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Song Stories

“The Great Pretender”

The Platters | 1955

Heirs to the smooth crooning style of the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, the Platters were kings of the 1950s ballad. Tony Williams had tonsillitis when he sang the lead vocal to this smash, bringing additional rawness to his delivery of the forlorn lyric. After battling Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This" and Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" up the pop charts, "Pretender" becoming the first single by an R&B group to hit Number One. And unlike so many of the popular singing groups of that time, this one featured a woman, Zola Taylor, in the vocal mix. The song had a comeback in 1987 when Freddie Mercury released a solo album with this song as the lead and title track.

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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