Covers: records v sheet music

The simultaneous cover

Both adverts are from the same 22 June 1962 issue of New Musical Express.

Gary Criss was the American original on Stateside; Craig Douglas was the British cover on Columbia. Both labels were owned by EMI who placed both adverts. Both were released on the same day in Britain. Craig Douglas was a UK #9 hit. Gary Criss disappeared. The other American version, by The Molly Maguires, failed to get a British release.

June 1962 saw the launch of the Stateside label, and the consequent end of Top Rank. Craig Douglas, one of Top Rank’s major stars, was shifted over to Columbia (before leaving EMI altogether for Decca). His new Columbia record was Our Favourite Melodies. This was a cover of the third-ever Stateside release by Gary Criss (#SS104). The arrangements are strikingly similar, but Craig takes it faster. A year earlier, Craig had covered Gene McDaniels’ A Hundred Pounds of Clay, also co-written by the team of Bob Elgin and Kay Rogers. As it was a hit, it’s likely the new song was pitched to him as well as Gary Criss.

EMI took out adverts for both records in the New Musical Express of 22nd June 1962. They’re differently shaped ads, but cover the same area. Note that Craig’s version is advertised as certain for the charts and it duly got to #9 while Gary Criss sank without trace. At that point, EMI still had competing divisions within the organization, and Columbia were certain their boy would win. As Craig had had five Top Ten hits in the previous three years and Gary Criss was unknown, it was a reasonable prediction. A cynic would note that EMI would earn more from a home-grown EMI record than from a license deal with the American label, Diamond. Gary Criss’s only consolation is that his version is worth three times as much secondhand. But that’s probably because it’s early Stateside.

Nowadays, we think of the recorded version as “the song.” This was not so until the mid sixties. The “song” was the sheet music. Copyright law still recognizes this. Copyright in a song consists of the top line (melody) and lyric. All else … that great drum part, the magnificent organ solo, the memorable lead guitar break, the punching horns, the soaring violins … is arrangement. Payment for arrangement is a fee.

Crucially, payment for a songwriter is a royalty. Singers and musicians earn royalties on sales. Songwriters earn mechanical royalties, i.e. their royalties are paid on manufacture, not on sale. Factor in payments for air play. This is why so many bands founder when they realize that the songwriters have swiftly become considerably richer than the other guys. 

In the New Musical Express from June 1963. music publisher Francis, Day & Hunter have taken out their own advertisement for songs. Song publishers advertised heavily in the music press.

By the time you move into 1964 and 1965, the music publishers are leaving the advertising to the record labels. KPM (Keith Prowse Music) persisted with ads for songs (16th October 1964):

New Musical Express 16 October 1964

Notice that they’re advertising versions on three competing major labels: EMI’s Columbia, Decca and Philips. And none of them proved to be hits. 

New Musical EXpress 11 June 1963

The sheet music chart is from the New Musical Express in June 1963. and instead of the usual record labels we find the less familiar names of music publishers … Dick James, Northern Songs, Cromwell, Francis, Day & Hunter, Acuff-Rose, Campbell Connelly, Elstree, Manor, Feldman. It’s not far away from the Top Thirty records, except it seems to be a few weeks behind. 

How Do You Do It is #7 sheet music, but fast falling out of the singles chart at #29. I Like It has climbed from #13 to #5 on the sheet music chart, but has already reached #1 single. I Saw Her Standing There, an LP track, is in the sheet music top thirty. Thank You Girl is the B-side of From Me To You, which is #1.

In the late fifties and early sixties, music publishers (who owned the sheet music rights) would push a song to as many artists as they could. They’d emblazon the different recordings on the front cover of the sheet music with pride. Songwriters would try a piece of music on one artist, and if it failed, try it on another. When they took out adverts in the music press, the number of covers was a matter of pride. Lots of covers meant an attractive song.

Music publishers employed pluggers to promote songs to producers. In the early days, these were accomplished pianists and singers who could demonstrate the song live … there would always be a piano in the offices they visited. Leiber and Stoller started off as songwriters started out by walking round the record labels and artist managers singing and playing their songs on the office piano.

Mike Stoller: In those days we knew nothing about demos, and if we did, we couldn’t afford to make them. If we wanted to get a song recorded we had to play it -live – in front of the people who could make it happen.
Hound Dog, JerryLeiber & Mike Stoller with David Ritz, 2009

Portable tape recorders were much later, so by the early 60s, pluggers might take acetates of a demo with them, and some writers and singers like Carole King and Neil Sedaka made elaborate studio demos so as to sell the song to someone else. The Locomotion started out as a demo, and they found they couldn’t better Little Evas voice.

