The Great Pretender

"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 written 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] It also reached the UK charts peaking at number 5.

"The Great Pretender"
The Great Pretender Single 1955
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
Songwriter(s) Buck Ram
Producer(s) Buck Ram

Platters' version

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] Plas Johnson played tenor saxophone.

Freddie Mercury version

"The Great Pretender"
The Great Pretender Single 1987
Single by Freddie Mercury
B-side "Exercises in Free Love" (3:58)

February 23, 1987

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

3:25 (7" version)

5:55 (12" extended version)
Label Mercury
Songwriter(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
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

Mercury's music video for the song became one of the most well-known of his career. It featured Mercury parodying himself 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", "One Vision", and "I Was Born to Love You". It was directed by David Mallet in February 1987, and also featured fellow Queen member Roger Taylor and actor Peter Straker in drag. Mercury had permanently shaved off his moustache, which had been his trademark feature since 1980. Mercury had previously shaved his moustache for the music video "I Want To Break Free" in order to play the faun role during the synthesizer break, he would then later regrow it. 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, on Queen's Greatest Hits III album, and more recently on "Messenger of the Gods: The Singles Collection by Freddie Mercury".


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

Popular culture

  • In 1999, National Public Radio included the song in the "NPR 100", in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.
  • The song inspired the naming of Chrissie Hynde's band, The Pretenders.
  • The song played an important part in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).
  • The song was featured in the 2003 film Evil.
  • In the 1973 film American Graffiti, Richard Dreyfuss' character sings along to the song while he stares into the window of an appliance store.
  • In the novel Beautiful Losers by the Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, he describes the song as "a song which was to change the popular music of our day".
  • The song can be heard in the video game BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea
  • Freddie Mercury's version can be heard in Night and the City (1992).
  • The song features in the 1990 film ′Paper Mask′, starring Paul McGann and Amanda Donohue.
  • The song is featured in Empire Season 1, Episode 08; "The Lyon's Roar"


  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. ^ Kathy Young with the Innocents, "Baby Oh Baby" single release Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  6. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 52 - The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 8]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries. Track 5.
  7. ^ Roy Clark. "The Great Pretender". Star Route TV Show 3.
  8. ^ Songs by MISS YAO LEE 姚莉, "假惺惺 The Great Pretender" CD release Retrieved April 10, 2017.

External links

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