Music is something that can unite us all. Music breaks racial boundaries and defies the limitations of age. Music is complex. Music may have many genres but the basis of all music is found with an artist creating his art. Whether the artist is bleeding their emotions onto the wire receiver of the microphone, cascading the emotions of their life across the steel strings of their guitar, or even calculatingly producing beats from a MIDI keyboard; it is art that is produced. Sometimes that art is a collaboration of many artists. Sometimes our favorite song may be a cover of someone else’s work. It is also not at all shocking to imagine an artist finding notable influence from the music they hear on the radio. While they aren’t doing a cover; they are merely finding influence. You can’t really say that is is copying or even infer that they got influence from a specific place unless they admit it. The coincidence is sometimes more than a tell-tale sign when it comes to music though. The proof will be in the pudding.
I became privy to the eery similarities of some songs after listening to a song from a two disc set of Classic County songs that I had recently purchased. As I was listening to disc 2 of this collection of classic Country songs, that had everything from the Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr to The Statler Bros and Charlie Pride, I came across a song by Leroy Van Dyke that I had never heard before. As the song played on; I started to notice that the lyrics were extremely similar to a classic R&B song made popular by Percy Sledge that I had listened to with my Motown loving dad many times. I abruptly stopped the song before it was even over and restarted the early 60s county/pop music hit “Walk on By” by Leroy Van Dyke immediately after listening to it to hear the lyrics one more time. I immediately thought of how much it sounded like a countrified version of the “Dark End of the Street”. The song was different enough to not be a cover but the similarities are undeniable.
The soul classic hit “The Dark End of the Street” was written in 1966 by Dan Penn and Chips Moman while in the hotel room of Hi Records founder Quinton Claunch. The story goes that he allowed the two to use his room to write the song, while they were taking a break from playing cards, as long as they allowed James Carr to record it. Which they kept their word on the deal and soul artist James Carr released the single in late 1966 and it became his trademark song. While still climbing on the Billboard charts, Percy Sledge recorded his version of the song on his 1967 album The Percy Sledge Way but the song did not have the success that Carr’s version did.
Written by Kendall Hayes, the song “Walk on By” was released by county artist Leroy Van Dyke in August 1961. The first single, and title track from his album, held the title was his most successful single and was dubbed by Billboard magazine as one of the biggest country music record in history. The single spent 37 weeks on the country chart and a record breaking 19 weeks at the number-one position. The single holding the 19-week number one position was a record held for 51 years until 2013 when Florida Georgia Line’s Cruise.
So both songs center around a two-timing man who has a girlfriend on the side that knows about his main relationship but the main girl does not. He intends to keep his relationships the way they are and does this successfully by not acknowledging his side girlfriend out in public. He knows that this will hurt her to walk by him and not be acknowledged; but they must do it this way. In “The Dark End of the Street” he tells her that “…when the daylight hour rolls around/And by chance we’re both downtown/If we should meet, just walk on by/Oh darling, please don’t cry/Tonight we’ll meet/At the dark end of the street”, while the man in “Walk on By” similarly tells her that “…(I)f I see you tomorrow on some street in town/Pardon me, if I don’t say hello (hello)/I belong to another, it wouldn’t look so good/To know someone I’m not supposed to know/Just walk on by, wait on the corner.”
While we have established that “The Dark End of the Street” is not a cover; even the title could have came from a section of the “Walk on By” song. The man tells his secret lover to meet him “(I)n a dimly lit corner in a place outside of town” while the other meets “at the dark end of the street”. Penn himself (when asked about the song) said, “we were always wanting to come up with the best cheatin’ song. Ever.” So is it above the realm of possibility that the two of them heard an immensely popular song on the jukebox while playing poker that night and wanted to write their own version of a hit song about cheating? Am I accusing Dan Penn and Chips Moman of a blatant copy? Definitely not. Am I saying that the songs are too close to be a coincidence? Yep. Do I still love each song and respect the artists who wrote them and recorded them? Double yep.
A Silhouette of a Guitar Player by Mkim0219 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22037897
Featured Image – “Walk on By” vinyl single image from ebay.com, user bird-cage, Fair Use.
Percy Sledge at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame by and accredited to User:Carol M. Highsmith – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9863041
1947 Wurlitzer 1080 Jukebox by Paulo Philippidis – Flickr: Jukebox – 1947 Wurlitzer model 1080, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19814620