Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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1213 total songs ... and counting!

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

Written and first recorded by Hank Williams (B-side C&W #4 1949 |C&W #43 1966).
Other hit versions by B.J. Thomas & the Triumphs (US #8/CAN #2 1966), Charlie McCoy (C&W #23/CAN #21 1972), Terry Bradshaw (C&W #17 1976).

From the wiki: “According to Colin Escott’s 2004 book Hank Williams: A Biography, Williams was inspired to write the song when he saw the title (of a different song) on a schedule of upcoming MGM record releases.

“Music journalist Chet Flippo and Kentucky historian W. Lynn Nickell have each claimed how 19-year-old Kentuckian, Paul Gilley, wrote the lyrics, then sold the song to Williams along with the rights, allowing Williams to take credit for it. They stated that Gilley also wrote the lyrics to ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ and other songs before drowning at the age of 27. However, Williams has stated he wrote the song originally intending that the words be spoken, rather than sung, as he had done on several of his ‘Luke the Drifter’ recordings.

Danke Schoen

First recorded (as the instrumental “Candlelight Cafe”) by Bert Kaempfert (1959 |1962).
Hit version by Wayne Newton (US #13/MOR #3 1963).

From the wiki: “‘Danke Schoen’ was composed by Bert Kaempfert (‘Spanish Eyes’, ‘Strangers in the Night‘) and was first recorded as a jazzy instrumental titled ‘Candlelight Cafe’ in 1959 with Ladi Geisler on guitar, and again in 1962 in an ‘easy listening’ arrangement. Kurt Schwabach wrote the German lyrics.

“The song gained international fame when, in 1963, Milt Gabler wrote English lyrics and 21-year old singer Wayne Newton recorded an American version. The song was originally intended for singer Bobby Darin as a follow-up to his hit single, ‘Mack the Knife’, but after seeing Newton perform at the Copacabana, in Las Vegas, Darin passed the song along to Newton, transposing the arrangement to fit Newton’s voice. ‘Danke Shoen’ became Newton’s first US Top-20 hit.

Beauty and the Beast

First performed and recorded by Angela Lansbury (1991).
Hit version by Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson (US #9/MOR #3/UK #9 1991).

From the wiki: “‘Beauty and the Beast’ was written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken for the Disney animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991). The film’s theme song, a Broadway-inspired ballad, was first recorded by British-American actress Angela Lansbury in her role as the voice of the character Mrs. Potts.

“‘Beauty and the Beast’ was subsequently recorded as a pop duet by Canadian singer Celine Dion and American singer Peabo Bryson, and was released as the only single from the film’s soundtrack in late 1991. Disney first recruited solely Dion to record a radio-friendly version of it in order to promote the film. However, the studio was concerned that the then-newcomer would not attract a large enough audience in the United States on her own, so they hired the more prominent Bryson to be her duet partner. (At first Dion was also hesitant to record ‘Beauty and the Beast’ because she had just recently been replaced from recording the theme song of the animated film An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, ‘Dreams to Dream’, that was at first offered to and rejected by Linda Ronstadt but would ultimately be recorded by Ronstadt after she changed her mind.)

Jim Dandy

First recorded by Lavern Baker (US #17/R&B #1 1956).
Other hit version by Black Oak Arkansas (US #25 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Jim Dandy’ (sometimes known as ‘Jim Dandy to the Rescue’) was written by Lincoln Chase (‘The Name Game’, ‘The Clapping Song‘), and was first recorded by American R&B singer LaVern Baker (‘Tweedle-Dee‘) in 1956. It reached the top of the R&B chart and #17 on the pop charts in the United States, and has since been named one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Rolling Stone magazine ranked ‘Jim Dandy’ #352 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Half the Way

First recorded by Clem Easterling (B-side 1978).
Hit version by Crystal Gayle (US #15/MOR #9/C&W #2/CAN #2/IRE #1 1979).

From the wiki: “‘Half the Way’ was written by Ralph Murphy and Bobby Wood (‘Talking in Your Sleep’). First recorded by Clem Easterling in 1978, it was released as the B-side to her cover single ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ from the album Just in Time on the New Orleans indie label, Hep’ Me, run by recording entrepreneur Senator Jones.

