The Great Pretender
|"The Great Pretender"|
|Single by The Platters|
|B-side||"I'm Just a Dancing Partner"|
|Released||November 3, 1955|
|Format||45 rpm, 78 rpm|
|Genre||Rhythm and blues, doo-wop|
"The Great Pretender" is a popular song recorded by The Platters, with Tony Williams on lead vocals, and released as a single on November 3, 1955. The words and music were written by Buck Ram, the Platters' manager and producer who was a successful songwriter before moving into producing and management. "The Great Pretender" reached the number one position on both the R&B and pop charts in 1956. It also reached the UK charts peaking at number 5.
Buck Ram reports that he wrote the song in about 20 minutes in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in order to have a song to follow up the success of "Only You (And You Alone)". Stan Freberg parodied this version.
Freddie Mercury version
|"The Great Pretender"|
|Single by Freddie Mercury|
|B-side||"Exercises in Free Love" (3:58)|
|Released||February 23, 1987 January 25, 1993 (reissue)|
|Format||7"/12" vinyl single, cassette, CD|
|Length||3:25 (7" version) 5:55 (12" extended version)|
|Producer(s)||David Richards, Freddie Mercury, Mike Moran|
|Freddie Mercury singles chronology|
Front cover of the 1993 reissue
The song was repopularized in 1987 by Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen. Mercury's version reached number four on the UK Singles Chart. In one of his last videotaped interviews in spring of 1987, Mercury explained that the song was particularly fitting for the way he saw his career and being on stage.
Mercury's music video for the song featured him parodying himself in many of his Queen guises through video medium over the years, including visual re-takes of "Radio Gaga", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "It's a Hard Life", "I Want to Break Free", "One Vision", and "I Was Born to Love You". It was directed by David Mallet in February 1987, and also featured fellow Queen member Roger Taylor and actor Peter Straker in drag.
Other cover versions
- It was covered in the UK by Jimmy Parkinson, an Australian vocalist. It entered the Top 20 on March 3, 1956, six months ahead of the Platters' version; Parkinson's hit peaked at No 9 and remained in the Top 20 for 10 weeks.
- Jackie Riggs, a US doowop singer also covered it in March 1956.
- A Chinese Mandarin version titled 假惺惺/Jiǎxīngxīng was covered by Yao Lee (姚莉) in 1957.
- Sam Cooke on the record "Hits Of The 50's", released in August 1960 in the United States by RCA Victor.
- Roy Orbison covered it for his 1961 album Crying.
- Pat Boone covered it on his Moody River album in 1961.
- Kathy Young with the Innocents covered the song in 1961 as the B-side to their single, "Baby Oh Baby".
- The Righteous Brothers covered the song on their 1965 hit record Just Once In My Life... 
- Country singer Roy Clark performed a comedy routine on his 1966 album Live in which he sings the song as part of a medley with comic sound effects, odd guitar strokes, and occasional segues into other, different songs.
- There is a 1969 cover version by Gene Pitney; this version is clearly the model that Freddie Mercury used for his much later version, although demos of Mercury's 1987 song sound like the original Platters take.
- George Harrison led Phil Spector into cutting a simple acoustic version of it in 1970-71 while in the studio jamming on other songs; it was pressed onto acetate disc but never officially released.
- Old & In the Way released a bluegrass version of the song on the album That High Lonesome Sound (1973).
- Dan McCafferty covered it on Dan McCafferty album in 1975.
- Perhaps most radically, it was tackled by Lester Bowie in 1981 and extended to nearly seventeen minutes of improvisation on his album of the same name.
- Rod Stewart covered it in his 1982 live album Absolutely Live.
- It was covered in 1984 by Dolly Parton, who made it the title song of an album of covers from the 1950s and 1960s (The Great Pretender).
- Gene Summers included it on his 1997 album The Ultimate School of Rock & Roll issued on Crystal Clear Sound Records.
- The Band covered it on Moondog Matinee, an album of covers.
- George Faith covered the song on his 1999 album Reggae Got Soul.
- The Statler Brothers covered the song on their final live CD, Farewell Concert, from 2003.
- In 1999, National Public Radio included the song in the "NPR 100", in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.
- The song inspired the naming of Chrissie Hynde's band, The Pretenders.
- The song played an important part in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).
- The song was featured in the 2003 film Evil.
- In the 1973 film American Graffiti, Richard Dreyfuss' character sings along to the song while he stares into the window of an appliance store.
- In the novel Beautiful Losers by the Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, he describes the song as "a song which was to change the popular music of our day".
- The song can be heard in the video game BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea
- Freddie Mercury's version can be heard in the 1992 film Night and the City.
- The song features in the 1990 film Paper Mask, starring Paul McGann and Amanda Donohue.
- The song is featured in Empire Season 1, Episode 08; "The Lyon's Roar"
- Buck Ram interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 463.
- "361: The Great Pretender". Rolling Stone.
- Interview of Freddie Mercury by Rudi Dolezal. 1987.
- Songs by MISS YAO LEE 姚莉, "假惺惺 The Great Pretender" CD release Retrieved April 10, 2017.
- Kathy Young with the Innocents, "Baby Oh Baby" single release Retrieved January 12, 2016.