This 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even the great RAY CHARLES makes an appearance today.
Ray's song was a big hit for him in 1961, Hit the Road, Jack, written by Percy Mayfield.
Only another great artist could answer Ray and that one is 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.
Now for the one where I think the answer is as good as the original and both are by 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'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.
It comes as no surprise that ELVIS is included today.
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.
LAVERN BAKER is Elvis's answerer.
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).
A couple that got me laughing out loud is this next pair. Starting with the original, of course, by NEIL SEDAKA.
Actually, this one wasn't all that funny. It was Neil's first hit and a big one at that, Oh! Carol.
The Carol mentioned was 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.