Saturday, February 18, 2006

50 years ago: The Platters hit #1 with “The Great Pretender”

First posted 4/16/2020; updated 3/12/2021.

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

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

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


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