand" (with Jackie DeShannon)
1962: Jackie DeShannon "The Prince" (with Jackie DeShannon)
1962: Jackie DeShannon "You Won't Forget Me" (with Jackie DeShannon)
1963: Brenda Lee "He's So Heavenly" (with Jackie DeShannon)
1984: Tracey Ullman "Break-A-Way" (with Jackie DeShannon)