DEAR JERRY: Often I read in your column about a "cover" record. Can you clarify what qualifies one record as a cover and another as something else?
Karen Sadler, Muncie, Ind.
DEAR KAREN: Covers are why we so often had three or four different versions of the same song often with a nearly identical arrangement and style on the charts at the same time.
The practice of making covers had pretty much faded by the 1960s. In earlier years, having several releases of nearly every hit song from which buyers could choose was the rule rather than the exception. The first recording out would be the original and those that jumped on the bandwagon would be the covers.
Covers were released at approximately the same time as the original, the sole intent being to compete with the original.
As an example, let's look at "Unchained Melody":
The first single to chart was from Capitol Records, by Les Baxter His Orchestra and Chorus (Capitol 3055). Both 78s and 45s were pressed in February, and listed in the March 5, 1955 issue of Billboard among Capitol's Latest Issues.
In that same issue, both Les Baxter's and a version by Liberace (Columbia 40455) received favorable ink in Billboard's Reviews of New Pop Records.
Not until the April 9th issue did Baxter's single debut on Billboard's 30 Best Sellers in Stores. It ranked No. 20, with Al Hibbler's vocal (Decca 29441) at No. 19.
Liberace's single didn't rank on either of the U.S. national surveys, though it did reach No. 20 in the UK.
In the U.S., on May 14, Les Baxter's "Unchained Melody" peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Most Played by (Disc) Jockeys, No. 2 on Best Sellers in Stores, and No. 7 on Most Played in Juke Boxes.
Two authentic covers in 1955 are by Roy Hamilton (Epic 9102) and June Valli (RCA Victor 6078).
Years later other charted versions appeared that should not be branded as covers. They certainly were not competing with Les Baxter's 1955 hit:
1960: The Blackwells Featuring Glenda (Jamie 1157)
1961: Geri Granahan (Caprice 106)
1962 Conway Twitty (MGM 13089)
1963: Vito and the Salutations (Herald 583)
1965: Righteous Brothers (Philles 129)
1968: Sweet Inspirations (Atlantic 2551)
1975: Joe Stampley ABC/Dot 17551)
1977: Elvis Presley (RCA 11212)
1979: George Benson (Warner Bros. 8843)
1981: Heart (Epic 51010)
1990: Righteous Brothers (1965 version) (Verve Forecast 871882)
1990: Righteous Brothers (New version) (Curb 76842)
1991: Ronnie McDowell (Curb 76850)