[Ads-l] "cover (version)" redux

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 25 17:00:04 UTC 2015

Back in February, Fred Shapiro shared an antedating of "cover version"
from Billboard in 1953:


I did some more research on the early evolution of "cover" terminology
for my latest Wall Street Journal column:


Billboard appears to be chiefly responsible for the musical uses of
"cover" -- as I say in the column, it originated in the use of
"coverage" to refer to record labels re-recording the hit songs of
other labels (giving them "coverage" in the consumer market).

Billboard, Feb. 7, 1948, p. 20
"Fool That I Am" has benefited by ample disk coverage in the past few
months (Sammy Kaye and Erskine Hawkins, Victor; Dinah Shore, Columbia;
Brooks Brothers, Decca; Billy Eckstein, MGM; Georgia Gibbs, Majestic;
Dinah Washington, Mercury).
Billboard, May 8, 1948, p. 21
No direct evasion of the Petrillo ban thru deliberate coverage of
American new hit tunes is intended, they claim. ... However, where in
pre-ban days such English tune-exchanges would have brought on
American diskeries "coverage" thru their own resources, something new
has been added. Outside of Decca, every major label in the country
will be releasing "Tree [in the Meadow]," all with British-imported
"masters" and artists.

Then "coverage" entered Billboard's record reviews to refer to individual songs.

Billboard, Nov. 5, 1949, p. 90
The Riddlers (Ray Arthur Quartet), Jealous Heart.
Jeffrey Clay does the solo honors in this good coverage of a current hit.
The Pastels (Billy Moore, Jr., Ork), The Game of Broken Hearts.
Effective coverage of a "sleeper" song which so far hasn't materialized.

Soon the reviews were referring to "coverage jobs," "coverage disks,"
"coverage wax," etc.

Billboard, Oct 14, 1950, p. 100
Eddie Howard Ork, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles.
Pleasant coverage job of the oldie lacks the shock virtuosic elements
of the Shaw-Jenkins version.
Billboard, Jan. 20, 1951, p. 32
Dick James, If.
As a coverage disk, this version of the lovely new ballad is an okay
disk. The competish is mighty heavy, tho.
Billboard, Mar. 24, 1951, p. 38
Les Baxter Ork, Sparrow in the Tree Top.
Nothing about his waxing to steal the action from previous diskings of
the potential hit. This should get its share, tho, as coverage wax.

At the same time we get "cover waxing," "cover job," and plain old "cover".

Billboard, Apr. 8, 1950, p. 39
The Melodeons, Put On an Old Pair of Shoes.
Another satisfying cover waxing of a Billy Hill revival which is
making a bid for contemporary honors.
Billboard, Oct. 28, 1950, p. 116
Shep Fields Ork, Harbor Lights.
Fields reverts to a modification of his old formula: Bubbles,
clippety-clop rhythm, accordion, etc. Good cover here.
Billboard, Oct. 28, 1950, p. 116
Shep Fields Ork, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles.
Same ingredients also make this one a satisfactory cover job.

As for "cover version," I found a couple of cites antedating Fred's, from 1952.

Billboard, Apr. 5, 1952, p. 56
Dolly Dawn, You're Not Worth My Tears.
Miss Dawn, an old-timer in the business, comes thru here with an
above-average cover version of the currently active ditty. Tho she has
an attractive sound, her style may be a bit too gimmicked to make much
noise against the heavy competition.
Billboard, May 10, 1952, p 17
Previous to this, Derby sparked the revival of the "Wheel of Fortune"
via the Sunny Gale version. This tune had failed to get anywhere
saleswise six months earlier on the Victor label. The indie version,
however, hit the best seller charts in both the pop and rhythm and
blues fields, resulting in a rash of cover versions led by the Kay
Starr version, which is still the No. 1 seller thruout the country.

On to the verb "cover"... Originally it was the record labels that
were doing the covering (in keeping with the usage of "coverage"

Billboard, Feb. 28, 1948, p. 34
Phil Harris, He's His Own Grandpa (I'm My Own Grandpa).
Victor stabs at but misses pop biz with Harris platter of ditty; label
originally covered with Lonzo & Oscar.
Billboard, Mar 13, 1948, p. 35
Decca, just a couple of weeks ago "covered" the tune with a
harmonica-vocal quartet waxing but the finished version was rejected
by the diskery's execs as below standard.

Here are a couple of early passive uses -- the second one makes it
clear that the label is still the agent of "covering."

Billboard, Feb 25, 1950, p. 33
Mickey Katz, Music! Music! Music!
The fast-breaking hit novelty is covered somewhat weakly.
Billboard, May 19, 1951, p. 37
Art Lund, I Like the Wide Open Spaces.
The TV-stimulated novelty, which has a "Pistol Packin' Mama" quality,
is covered pleasantly by the label with Lund leading the way. If the
ditty catches, the timing of the slicing should help grab off a share.

But eventually the agency of the verb shifted to the artist.

Billboard, Jan. 12, 1952, p. 42
Ethel Smith, Domino.
The current pop click is neatly covered by Miss Smith and her Hammond
organ. This version could make a good change of pace for jocks and
fill the need in some juke locations.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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