Although the song was going to be overdubbed with additional instrumentation, the original demo version became an unexpected hit, quickly outstripping its A-side. The song grew out of Southern California and spread across the United States over the winter of 1954–55. “Earth Angel” became the first independent label release to appear on Billboard’s national pop charts, where it peaked within the top 10. It was a big hit on the magazine’s R&B charts, where it remained number one for several weeks. A cover version by white vocal group the Crew-Cuts peaked higher on the pop charts, reaching number three. More cover versions followed, including recordings by Gloria Mann, Tiny Tim, and Johnny Tillotson. The song made an appearance in the movie Back to the Future with the band Marvin Berry & The Starlighters.