The Platters, “The Great Pretender”

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We tend to think of the '50s as a simpler time for rock and pop songwriting, featuring ditties about cars and sock hops and the like. But even at the top of the charts you could occasionally find songs of surprising psychological insight and emotional depth. “The Great Pretender,” a top #1 pop hit for the vocal group The Platters in 1956, is certainly one of those songs.

Buck Ram, who also managed The Platters, wrote the song. Ram had also written “Only You,” the group’s breakthrough Top 10 hit in 1955, and, according to what his assistant Jean Bennett told NPR, he knew he had the title of the group’s next smash in hand; he just needed to write the rest of it, especially since he was under pressure from Mercury Records executive Bobby Shad to craft a follow-up single. “So he said, ‘Well it’s Great Pretender,’’ Bennett said, recalling Ram’s answer to Shad. “And it was a title that he had in his head, he said, for a long time, but had never written a song on it.”

“So anyway, he said, ‘Bobby, I can’t sing it for you now. I have to go to Vegas and I will get back with you.’ And that night, he thought, ‘Well, I better write this “Great Pretender” ‘cause Bobby’s not going to let me rest.’ So he went into the men’s restroom at the Flamingo, where they were playing, and he sat down in the stall and he penned ‘The Great Pretender.’

A bathroom stall seems like an odd starting point for a song of such elegant sorrow, but that’s what Ram managed with “The Great Pretender.” The title seems like the handle for a magician, and what the narrator pulls off is akin to magic, in that he hides... Sign In to Keep Reading

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