Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Country

L.A. International Airport

Written and first recorded by David Frizzell (C&W 67 1970).
Other hit version by Susan Raye (US #54/C&W #9/CAN #26/NZ #1/AUS #2 1971)
Also recorded by Shirley Myers (2003).

From the wiki: “‘L.A. International Airport’ was written by Leanne Scott and was first recorded by David Frizzell in 1970. Susan Raye recorded her version of the song in 1971, which became an international hit. The song enjoyed much greater success outside of America and was a major pop hit in many countries, including New Zealand and Australia.

“The song was rerecorded with updated lyrics in 2003 by Shirley Myers for the 75th Anniversary of LAX.”

Amarillo By Morning

Co-written and first recorded by Terry Stafford (C&W #31 1973).
Also recorded by Chris LeDoux (1975).
Other hit version by George Strait (C&W #4/CAN #1 1983).

From the wiki: “‘Amarillo by Morning’ was written by Terry Stafford (‘Suspicion‘) and Paul Fraser, and was first recorded by Stafford in 1973 on his album Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose. Stafford says he conceived the song after playing with his band at a rodeo in San Antonio, Texas, and then driving back to his home in Amarillo, TX. It was first covered in 1975 by bona fide rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, with no apparent chart success. ‘Amarillo by Morning’ was again covered, in 1983, by George Strait, for his 1982 album Strait from the Heart, his third Country Top-5 hit and topping the Canadian Country chart for the second time.”

Moody Blue

Written and first recorded by Mark James (1975).
Hit version by Elvis Presley (US #32/C&W #1 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Moody Blue’, made famous by Elvis Presley, was written and first recorded by Mark James who also penned Elvis’ ‘Suspicious Minds‘. ‘Moody Blue’ was Presley’s last #1 hit in his lifetime, topping the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart in February 1977.

“Presley recorded his version in February 1976, in the Jungle Room of his Graceland home. The only time Elvis performed the song in its entirety was on February 21, 1977 at a concert in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had attempted to perform the song February 20 at the same venue but revealed to the crowd that he had completely forgotten the lyrics; he returned on February 21, lead sheet in hand, and performed the song with his eyes glued to the lyrics.”

Sugartime

Co-written and first recorded by Charlie Phillips (1957).
Hit versions by The McGuire Sisters (US #1 1957), Johnny Cash (C&W #13 1961).

From the wiki: “‘Sugartime’ was written by Charlie Phillips and Odis Echols, and was first recorded in 1957 by Phillips with Buddy Holly on guitar and production by Norman Petty. The biggest hit version was also recorded in 1957, by the McGuire Sisters who topped the charts with the song in 1958. In 1961, the song briefly returned to the Country charts in a version by Johnny Cash he first recorded for Sun Records in 1958.”

Moody River

Written and first recorded by Chase Webster (1961).
Hit version by Pat Boone (US #1/UK #18 1961).
Also recorded as “Dancing in the Dark” by Big Daddy (UK #27 1985), John Fogerty (2009).

From the wiki: “‘Moody River’ was written by and originally performed by country Rockabilly singer Chase Webster, a a labelmate of Pat Boone’s at Dot Records. It was covered later in 1961 by Boone, and became a #1 hit for him on the Billboard Hot 100. John Fogerty covered the song in the album entitled The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again. In 1985, the US group Big Daddy recorded a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ using the melody and chord changes of ‘Moody River’.”

Back in the Saddle Again

Co-written and first recorded by Ray Whitley (1938).
Hit version by co-writer Gene Autry (US #13/C&W #1 1939).

From the wiki: “‘Back in the Saddle Again’ was co-written by Ray Whitley with Gene Autry and first recorded by Whitley in 1938. A true Georgia born showman, Whitley was one of those guys who did a little bit of everything: He served in the Navy, ventured up to New York where he worked on the Empire State Building construction crew, he could snap the tip of a cigarette off with a bullwhip and, if remembered for nothing else, Whitley designed the guitar that would become a staple of Gibson’s line – the Super Jumbo.

“During the Depression, Whitley began to sing to make some money on the side. He ended up co-hosting a radio program called The Village Barn Dance with another young Western singer, Tex Ritter, and the two eventually made their way to Hollywood.

Love Has No Pride

First recorded by Bonnie Raitt (1972).
Hit version by Linda Ronstadt (US #51/MOR #23 1973).
Also recorded by Libby Titus, co-writer (1977).