“The song would be covered in 1979 by Crystal Gayle who, after having achieved major country-pop crossover success the previous two years with ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’ and ‘Talking in Your Sleep‘, had newly signed with Columbia Records. ‘Half the Way’ was the first song recorded under her new recording contract. As happened with Gayle’s previous recordings, ‘Half the Way’ cross-overed to the pop music chart, and was also a success in Canada (her 5th Canadian #1) and Ireland.”

Goin’ Back

First recorded by Goldie (1966).
Hit versions by Dusty Springfield (UK #10/AUS #9/SNG #6 1966), The Byrds (US #89 1967).
Also recorded by Carole King (1970 |1980), Larry Lurex (1973).

From the wiki: “Billed as ‘Goldie’ (of Goldie & the Gingerbreads), Genya Raven released the original version of the classic Carole King-Gerry Goffin composition “Goin’ Back” in the spring of 1966. However, this single was withdrawn within a week by producer Andrew Loog Oldham, due to disagreements with Goffin and King over altered lyrics. King then decided to record “Goin’ Back” herself, but ultimately she offered it to Dusty Springfield instead who would record it three months later, making the U.K. Top-10 singles chart immediately in the wake of her UK #1 hit ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me‘.

Cool Water

First recorded by The Sons of the Pioneers (US #25 1941).
Other hit versions by Vaughn Monroe & the Sons of the Pioneers (US #9 1948), Frankie Laine & the Mellomen (UK #2 1955).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan & The Band (1967, released 2014), Fleetwood Mac (B-side 1982), The Replacements (B-side 1987).

From the wiki: “‘Cool Water’ was written in 1936 by Bob Nolan, a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneer, and was first recorded by his group in 1941. It briefly charted, peaking at #25 on the Hit Parade. Seven years later, the Sons of the Pioneers would re-record the song with big-band crooner Vaughn Monroe, and it would go on to become the best-selling version charting for 13 weeks on the Billboard chart, peaking at #9.

What Have They Done to My Song Ma

Written and released by Melanie (B-side US #35/A-side UK #9 1970).
Other hit version (as ‘Look What They Done to My Song Ma’) by The New Seekers (US #14/MOR #4/CAN #3/UK #44 1970).

From the wiki: “‘What Have They Done to My Song Ma’ was written by Melanie (Safka). Released in 1970 as the B-side of her ‘Ruby Tuesday’ promotional single for the album Candles in the Rain, the reached the #9 on the UK Singles charts for three weeks.

“Later in 1970, the New Seekers covered Melanie’s song, retitling it to its first lyric line, ‘Look What They Done to My Song Ma’, and scored their first US hit single.”

Lonely Night (Angle Face)

Written and first recorded by Neil Sedaka (1975).
Hit version by The Captain & Tennille (US #3/MOR #1 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Lonely Night (Angel Face)’ was written and first recorded in 1975 by Neil Sedaka, appearing as a track on his 1975 studio album, The Hungry Years. The following year the song was made popular when covered by The Captain & Tennille for their album Song of Joy who took their version to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.”

Ballad of a Teenage Queen

Written and first recorded by Jack Clement (1957).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (US #14/C&W #1 1958).
Also recorded by Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash & the Everly Brothers (1987).

From the wiki: “‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’ was written in 1957 by Jack Clement. Clement was, at the time, a producer and engineer for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Subsequently, Clement worked with future stars such as Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. (Most notably, he discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while Phillips was away on a trip to Florida.)

“The song of ‘… Teenage Queen’ is that of a ‘small town girl’ (the prettiest the townsfolk have ever seen) who loved the boy next door, who is employed at the candy store. She was taken to Hollywood by a movie scout where she became famous, leaving the boy. Eventually she sold all her fame to go back to the boy from the candy store because amid it all she was unhappy without him.

“First recorded by Clement, ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’ would be covered by Johnny Cash for his 1958 album, Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous, with background vocals by The Tennessee Two. Cash’s recording hit #1 on the US Country charts and peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

All You Get from Love is a Love Song

First recorded by Steve Eaton (1973).
Also recorded by the Righteous Brothers (1975).
Hit version by the Carpenters (US #35/MOR #4/CAN #38/JPN #68 1977).

From the wiki: “‘All You Get from Love Is a Love Song’ was composed by Steve Eaton, former lead guitarist of Paul Revere & the Raiders (‘Indian Reservation (Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)‘), and was first recorded by Eaton in 1973.