P.J. Proby said he was employed to record demos by songwriters who wanted to sell to Elvis Presley because he sounded like him. Glenn Campbell did the same, and eventually a CD was released of Glen Campbell’s Elvis demos.

Suddenly There’s A Valley was a hit record in 1955, and the UK music publishers Aberbach, are pushing six versions on five record labels on the sheet music cover. Gogi Grant had the American hit (US #9) on Era, licensed to London in Britain, benefitting from an even more sweeping orchestra than the opposition. In the USA, Julius La Rosa did a male version on Cadence (so also London in Britain). Jo Stafford did it on American Columbia (Philips in Britain), while Kay Armen tried it on MGM. Petula Clark got to #7 in Britain with a perkier version, by which time Polygon (on the sheet music) had been taken over, and become Nixa. Lee Lawrence did the male version on EMI’s Columbia label, and got to #14 in Britain. All six versions got advertised on the UK sheet music. 

Aperbach missed off The Mills Brothers, who also got into the Billboard Top 100 in America on US Decca, released as Brunswick in Britain. Jane Froman released a further American cover on Capitol, Edith Piaf had a major hit with the French translation, and Vera Lynn had a German hit with the German translation. So there were ten significant contemporary versions of the song.

So the sheet music for Norman Petty’s composition, Wheels, doesn’t favour the Petty-produced original by The String-A-Longs (London), but gives equal prominence to versions by Billy Vaughan (London), Johnnie Spence (Parlophone) and Max Harris (Fontana). The best known-version is by Joe Loss, which is not listed, but perhaps he bought a copy of this sheet music to cover it.

Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio wrote Can’t Take My Eyes Off You specifically for Frankie Valli, but Ardmore & Beechwood, the music publishers were just as happy to parade the Andy Williams cover version on the sheet music next to the Frankie Valli version.

By that time, actual sheet music sales were near irrelevant, but the music publisher got paid for every record and airplay of the song, regardless of which recording it was.

Motown would put down a backing track, and try several different singers on top, sometimes releasing more than one version of a song, but with identical backing.

Bert Berns tried Here Comes The Night on Lulu first. When that failed, it was passed on to Them who had the hit. Sometimes they’d successfully push the song onto two or more artists. 

The mid-fifties charts can have three competing versions of the same song. In 1955, you could have enjoyed or endured  Unchained Melody by Al Hibbert, Les Baxter or Jimmy Young. Jimmy Young got the number one hit. Hmm. Perhaps it was better to wait ten years for The Righteous Brothers to revive it, and incidentally Unchained Melody is the fourth highest earning song ever.

Oh,. Oh I’m Falling In Love Again is Spring 1958, from Chappell & Co. Note that they have three of the Big Four  companies with versions on Pye-Nixa, Philips and EMI’s Columbia, plus a version from “number five”, Oriole. Jimmy Rodgers was the original, getting to #13 in the USA.  No one got a UK hit. Rodgers recycled the song as a jingle in a SpaghettiO’s ad in 1965

Pat Boone was a specialist in doing white bread versions of black hit records. Compare his watered-down Ain’t That A Shame (US #1) with Fats Domino’s original (US #10). In the USA the white cover was a standard feature of the fifties landscape because there were two charts leading separate lives, the Pop chart and the R&B chart. 

1955 was a key year when white covers of R&B originals took over the pop charts. The McGuire Sisters ripped off The Moonglows, The Crew Cuts ripped off The Penguins and Gene & Eunice, Georgia Gibbs covered Etta James and LaVern Baker. Frank Sinatra ripped off The Charms. And these were mainly note-for-note covers.

LaVern Baker unsuccessfully tried to have note-for-note covers declared violations of copyright. She said:

I spend over $7500 for each of my sessions, hiring arrangers, special songwriters plus a big band and chorus, then what happens? Some singer comes along and plagiarises your creations.

LaVern Baker meant “white” before singer. Allegedly she took out a life insurance policy before a flight, in favour of Georgia Gibbs. She sent it to her saying: You need this more than I do, Because if anything happens to me, you’re out of business.
(Mojo, April 2014, article by Fred Dellar)

Sheet music publishers were more successful at stopping illegal copying than record labels. They were concerned about the hundred copies of a score needed for a large orchestra, choir, or twenty copies for a brass band. Photocopying was common in the 70s, but they chose two prominent, wealthy English public schools, took the case to court and won. Then they publicized their victory heavily.