Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: American Idol's Simon Cowell has often named “Unchained Melody” as his favorite song, and to use one of his own quips, “that's a good choice.”

You once reviewed the numerous different hit recordings of this song, but the one that really kills me is the wild doo-wop version by Vito and the Salutations.

Other than “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” I can't think of another example of such a striking difference between versions of the same big hit song. Can you?
—Curtis Weatherly, Lancaster, Pa.

DEAR CURTIS: I understand your question and reference, though the differences between Neil Sedaka's 1961 and '75 recordings of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” are much less dramatic than what Vito and the Salutations did with “Unchained Melody.”

Before their 1963 waxing, Les Baxter and His Orchestra, Al Hibbler, Roy Hamilton, and June Valli all had 1955 hits with “Unchained Melody,” and all are similar ballads.

By contrast, the Vito and the Salutations track is from another planet. Not many can match it, though I can name a few in that league.

Surely you recall how, in 1961, the Marcels wildly resurrected two prewar standards: Glen Gray's “Blue Moon” (1935) and Ted Weems' “Heartaches” (1947).

Though not doo-wop, we should mention “Danny Boy,” a Top 10 hit for Conway Twitty.

None of the earlier hits of “Danny Boy,” by folks like Glenn Miller (1940), Al Hibbler (1950), and Sil Austin (1959), resemble Conway's fuel-injected Rock and Roll version, also a '59 release but several weeks after Sil Austin's instrumental.

Twitty's “Danny Boy” also has a distinctive, even radical, tempo change within the same song. Another one in this category is “Proud Mary,” by Ike & Tina Turner (1971).

Later in 1959, Conway Twitty and Carl Mann both scored with R&R remakes of Nat King Cole's “Mona Lisa” (1950).

Then there is Donna Summer's 1978 Dance Club remake of “MacArthur Park,” a No. 1 in 1978.

A decade earlier (1968), actor Richard Harris reached No. 2 with this tune. Lyrically and musically atypical for its time, the Harris original still sounds nothing like what Disco Donna delivered.

DEAR JERRY: In the early '70s a song was played often in my home town, which I'm hoping you can identify for me.

Do you know one from that time about toast, marmalade, and sailing ships upon the sea?
— Larry Albritton, Evansville, Ind.

DEAR LARRY: The Australian group Tin Tin had just two hits in America, both in 1971. The first, and their top-seller, is the one you recall: “Toast and Marmalade for Tea” (Atco 6794).

Tin Tin — Steve Kipner, Steve Groves, Johnny Vallins, and Geoff Bridgford — followed this Top 20 hit with “Is That the Way” (Atco 6821), a Top 60 item.

DEAR JERRY: When one of the area oldies stations played “Peter Rabbit,” a 1966 hit by Dee Jay & the Runaways, the announcer said they did not have the original version to play. Then they went to a commercial and never mentioned anything else about it.

Who on earth would have made this song before, and when?
—Kit Ellsinor, Bridgeport, Conn.

DEAR KIT: That would be Myron Lee and the Caddies, in 1962.

The Myron Lee original, which is quite similar to the remake by Dee Jay & the Runaways, can be found on several vinyl and compact disc import albums, including “Wild Men” (Buffalo Bop 55045), and “Rockin' and Rollin' Out of the Midwest” (Collector 4439).

This last CD title is appropriate, since Myron Lee hails from South Dakota and Dee Jay & the Runaways are all from Iowa.

IZ ZAT SO? Whenever the topic turns to different arrangements of the same song, one that always pops up is “Fools Fall in Love.”

This may be only recorded song for which we have four different hits, by four different artists from four different years, each of them alternating in tempo.

The Drifters' 1957 original is fast, but Sammy Turner's 1960 release is slow.

Next comes Elvis Presley, whose 1967 “Fools Fall in Love” is fast, followed in 1977 by Jacky Ward, who gave us another slow rendering.

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