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By this point in rock’s journey it could no longer be considered just a tasteless fad by the mainstream music industry and it had become far too popular to even be passed off as a rogue sound appealing to a small marginalized faction of society.

The staunch defenders of the status quo could choose to ignore this altogether, hoping that by not lowering themselves to even acknowledge this music they could stave off its commercial rise… or they could admit there was some money to be made by hopping on board and at least trying to appropriate some of the less objectionable records and water them down for pop consumption.

Usually money won out over integrity in this business, but in 1951 the pop-based producers took a step back, maybe in part because their previous attempts to poach some sales on cover records of rock ‘n’ roll failed miserably, but also because pop music, or at least white artists who were flirting with rock but still able to be sold as pop led by Johnnie Ray and Sunny Gale were making incursions in the black community.

Meanwhile black artists like Dinah Washington were getting hits covering white country songs, and saxophonists like Tab Smith and Buddy Lucas were making waves not by honking up a storm, but by playing sweet melodies indicating that things might just be returning to “normal” and there’d be a gradual reduction in rock singles dominating the R&B Charts as a result.

But that didn’t mean the practice of covering rock records dried up altogether as these examples show.


The one rock record that managed to slip past the guards of decorum and make its way onto the pop charts in its original undiluted version was this offering by The Dominoes, the most sexually explict record of the year in any style, showing that the rock community was larger than anticipate to rack up such sales, or there were a few deviant white listeners interested in smut too.

In normal circumstances there was bound to be some action on it just because it was such a huge seller, but with its obvious sexual “payoff” you’d either have to completely re-write the lyrics until they made no sense at all (I suppose the fifteen minutes of kissing COULD be stretched into an hour, but even the most straitlaced housewife wouldn’t believe that mere smooching in the parlor for that long wouldn’t lead to something far more steamy) or they could give it to another musical genre that wasn’t very welcome on Main Street USA and let them take a whack at it.

This is what happened by in large, with a few country renditions, the first of which was by The York Brothers who just so happened to record for King Records who of course owned Federal Records who’d issued The Dominoes single, meaning Syd Nathan would be getting the publishing royalties on it in two fields.

Even though Henry Glover was overseeing their version as he had the original, the entire premise is lost in their dry reading of it, replete with twangy vocals – and twangy steel guitars, the one point of emphasis that’s trying to hint at something naughty – but while Glover manages to give it a loping pace to make it palatable, there’s not much that can be done when they’re so square.

Apparently seeing their chance to improve upon that, sales-wise at least, Decca Records came out with their own country rendition with Roberta Lee and Hardrock Gunter, the latter of whom is occasionally brought up by the hopelessly unmelenated as a vital rock precursor, despite being no such thing.

As for this attempt to convince you otherwise, while it does pick up the pace and actually has a steady back beat, the vocals are split between the two, sort of trying to condone their actions in the process. While Lee sounds at least somewhat interested in letting him into her panties, it’s plainly obvious Gunter would need a map and compass to find the good parts by which time she’d have long since given up for the night and either resort to satisfying herself or look into becoming a nun and let the Lord satisfy her… presumably in other ways.

Last up is another King Records effort to squeeze a few more pennies out the song as they began to try and infiltrate the pop market in the fall, although cutting this record shows that Nathan was unaware that in pop music a peck on the cheek was as far as you were legally allowed to go on the radio. That doesn’t stop Elliot Lawrence and His Orchestra however and just by their name alone you can tell they usually spend nights alone with dirty magazines rather than a woman.

Vocalist Melvin Moore tries his best to sound hip singing new lyrics designed to ensure this is more palatable to the pop market amidst a blaring big-band horns that are loud enough to frighten you into celibacy. You have to admire to lengths they go to try and make it G-rated – “there’ll be fifteen minutes of schoolin’, fifteen minutes to kiss and fifteen minutes to…” at which point the horns make such a clatter to try and fool the public into thinking they’re going at it in the dark, but which in reality was him tripping over his suspenders and falling down the stairs into a kitchen full of pots and pans and breaking his neck.

The last fifteen minutes, which prudently did not get mentioned in the song, were spent waiting for the ambulance to show up.

The story behind this record was covered in depth in the review for the Billy Wright original Heh Little Girl, where The John Godfrey Trio tried claiming credit for the song at the time, fooling no one.

Or rather Robert Hill, the owner of their first label, Hilltop, tried to claim credit for them before pawning it off to Chess Records who promoted the record well enough to get a local hit in Chicago for their bland rendition.

Not quite pop exactly despite the weak inflectionless harmony vocals, but certainly not rock either, nor jazz despite the alto sax solo that wants to think of itself as such.

Call it a version without a home but considering this was one of the more covered records within rock – in multiple configurations taken from two different compositions – we might as well mention it here as well.

Since the original by Sylvia Vanderpool never actually became a hit, it’s rather strange this one even crossed the radar of the major labels. Then again they were used to scouring the world for outside material that could be turned into harmless fluff and this fit the bill largely because its story was innocuous enough once you took the sass and rhythm that Vanderpool had sung it with out of the equation.

