At this blog, when I talk about "cover versions," I usually mean knock-offs of current hits--cheapie versions designed to exploit the sales of a hit while it's still current. In fact, even away from this blog, that's how I use the phrase. Anyway, this trend is associated with the 1950s and early 1960s, and labels like Prom, Royale, Tops, Hi-Tone, Parade, and Bell. The practice had its roots in radio broadcasts and live performances, and, with the shifts in those areas following WWII, discs became a (the?) primary medium for the hit knock-off tradition . Such is my theory, at least. And I've always wanted to type, "the hit knock-off tradition."
Helping the cheap labels considerably was the recording-speed confusion of the time, with singles vs. "long-playing" discs and 78s vs. 45s. By selling their 10- and 12-inch LPs at very low prices, the cheapo labels were exploiting the budgets of customers who couldn't figure out why, for instance, they should pay more for a 10-inch LP than a 10-inch 78 single. They couldn't quite grasp the new science of smaller grooves and greater amounts of music in the same width. In case you find this hard to believe, check out your local thrift stores, where you will observe that, even to this day, the size of a record STILL determines the price. Often, the distinction is between "big" (long-playing) and "little" (45 rpm) discs. (78s need not apply.) This is not a post-vinyl thing--it's always been so. I remember, as a kid, trying in vain to explain to thrift clerks why a 12" 78 logically shouldn't cost as much as a vinyl LP. Never once did I win the debate. The "little" records were one price, the "big" discs another. If, by the way, you find this not to be the case, then you have one progressive thrift store in your neighborhood.
Anyway, I've discovered (in the process of buying way too many 78s) that the cheap-label cover trend of the Fifties started about 1948. One of the original culprits was the justly infamous Varsity label, which we'll be hearing five examples from. Varsity's covers were cheap but fun--their pressings were even cheaper, and not so fun to restore. We'll be hearing covers of Pee Wee Hunt (Twelfth Street Rag) and Merv Griffin (I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts ((sic))). Other labels in our list: Your Hits, about which I know zilch, and Music Masters, which basically seems to have been the Ace-Hi label under another name. For some reason, the label info for the latter failed to "take" when I downloaded the tracks, so both come up as "Unknown album" in that regard.
Our token Tops selection consists of Bud Roman singing Rags to Riches in a performance that, budget limitations considered, does an excellent job mimicking the original. By contrast, the Honeydreamers' Oh Happy Day (from a 1952 Your Hits 78) departs from the sound and feel of the original, which cheap-label covers often did. Which is why the term "copy-cat" doesn't always work in describing these things.
To the fake hits: Early cheap-label cover versions Important tip: when downloading, ignore all diversions and click blue "Download" button on left, then wait for gray "Free Download" button on the right. Everything else is an attempt to get you to d/l stuff you don't need. That pretty much describes the Internet, doesn't it?
12TH STREET RAG--Varsity Ragtime Band (Varsity 106; 1948)
CONFESS--Barbara Brown and Jimmie Valentine (Varsity 106; 1948)
I'VE GOT A LOVELY BUNCH OF COCOANUTS--Jimmy Livingston Orch. (Varsity 233; 1949)
RAGS TO RICHES--Bud Roman w. Lew Raymond O. (Tops 380)
OH HAPPY DAY--The Honeydreamers (Your Hits 7015)
TRYING--Snooky Lanson (Your Hits 7014)
"A"--YOU'RE ADORABLE--Barbara Brown and Johnny Frank (Varsity 137 ; 1948)
FOREVER AND EVER--Barbara Brown (Varsity 135; 1948, vice 1949)
THEME FROM MOULIN ROUGE--Kathryne Steele (Music Masters 2007)
SAY YOU'RE MINE AGAIN--Kathryne Steel and Larry Roberts (Same)