THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING
VARIOUS ARTISTS – THOSE ROCK’N’ROLL ANSWER SONGS (Silly Records SR 8012/3)
This review appeared in Brother, Can You Spare A Rhyme by Spencer Leigh (2000).
The easiest way to write a song is if someone else has written it before you. Sounds flippant? Well, no, during the rock’n’roll era, roughly the decade from 1955 onwards, some artists did very well by simply answering established hit records. If the record posed a question (“Are You Lonesome Tonight?, “Who Put The Bomp?”), the matter was simple: your song could be called “Yes, I’m Lonesome Tonight” or “I Put The Bomp”. Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have To Go” became Jeanne Black’s “He’ll Have To Stay”. Many of the records made the US charts, and there were even answer versions to answer versions: the Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me” prompted Damita Jo’s reply, “I’m Saving The Last Dance For You”, but Billy Fury was convinced “You’re Having The Last Dance With Me”.
There were, it should be said, answer versions before rock’n’roll. The American soldiers responded to “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” with “It May Be Far To Tipperary (It’s A Longer Way To Tennessee)”, and we also had “When I Met You Last Night In Dreamland”, “Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day” and “Since Bill Bailey Came Home”. Hank Williams followed “Cold Cold Heart” with “My Cold, Cold Heart Is Melted Now”, recorded by Kitty Wells, and he liked the new tune so much that he used it for “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.
Responding to “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” is an industry in itself – “Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry,“They Shined Up Rudolph’s Nose” by Johnny Horton, “Rudolph The Flat-Nosed Reindeer” by Homer and Jethro, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Redneck” by Bob Livingston, and I’m sure I once heard a record about Rudolph being breathalysed.
In recent years Bear Family have issued three superbly-packaged CDs of answer versions in their series, “…And The Answer Is” (BCD 15791/2/3), but as the CDs combine the familiar originals with their follow-ups, it is an expensive way to acquire what are, for the most part, rubbish, and I don’t possess them. Still, there are some hilarious titles. Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” was answered by Judy’s “She Can Have You”, while Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care Of My Baby” became Ralph Emery’s “I’ll Take Good Care Of Your Baby”.
Now, two German CDs have appeared on import in the UK, “Those Rock’n’Roll Answer Songs” (Silly Records SR 8012/3), with each volume containing 29 answer versions. Technically, they are a disaster as many tracks have been dubbed from scratchy singles. I thought something could be done about that nowadays, but the single of “Leavin’ Surf City” by Dave and the Saints is in such poor condition that the track is faded out halfway through. A hi-fi magazine wouldn’t look at these albums, but I draw this answering service to your attention because the CDs are packed with rare oddities.
Most artists are unknown or hide under a pseudonym – Joni Credit, the Emperor, Cook E Jarr – but there are recognisable names. In 1959 Carole King had been flattered that Neil Sedaka had dedicated “Oh Carol” to her and she responded with the Tennessee-styled ”Oh Neil”.
“I’d even give up a month’s supply of chewing tobaccy,
Just to be known as Mrs Neil Sedaccy.”
She also responded to Annette’s “Tall Paul” with “Short Mort”, probably to amuse her fellow Brill Building songwriter, Mort Shuman. Within a few months, Carole would write such sublime songs as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” but there’s no indication of such promise here.