NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hey, Cuz! Welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs. And today, we’ve got a listener-inspired episode.
Hi there! I’m Claude Call, and I hope you’re listening to this somewhere outside, because it’s lovely out this week. I’ve got some trivia, right after this:
[Key of Q Promo]
I’ve really been digging the insights that that show brings. Go check it out.
It’s Trivia Time and I know I just did one of these, but this was too surprising not to share with ye. So: according to the folks over at The Sound of Vinyl, who appear to live for counting stats like this, what is the song by Queen that’s been covered more times than any other? I’m going to share the entire Top 10 with you at the end of the show.
Before I get rolling on this episode, let me get a little housekeeping out of the way. I already mentioned this to the newsletter crowd, so if you’re a subscriber, you can skip forward about fifteen seconds. Here’s the thing: I never intend to take breaks as long as the one I just did, but life often gets in the way, so I do thank you for your forbearance. That said, in the future I’m just going to make a point of taking a few weeks off between the end May and the beginning of June because I know my work life is going to be extra-crazy then. That’s all I needed to say for now.
So, I know I promised something connected to our previous episode, but something happened during my research that convinced me to hold off for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, this episode was inspired by an email exchange I had with a listener named Mari. Now, it’s spelled M-A-R-I and I’m not sure whether it’s pronounced “Mary” or something more like “Marie”, but I’m going with Marie for the moment, and for a reason. At any rate, we were talking about losing a parent—for her it was her dad and for me it was my mom—and the bottom line is that they both had a love of pop music from that era. My mother in particular liked the Top 40 radio in the 60s and 70s, so I was pretty much immersed in it as a kid, and it naturally led to this show.
About six months before my mother died unexpectedly, she told me that she wanted the song “Everlasting Love” played at her funeral. And between that conversation, and the fact that as I record this we’re closing in on the anniversary of my mother’s death, I realized there’s no better time to commemorate the memory of my mother, Mary, and also listener Mari’s dad.
As happens so frequently when I tell the story behind a song, it becomes necessary to wind the clock back some time to before the song was a big hit, and this is no exception. “Everlasting Love” was the brainchild of Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden, and they wrote the song specifically for Robert Knight in 1967, but the story actually goes back to when Gayden was a small child. Gayden has said repeatedly that he wrote part of the melody when he was five years old, fooling around on his grandmother’s piano. The part he cites specifically is the counterpoint that the backup singers are doing: “ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh…” and that you hear being played on the organ or the strings, depending on the version you’re listening to. Gaydan said he always knew he was going to use it somewhere, and in this song he found his opportunity.
In an interview with Songwriting Magazine, Gayden says that he was playing with a band at a fraternity house at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and when they were on a break they stepped outside and heard a fantastic voice singing from down the street. They ran down to see who it was, and it turned out to be Robert Knight. Gayden told Knight that he had to get him into a studio, and Knight was of course suspicious, but it turned out that there was a connection between their families, so he agreed to come in. He introduced Knight to Buzz Cason, and they put “Everlasting Love together very quickly, especially for Knight’s voice.
But—as you’ve heard many times on this show, “Everlasting Love” was meant to be the B side. The intended A was a song called “The Weeper”, and that song fell so hard by the wayside that I couldn’t tell you for sure whether it was ever released. “Everlasting Love” became the A side and the B side for that original release was a track called “Somebody’s Baby”, which is NOT the same song that became a hit for Jackson Browne some years later. At any rate, the track has some interesting sounds on it, especially for its time. For instance, the string-like sounds on the record are actually a Farfisa organ, probably their Compact Deluxe model, though that’s just a guess on my part. They put a lot of echo on it to give it a bigger sound. Cason used his bandmates Kenny Buttrey on drums, Norbert Putman playing the bass, and Charlie McCoy along with Cason himself playing guitars. Cason also sang backups along with Carol Montgomery. Now, Robert Knight recalled that even though it was written for his voice, he didn’t sing the song exactly as written. He though tit was a little too fast, so he slowed it down a little bit with that beat-and-a-half pattern you hear him doing, almost a staccato kind of thing. That changed the pace of the verses and that’s the thing that Knight thought got the whole thing off the ground.
The song was immediately popular; in fact by the time it hit the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1967, it was already Number One in Philadelphia and Detroit. Essentially, it was popping up in separate markets at different times, which actually made it tougher to promote. Eventually it peaked at Number 13 on the Billboard chart, and Number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart. Aha, you say, but what about elsewhere in the world? Well, it did make it to Number 19 in the UK, but the catch is that it didn’t do that until it was re-released there in 1974. So why didn’t it chart the first time around? I’m glad you asked.
