Fever (Little Willie John song)

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Single by Little Willie John
A-side Fever
B-side Letter From My Darling
Released 1956
Format 45 rpm and 78 rpm
Genre Rhythm and blues
Length 2:40
Label King 4935
Writer(s) Eddie Cooley
John Davenport
Producer(s) Henry Glover

"Fever" is a song written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, who used the pseudonym John Davenport. It was originally recorded by Little Willie John in 1956. It has been covered by numerous artists from various musical genres, notably Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Usha Uthup, Ray Charles, Nancy Sinatra, The McCoys, The Blues Band, Boney M., Amanda Lear, La Lupe, Madonna, Fishtank Ensemble, The Kingsmen, The Jam, The Cramps, Wanda Jackson, Bette Midler,[1] Michael Bublé, Alvin Robinson and Suzi Quatro.[2]

Little Willie John[edit]

The idea for the song was presented to Otis Blackwell by an old friend, Eddie Cooley. Blackwell said: "Eddie Cooley was a friend of mine from New York and he called me up and said 'Man, I got an idea for a song called "Fever", but I can´t finish it. I had to write it under another name because, at that time, I was still under contract to Joe Davis'."[3]

Little Willie John reportedly disliked the song, but was persuaded to record it, on March 1, 1956, by King Records owner Syd Nathan and arranger and producer Henry Glover.[4] His version was released in April 1956 and became a double-sided hit along with the top-ten R&B song "Letter from My Darling". "Fever" reached number one for three weeks on the R&B Best Sellers chart. It also made the pop charts, peaking at number 24 on the Billboard chart.[5]

Peggy Lee[edit]

Single by Peggy Lee
from the album Things Are Swingin'
B-side "You Don't Know"
Released 1958
Format 7"
Genre Jazz
Length 3:21
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Peggy Lee, Eddie Cooley, John Davenport (lyrics)
Eddie Cooley, John Davenport (music)

In 1958, Peggy Lee recorded a cover version of the song, which featured significantly rewritten lyrics composed by Lee herself without credit.[6] These uncopyrighted lyrics (including the verses beginning "Romeo loved Juliet," and "Captain Smith and Pocahontas") are now generally thought of as a standard part of the song, and have been included in most subsequent covers of "Fever". Only the first and the fourth verse of the Little Willie John version were used, because Lee thought that the second and the third original verses were too risque for her musical tastes.

Lee's version peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. It became a signature song for Lee and was nominated for "Record of the Year" at the 1959 Grammy Awards. Elvis Presley released a near identical version to Lee's two years later for his 1960 album, Elvis is Back.

In 2013 rhythmic gymnast Alina Maksymenko from Ukraine used Lee's version for her clubs routine, she went to win the bronze medal at the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships Kiev 2013

Other versions[edit]

British singer Helen Shapiro recorded "Fever" in 1964; her version reached number 38 in the UK chart.

The Kingsmen released a version on their 1964 album The Kingsmen In Person.

In late 1965, the rock group McCoys. released a version of the song "Fever", which had a very similar beat and rhythm to the previous hit "Hang on Sloopy". Only two verses were used, and it reminded listeners of their hit song "Hang on Sloopy". It hit Number 7 according to the Billboard charts.

In 1967, James Brown recorded a version of the song for the album Cold Sweat.

During their 1982 world tour, The Jam covered the song as part of a medley with their own 'Pity Poor Alfie' and Ray Charles's Hit the Road Jack. A studio version of this (minus the latter song) was released in September 1982 on the B-side of their penultimate single, 'The Bitterest Pill'.

In 1989, Joe Cocker recorded a version of the song for the album One Night of Sin.

In 1993, Television guitarist Tom Verlaine released a version of "Fever" on the Otis Blackwell tribute album "Brace Yourself: A Tribute To Otis Blackwell"

In 1995, the Argentine musician Charly García released an album (Estaba en llamas cuando me acosté) with covers on live stages of yours favorite songs. "Fever" was included, an intense version played in Pinamar Beach.

In 2003, Michael Bublé released his cover of this song on his self named debut album.

In 2005, Bette Midler recorded a cover of the Peggy Lee version of the song for her album Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook. It was released as a single from the album and performed live by Midler on the Late Show with David Letterman.

In 2012, Barry Gibb performed "Fever" live at the Hard Rock Cafe in Miami with his own "Stayin' Alive" in the tempo faithful to Peggy Lee's version.

Lulu Roman (of Hee Haw fame) recorded a cover for her 2013 album At Last.

