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Best Cover Songs 5: Blueberry Hill
I found my thrill...
I found my thrill
On Blueberry hill
On Blueberry hill
when I found you...
The simplest lyrics can sometimes result in the catchiest of tunes. Mellow and memorable, musically malleable - these tunes transcend time and continue to delight artists and listeners alike.
So whether you've ever found your thrill on a blueberry hill ( One Music publisher turned down the song castigating the songwriter that blueberries don't grow on hills!) or not, there's no mistaking the sweet melody.
Although famously a Fats Domino classic.. there have been many who have covered the song before and after the popular singer.
Popularised by many, hits for a few, a standard staple of the forties and fifties hit parades, Blueberry Hill is a worthy contender for our ongoing series on Best cover songs.
Glen Miller Orchestra with Ray Eberle ( vocals at 1:05)
The Forties Hit
'Blueberry Hill' was written by two New York lyricists Al Lewis and Larry Stock and set to music by Vincent Rose. It was first published in 1940 and was a major hit in the dancehall circuits. So popular was its launch that it was recorded six times in the same year.
There is an urban myth that the song is named after a popular 'making out' spot in Taos, Texas. The songwriters confirm that there is no such link and the words were made up for simple rhyming.
The very first recorded version is from Sammy Kaye Orchestra with vocals by Tommy Ryan for Victor Records. This was released on May 31, 1940 with the song 'Maybe' on the flip side.
So popular was the song that within weeks various other orchestra started to release their own version. Gene Krupa and his orchestra released theirs in June, 1940 as did Nat Brandywynne with vocals by Mary Small - both for Okeh Records.
Singers such as Russ Morgan, Connee Boswell, Kay Kyser and Jimmy Dorsey also recorded their own renditions of Blueberry Hill in the same year.
It was Glen Miller who took it to number one with his orchestra along with vocals by Ray Eberle for Bluebird records.
Gene Autry - first recorded version
The Singing Cowboy
Orvon Grover Autry known to us all as Gene Autry was the all american 'singing cowboy'. He conquered Radio, Television and Films for over three decades from 1930s to the sixties with his distinctive vocals and signature style. Autry was so successful he owned his own radio and TV stations and produced highly successful eponymous shows.
A proponent of country music, his straight talking, wholesome hero persona was so popular that he touched millions of lives with his media penetration. He is also the only person who has been awarded stars in the Hollywood walk of fame for all five categories - Radio, TV, Films, Recording Music and Live Performance.
Autry owned the major league baseball team Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels and was one of the richest men in America of his time.
In his 1941 film 'The Singing Hill' Autry sang 'Blueberry Hill' ensuring further, the song's success and longevity.
Louis Armstrong - performance of Blueberry Hill
Louis Armstrong was a larger than life singer. His colourful anecdotes, improvised style of singing, groundbreaking trumpet/cornet playing and his memorably gravelly voice have been highly influential in the worldwide music scene.
Fondly nicknamed satchmo, Armstrong was fond of making up many colourful stories for his nickname. He said in his poverty ridden childhood in New Orleans, he would carry coins in his mouth to avoid them being stolen by bigger kids, earning him the name Satchel mouth. In other circumstances he said it was because of his voluminous lips and singing style.
Louis brought his own unique vocals to Blueberry Hill in 1949. The song charted at no.29 in the billboard top 40.
Armstrong was famous for his 'scat singing' where he used sounds instead of words and made up melodies. He had total command over his tune. He was able to lengthen or shorten phrases, give distinct enunciation and make every song his own.
Antoine 'Fats' Domino - Blueberry Hill
Like Satchmo, Antoine Dominique 'Fats' Domino Jr. was born and raised in New Orleans. He went on to become a highly successful R&B singer- song writer and rock and roll pianist. He has had over 37 top 40 singles and has sold several million copies of his songs.
'Ain't that a shame' , 'Whole Lotta loving', 'I'm walking' all were top ten chart successes. His biggest success and the song he would be forever associated with is his rendition of Blueberry Hill in 1956.
The song charted to no.2 in the Billboard charts and went to no.1 in the R&B charts. It sold over 5 million copies worldwide. It still is the most popular version of the song played everywhere.
Blueberry Hill in 40s and 50s
Which of these Forties and Fifties version of Blueberry Hill do you prefer?
Elvis singing Blueberry Hill
Little Richards bombastic Rock and roll version
Elvis, Little Richard & Bill Haley
Since Fats Domino's 1956 revival, the song was consistently recorded almost every year by popular artists. Elvis Presley recorded it in 1957 with his mellow husky vocals.
Little Richard put a unique rock and roll spin on the classic and made it his own in 1958.
