You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover

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This article is about the 1962 rock and roll song by Bo Diddley. For the popular saying, see Don't judge a book by its cover.
"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover"
Single by Bo Diddley
from the album Bo Diddley
B-side "I Can Tell"
Released July 1962 (1962-07)
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Recorded June 27, 1962, Chicago, Illinois
Genre Rock and roll, rhythm and blues
Length 2:43[1]
Label Checker (no. 1019)
Writer(s) Willie Dixon
Producer(s) Ralph Bass

"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover"[2] is a 1962 song by rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley. Written by Willie Dixon, the song was one of Diddley's last record chart hits.[3] "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" has been recorded by a variety of rock and other performers.

Original song[edit]

"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" is based on a sixteen-bar blues structure that "boasts a beat that's utterly compulsive and primordial, but closer to a way-speeded up walking rhythm than to the standard Diddley pattern".[4] Willie Dixon's lyrics use "a series of metaphors of all sorts of things you can't judge by their appearances before landing on the title phrase".[4] In 1962, the song reached #21 in the Billboard R&B chart and #48 in the Pop chart.[3]

Diddley's original recording breaks the fourth wall by encouraging the listener to turn his or her radio up after the first verse.

Later renditions[edit]

An early lineup of the Rolling Stones made a demo recording of the song in October 1962. In 1963, the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton recorded a live version of the song at the Crawdaddy Club in London during the sessions that produced the Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds album. In 1964, the song was performed on Germany's Beat-Club television program by The Syndicats, featuring guitarist Steve Howe. In 1966, folk icon Tom Rush released a version as “You Can’t Tell A Book By The Cover,” the first track on Take A Little Walk With Me (Elektra). It was also regularly performed live by the Monkees and appeared on their Live 1967 album with lead vocals by Mike Nesmith. On January 26, 1972, Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales performed an up-tempo version of the song, eliciting a raucus standing ovation in closing a concert set at Symphony Hall, Boston, a show simulcast on WGBH (FM) and/or on WBCN (FM) (Charles Laquidara, emcee).[5]

Later versions include those by Stevie Wonder on his 1970 album Signed, Sealed & Delivered, Cactus (1970 Cactus), Long John Baldry on his 1972 album Everything Stops for Tea, the Beat Farmers (2003 Live at the Spring Valley Inn, 1983), and the Fabulous Thunderbirds (1992 Hot Stuff). Hank Williams, Jr. recorded it as a duet with Huey Lewis on his 1986 album, Montana Cafe the Finnish surf band Agents with guesting vocalist Marjo Leinonen recorded it [6] on their 2001 album Agents is... Rock! and Roy Buchanan (with Delbert McClinton) (2011 Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection). The Strypes included a version on their 2012 debut EP Young Gifted & Blue. Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band's seventh studio album Goin' Home, released in May 2014, features a spirited version of the song with vocals by longtime KWSBand vocalist (and rhythm guitarist) Noah Hunt and guest vocalist Pastor Brady Blade Sr., Pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, and father to rock, pop and country drummer, record producer and composer Brady L Blade Jr. and jazz drummer Brian Blade.


  1. ^ The original Checker 45 lists 2:43; later reissues list 3:10–3:16.
  2. ^ Also known as "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover" or "You Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover".
  3. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 118. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  4. ^ a b Unterberger, Ritchie. "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover — Song Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  5. ^ Link text, additional text.
  6. ^