Wanting to make sure no suggestiveness would be kept in the song, MGM gave it to the Tommy Tucker Orchestra who did what any band with a name like that would do – desecrate it with big band horns to add “drama” I suppose, then let Karen Rich sing it without fully understanding the mindset she’s supposed to embody, her emotions changing with each line with the added bonus that none of them sound the least bit convincing. The squawking trumpet clearly agrees on this point, while the backing singers seem as though they’ve been brought over from another studio where they’d been singing a toothpaste commercial.

Needless to say, this one didn’t burn up the airwaves.

Meanwhile Decca Records had a more capable singer in Evelyn Knight tackle it figuring she had plenty of experience in ripping off black singers and getting hits with their material, as she did a few years back with the non-rock Paula Watson number A Little Bird Told Me. That ended up in court because Knight duplicated every single aspect of it to the letter and yet the judge found in her favor because he was a racist motherfucker who claimed she “improved” it essentially by being Caucasian, setting a bad – but important – legal precedent when it came to the legality of stealing someone else’s creative property without consequence.

Here Knight didn’t get help from the corrupt American judiciary system, but obviously she needed it because she didn’t get a hit out of this even though she does improve upon Rich’s inept singing, which isn’t hard to do.

Unfortunately while she does deliver it with a fair amount of rhythmic swing, the backing vocalists are having trouble singing with the fake smiles plastered on their faces, making the entire thing sound as outlandish as you’d expect from people like this.

Because of the resistance to rock ‘n’ roll by the mainstream record companies in 1951 they could be a little slow to jump on board at times. So it was with this record, The Clovers second chart topper in two tries on Atlantic, which had been released way back in August and reached its peak in November and December but didn’t get a cover version released until July 1952 when Kay Starr put hers out for some belated action (#13 on the Pop Charts, making it the first rock cover record to so do this well).

Truthfully of all of the white female pop vocalists of the early 1950’s, Starr was one of the few who genuinely had at least a mild affinity for rhythm in her music. No less a figure than Billie Holiday said she was the one white woman who could sing the blues, and while The Clovers were obviously rockers, they did have a more bluesy vocal delivery than their peers which made them stand out.

Starr though gives this a slight country twang which indicates Capitol was still thinking that aiming it at that market was a safer bet, though she HAD sung country songs before so it wasn’t such a far-fetched notion.

While a few of the lyrics are changed, she at least sounds reasonably good performing it, investing it with genuine emotion and as she lets her voice go you wonder if she’d come along a decade later if she would’ve become one of the Brill Building princesses of the early 60’s churning out teen rock melodramas. If that had been the case she’d at least have gotten some more suitable background singers as the bass voice (of The Lancers) that opens the song and contributes the trademarked stuttering “do-do-do-do-do’s” sounds like he’s got a gun pointed at the back of his head and is forcing him to humiliate himself in this fashion.

Yet aesthetically this still ranks as the best pop cover version of a rock song to date, though admittedly that’s not saying much.


Of all of 1951’s rock hits, this one seemed the surest bet to see itself covered by pop acts.

For one thing Big John Greer wasn’t a very threatening rock act to begin with and because this is a melodic ballad with sad, longing lyrics it was perfect for a field where unrequited love was the order of the day.

But first it had to pass through a blues version by The Big Three Trio in the spring of ‘52, and a country rendition by Hawkshaw Hawkins in early summer, neither of which does much with it, but the melody and lyrics are almost impossible to screw up badly.

Unless of course you’re Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra who massacred it that summer thanks to a vocal chorale that sing the lines without any hint of remorse, discretion or subtlety as the song calls for. They somehow manage to turn a brokenhearted lament into a something phony and staged.

But wait, they’re the GOOD part of this record, because in comes Frankie Lester who does his cheesy Sinatra impression in the middle eight while the horns squawk like a cat whose tail was run over by a truck. When the female chorale returns you breathe a sigh of relief… until the very end that is when the truck backs up and runs over the rest of the cat for good measure!

But while that came and went without much fanfare we have another HIT cover of a rock record with the same song but in a different country, as Tony Brent with Norrie Paramor and His Orchestra managed to reach #12 in the UK with their version of this which didn’t get released until December 1952, as apparently it took that long for the original record to slip through customs.

If you’re among those who think Freddie & The Dreamers and their ilk crashing upon American shores in the midst of The British Invasion and somehow getting hits was the nadir of that country’s stab at rock ‘n’ roll, fear not, there’s always something worse out there and this is surely it.

It’s hard to tell if Brent is mocking the song with his over-the-top quasi-hipster vocals, but with the big band horns and his vacillating intensity this one is more for laughs than for musical enjoyment and so despite suffering from post-war rationing that seemed to never end, we’re happy to be able to report the success of this record shows Brits still had a sense of humor.

* * *

There’s no doubt that 1951 had been rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest year, but when the rest of music world weren’t content with simply pretending it didn’t exist they insisted on butchering it in the hopes that might cause the entire genre to die of shame.