From the wiki: “‘Love Has No Pride’ was written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus, and was first recorded in 1972 by Bonnie Raitt for her album Give It Up of which critic Dave Marsh wrote ‘[it comes] closest to perfecting her approach. She [mingles] her blues resources with a variety of contemporary and folk-oriented songs, coming up with classics in ‘Been Too Long at the Fair’ and Eric Kaz’s ‘Love Has No Pride.’ Her version of the latter remains definitive …’

“Linda Ronstadt covered ‘Love Has No Pride’ for her 1973 album Don’t Cry Now. Her recording was released as the album’s first single. It peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100, but has song has endured over the years to be remembered as one of Ronstadt’s signature songs.”

Abilene

Co-written and first recorded by Bob Gibson (1957).
Hit version by George Hamilton IV (US #15/C&W #1 1963).

From the wiki: “‘Abilene’ was written by Bob Gibson, Lester Brown and John D. Loudermilk (‘Indian Reservation‘, ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye‘), and first recorded by Gibson in 1957. When covered by George Hamilton IV (and produced by Chet Atkins), in 1963, the song reached # on the US Country Singles chart for four weeks, also peaking at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hamilton also performed ‘Abilene’ in the 1963 movie Hootenanny Hoot.

Blue

Written and first recorded by Bill Mack (1956, released 1958).
Also recorded by Kenny Roberts (1966)
Hit version by LeAnn Rimes (US #26/C&W #10 1996).

From the wiki: “‘Blue’ was written and recorded in 1956 by Bill Mack but not released until 1958. Since then, it has been covered by several artists, most popularly by Country singer LeAnn Rimes in 1996. Her recording won Rimes and Mack the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Country Song, a 1996 Academy of Country Music Award for Song of the Year, a 1997 Country Music Association Awards nomination for Song of the Year, and a 1997 Country Radio Music Awards nomination for Song of the Year. ‘Blue’ is also included on the CMT list of the Top 100 Country Songs of All Time.

“In his autobiography, and contrary to popular opinion, Mack debunks the publicity claim that he had written the song specifically for Patsy Cline. According to a self-penned article for Truckers Connection, Mack revealed that his ‘most noteworthy inspirations had been a billboard and attempting to create note changes on a new guitar.’

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

Early recording by The Silver Leaf Quartet of Norfolk (1930).
Popular versions by The Carter Family (1935), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1968), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1972).

From the wiki: “‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’ is a popular Christian hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The song is often now recorded unattributed and, because of its age, has lapsed into the public domain. One of the earliest recordings of the song was made by The Silver Leaf Quartette of Norfolk (Virginia) in 1930. Already in New York City for an extended performance tour, including 21 straight nights at the Metropolitan Baptist Church, the Quartet’s recording was released and distributed by Okeh Records. In 1935, A.P. Carter adapted the original hymn and, with The Carter Family, recorded the song as ‘Can the Circle be Unbroken (By and By)?’. That version (often using the original ‘Will the Circle’ title) has been covered by a large number of artists. Its refrain has also been incorporated into the Carl Perkins song ‘Daddy Sang Bass’ and the Atlanta song ‘Sweet Country Music’.

Orange Blossom Special

Written and first recorded by Ervin T. Rouse (1939).
Hit versions by Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys (1942), The Spotnicks (UK #29 1964), Doug Kershaw (CAN #9 1970).
Also recorded by Johnny Cash (1965).

From the wiki: “‘Orange Blossom Special’, written by Ervin T. Rouse i 1938 and first recorded by him in 1939 with his brother, Gordon, is often referred to as ‘the fiddle player’s national anthem’. By the 1950s, it had become a perennial favorite at Bluegrass festivals, popular for its rousing energy. For a long time no fiddle player would be hired for a Bluegrass band unless he could play it. Bill Monroe, regarded by many as ‘the father of Bluegrass music’, recorded the song, with Art Wooten on fiddle, in 1942 and made it a hit. ‘Orange Blossom Special’ was further popularized by Chubby Wise’s weekly performances of it on the nationally-broadcast Grand Ole Opry radio show.

“Swedish instrumental Rock band The Spotnicks recorded ‘Blossom’ for their first album – The Spotnicks in London – Out-a-Space! – and it became a UK Top 30 for them in 1962. Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw’s 1970 recording went Top 10 in Canada. Johnny Cash titled his 1965 album after the song. While Bluegrass performers tend to play ‘Blossom’ strictly as an instrumental, Cash sang the lyrics and replaced the fiddle parts with two harmonicas and a saxophone – with Cash playing both harmonicas himself.”

Nobody’s Child

First recorded by Hank Snow (1949).
Hit versions by Lonnie Donegan (1956), Tony Sheridan & the Beat Brothers (1961 |B-side US #19/UK #29 1964), Karen Young (UK #6 1969), Hank Williams Jr. (C&W #46 1969), The Traveling Wilburys (UK #44 1990).