“In 1975, the Righteous Brothers were the first to cover the song, for the album Sons of Mrs. Righteous. But, ‘All You Get from Love is a Love Song’ was internationally popularized by the Carpenters in 1977. Included on the album, Passage, their cover was released as a promotional single – charting in the US Top-40, in Canada, and in Japan.

Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat

First recorded by John Carter and Ken Lewis (1964).
Hit versions by Goldie & the Gingerbreads (UK #25 1965), Herman’s Hermits (US #2 1965).

From the wiki: “‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat’ was written by John Carter and Ken Lewis (‘Tossing and Turning’, ‘Little Bit O’ Soul‘) and was first recorded in 1964 by the songwriters’ group, Carter-Lewis & the Southerners with no apparent chart impact.

“The song would next appear separately on the UK and US music charts – first by a US group in the UK, and then by a UK group in the US.

Side by Side

First recorded by Lee Morse (1927).
Hit versions by Ukulele Ike (US #27 1927), Nick Lucas (US #3 1927), Kay Starr (US #3/UK #7 1953), Hayley Mills (US #8 1961).
Also recorded by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra with The Rhythm Boys (incl. Bing Crosby) (1927).

From the wiki: “‘Side by Side’ was written by Harry Woods (‘When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)’, ‘I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover’, ‘Try a Little Tenderness‘), a one-handed piano play born without fingers on his left hand.

“Among a slew of ‘Side by Side’ releases in 1927, singer, guitarist and actress Lee Morse was the first to release a recording of the song. Her recording, on March 16, 1927, preceded other early recordings in the same month by Nick Lucas (‘Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips‘) and Ukulele Ike (‘Singin’ in the Rain‘)whose recordings were the first to chart on the Hit Parade.

A Thing Called Love

Written and first recorded by Jerry Reed (1968).
Hit versions by Jimmy Dean (C&W #21 1968), Johnny Cash (C&W #2/MOR #37/UK #4/CAN #1/IRE #1 1972).

From the wiki: “‘A Thing Called Love’ was written and first recorded by Jerry Reed in 1968.

“Jimmy Dean was the first artist to chart the song, peaking at #21 on the Country Singles chart in 1968. In 1971, the song was recorded by Johnny Cash and it became an international hit – peaking at #1 in Canada and Ireland, and also charting high in the UK and the Netherlands, becoming Cash’s biggest hit ever in Europe.”

A House Is Not a Home

First performed and released by Brook Benton (US #75/MOR #13/R&B #6 1964).
Other hit versions by Dionne Warwick (US #71/R&B #10/CAN #37 1964), Luther Vandross (1981).
Also recorded by Burt Bacharach (1965), Aretha Franklin (2005).

From the wiki: “‘A House Is Not a Home’ was a 1964 ballad written by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1964 film of the same name, starring Shelley Winters and Robert Taylor, and was sung in the film by Brook Benton (‘A Rainy Night in Georgia’, 1970). A promotional single by Benton was released, debuting two weeks before the release of Dionne Warwick’s cover (as the B-side of ‘You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)’). But, with two recordings of the same song charting concurrently, radio airplay and sales was split airplay. Benton’s version peaked at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100; Warwick’s B-side recording peaked at #71.

“Warwick’s single fared a bit better in Canada, where it peaked at #37.

Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days are Stone)

Written and first recorded by Dick Feller (1975).
Hit version by John Denver (US #36/C&W #6 1981).

From the wiki: “‘Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)’ was written by singer-songwriter Dick Feller, and was quite different from the humorous and novelty songs he was best known for writing (e.g., ‘The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down’, ‘Lord, Mr. Ford’, ‘Makin’ the Best of a Bad Situation’). Feller was first to record and release the song, in 1976, but his version failed to chart.

“‘Some Days are Diamonds …’ was later covered by John Denver, on his 1981 album Some Days Are Diamonds. Released in May 1981 as the album’s first promotional single, Denver’s version peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and #36 on the Billboard Hot 100.”

Sunday Morning Coming Down

First recorded by Ray Stevens (US #81/C&W #55 1969).
Other hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #1 1970).
Also recorded by Kris Kristofferson (1970).

