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ELDER MUSIC: Answer Songs

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

In the fifties and early sixties, answer songs were all the rage. That is, once there was a big hit, someone would come out with another song, usually with the same tune but different words, from the point of view of the other person in the original.

In all my research for this column, I found only one answer song that was as good as the original. There were two or three that came close. I've included all of those.

I'll begin with the pair I thought of first, starting with JIM REEVES.

Jim Reeves

Okay, I could trot out all those velvet-voice clichés but my goodness, what a fine singer he was. This is probably his best known song, He'll Have to Go.

♫ Jim Reeves - He'll Have To Go

In this case, the answer was quite successful in its own right, so much so that several people recorded it – Skeeter Davis was one but a better version was by JEANNE BLACK.

Jeanne Black

Jeanne actually sold over a million copies of the record, something that most answer songs could only dream about.

Her answer has the fairly obvious title, He'll Have to Stay. The great session pianist Floyd Cramer is prominent on both songs. I hope he received a percentage of the royalties for his work.

♫ Jeanne Black - He'll Have To Stay

Here is a rare example of the genre where the answer is a completely different song. How do we know it's an answer song, yo/u may ask? Well, you have to listen to the words. The original is by JOHNNY CASH.

Johnny Cash

This was quite an early song from Johnny back when he was still at Sun records. It was a bit of a hit, at least in my neck of the woods, Don't Take Your Guns to Town.

♫ Johnny Cash - Don't Take Your Guns to Town

The answer I discovered completely by accident. I didn't realize that there was a follow up to Johnny's until I played this one quite by chance by JERRY LEE LEWIS.

Jerry Lee Lewis

It was a song I wasn't familiar with. Well, goodness me, I said (or something like that) when I played it, that one has to be included in a column I haven't yet devised.

Thus today's column came into existence. Jerry Lee's song is Ballad of Billy Joe.

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Ballad Of Billy Joe

Even the great RAY CHARLES makes an appearance today.

Ray Charles

Ray's song was a big hit for him in 1961, Hit the Road, Jack, written by Percy Mayfield.

♫ Ray Charles - Hit The Road, Jack

Only another great artist could answer Ray and that one is NINA SIMONE.

Nina Simone

Nina's version is a bit different from Ray's, which is good, so you won't get bored. It wasn't ever released on an album, just a 45 and was quite rare until recently when it appeared on a CD collection.

Nina's song is Come on Back, Jack.

♫ Nina Simone - Come On Back, Jack

Now for the one where I think the answer is as good as the original and both are by BUDDY HOLLY.

Buddy Holly

I found a few cases where the same artist created their own answer song but none did it as well as Buddy (goes without saying, really).

The original is one of his most famous songs, Peggy Sue.

♫ Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue

Buddy's follow up isn't really an answer song like the rest today; it's more a continuation of the story. In this case, Peggy Sue Got Married.

This was one of the songs Buddy recorded just with acoustic guitar at home before his fateful trip. It had other singers and instruments added for this version. There's another, different, one as well which is pretty awful, as well as the original unadorned version out there.

The song's interesting (to me anyway), it doesn't have a conventional verse/chorus structure - it's rather free flowing. It makes you wonder what else he could have produced.

♫ Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue Got Married

It comes as no surprise that ELVIS is included today.

Elvis Presley

I could have chosen several of his which had the answer treatment but I settled on Little Sister as it had the best reply song. This was a two-sided hit for the king as it had His Latest Flame, an even better song, on the other side of the record.

♫ Elvis Presley - Little Sister

LAVERN BAKER is Elvis's answerer.

LaVern Baker

Her song title isn't anything obvious like Big Sister. Instead, it's called Hey Memphis. Both songs were written by Doc Pomas and Mort Shuman. I guess they thought if you're on a good thing... (well, that's the whole point of this column).

♫ LaVern Baker - Hey Memphis

A couple that got me laughing out loud is this next pair. Starting with the original, of course, by NEIL SEDAKA.

Neil Sedaka

Actually, this one wasn't all that funny. It was Neil's first hit and a big one at that, Oh! Carol.

♫ Neil Sedaka - Oh! Carol

The Carol mentioned was CAROLE KING.

Carole King

She and Neil dated for a while when they were still at school; she was still Carol Klein at the time. Later they were both members at the Brill Building, churning out songs - she in partnership with her then-husband Gerry Goffin and Neil with his old friend Howard Greenfield.

Naturally her song is called Oh Neil and she didn't take it at all seriously.

♫ Carole King - Oh Neil


Peter, you brought me to tears today. When I listened to "He'll Have To Go" I was right back in a room where he was performing 53 years ago.

My husband owned a radio station and put on Teen Hops. He booked Jim for one of them and I attended the concert. Jim, of course, sang his signature song, which happened to be one of my husband's favorites, and then he asked for requests. I asked him to sing "Danny Boy" and it was one of the most beautiful renditions of that lovely ballad that I have ever heard.

Listening to your selection was bittersweet. Thank you for the link to a memory of long ago.

Ah, the 'answer song' - something we've both expressed a fondness for. A bunch of good ones here, Peter, some of them a surprise. Of course, you probably anticipated this but here's a few to add to the list. :)

Perry Como's "Don't Let the Stars Get in your Eyes" answered by Goldie Hill's "I Let the Stars Get in my Eyes".

Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” answered by the Detergents' "Leader of the Laundramat".

And one of the earliest, the classic Hank Thompson song, "Wild Side of Life" answered by Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-tonk Angels."

What a terrific theme, Peter, and there are way more answer songs than I thought.

Listening to all the fabulous singers--while drinking yet another cup of coffee--makes for a good start to the day in Sometimes Sunny Seattle.

Thanks Peter! Enjoyed this. I'd give months supply of chewin' t'bacci to have been in the room when Carole King record that! Ha Ha!

Given the recent passing of Ben E. King this past week I would like to add one of my favorite 'answer songs'to the mix which would be Damita Jo's ”I’ll Save the Last Dance for You”. This of course the answer to 'The Drifters' release of "Save the Last Dance for Me" which featured Ben E. King on lead vocal.

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