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Not all cover versions of R&B classics suffer in comparison. Sometimes they fare even better than the originals…

Much has been written regarding the heinous and sadly frequent mid- 1950s practice of bland white pop artists (Pat Boone, Georgia Gibbs, the McGuire Sisters, et al) covering the vastly superior original versions of early rock’n’roll classics by black artists – Tutti Frutti, Ain’t It A Shame, Hearts Of Stone etc. But sometimes a great rhythm and blues song slipped through the cracks and was revived more successfully by another R&B artist. The same thing happened within the rockabilly and doo-wop genres. And every once in a while, a cover was simply better. Here are 20 R&B covers that are definitely worth seeking out…




NBC Television/Getty Images

Elvis Presley was an avid R&B and blues aficionado. Half of his first 10 released sides on Sun were covers culled from those idioms. Yet he didn’t learn Hound Dog from the 1953 R&B chart-topping original by blues singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton on Don Robey’s Peacock label, cut in Los Angeles the previous year with Johnny Otis leading the band and Pete Lewis supplying biting lead guitar.

Elvis picked up Hound Dog from a fellow white rocker in April of 1956. Philadelphia-born Freddie Bell was fronting his Bell Boys in Las Vegas and had covered Hound Dog the prior year for Bernie Lowe’s Teen label. “Elvis would come in every night to see me at the Sands. He was at the Frontier Hotel,” said the late Bell. “He said, ‘I love that song!’ So I gave him my recording.”

Bell had altered the lyrics of the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller composition, removing the line about a hungry canine “snooping around my door” and adding “you ain’t never caught a rabbit.” When Presley waxed his version in New York on 2 July, 1956 in New York, he inserted two elastic guitar solos by Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana’s machine-gun break rolls. Elvis’ rendition became a No.1 pop hit the next month.




Atlantic Records R&B belter LaVern Baker was infuriated when her Latin-tempoed charmer Tweedle Dee, penned by prolific New York songwriter Winfield Scott (aka Robie Kirk), was bowdlerised by veteran pop thrush Georgia Gibbs on Mercury Records, robbing LaVern of considerable pop sales. Baker’s version was a huge R&B seller in early 1955 but didn’t crack the pop Top 10, while Gibbs’ cover nearly climbed to the top of the pop listings.

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