Amanda Lear[edit]

Single by Amanda Lear
B-side "Red Tape"
Released 1982
Format 7"
Genre Pop
Length 3:36
Label Ariola Records
Producer(s) Anthony Monn
Amanda Lear singles chronology
"New York"
"Incredibilmente donna"

Song information[edit]

Amanda Lear's version of "Fever" was released as a single-only track in 1982. "Red Tape" from the previous year's Incognito album made the B-side. The cover photo of most single releases was taken by Alain-Philippe Malagnac d'Argens de Villèle, Amanda's then-husband.

The singer performed "Fever" in a number of television shows, such as German Ein Kessel Buntes or Italian Premiatissima. However, the single was not a commercial success and did not chart. "Fever" later appeared in the tracklist of Lear's Super 20 compilation album in 1989.

Music video[edit]

The music video was shot in Paris and sees Amanda performing the song on a boat on Seine. Lear's husband is also seen in the video.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Fever" – 3:36
  2. "Red Tape" – 3:28

Madonna version[edit]

Single by Madonna
from the album Erotica
Released March 6, 1993
Format 7", 12", cassette, CD, maxi-single
Recorded August 15, 1992
at Soundworks Recording Studio
(Astoria, New York)
Genre Dance-pop, house
Length 5:00 (album version)
4:27 (album edit)
Madonna singles chronology
"Bad Girl"


In 1992, Madonna recorded a cover version of "Fever" for her fifth studio album Erotica. She was in the studio putting down tracks for the album and had just recorded a song called "Goodbye to Innocence".[9] She was going through the final stages of production on it when she suddenly started singing the lyrics to "Fever" over the top of it. Madonna liked the way it sounded so much that she recorded it.[9] "Goodbye to Innocence" was never released on a Madonna album, although it did appear on Just Say Roe, a charity record, and a dub mix of it titled "Up Down Suite" was a bonus track to the "Rain" maxi-single. In September 2008, a remix of "Fever" (known as the Dance Floor Mix) was used in television promos for the fifth season of Desperate Housewives.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

The New York Times editor Stephen Holden wrote that "The album's softer moments include a silky hip-hop arrangement of "Fever."[11] The Baltimore Sun's J. D. Considine praised the song as "sassy, house-style remake of "Fever"—that the album really heats up, providing a sound that is body-conscious in the best sense of the term."[12] Alfred Soto of Stylus Magazine wrote that this song has its unique, idiosyncratic "Joni-Mitchell-Blue" energy.[13] Billboard called the song a "house-inflected rendition."[14] David Browne of Entertainment Weekly called Madonna's voice souless: "You and Shep sure do a bang-up job — pun intended — transforming Fever, that old Peggy Lee hit, into a techno drone, but listen to the parched sound emitted from your throat on such tracks."[15]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, "Fever" was never officially released as a single, but it did become a dance hit, becoming Madonna's 15th song to hit number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.[16] In the United Kingdom, the song debuted at its peak of number six on the UK Singles Chart on the issue dated April 3, 1993.[17] It also peaked at number one in Finland and within the top 10 in Ireland and Japan. It peaked at number 12 in Italy, number 17 in New Zealand, number 31 in France and number 51 in Australia.

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Fever", directed by Stéphane Sednaoui, was shot on April 10–11, 1993 at Greenwich Studios in Miami, Florida,[18] and received its world premiere on May 11, 1993, on MTV. It has since been made commercially available on the DVD collection, The Video Collection 93:99.[19] The music video alternately features Madonna with a red wig and silver bodypaint in a variety of costumes dancing in front of funky, kaleidoscopic backgrounds. It showcases her posing like ancient goddesses. She is enveloped in a flame-like atmosphere and eventually burns up. We also see her sticking her tongue out.[20] In a list containing five of Madonna's best music videos, blogger Eduardo Dias from O Grito! magazine pointed out that the "Pop song often speaks of lost, found and refound loves. Madonna spoke of love in zillion different ways. The fever that love causes is in each image of this video. Saturated images, nuanced, and handled, all sorts of effects were used in this game of contrasts that is called Fever'. Beware of prolonged exposure to the video or the reader will stop at the nearest emergency. Use your sunscreen."[21]

Live performances[edit]

To start the promotion for Erotica, Madonna performed "Fever" and "Bad Girl" on Saturday Night Live in January 1993.[22][23] During the 1000th The Arsenio Hall Show, Madonna performed the original version of "Fever" accompanied by a band, wearing a black classic dress and smoking a cigarette.[24] Madonna also performed "Fever" on the 1993 Girlie Show World Tour as the second song from the setlist. After "Erotica", the singer partially strips and proceeds to straddle and dances suggestively with two half-naked male dancers.[25][26] At the end of the song, Madonna and the two backup dancers descend into a literal ring of fire.[20]

Track listing and formats[edit]


Beyoncé version[edit]

