Bob Leszczak,
Who Did It First? Great Pop Cover Songs & Their Original Artists
(Roman & Littlefield, 2014)

Last Year, music historian Bob Leszczak published the first volume of Who Did It First, covering rhythm & blues. Now he's back with the second book in the trilogy, this time looking at pop music. As with the first one (which I reviewed on March 15, 2014), this one is a lot of fun.

Arranged alphabetically by song title, each entry names a tune, its writer, the original artist who recorded it, the label and its chart position. Then we are given the same information about the artist who covered the song, generally doing better with it than the original -- on the charts, if not artistically. If there are interesting, little-known factoids concerning the song, Leszczak lovingly details them.

As I remarked in my review of the first volume, Leszczak appears to have listened to every record ever made, from the 78-rpm era into the digital age. He has also read all of the history and has heard all the stories. He's a very entertaining guide through the history of pop music and, no matter how well informed you are, will tell you things you didn't know. He will also bring to mind hundreds of songs you've completely forgotten about; you'll be happy to remember some of them and will wish the rest had remained buried in the trash bins of your mind.

As an example of what the man can come up, consider the history of "Suspicious Minds." How many of you knew it was originally recorded by its writer Mark James (crediting the writing to a pseudonym F. Gambron.) James released his version, produced by the great Chip Moman, on Scepter Records in 1968. It went absolutely nowhere. A year later, a guy names Presley cut the song and it became his 18th and last No. 1 single. According to Leszczak, Presley's arrangement might be what did it; his version contains a false fade 3 minutes and 30 seconds into the song, which the original did not have. Adds Leszczak, at 4 minutes and 20 seconds, it is Presley's longest single.

Phil Everly wrote a song called "Girls, Girls, Girls," which he and his brother recorded. Before it was released, though, their label, Cadence, gave the song to a little boy named Eddie Hodges, who had played Frank Sinatra's son in the movie, A Hole in the Head. In 1962, Hodges' version hit No. 14 on the Billboard charts. The Everly Brothers' version never was released on Cadence. Instead it surfaced on their Warner Brothers album, A Date With the Everly Brothers. Never released as a single, their version did not chart. Though I'm a great Everly Brothers fan, I've never heard either version and had no idea that the Eddie Hodges recording existed. To be honest, I didn't know Eddie Hodges existed.

This is the sort of information you'll find in Who Did It First and, trust me, you'll have a great time finding it. You'll be wanting to call all your friends, you'll even want to call people you don't know and tell them the great stories you'll read in this book.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

28 June 2014

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