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In the cover-record era of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s certain songs became magnets for mass interpretation.

Though pop music was ground zero for this type of thing and it was mostly the usual suspects with their pleasant melodies and generic sentiments that were widely reinterpreted, the rock songbook was generally avoided because pop companies felt those cuts had little of those qualities worth exploring while other rock labels knew their audience valued original material, not hasty opportunistic remakes.

But when the world at large did take notice of a rock song it was often something that was already so distinctive in its original rendition that covering it seemed superfluous, for if you drastically changed it then it was no longer eliciting the same response, whereas if you made a note for note copy of the hit then you weren’t going to stand out no matter how well you carried it off.


I Just Can’t Stay Away
For approximately the 837th time around here we’ll remind you that record companies do not care at all about music. Not one bit.

They care about sales and whatever they think will sell, be it recordings of toilets flushing in unison, rush hour traffic jams, crickets chirping or the agonized screeching of supposed witches being burned at the stake, will be packaged, publicized and shipped, hoping the record manages to hit the charts.

In the summer of 1952 it seemed like a lot of the record industry were keeping an eye on a most peculiar rising hit by a rock artist named Little Caesar whose Going Down To The River released a few weeks back on Recorded In Hollywood and immediately stirred interest… not just commercially, which is always what alerts the rest of the industry to its potential, but also its suicidal subject matter which made it a headline maker and thus something worth exploiting.

Some cover versions quickly followed. Art Lund released a pop version on Coral, while Aladdin issued two covers simultaneously, one by owner Eddie Mesner’s stepdaughter, Patty Anne, a good songwriter and fair singer, backed by Maxwell Davis that predictably did next to nothing sales wise.

The other, also with its title shortened to The River and also featuring Davis, this time playing behind Floyd Dixon who turns in a much more credible performance as this is right up his alley since his normal nasal tone evokes sadness even on far happier themes than ending one’s life over a failed romance.

Depending on whether or not one heard the original version by now – and chances are those seeking this out had – the shock value (such as it is) will naturally be diminished, but the overall effect is very comperable to Little Caesar’s groundbreaking effort.

In other words, it’s a typical cover version for the year in question… taking no chances and not deviating at all from what works.


My Good Time Friends Have Passed Me By
Since there’s hardly anything new here – and since we just reviewed the first take on it (just be thankful we’re not covering Patty Anne’s rendition too or you’d really get a sense of déjà vu), we have to focus on the slightly different touches they bring to the table, the first of which they had no choice about, which is Floyd Dixon’s voice.

As stated he always sounded in misery because he sang through his nose but here it’s clearly the most effective way in rendering this tale about a guy who sees no future for himself now that his girl has left him.

Maybe somebody should tell him there are other available girls out there, unless he’s taken the “too many fish in the sea” analogy too literally and, not wanting to make the drive all the way to the Pacific Ocean, instead has chosen the Los Angeles river to take a fateful dip in search of one of those fishes.

Dixon’s delivery is spot on, not just in that mournful tone, but his pacing, the way he seems to be pulling each line from the depths of his soul, is ideal for the circumstances and makes his take on The River seem entirely convincing, as if this happened to him only moments before.

Of course Little Caesar did the same exact thing but with a slightly less polished vocal which, in its own way, added to ITS authenticity as well.

Mmm… can you see the difficulties arising by taking the same approach? Both sound as if they’re legitimate exercises in heartache, but with little to set them apart (both of them use a flute… and come to think of it, probably the same band!) your choice for which to spin comes down to such things as which you heard first, or which is stocked on the jukebox… unless you were a devoted Dixon fan – of which he had many – and that tilted the odds in his favor.

But that’s not what happened, as Caesar was the one who scored the hit with the head start while Dixon, not to mention poor Art Lund who at least added a decent guitar (and ill-suited trumpet) to his rendition which is heavy handed and artificial, probably because he never had his heart broken since we all know pop artists are incapable of actually experiencing love or any other “real” emotion.

But Floyd knows the pain of such traumatic events and with a slight echo added to his voice – the other “new” touch – it makes this sink in just as much, even though he appropriated the entire mood and surrounding atmosphere from somebody else. Who knows, maybe he’s even singing about the same girl who’s left a trail of broken hearts – and soggy bodies – in her wake.


There’s So Many Tears I Cannot See
Normally when we encounter a slavish cover version with every detail re-created by a rival artist we’re going to favor the original, simply because that was where the creativity was found. Add to the fact that in the case of Little Caesar you have an artist making his commercial breakthrough being undercut by somebody who already had a thriving career, which is hardly very ethical.

But in this case, while we certainly don’t condone the actions of Aladdin Records – who with their two competing renditions were clearly the ones at fault – we can’t find anything to criticize about Floyd Dixon’s performance.

Maybe it’s a testament to Little Caesar’s unique songwriting that The River sounds as if it were tailor made for Dixon. Or perhaps there was genuine empathy in Floyd’s soul when he tackled this, either because he went through a breakup of his own that remained fresh in his memory, or because he knew he was sort of doing Caesar wrong by this which couldn’t help but come out in his delivery.

In the pop world this kind of duplicity is par for the course, every artist knew they’d be asked to cover any and every potential hit as soon as possible and may the best man or woman win, no hard feelings.

But in rock this was the exception rather than the rule and the good news is that despite its quality as a standalone record, Dixon’s single failed to get listeners to sympathize for the same sad sack story a second time in a matter of weeks, for if they HAD been hip to this one there’s a chance that cover versions might’ve become a lot more common in rock in the years to come.


(Visit the Artist page of Floyd Dixon for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)