From the wiki: “‘Nobody’s Child’ was written by Cy Coben and Mel Foree and was first recorded by Hank Snow in 1949, becoming one of his standards although it did not chart for him. The song lyrics are about an orphan whom no one wants to adopt because he is blind, and has been covered a number of times in the UK. It was on Lonnie Donegan’s first album in 1956 (which went to #2 as an album in the UK). It was covered by Tony Sheridan & the Beat Brothers (The Beatles) in 1961 in Hamburg and was used as the B-side to both the ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown‘ singles when released in 1964 as part of Beatlemania. (Beatle George Harrison was also one of the Wilburys twenty-five years later.) In 1969, Karen Young again charted the song in the UK.

“In the US, Hank Williams Jr. recorded a version of ‘Nobody’s Child’ that made it to #46 on the US Country charts in 1969. The Traveling Wilburys’ cover recording made it to #44 on the UK charts as the lead promotional single from the benefit album Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel Appeal released in July 1990.”

Walkin’ After Midnight

Originally recorded (as a demo) by Lynn Howard with The Accents (1956).
Hit version by Patsy Cline (US #12/C&W #2 1957).
Also recorded by Patsy Cline (1961).

From the wiki: “‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ was written in 1954 by Alan Block and Donn Hecht, and was originally intended for singer Kay Starr. But, Starr’s label passed on it. Hecht then came across Patsy Cline’s early recordings (all unsuccessful) while working in the 4 Star Records A&R department. He felt strongly enough that Cline was perfect for his song that he hocked his furniture to pay for a demo session using Pop singer Lynn Howard, and used the demo to pitch his song to Cline’s manager.

“Cline’s initial reaction to the song was negative. She felt it was not ‘country’ enough and would not be a hit. Finally, a compromise was reached: Cline said she would record ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ as long as she could also record a song she favored and thought would be a hit, ‘A Poor Man’s Roses’. Cline said if she was wrong about ‘Midnight’ she would never again argue about her material again. Cline’s recording of ‘Midnight’ was completed at the (Owen) Bradley Film and Recording Studios, Nashville, on November 8, 1956.

Heartaches by the Numbers

First recorded by Ray Price (C&W #2 1959).
Other hit version by Guy Mitchell (US #1/R&B #19/UK #5 1959).

From the wiki: “‘Heartaches by the Number’ was written by Harlan Howard and first recorded in 1959 by Ray Price (‘Make the World Go Away‘, ‘(You’re the) Best Thing That Ever Happened’). His recording was a Top 5 Country single. The most successful version was the cover recording by Guy Mitchell (‘Singing the Blues‘), also produced in 1959. Mitchell’s rendering topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in December 1959. It also was a Top 5 UK Single and a Top 20 R&B hit.”

Willin’

First recorded by Johnny Darrell (1970).
Also recorded by The Byrds (1970, released 2000), Seatrain (1970).
Album hit versions by Little Feat (1971 |1972 |1978), Linda Ronstadt (1974).

From the wiki: ‘Willin” was written by Lowell George, of Little Feat, but first recorded in the spring of 1970 by Johnny Darrell for his album California Stop-Over. The song is about a truck driver in the American southwest who makes some extra cash smuggling cigarettes and transporting illegals across the border from Mexico. George’s opening line, in which the narrator describes himself as being ‘warped by the rain,’ originated in a conversation between George and drummer Richie Hayward. Hayward had used it to describe a rocking chair. Prior to forming Little Feat, George was a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. It is probable that this song was a reason for his departure, due to its drug references in the chorus. It is known that his leaving had something to do with his drug use, which Zappa heavily frowned upon.

Caribbean

Written and first released by Mitchell Torok with the Louisiana Hayride Band (US #26/C&W #1 1953).
Other hit version by Mitchell Torok (US #27 1957).

From the wiki: “‘Caribbean’ was written and first recorded in 1953 by Mitchell Torok. It became a Country #1 single, and also charted in the US Top 40. In 1957, Torok recorded an updated but very similarly-arranged version of ‘Caribbean’ and it again charted in the US Top 40.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Co-written and first recorded by Ed Bruce (C&W #15 1975).
Other hit version by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (US #42/C&W #1/CAN #1 1978).

From the wiki: “‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ was first recorded in 1975 by Ed Bruce, written by him and wife Patsy Bruce. Bruce’s rendition of the song went to number 15 on the Hot Country Singles charts. Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson covered the song on their 1978 duet album Waylon & Willie. This recording peaked at #1 in March 1978, spending four weeks atop the Country music charts while also crossing-over to the Billboard Hot 100, and won the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Members of the Western Writers of America chose ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.”

Mountain of Love

Written and first recorded by Harold Dorman (US #21 1959).
Other hit versions by Kenny Lynch (UK #33 1960), Johnny Rivers (US #9 1964), Charlie Pride (C&W #1 1981).

