Bad Cover Version’s Bad Cover Versions
September 5, 2008
Today was a busy day. And it looks like all Fridays are going to be that way from now on. Thus, the introduction of a new series on the blog: Bad Cover Version’s Bad Cover Versions! It will feature, rather obviously, some of the worst rip-offs, remakes, and regurgitations of fine pop tunes.
Bad Cover Version’s Bad Cover Versions #1: Pat Boone’s “Ain’t That a Shame” (1955)
Boone is one of the worst offenders in pop history; he may have, ironically, helped integrate music. Back in 1955, Pat Boone scored a big hit covering Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” which had gone to #1 on the R&B charts. Of course, songs that had gone to #1 on the R&B charts probably hadn’t done so on the pop charts, which largly played white music to white audiences.
According to rock music history apocrypha, Boone’s producers had to push the uptight, stuffy Columbia University alum into singing the song, with its grammatically incorrect title. The result was a forced, uptight, restrained, overly reverbed, swingless version that had neither rhythm nor blues. In short, it was perfect for a white, middle-class audience.
The song went to #1 in the pop charts, thus justifiably pissing off Fats Domino’s co-writer Dave Bartholemew for all eternity. Boone would continue, throughout the 1950s, to shamelessly record songs that black artists had made popular with black audiences, including Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” and the Orioles’ “It’s Too Soon To Know.” And he wasn’t doing it out of homage, but out of opportunity: Boone would typically record the song a few weeks after the black artists reached the chart. Sometimes, as in the case of “Tutti Frutti,” the songs would be on the charts at the same time.
Boone’s bowlderized versions had immediate and great success, but they are, thankfully, not the versions that we as a culture remember. When Alan Freed (yes, of the payola scandal) began playing original artists instead of Pat Boone versions, teenagers began to demand the originals, if just to piss off their parents, who were much more likely to look kindly upon that nice Boone boy and less kindly upon that cross-dressing weirdo, Little Richard. While Boone’s opportunism did earn him a good deal of cash, he was, as they say, on the wrong side of history.
Future suggestions for Bad Cover Version’s Bad Cover Versions? Email ekkeenan at gmail dot com! Or send me a tweet on Twitter.