Others such as Ricky Nelson ('58) Andy Williams ('59), Duane Eddy ('59), Conway Twitty ('59) followed suit.
Bill Haley & His Comets who had a worldwide hit with 'Rock around the clock' ( It sold over 25 million copies!) recorded their version of Blueberry Hill in 1960.
Russ Morgan Orchestra with Carol Kaye - Blueberry Hill
Brenda Lee - Blueberry Hill
Skeeter Davis- Blueberry Hill
The Feminine Take
No to be outdone by the sheer testosterone whiff of all the other versions, Female singers brought in their mellifluous take on Blueberry Hill.
The very first female vocal was perhaps from Carol Kaye in the 1941 recording by Russ Morgan Orchestra. This was a more traditional orchestrated rendering of the song. There is a certain nostalgia to the scratchy vinyl backdrop to Carol's version - calm, serene and classic.
Popular Country & Western and Pop singer Brenda Lee came in with her rendition of Blueberry Hill in the sixties. This is a more pop/ rock and roll version with a catchy riff. It has a certain bounce in its step, inviting us to dance along and bop.
Popular Country & Western singer Mary Frances Penick aka Skeeter Davis did her version in 1961. Her cross over appeal and popularity in the sixties gave her several number one hits and Grammy nominations.
In the seventies Loretta Lynn ('71) did a version as did the popular side guitarist and singer Ellen McIlwaine ('75).
Ellen McIlwaine - Blueberry Hill
Choose your favourite...
Which Feminine Version of Blueberry do you like?
John Barry Orchestra - Blueberry Hill
Cliff Richard - Blueberry Hill
International Appeal - UK
It is inevitable that this all American song has an enormous international following and crossover appeal.
From United Kingdom, it was popular composer John Barry and his orchestra who first ventured into Blueberry Hill for their instrumental take of the song in 1960.
The British rock & roll singer and teenage heartthrob Cliff Richard styled himself on Little Richard and Elvis. He gained enormous popularity with his backing group The Shadows. They brought out a version of the song in 1962.
The popularity of the song continued well into the eighties when English glamrock band, Mud, brought out a version in 1982.
In the 2007 tribute album Goin' home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, Elton John sings his version of Blueberry Hill.
Mud- Blueberry Hill
Elton John singing Blueberry Hill
The Loved Ones - Blueberry Hill
Adriano Celentano- Blueberry Hill
Johnny Hallyday & Celine Dion- Blueberry Hill
Popkoor Horlecante - Blueberry Hill
Vladimir Putin does Blueberry Hill
International Appeal - others
Australian rock band The Loved Ones brought out their version of Blueberry Hill. Their debut single ' The Loved One' has been listed as one of the all time top 30 hit songs in Australia. They released Blueberry Hill as an EP in December 1966.
Another singer influenced by the Elvis legacy is Adriano Celentano, one of the all time best selling male artists in Italy. This Milanese singer has been selling millions of records over the past 40 years and has gained enormous popularity with his albums and TV appearances.
His version of Blueberry Hill was released in 1977.
Iconic French rock and roll singer Jean Philippe -Smet aka Johnny Hallyday is the 'biggest rock and roll star you've never heard of'. He is popular in France and French Canada and has sold over 100 million records. Hallyday has done a revival of Blueberry Hill as duets with other singers including Chris Isaak and Celine Dion. Don't miss Celine's leg-air-guitar playing in this clip!
Popkoor Horlecante is a Belgian choral group that have stormed their country with their renditions of popular hits in choir format. Their selections of past and current hits is called HITstory and in February 2013 they released their fourth collection of this series. Their version of Blueberry Hill is from 2009.
Two years ago, at a charity gala, Russian President Vladimir Putin let rip his version of Blueberry Hill. Watch some overenthusiastic film and TV stars clapping along to this brave but tortured rendition by the President. Their expressions and smiles show why they are actors! The video went viral all over the interweb. True to his rabble rousing speeches, Putin just doesn't just storm the song but invades and decimates Blueberry Hill.
Twelve Monkeys Blueberry Hill sequence
Many of you who have enjoyed the sitcom Happy Days know that Blueberry hill is Richie Cunningham's wishful song, for all the pretty girls he wishes to date. Here in this memorable sequence, the cast join in to a rendition of Blueberry Hill in the diner.
The song also features as a recurring riff in Terry Gilliam's Time Travel thriller Twelve Monkeys starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.
There are many others who have covered the song and I've merely captured the variety and worldwide appeal of this evergreen melody. Hope you enjoyed this. Do visit the other hubs in this series if like me, you love music and its history.