Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Autumn Leaves

First performed (as “Les Feuilles Mortes”) by Iréne Joachim (1946).
First released by Cora Vaucaire (1948).
Also recorded by Yves Montand (1949).
First English-language release (as ‘Autumn Leaves’) by Jo Stafford (1950).
Also recorded by Bing Crosby (1951). Erroll Garner (1955).
Hit instrumental version by Roger Williams (US #1 1955).

From the wiki: “‘Autumn Leaves’ is a popular French song and jazz standard with music composed by Joseph Kosma. The original French song title was ‘Les Feuilles mortes’ [‘The Dead Leaves’]. But, it had its genesis as a poem, written in 1945 by Jacques Prévert for a French ballet called Le Rendezvous.

“Transformed into a song, it would first appear as the main theme of French movie before being released on record. ‘Les Feuilles mortes’ would later be translated into English by lyricist Johnny Mercer as ‘Autumn Leaves’. An instrumental version in 1955 by pianist Roger Williams became a #1 best-seller in the US, for four weeks.

“Kosma was a native of Hungary who was introduced to Prévert in Paris. They collaborated on ‘Les Feuilles mortes’ for the 1946 film Les Portes de la nuit (‘Gates of the Night’). The theme appeared throughout the movie: on harmonica by a Parisian clochard; hummed by film’s main protagonist, Yves Montand; then, sung by Iréne Joachim (who dubbed the voice of actress Nathalie Nattier); even a jazz version by Aimé Barelli; finally, as a waltz performed by a whole orchestra. Among the earliest commercial recordings of ‘Les Feuilles mortes’ was an arrangement performed by Montand, himself, released in 1949.

“In the US, songwriter Johnny Mercer composed English lyrics to the song, giving it the title ‘Autumn Leaves’. Jo Stafford recorded the first English-language recording in July, 1950 for Capitol Records (the company for which Mercer was also a partner). Bing Crosby would record an arrangement in September 1950, for his album Bing in Paris. Instrumentally, ‘Autumn Leaves’ already was entering the jazz vernacular, with arrangements by Artie Shaw (1950), Stan Getz (1952), and Errol Garner (a live recording in September 1955, just prior to Williams’ arrangement receiving its first airplay) already in the marketplace.

“Born in Omaha, Nebraska as Lou Weertz, Roger Williams was a child prodigy, learning to play the piano before he was three years old. By the age of eight, he had mastered a dozen other instruments. After receiving a M.A. in music from Duke University and, later, a Doctorate in music, Weertz enrolled at the Julliard School of Music and, while in New York City, appeared and won on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts television show. It was while he was at Julliard, and being the lounge pianist of the Hotel Madison, that Weertz was spotted by Dave Kapp, president of Kapp Records. Kapp signed Lou on the spot to a recording contract … with the proviso that Weertz change his name to ‘Roger Williams’.

“It was Kapp who brought ‘Autumn Leaves’ to the attention of Williams. According to Williams, after signing him, Kapp asked Williams on a Friday if he would like to record ‘Autumn Leaves’ the following Monday.

“‘I said, ‘You mean ‘Falling Leaves’? I didn’t even know the title,’ Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. ‘I stayed up Friday and then Saturday night working on an arrangement.”

“‘The first thing that came to mind was to play all those runs down the keyboard,’ Williams said. ‘[So] I tried to make it sound like falling leaves.’

“Williams’ recording began its chart run on August 17, 1955. Its ascent to #1 was held back for a few weeks by the popularity of ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’ and ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ but it did finally reach the top of the Billboard chart on October 29 – the first chart-topping piano instrumental ever on the Hot 100 – keeping the top spot at #1 for four consecutive weeks.

“‘Autumn Leaves’ would go on to become a jazz standard, accumulating over a thousand different recordings in both vocal and instrumental form. Jazz historian Philippe Baudoin has called ‘Autumn Leaves’ ‘the most important non-American standard.'”

Cora Vaucaire “Les Feuilles Mortes” (1946):

Yves Montand, “Les Feuilles Mortes” (1949):

Jo Stafford, “Autumn Leaves” (1950):

Bing Crosby, “Autumn Leaves” (1951):

Erroll Garner, “Autumn Leaves” (1955):

Roger Williams, “Autumn Leaves (instrumental)” (1955):

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