Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Platters hit #1 with “The Great Pretender” 50 years ago (2/18/1956)

First posted 4/16/2020.

The Great Pretender

The Platters

Writer(s): Buck Ram (see lyrics here)

Released: November 3, 1955

First Charted: December 9, 1955

Peak: 12 US, 13 CB, 13 HR, 111 RB, 5 UK, 13 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 26.13 video, -- streaming


About the Song:

As the first R&B vocal group to top the pop charts, RS500 the Platters ushered in the doo-wop era RS500 with “The Great Pretender.” The term “doo wop” didn’t exist at the time, though. Gus Gossert, an oldies DJ on WDBS in New York City, started using the term (which was actually coined by record collector Stan Krause, who helped produce Gossert’s shows) around 1970 to describe this style of music. SF

The Platters were, at one time, “the most successful vocal group in the world.” NPR They were “one of the Fifties’ quintessential ballad groups,” RS500 “heirs to the smooth crooning style of the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers.” RS500 They were the “first black act to garner popularity from white audiences.” NPR

The legendary Buck Ram, “a titanic figure in doo-wop,” RS500 managed the group. He wrote “The Great Pretender” and co-wrote two other major Platters hits, “Only You” and “Twilight Time.” He wrote this “in about 20 minutes in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in order to have a song to follow up the success of ‘Only You.’” WK Ram “was pushing fifty when the song hit” RS500 and became the first of the Platters’ four #1 songs on the pop charts; it was their second of four #1 songs on the R&B chart.

The song “describes a man who deals with his heartbreak by denying it – he’s mastered the art of smiling through the pain.” SF However, lead singer Tony Williams is singing not just about the loss of romantic love, but about “alienation: ‘Too real is this feeling of make believe/ Too real when I feel what my heart can’t conceal.’” MA

Freddie Mercury of Queen recorded the song in 1987 and took it to #4 on the UK charts. Chrissie Hynde named her rock group “The Pretenders” after this song. SF

Resources and Related Links:

Carrie Underwood charted with “Before He Cheats”: February 18, 2006

image from

Writer(s): Josh Kear/Chris Tompkins (see lyrics here)

First charted: 18 February 2006

Peak: 15 CW, 8 HT, 6 AC, 5 AA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.7 US, -- UK, 3.7 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 0.8 Video Airplay (in millions): 38.22

Review: “Done-me-wrong anthems don’t get much more fun or more satisfying” MX than this “clever tale of a jilted girlfriend who gets sweet revenge.” BT The song’s video showed the former American Idol winner making short work of her philandering boyfriend’s truck by way of a Louisville slugger. She made it clear that the next time he cheated, it wouldn’t be on her.

The song helped cement Underwood’s image as a country singer with wide-based pop appeal as well. When “Before He Cheats” won the Grammy for Best Country Song, the songwriters expressed surprise to Billboard magazine about the song’s broad appeal. One of the writers, Josh Kear, said, “You’ve got just enough sex and just enough violence to appeal to both sexes. The fact that they just left it as a straightforward Country record and it worked was a surprise, and pleasantly so.” SF

The other writer, Chris Tompkins relayed to that they originally envisioned the song being sung by someone with a tougher image, like Gretchen Wilson. SF Underwood confessed to CMT that she almost passed on the song, saying, “People are going to hate me for singing this song. They’re gonna be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t listen to her album. She’s bad and I can’t let my children listen to this.’” SF

The song accomplished several notable achievements. It took 38 weeks, longer than any other song, to climb into the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. SF Before the end of its run, it had logged 64 weeks on the chart, making it the fifth-longest charting single in Hot 100 history. WK It also became the first country song to sell two million downloads SF and is the fourth best-selling country song of all time. WK The song nabbed plenty of awards including Country Song/Single of the Year from the People’s Choice Awards, the Country Music Association, and ASCAP. CMT and the Academy of Country Music named it Video of the Year.

Resources and Related Links:


Friday, February 10, 2006

Fifty Years Ago: “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” hit the charts (2/10/1956)

Last updated 4/15/2020.

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers

Writer(s): Frankie Lymon, Herman Santiago, Jimmy Merchant (see lyrics here)

First Charted: February 10, 1956

Peak: 6 US, 6 CB, 2 HR, 15 RB, 13Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 2.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 5.73 video, -- streaming


About the Song:

Frankie Lymon was “one of rock & roll’s first teen prodigies, [but also] one of its earliest tragedies.” RS500 He was w by 25, a penniless heroin addict. RS500 However, in his brief life, he contributed “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” which has been called “the perfect combination of commercial pop and doo-wop music.” SJ At thirteen, Lymon became the youngest artist (at that time) to top the U.K. charts. SF He had a voice that had yet to succumb to puberty and the moves and personality which served as a model for future child pop stars like Michael Jackson. FR

Richard Barrett, who is called a producer in one source KL and simply a singer for another local doo-wop group in another source SJ is credited with hearing the group and bringing them to label owner George Goldner, KL who also recorded the doo-wop classic “Gee” by the Crows. Herman Santiago was supposed to sing lead, but in more conflicting tales, was either sick that day SJ or was just bumped because Goldner liked Lymon’s delivery better. KL

It should come as no surprise that with all the conflicting tales surrounding the song, the writing credits are also a matter of dispute. One account says that Lymon wrote it for his girlfriend, CR but another source has member Jimmy Merchant telling a different tale. He says the group used to perform in the hallway of the building where member Sherman Garnes lived. A tenant named Robert offered the group some love poems from his girlfriend to see if they could make any into songs. SJ

“Robert’s girlfriend” does not show up in any writing credits, but a lot of other names do. Early vinyl pressings credited Lymon, Santiago, and Merchant. WK The song was later attributed to Lymon and Goldner, who eventually sold the rights to Morris Levy, a label owner notorious for claiming copyrights on songs he didn’t write. SF A 1992 court battle awarded credit to Santiago and Merchant WK but were returned to Lymon and Levy when, on appeal, a judge agreed that Levy hadn’t written the song, but that the lawsuit had been filed too late. SF Yet another source says a lawsuit awarded Santiago and Garnes with authorship. JA It is, of course, the only incident in the history of recorded music of disputed royalties over a hit song. Ever.

Resources and Related Links:

  • Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers’ DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • CR Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 458.
  • FR Paul Friedlander (1996). Rock and Roll: A Social History. Boulder, Colorado; Westview Press, Inc. Page 66.
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 215.
  • KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 38.
  • SJ Bob Shannon and John Javna (1986). Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll. New York, NY; Warner Brothers, Inc. Page 166.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia