“Frankie and Johnny”: Sincerest Form of Flattery

We’ve seen musical artists get into trouble with the public (and/or copyright holder) for releasing an original song that hews a little too closely to a prior piece of music, e.g., “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and allegations that the song overtly mirrors “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye – as well as “Sexy Ways” by Funkadelic – in ways that go beyond being “reminiscent of a sound” (as Thicke and his producers claim) and into actual copyright infringement (as the plaintiffs assert).

You might recall that the Rolling Stones found themselves in the hot seat when certain people began to notice – Keith Richards’ daughter, Angela, preeminent among them – that the chorus to “Anybody Seen My Baby?,” the big single from 1997’s Bridges to Babylon, also closely resembled the refrain to K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving,” which had very nearly topped the adult contemporary chart five years previously (Lang & Ben Mink, the song’s composers, were given co-writing credit by Jagger & Richards to keep the peace)

How interesting, then, to discover that people curiously not only seemed not to have a problem with Johnny Sea’s letter-perfect rendition of Johnny Cash in his cover of an old pop standard (that turns 110 this year), but that both versions would perform with near-identical success in the country chart — Johnny Cash (#9) vs. Johnny Sea (#13):

Frankie & Johnny - Cash 45Frankie & Johnny - Sea 45

Fascinating to observe that the Columbia 45 says “arr(anged by) Johnny Cash,” whereas Johnny Sea’s version attributes writing credit outright to Cash!  Both versions, by the way, released in 1959.   Wikipedia claims that at least 256 different recordings of “Frankie and Johnny” have been made since the early 20th century (not to mention the song’s use as the centerpiece of Scene V in ee cummings’ 1927 play, Him).

Interesting to note that Johnny Sea had already embraced his family’s original surname (Seay) by the time he recorded harrowing Dylanesque murder ballad, “Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” in 1967 for almighty Columbia.

Johnny Seay

Johnny Seay Asks That You Not Look Behind His Baby’s Bedroom Door

In July of 1967, one month after the release of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe album, Johnny Seay went into Columbia’s Nashville recording studio to record one song – a singularly strange, slightly surrealistic Southern gothic tale.   Listen for the ghostly train whistle near the end of the first verse, but under no circumstances should you look behind the bedroom door – you’ll be sorry:

“Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door”      Johnny Seay     1967

Curiously, Columbia chose to release “Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” as a single, as well as include it in their 1968 sampler LP, Welcome to Columbia Country.

Welcome to Columbia Country LP