Bob Leszczak,
Who Did It First? Great Rock 'n' Roll Cover Songs
(Roman & Littlefield, 2014)

How many of you were aware that Frank Sinatra did a cover version of Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"? And that he even barked as the band faded out? Were you also aware that Paul Anka, the crown prince of middle-of-the-road swing, took a swing at Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? True, in both cases, and those facts are just a minor sampling of the treasures buried in the pages of the most recent volume of Who Did It First?

I say the most recent volume because this is the last of Leszczak's trilogy, the other two books covering rhythm & blues and pop. (I reviewed each volume here on Rambles on June 28, 2014 (pop) and March 15, 2014 (r&b). Like the other two, the book lists the song, its composer, the artist who recorded it first and its chart position. Then the author gives you the same information for the major cover version, along with a brief discussion highlighting interesting points about the song, the record and the artists.

This volume is probably going to be more fun for readers than the others because, for casual listeners, the songs and artists are more familiar. And the revelations fly. For example, did you know the Troggs were not the first artists to record "Wild Thing?" The song was written by Chip Taylor, who is the brother of Jon Voight (and Angelina Jolie's uncle), who gave it to a band called The Wild Ones. Their version failed to chart. Later, the British band the Troggs picked up on it and took it to No. 1. Interestingly enough, it is the only song in rock history to reach No. 1 on two separate labels, Atco and Fontana.

Until this book came along, I had no idea that Elton John had such a fondness for the work of Creedence Clearwater Revival. John covered both "Travelin' Band" and "Up Around the Bend." Neither one made the charts.

Surfing songs seem to be among the most covered, and it surprised me to learn that "Surf City" written by the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and his father was taken to No. 1 on the Billboard charts by Jan & Dean, thereby infuriating the rest of the Beach Boys, who at that time had not scored a major hit ... and here was their musical director and resident genius giving No. 1 songs to other bands. Later on, the Ramones did a cover but, like so much of their work, their version did not chart.

Who Did It First is not just a 400-page trivia collection -- although it serves awesomely as that. Like the others in the series, it's a vital and essential reference book that will serve industry people, music historians and curious fans alike. If you are involved in music in any way, it's a must-have.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

24 January 2015

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