The Great Pretender

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This article is about the original song by The Platters. For other uses, see The Great Pretender (disambiguation).
"The Great Pretender"
Single by The Platters
B-side "I'm Just a Dancing Partner"
Released November 3, 1955
Format 45 rpm, 78 rpm
Recorded 1955
Genre Rhythm and blues, doo-wop
Length 2:36
Label Mercury Records
Writer(s) Buck Ram
Producer(s) Buck Ram

"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 created by Buck Ram,[1] 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.[2]

Platters' version[edit]

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.[1]

In 2004, the song was voted 360th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone.[3]

Freddie Mercury version[edit]

"The Great Pretender"
Single by Freddie Mercury
B-side "Exercises in Free Love" (3:58)

February 23, 1987

January 25, 1993 (reissue)
Format 7"/12" vinyl single
Recorded January – February 1987
Genre Pop rock

3:25 (7" version)

5:55 (12" extended version)
Label Mercury Records
Writer(s) Buck Ram
Producer(s) David Richards, Freddie Mercury, Mike Moran
Freddie Mercury singles chronology
"The Great Pretender"
1993 reissue
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.

Music video[edit]

Mercury's music video for the song became one of the most well-known of his career. It featured Mercury in many of his Queen guises through video medium over the years, including visual re-takes of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", "It's a Hard Life", "I Want to Break Free" and "Bohemian Rhapsody". It was directed by David Mallet in February 1987, and also featured fellow Queen member Roger Taylor and Peter Straker (a friend of Freddie's) in drag. Mercury had shaved off his moustache, which had been his trademark feature since 1980. An extended video version appears on the video single on VHS, Freddie Mercury The Video Collection on VHS and DVD and Lover of Life, Singer of Songs on DVD.


The song has been re-released in many compilations including Lover of Life, Singer of Songs, and on Queen's Greatest Hits III album.


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.[4]


Other cover versions[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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)
  • Sam Cooke.
  • Kathy Young and the Innocents covered the song in 1961.
  • Stan Freberg made a parody version in 1956.
  • Pat Boone covered it on his Moody River album in 1961.
  • The Righteous Brothers[5]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It was covered in the UK by Jimmy Parkinson, an Australian vocalist. It entered the Top 20 on 3 March 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
  • George Faith covered the song on his album Reggae Got Soul.
  • The Statler Brothers covered the song on their final live CD.
  • Country singer Roy Clark performed a comedy routine in which he sings the song with comic sound effects, odd guitar strokes and occasional segues into other, different songs.[6]
  • Old and in the Way released a bluegrass version of the song on the album That High Lonesome Sound (1973).
  • Roy Orbison for his 1961 Crying album

Popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b Buck Ram interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 463. 
  3. ^ "361: The Great Pretender". Rolling Stone. 
  4. ^ Interview of Freddie Mercury by Rudi Dolezal. 1987.
  5. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 52 - The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 8]" (audio). Pop Chronicles.  Track 5.
  6. ^ Roy Clark. "The Great Pretender". Star Route TV Show 3.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Memories Are Made of This" by Dean Martin
Billboard Top 100 number-one single
(The Platters version)

February 18, 1956 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Rock and Roll Waltz" by Kay Starr
Preceded by
"Hands Off" by Jay McShann's Orchestra
Billboard R&B Best Sellers number-one single
January 7, 1956 - March 10, 1956
Succeeded by
"Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers