White cover versions--was there ever one better than the original?

I was listening to the Chord’s wonderful (original) verion of “Sh-Boom” and, after listening to it, I got to thinking about how…well, sucky the white-bread-with-mayo version by the Crewcuts is.

Then I started to compare other white cover-version to their black counterparts and came to the conclusion that either the white version is inferior or the white verison is just so different that it doesn’t really count as a cover (Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” is waaaay different from Big Mama Thornton’s).

Can anyone think of a white cover version from the '50s that’s actually better (without radically changing it) than the original?


“Get Ready” by Rare Earth is better, IMHO, than the original version by The Temptations.

“Twist and Shout” is better by the Beatles than the Isley Brothers, again IMHO.

The Sonics (the godfathers of modern rock and roll) regularly covered 50’s rock classics from the likes of Chuck Berry, and as good as the originals were, the Sonics did it better.

Also see the Cramps and the Headcoats (anything by Billy Childish actually).

Pat Boone’s cover of “Tutti Frutti” wasn’t as good as Little Richard’s, but it was responsible for jump-starting LR’s career and deserves some props for that.

Little Richard recorded his original version while still an unknown. It made some small ripples on the music scene and got some airplay on a couple of “race” stations, but ultimately he had to go back to his crappy dishwashing job to pay the bills.

Enter Pat Boone, whose whitebread cover of the song sold huge–and got white kids curious about the source material.

Little Richard hasn’t had to wash anyone else’s dishes ever since.

I think the Beatle’s version of Rock and Roll Music is about the same in terms of quality as Chuck Berry’s.

Wow. This is the first time anybody’s defended this embarrassment.

However, Little Richard’s version hit the Top 100 first - Jan. 14, 1956, while Boone’s entered two weeks later - Jan. 28, 1956. Boone’s did peak higher - #12 vs #17. Also, Boone’s version was a B-side (of “I’ll Be Home” - a Flamingo’s tune).

I like the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s version of “Love Rollercoaster” quite a bit better than Ohio Plater’s. Just seems a bit quicker and dare I say funkier? And yes I remember when the original came out.

Better? Oh, PLEASE! (But see below)

Now; I think Elvis’s version of “Shake Rattle and Roll” was better than Bill Haley’s, which in turn was better than Big Joe Turner’s original. But then, “better” is very subjective, and more often than not depends on which version the listener heard first.

A case might be made for Peggy Lee’s “Fever” being better than Little Willie John’s, but not with me.

If somebody really wanted to do a bunch of research, or brain searching, there were some ‘50s songs with three versions, one soul, one rock, one country. Tryin’ to provide a little somethin’ for everybody, I guess.

PS: The “copycat” thing that was popular in the '50s wasn’t limited to black/white or pop/country either. For example, “Young Love” was hugely popular by both Tab Hunter and Sonny James, at the same time.

IIRC, “My Starter Won’t Start” was released by blues singers Lightnin’ Slim and Lightnin’ Hopkins, on different record labels at about the same time. I thought Lightnin’ Slim’s was better, but YMMV.

Gotta give the edge to Aerosmith over Bullmoose Jackson on the song “Big Ten Inch Record”. 23 years later, but still beats it, quality wise.

The white cover versions were aimed at the pop market and tended to have tight, traditional pop arrangements in the prevailing style. They were rarely carbon copies of the black originals. If you grew up listening to big band and pop vocal music, the covers might sound better to you than the black versions, which were often louder and looser. They were simply made for different audiences. There are some big '50s R&B hits that have miserably out-of-tune instrumentation–if you appreciate verve you might not care, but if you are accustomed to the precisely-arranged world of traditional pop music you would definitely notice.

The concept of “originals” and “covers” is pretty useless when you go back to the '50s and earlier, since the songs were often more of the focus than the artist. When a new song came out, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be different pop, country and R&B versions all at once (“Ivory Tower” is a good example). People would like the song foremost and buy their favorite artist’s rendition without giving a thought to which was the “original.” The white team of Lieber & Stoller wrote “Hound Dog,” so Big Mama Thornton’s version is the original only in the sense that she recorded it first.

Meanwhile, black artists were recording tons of white pop and country songs but no one complains that they were “ruining” them. I prefer to view that era in terms of cross-fertilization, not as a race war.