From the wiki: “‘Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down’ was written by Kris Kristofferson and was first recorded in 1969 by Ray Stevens, for his album Kristofferson, whose production reached #55 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

“The most successful version of the song originated from a Johnny Cash performance, taped live at the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium during a July 1970 recording his CBS TV variety show, The Johnny Cash Show, as part of a ‘Ride This Train’ segment, which was broadcast as the first episode of the Season Two. A companion album was then released by CBS Records in October 1970, with ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ issued as the promotional single. Both the album and the single topped the Country music charts, and won the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year in 1970.

Universal Soldier

Written and first recorded by Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964).
Hit versions by Donovan (US #53/UK #5 1965), Glen Campbell (US #45/AUS #16/SWE #4 1965).

From the wiki: “‘Universal Soldier’ was written and first recorded in 1964 by Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie for release on Sainte-Marie’s debut album It’s My Way!. The song was not a popular hit at the time of its release, but it did garner attention within the contemporary folk music community. Sainte-Marie said of the song: ‘I wrote ‘Universal Soldier’ in the basement of The Purple Onion coffee house in Toronto in the early sixties. It’s about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all.’

“A year later, it caught the attention of budding folk singer Donovan, who recorded it using a similar arrangement to Sainte-Marie’s original recording but with some lyrical changes. For example, in Donovan’s version, Dachau became Liebau (Lubawka, Poland), a training center for Hitler Youth. Donovan’s recording was released in the UK on an EP titled The Universal Soldier and continued Donovan’s run of high-charting UK releases by reaching #5 on the charts.

(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right

First recorded by The Emotions (unreleased 1972).
First released by Luther Ingram (US #3/R&B #1 1972).
Other hit versions by Jackie Burns (C&W #72 1972), Millie Jackson (US #42/R&B #42 1974), Barbara Mandrell (US #31/C&W 1 1978), Rod Stewart (UK #23 1980), Rhonda Clark (R&B #26 1992).
Also recorded by Veda Brown (unreleased 1972), Faces (1973).

From the wiki: “‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right’ was composed by Stax Records songwriters Homer Banks, Carl Hampton, and Raymond Jackson. Originally written for The Emotions, it was first recorded by The Emotions and also by Veda Brown, but neither of those recordings were ever released.

“The song has had a notable chart presence, most notably by Luther Ingram, whose recording topped the R&B chart for four weeks and rose to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. Billboard ranked it as the #16 song for 1972.

Signs

First recorded and released by The Five Man Electrical Band (B-side 1970).
Hit versions by Bobby Vee (US #125 Feb 1971), The Five Man Electrical Band (re-release US #3/CAN #4/AUS #1 1971), Tesla (US #8/UK #70 1990).

From the wiki: “‘Signs’ was written by the Five Man Electrical Band’s frontman, Les Emmerson, and was recorded it for their second album, Good-byes and Butterflies, in 1970. ‘Signs’ was first released as the B-side earlier that year to the unsuccessful single ‘Hello Melinda Goodbye’, thus remaining relatively obscure.

“Re-released by the group in 1971 as the A-side, ‘Signs’ reached #4 in Canada and #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Billboard ranked it as the #4 song for 1971. It became a gold record. But, prior to the Five Man Electrical Band re-release, ‘Signs’ made its first chart appearance in February 1971 when a recording by Bobby Vee ‘bubbled under’ the Hot 100, peaking at #125.

We’re All Alone

Written and first recorded by Boz Scaggs (AUS #54 1976).
Other hit versions by Frankie Valli (US #76/MOR #27/CAN #73 1976), La Costa (C&W #75 1977), The Walker Brothers (NETH #22 1977), Rita Coolidge (US #7/MOR #1/C&W #68/UK #6/IRE #6/AUS #32/NZ #34/NETH #22 1977).

From the wiki: “”We’re All Alone” was written by Boz Scaggs, and was included on his 1976 album Silk Degrees. ‘We’re All Alone’ was also released as the B-side of two of the four promotional singles releases from that LP, including ‘Lido Shuffle’. Released as an A-side single in Australia, it peaked at #57.

“The song garnered attention soon after the Scaggs’ album’s March 1976 release. Frankie Valli released a single version from his Valli LP which reached #78 U.S. in August 1976. The Walker Brothers – one of Scaggs’ formative influences – cut ‘We’re All Alone’ for their Lines album; the track had an October 1976 single release in the UK where the Frankie Valli version had a single release that July; the Walker Brothers’ version did reach #22 in the Netherlands in August 1977. Country singer La Costa (sister of Tanya Tucker) had a single release of ‘We’re All Alone’ in both the US – where it charted at #75 C&W – and also the UK where the track was the B-side of a remake of ‘I Second That Emotion’.