Beyoncé - Fever (Official Single Cover).png
"Fever" cover
Promotional single by Beyoncé Knowles from the album Heat
Released February 8, 2010 (US)[35]
February 9, 2010 (UK)[36]
Format Digital download
Genre R&B, soul[35]
Length 3:32
Label Columbia
Writer John Davenport, Eddie Cooley
Producer Chink Santana, Beyoncé Knowles
Heat track listing
"At Last"
(Karmatronic Remix)

Background and release[edit]

Knowles included her version of the classic track "Fever" (1956) on multiple releases. Knowles' original recording of the song was included on the soundtrack album for the 2003 American musical dramedy film, The Fighting Temptations,[37][38] in which Knowles had a leading role in the film.[39][40] Including the song as part of her set-list on the Dangerously in Love Tour, the song was released on Beyoncé: Live at Wembley CD/DVD in 2004.[41] Knowles' original recording was additionally included on the track-listing of her first mixtape Speak My Mind (2005).[41] Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine wrote: "The seductive iciness of Peggy Lee's 'Fever' is successfully transplanted with a gumbo sound and sexy Southern comfort."[42]

After releasing her first fragrance Heat, Knowles re-recorded her version of "Fever" as promotion for the fragrance, using the song in advertisements for the fragrance.[43] The re-recorded 2010 version of the song was later released for digital-download on the iTunes Store on February 8, 2010.[35]


As promotion for the fragrance, a TV commercial for Heat was directed by Jake Nava,[44] who also shot music videos for Knowles' "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" (2008), "If I Were a Boy" (2008), "Beautiful Liar" (2007), "Baby Boy" (2003), and "Crazy In Love" (2003).[45] The commercial features Beyoncé in a red satin dress sweating in a steamy room while the newly covered version of "Fever" (1956) plays in the background.[46] Print advertising, shot by Michael Thompson, depicts a sultry Knowles in the same dress worn in the TV campaign.[44]

In an interview with Women's Wear Daily, Knowles described the sexual tone of the video stating: "My sexiest moments are when I’m just getting out of the tub or the shower and I’m clean, so I wanted to incorporate that in the ads. The dress was this liquid-y satin. The song Fever I did years ago and always loved it. [For the commercial] I got to sing it a bit more whispery, more natural."[44] In the accompanying TV advertisement, Knowles is seen in different scenes including Knowles emerging from a steamy bathroom as she sweats and enjoying herself in a bath.[44] Throughout the video, Knowles only wears a red-satin kimono, which has been described as revealing.[44]


The commercial for the fragrance found controversy in the U.K. with UK's Advertising Standards Authority.[47] The commercial was banned from the country's daytime TV rotation due to its "sexy imagery" and was only shown after 7:30 in the afternoon.[47] The UK's Advertising Standards Authority commented on the ban decision stating "We considered that Beyoncé's body movements and the camera's prolonged focus on shots of her dress slipping away to partially expose her breasts created a sexually provocative ad that was unsuitable to be seen by young children."[47]

Perfume maker Coty replied to the ban stating that they do not think there is anything too explicit about the TV spot.[47] Coty continued stating that the commercial was "intended to reflect the singer Beyoncé's personal 'sexy chic' style," and while Beyoncé's cleavage is exposed at certain parts of the commercial, Coty continued stating that it is not "overtly graphic or explicitly sexual and at no point was Beyoncé naked."[47]

Knowles, herself, responded to the commercial's ban jokingly stating: "Where's the wind coming from? It started out only [to stay cool], and then it kind of created this effect with my hair. You can only imagine, the show is two and a half hours. It's really, really warm onstage."[48] Mother Tina Knowles additionally commented on the controversy stating that it was "very good" as people purposely went to watch the video and that "upped my sales."[48]

In other media[edit]

An illustration of the diversity of settings in which the song has found a home: a cabaret troupe from Stockholm on tour in New York in 2011 does a La Lupe version of Fever as performed in Wild Side Story.

On June 3, 1976, Rita Moreno sang "Fever" on episode 105 of The Muppet Show, accompanied by Animal on the drums who repeatedly and comically distracted her with a more aggressive drumming style than the song required, which caused Rita to use two cymbals to crush Animal's head in order to stop his wild playing, which resulted in his saying: "You're my kind of woman," thus ending the musical skit.

In the seventh season episode 'The Fabulous Robinson Sisters' of 'Who's the Boss?' (2 October 1990) the character Angela Bower (Judith Light) sings "Fever" in the night club her mother Mona takes her to.

In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode His Way (airdate 22 April 1998), the holographic singer modeled on Major Kira (portrayed by Nana Visitor) sings "Fever" for an audience including Constable Odo.

"Fever" was included in the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet which opened in New York in April 2010;[49] it was sung in the Broadway production by Elizabeth Stanley as "Dyanne".[50]

Christina DeRosa sings "Fever" in Jim Wynorski's 2012 film Gila![51]


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