You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover

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"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover"
You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover single cover.jpg
Single by Bo Diddley
from the album Bo Diddley
B-side"I Can Tell"
ReleasedJuly 1962 (1962-07)
Format45 rpm record
RecordedChicago, June 27, 1962
GenreRock and roll, rhythm and blues
Songwriter(s)Willie Dixon
Producer(s)Ralph Bass

"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" 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.[2] Unlike many of his well-known songs, "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" does not rely on the Bo Diddley beat.[3] A variety of rock and other performers have recorded renditions of the song.

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".[3] 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".[3]

You can't judge an apple by looking at a tree
You can't judge honey by looking at the bee
You can't judge a daughter by looking at the mother
You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

In his autobiography, Dixon explained that the lyrics were "his [Bo Diddley's] bag 100% ... and when I told him about it, he like it immediately".[4] Diddley's original recording breaks the fourth wall by encouraging the listener to turn his or her radio up after the first verse. In 1962, the song reached number 21 on the Billboard magazine R&B chart and number 48 on the Billboard Hot 100.[2]

Early cover versions[edit]

"You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" has been recorded by a variety of artists,[3] often with variations in the title, such as "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover" or "You Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover". 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 singer Tom Rush recorded it for the album Take a Little Walk with Me. Also in 1966, garage band Shadows of Knight released their first album "Gloria" which included their own version. The Monkees recorded it their Live 1967 album with lead vocals by Mike Nesmith.

Later renditions[edit]

Later versions include those by 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). On January 26, 1972, Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales performed an up-tempo version of the song in closing a concert set at Symphony Hall, Boston.[5] Hank Williams, Jr. recorded it as a duet with Huey Lewis on his 1986 album, Montana Cafe, 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, includes a version of the song with vocals by longtime vocalist (and rhythm guitarist) Noah Hunt and guest vocalist Pastor Brady Blade Sr.

On January 22, 2018, a cover was released featuring SZA and an eclectic group of up-and-coming artists from a variety of genres for MasterCard's Start Something Priceless Movement.[6] The other artists include The Tracks, Radkey, Victoria Canal, William Prince, Noe Socha, and Ruby Ibarra. They were chosen for having triumphed over adversity to succeed. "Some have overcome a disability, such as Noe Socha who is blind, or Canal who is missing a hand, while others have overcome prejudice, such as Radkey who are a black rock group."[7]


  1. ^ The original Checker 45 lists 2:43; later reissues list 3:10–3:16.
  2. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 118. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Unterberger, Ritchie. "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover – Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved October 6, 2010.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. ^ Dixon, Willie; Snowden, Don (1989). I Am the Blues. New York City: Da Capo Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-306-80415-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. ^ "Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales, Symphony Hall, January 26, 1972". Jerry Garcia Family LLC. Retrieved June 29, 2014.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. ^ "SZA And Other Rising Stars Cover 'You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover'". UPROXX. 2018-01-23. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  7. ^ Jardine, Alexandra. "All the Artists in This pre-Grammys MasterCard Music Video via McCann Have Overcome Adversity". Creativity Online. Retrieved 2018-02-02.