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One of the most famous "battle" of the versions is certainly the competition over "Little Darlin'" by the Gladiolas on Excello, with the original, and the cover by the Diamonds for Mercury. This pairing was covered in great measure in a previous issue (#21). Another well known battle was The Jayhawks "Stranded In The Jungle" covered by The Cadets which also was previously discussed (#12). This time we will discuss other famous versions of the same tune that have been the object of conjecture and opinion for many years.


The first one was the classic R & B tune "Hearts of Stone" which was originally done by an L.A. group called The Jewels for the small independent label R & B ( # 1301). As the tune started to gather steam on the West Coast, Otis Williams & The Charms cut their own version for the Syd Nathan Cincinnati based King / Federal / DeLuxe combine on DeLuxe (# 6062). Their version began to get great airplay in the Midwest cities of Chicago, Kansas City, and the home base in Cincinnati. The Charms also got good play on the East Coast, but not in New York where Alan Freed stuck with the original and other area d.j.'s followed suit. Personally I have always felt that this was no contest, that The Jewels were far superior in their unique sound and version of the tune which features a heavy insistent back beat, a stomping sax break, and a wild and almost out of control feel. However, many of course did not agree as The Charms version far outsold the original and appears in many more collections of vintage R & B songs.


A sincerely felt love ballad was the battleground again as a lesser known group on a small label from the West Coast recorded an original that was soon covered by an Eastern group on an established label. The Colts were an unknown quartet who recorded a great song called "Adorable" which was released on Mambo #112 (which was soon renamed Vita and kept the release number 112). The group produced a smooth pop based sound and the record began strong in both Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. This record soon caught the ear of the powers that be for Atlantic Records, the R & B giant based in New York. They felt the song would be a good vehicle for their established group The Drifters, now without their former lead singer Clyde MacPhatter. The Drifters version was soon released on Atlantic #1078 and immediately took off in sales and airplay. Both versions of the song are good performances but the Drifters release shows all the earmarks of the superior production facilities and talents from Atlantic Records. Predictably, the version by The Drifters soon took over the airwaves and became a good seller for the group and today very few remember the original take by The Colts.


Clyde MacPhatter recently featured with The Drifters and now a successful solo artist and also did a couple of well received duets with Ruth Brown. Looking for material for a recording session in early 1957, the folks at Atlantic Records were high on a recent release by a Philadelphia vocal group called Lee Andrews & The Hearts. This group had recorded a few tunes on the Rainbow label that went nowhere, but once they had recorded for noted Philly labels Gotham and Grand, they were the toast of the city. Grand #157 was a song called "Long And Lonely Nights" and featured the unique sound of the group to full advantage. They used an all encompassing sound of Andrews lead and four part background harmony almost as one voice. Instead of a heavy pronounced backbeat, many of the group's ballads featured a soft shuffle rhythm which was a throwback to the sound of the late forties-early fifties that was perfected by The Orioles. This sound gave the Hearts an advantage of being accepted by a lot of pop music stations that ordinarily would shy away from the harder edged R & B groups of the day. As the Hearts version of the song began to be played on the East Coast, Clyde went into the Atlantic studio and cut his own version of the tune, an impassioned plea of anguish about a lost love. Clyde McPhatter, as always, gave a superb reading of the song and the release on Atlantic #2657 began to get airplay. Clyde had recently covered a Paul Perryman record ("Just To Hold My Hand") and this cover did even better. Neither version made the national pop charts but were given their shot on local radio. In New York it seemed a 50-50 split was the result, while in the Philly-Baltimore-D.C. area, the version by Lee Andrews & The Hearts was the more popular. Chess Records even took over national distribution of the record for the group and this gave their side an edge in the Midwest. Both versions of the song are interesting and result in some great listening.


Then there is the (some say) strange case of the 1958 dramatic ballad "You Cheated". The song is a powerful musical indictment of an unfaithful soulmate and I first heard it in a version by The Slades which was released on a local Texas label Domino #500, its first release. Reportedly it was selling well in the Houston and New Orleans area and was quickly picked up for national distribution by Allied Record Distributors. Almost at that very time it was covered by a group called The Shields for the Tender label based in Los Angeles on #513. Their version was quickly picked up by Randy Woods Dot label and now the battle was on for national supremacy. It was no contest as Dot Records covered the country and The Shields version was the bigger seller. They were the ones who appeared with Dick Clark at the Hollywood Bowl, and went on to make many national in person shows. The Slades were soon relegated to the mostly forgotten list of R & B performers of the fifties. The strangeness of this contest comes from the fact that some people continue to claim that The Slades and The Shields were one and the same ! There is a story of disatisfaction with the small Domino label and a L.A. recut after a secret contract signing, and a payoff by Dot Records and other such rumor and innuendo. I personally don't believe such stories, but they are the stuff of which R & B legends are made.


Two further examples differ in that a number of years passed between the release of the original with the cover, but in these cases the public's perception has been altered by the success of the cover version. The first example is that of one of the most intense and atmospheric songs ever recorded in this field - "The Wind" by The Diablos which was released by Detroit's Fortune label in mid 1954 on #511. The force of Nolan Strong's lead singing, the feel and sound of the background harmony, the dramatic recitation in the middle, all had the effect of producing an instant classic. For years this song (along with "Gloria") was the litmus test of all new aspiring vocal groups in the country. Six years later at the dawn of a new decade, a New York group The Jesters did their take on "The Wind" for Winley #242. The group had some success with "So Strange" and "Please Let Me Love You" in the late 50s so they were not unknowns. Their version of the song hit a responsive note with listeners in the New York and Philadelphia areas, and although it was not anywhere a national hit it did cause Fortune Records to hurredly re-issue the original by The Diablos. In the late 60s and early 70s, The Jesters were mainstays on the oldies circuit and "The Wind" became their signature tune. Today more than forty years after the cover version was released, radio stations with an oldies format are always being requested to play the record. Very few have ever heard or heard of the Diablos original which is too bad, not to disparage The Jesters, but to give credit to the originators of the song.


A similar situation exists with recorded versions of the song "That's My Desire", a tune that made a star out of Frankie Laine in the late forties. In 1957 The Channels recorded a devastating version of the song in their unique triple lead-solo bridge (used so effectively on their huge hit "The Closer You Are") on Gone 5012. The record did well in the New York and Philadelphia areas and added to the popularity of the group. Three years later Dion & The Belmonts recorded their version for the Laurie label on #3044. The Belmonts, a White vocal group from the Bronx already had a number of national hits since 1957. The put another pop standard on the flip side called "Where Or When" and the record went on to become a big hit during the year of 1960. "Where" with its catchy sax intro and shuffle beat got as high as number three on the national pop charts and was a million seller. This popularity spilled over for their version of "That's My Desire" in which they incorporate The Channels style of three part harmony on the main chorus and Dion's solo vocal on the bridge. It was certainly a creditable effort on the tune, so much so that it has displaced the original version by Earl Lewis & The Channels in the minds of most listeners so much so that they are surprised to find out The Belmonts did not do the original version of the song. Ditto for Dion's (with the DelSatins) "Ruby Baby" from 1963 supplanting The Drifters original from 1956, and again The Belmonts (without Dion) and their 1961 recording of "Tell Me Why" originally done by The Rob-Roys with Norman Fox on Backbeat in 1957.
These are a few examples of competing versions of the same song by vocal groups, both in cover versions and later re-makes and how they affected the very history of the music. There are other similar instances of this happening, but these are most of the major efforts within the R & B and vocal group frame work. So it is left to the listener to pick their favorite but at the same time remember the effort of the originators of the song and not let them be tossed onto the scrapheap of musical history.


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