During that decade of roughly 1964 to 1974, it wasn’t uncommon for artists in the UK to knock out a record that was gaining popularity in the US. According to Buzz Cason, song publisher Al Gallico suggested that he give the song to his partners at the Phillips Company in England. Cason, not quite understanding what that meant, agreed and Phillips ran it to CBS records there. They initially offered it to the band Marmalade, which turned it down as being too poppy, and a band called Love Affair got ahold of it. But here’s the thing: They were in a huge hurry to get the record cut and released so that it would eclipse the Robert Knight version, so when the first recording didn’t come out the way they wanted it to, in the name of expediency they hired session musicians including a 40-piece orchestra, all of whom could just come in and play immediately without having to learn the song, and only lead singer Mike Ellis performed on that recording. The record went to Number One on the UK singles chart in February of 1968 and held the slot for two weeks. The track was also a top 20 song in several European nations that spring. Now, this created some possible controversy, because when they appeared on a television show with Jonathan King, he asked them directly whether the band had actually played on “Everlasting Love.” But they knew the question was coming, so they admitted that it was just Ellis with session musicians. It became a minor nuisance for the band but it didn’t dent their popularity, and in fact they were the biggest-selling band in the UK for the year 1968, with the exception of The Beatles. The fact is, in the end most of Love Affair’s hit singles were created the same way; though the rest of the band played on the B sides and album tracks. But those tracks were also a departure from the sound of the hit singles. Oddly enough, for all their popularity in Europe, it doesn’t appear as though Love Affair had any hits in the United States.
So let’s jump ahead to 1973. It was in October of that year that Carl Carlton stepped into the Creative Workshop studio in Berry Hill, Tennessee. He’d chosen to sing “Everlasting Love,” and when they’d tried it at Quadraphonic Studios in Nashville, it didn’t work out, so they went to Creative Workshop to have another go at it with a different crew. Now, interestingly, Carlton didn’t know the song from either Robert Knight or Love Affair; he’d heard a cover done by David Ruffin on his 1969 solo album My Whole World Ended. The recording was released as a B side to the song “I Wanna Be Your Main Squeeze”, but then it was given a more disco-like remix and re-released in the summer of 1974. It got a lot of club play before finally breaking into the Hot 100 in September, and peaked at Number 6 in November. It was also a Top 20 hit in Canada. Ah, you say, but what about Europe? Well, remember I told you that Robert Knight’s version was re-released and became a hit in 1974? Yup, he essentially pulled the reverse card on Carlton. And this is the version that tends to dominate oldies stations, at least in the US.
But that’s not the end of the saga for “Everlasting Love.” In the summer of 1981, the song was reworked as a duet and covered by Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet. The song also got an additional verse which has no credit on it, but which did get the approval of Gayden and Cason. The track appeared on albums by both Smith and Sweet, and the song peaked at Number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. That was Smith’s second and final trip to the Top 40, and Sweet’s one and only. It was also a minor hit in Australia, and the UK but it was Top Ten in Denmark and Switzerland. So there’s that. I have to say, though, I was pretty immersed in pop music then and didn’t really remember this recording until I heard it again preparing for this show, at which point I had a bit of an “…ohhhh yeahhhh” moment.
Now, related to that version, German singer Sandra did a cover that was actually based on the Rex Smith/Rachel Sweet version, although she grew up listening to the Love Affair version of the song. At any rate the record was released in September of 1987 and was a Top 10 hit throughout most of Europe but was NOT a hit in the UK, where it only peaked at Number 88. A remix did a little better the next year, but only barely, and it was that remix which charted briefly in the US. I’m going to link the video to this version at the website because it’s kind of fun, kind of 80s and kind of meta. And tell me Sandra didn’t have a bit of a Natalie Wood thing going on around then.
Gloria Estefan techno’d up the song for her 1984 album Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and released it as a single in January 1995. It made it to Number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 but it topped out the Dance Club Play chart and was a pretty big hit in Europe. If you check out the video, you’ll notice that Estefan is nowhere to be found in it. That’s because she was pregnant with her second child at the time. Instead what you see is five drag performers all giving it their best Gloria Estefan treatment from different stages in her career.
Now, these aren’t the only covers, not by a long shot. I didn’t even mention that U2 covered the song in 1989 and THAT one charted nicely despite being a B side. There was also a version recorded by British Actress Rebecca Wheatley which made it to Number 5 in the UK. All of this means that “Everlasting Love” is only the second song to chart Top 40 in the 1960s, the 70s, the 80s and the 90s in the US, and the only song in the UK to be Top 50 for the 60s, 70s, 80s,. 90s AND 2000s. In fact, in every case except the 80s, it was in the Top 20.
And now it’s time to answer our trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you which track by Queen has been covered more than any other. On reflection it occurred to me that nearly all of them were a little surprising, because like Johnny Cash last episode, in my head most Queen songs are pretty tough to cover. As Sandra Diaz-Twine has said numerous times on Survivor, [The Queen stays the Queen.]
Got that right. Let’s look at the list.
At Number 10, with 23 covers, is “Somebody to Love,” which I thought would appear higher. But here we are. Tied with that one in the Number 9 slot is “I Want to Break Free.”
At Number 8, with 25 covers, we have “Who Wants to Live Forever.”
Number 7 and 6 each have 29 covers. Those would be “Love of My Life” and “Another One Bites the Dust.”
The Number 5 song is “Under Pressure,” with 31 covers.
Number 4 is “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, which has been covered 40 times.
Now, it makes sense that Number Three and Number Two appear together on the list, because they’re usually so tightly linked. But here’s the odd part: “We Will Rock You” has been covered 53 times, while “We Are the Champions” has been covered 60 times.
And the Queen song that’s been covered more times than any other? With 79 covers, it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody!” I know, it’s hard to believe that there could be a good cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I’ll invite you to check out the version by Panic! At the Disco, which appeared in the soundtrack for the film Suicide Squad. There’s also a recording of them performing it in concert that’s kind of impressive, considering there’s no room for editing and overdubs there.
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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we look at a song that gets played a lot at weddings, and I kind of wonder why.
Thanks for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.