Only in America

First recorded by The Drifters (1963, released 1996).
Hit version by Jay & the Americans (US #25 1963).

From Songfacts:

“Written by the brilliant Brill Building songwriting teams of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (‘Hound Dog’, 1953; ‘Stand By Me’, 1961; ‘On Broadway’, 1963) and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (‘On Broadway’, 1963; ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” 1964; ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’, 1965; ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’, 1982), ‘Only in America’ was first written for and recorded by The Drifters.

“It was written at a time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had become the law of the land, and the original lyrics when first submitted reflected the racism that existed at the time in the US:

‘Only in America, land of opportunity, can they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me / Only in America, Where they preach the Golden Rule, will they start to march when my kids go to school.’

“Atlantic Records had a problem with the original lyrics, so the songwriters rewrote them to be a satiric message about ‘patriotism’. The Drifters recorded the song with these new ‘patriotic’ lyrics, but the group refused to allow its release because they did not believe that message.

“Songwriters Mann and Weil were also upset with the changes to the song. Afterward, they began taking more control over how their songs were recorded, with Mann taking on additional studio production duties.

“Kenny Vance of Jay & the Americans recalls how they came to record this song: ‘I happened to go up to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s office, because I used to hang out there as a kid – they produced us. I guess I was like a barometer for them, and they played me ‘Only In America.’ I said, ‘Boy, that would be great if we could have that,’ because we’re Jay & the Americans. They took us over to Atlantic recording, who had a brand new-fangled machine, an 8-track recording deck. Up until those dark days we were recording all four-track. This allowed Jay & the Americans to record [our] vocals over the original backing tracks recorded for the Drifters.’

“Of the original Drifters’ recording Vance recalled ‘It’s a killer version. I had the acetate and I gave it to the guy at Rhino who was putting the CD out. I saved it all those years. It just was a killer performance.'”

[Additional source material: ‘Only in America’: 50 Years later a Drifters’ song has its day‘, Long Beach Post, November 5, 2008]

Jay & the Americans, “Only in America” (1963):

Playground in My Mind

First recorded by Billy Lawrence (1971).
Hit versions by Clint Holmes (US #2/MOR #7/CAN #7/NZ #3 1972), Johnny Ashcroft (AUS #19 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Playground In My Mind’, a nursery rhyme-styled song, was written by record producer Paul Vance (‘Catch a Falling Star’, 1957; ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, 1960) with Lee Pockriss, and was first recorded in 1971 by Billy Lawrence (in a session produced by Vance and Pockriss) and released in June 1971 by Atlantic Records with no apparent chart impact.

“When produced again by Vance, it featured a duet with Clint Holmes and Vance’s son, nine-year-old Philip, on the chorus. ‘Playground in My Mind’ was released in the U.S. in July 1972 but did not reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart until March 24, 1973 – going on to chart for a total of 23 weeks, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It ended 1973 at the 12th most popular song of the year.”

Rings

First recorded (as a demo) by Eddie Reeves & Alex Harvey (1971).
First released by Lonnie Mack (1971).
Hit versions by Cymarron (US #17/MOR #6/CAN #41/AUS #46 1971), Tompall & the Glaser Brothers (C&W #7 1972), Reuben Howell (US #86 1974), Lobo (US #43/CAN #30 1974), Twiggy (UK#35 1977).
Also recorded by Alex Harvey (co-writer 1972), Leo Kottke (1983).

From the wiki: “‘Rings’ was composed by Eddie Reeves, an executive at the West Coast office of United Artists Music, and Alex Harvey, who was contracted as a songwriter to United Artists, and was written for the wedding of a friend of Reeves named Bob Hamilton who – as the song’s lyrics indicate – had experienced an estrangement and reconciliation with his fiancée: the song concludes with the couple ‘hand in hand…upon the sand with the preacher man’ – a reference to Hamilton and his bride’s exchanging vows on the Venice beachfront. The lyric ‘Got James Taylor on the stereo’ was a reference to James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain‘ being the couple’s favorite song – while the ‘Tony and Mario’ mentioned in the song were the owners of a Hollywood restaurant the couple frequented.

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