Covering a song in the recording industry was nothing new. There had always been different versions of popular songs such as "White Christmas." Bing Crosby's version is the one most are familiar with, but many artists that recorded "White Christmas," among them the Drifters in 1954. ASCAP had even looked at favorably as more airplay would allow the collection of more royalties What was different now was the the purpose of the covers. To fully understand what was happening one needs to know a bit of the recording industry's history.
After the depression to Major companies decided to abandon the "race" record market which they deemed no longer profitable. The void was quickly filled by a number of small independent companies made up of men who knew and love black music.
At about the same time BMI was formed as alternative to the Major's licensing arm ASCAP. The radio industry had grown tired of paying high royalties for songs licensed by ASCAP, which most of the "pop" songs were. The haughty ASCAP chose not to licensee country and rhythm and blues songs. BMI began licensing rhythm and blues and country songs, that ASCAP had chosen to ignore. When country and rhythm and blues became rock and roll ASCAP found itself out in the cold. ASCAP would be a prime mover behind the Senate Hearings on Payola in the late fifties.
The original were always better than the covers, but were almost always outsold by them.
Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)
Original by the Chords
Cover by the Crew Cuts
By the mid fifties the independents were dominating the R&B and the pop charts. The Majors counterattack by covering of their records.
The cover record was meant to appeal to largest market possible This was done by retaining the same melody, tempo, chords and with enough emotion and feel and cleaning up of the lyrics if necessary, the record would appeal to both adults and teenagers. With more access to airplay, the inferior cover versions outsold the originals.
Lavern Baker begins a tour to start in Australia. She takes out a $125,00 life insurance policy naming Georgia Gibbs as sole beneficiary. In a letter to Gibbs Baker writes that the policy is is to provide for her should she be deprived in the event of my untimely death "of the opportunity of copying my songs and arrangements in the future" The letter closed Tra La La and Tweedle Dee, LaVern Baker.
1954 became the year of "The Cover." The Major companies would choose a
suitable song such as "Sincerely, " "Earth Angel," Sh'Boom," etc.
Then they hire a white group to record a cover. With their greater resources they could be
competing in a week or two. In most cases the covers sound quality was superior, which
gave them an advantage in the market place.
Covering was extremely profitable because it wasn't necessary to spend money finding and developing talent. Success was almost guaranteed because the covers were always of up and coming records.
Besides the original label and artist the publisher was hurt, too. Copyright royalties were based on records sold. The covering company generally gave twenty five percent of the "covers" away. With more of the records in circulation fewer of the original were sold.
Recognizing this Syd Nathan and Herman Lubinsky head of Savoy Records in 1955 refused to license their songs to other companies. This forced other companies to file "Notice of User" application with the copyright office before releasing their version. This legally obligated them to pay royalties on the number of records manufactured rather then sold and required them to pay royalties every 30 days rather then quarterly, which was industry practice.
The difference between a re-make and a cover