From the wiki: “‘Mountain of Love’ was written by Harold Dorman who first recorded the song in 1959, releasing it as a single in 1960 that peaked in the Top 40 at #21. In 1960, UK singer Kenny Lynch covered ‘Mountain of Love’. It became his first charting single on the UK Singles chart. Johnny Rivers’ 1964 cover went Top 10 in the US. Charlie Pride topped the US Country singles chart in 1981 with his cover of ‘Mountain of Love’.”

Detroit City (I Wanna Go Home)

First recorded by Billy Grammer (C&W #18 1962).
Other ht versions by Bobby Bare (US #16/C&W #6/NOR #1 1963), Tom Jones (US #27/UK #8 1967), Dean Martin (US #101/MOR #36 1970) .

From the wiki: “‘Detroit City’ was written by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis, first made famous by Billy Grammer (as ‘I Wanna Go Home’). Country singer Bobby Bare, and Pop singers Tom Jones and Dean Martin, also enjoyed chart success with the song. ‘Detroit City’ was Bare’s first Country Top 10 hit and his recording won Bare the Grammy award for Best Country & Western Recording in 1964. Tom Jones charted ‘Detroit City’ into the UK Top 10 in 1967. Dean Martin’s 1970 cover of ‘Detroit City’ marked his final appearance on a Pop music chart. (A posthumous re-recording of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside‘, featuring Martina McBride, would chart in 2006.)”

It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

First recorded as “Did God Make Honky Tonk Angels” by “Al” Montgomery (1952).
Inspired by “The Wild Side of Life” by Hank Thompson (1951).
Based on “Thrills That I Can’t Forget” by John Ferguson (1927).
Hit version by Kitty Wells (C&W #1 1952).

From the wiki: “Jay Miller wrote ‘Did God Make …’ as a reply to Hank Thompon’s hit ‘Wild Side Of Life‘. Alice ‘Al’ Montgomery was a gas station attendant in Louisiana at the time of her recording, which Miller produced and issued on one of his many labels. When covered by Kitty Wells in 1952, the song – which blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women – became the first #1 Billboard Country hit for a solo female artist. In addition to helping establish Wells as country music’s first major female star, ‘It Wasn’t God …’ paved the way for other female artists, particularly Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette, and songs where women defied the typical stereotype of being submissive to men and having to put up with their oft-infidel ways.

“Even with its popularity, there was plenty of resistance to the song and its statement: the NBC radio network banned the song for being ‘suggestive,’ while Wells herself was prohibited from performing it on the Grand Ole Opry and NBC’s ‘Prince Albert’ radio programs.

Jolé Blon

First recorded (as “Ma blonde est partie”) by Amede, Ophy & Cleoma Breaux (1929).
Hit version by Red Foley (C&W #1 1947).
Also recorded by Waylon Jennings (1958), Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (1980), Gary “U.S.” Bonds (1981).

From the wiki: “‘Jolé Blon’ is a traditional Cajun waltz, often called ‘the Cajun national anthem’ because of the popularity it had in Cajun culture’; is considered to be the very first Cajun recording. The song was then later popularized on a nationwide scale by a series of renditions and references in late 1940s country songs. There is some mystery to the song’s origin: According to Cleoma Breaux’s daughter, while Amede Breaux is credited with writing the song, it was his sister, Cleoma, who actually wrote the lyrics and Amede sang the song. Dennis McGee claims the original song was written by Angelas Lejeune as ‘La Fille De La Veuve (The Widows Daughter)’ during WWI and Cleoma simply rewrote the lyrics, allegedly about Amede’s first wife.

You’ve Got a Lover

Written and first recorded by Shake Russell & Dana Cooper (1978).
Hit version by Ricky Skaggs (C&W #2/CAN #1 1983).

From the wiki: “‘You’ve Got a Lover’ was written by Shake Russell, and first recorded by Russell and Dana Cooper in 1978. Covered by Ricky Skaggs, ‘You’ve Got a Lover’ was released in July 1983 as the fourth single from Skagg’s album Highways & Heartaches (preceded by ‘Heartbroke‘, ‘Highway 40 Blues’, and ‘I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could’), recipient of the 1983 ACM Album of the Year award.”

Hush

First recorded by Billy Joe Royal (US #52 1967).
Also recorded by Kris Ife (1967).
Hit versions by Deep Purple (US #4/UK #58/CAN #2 1968), Kula Shaker (US #19/UK #2 1997).

From the wiki: “‘Hush’ was written by Joe South (‘Games People Play’) for singer Billy Joe Royal (‘Down in the Boondocks’, also written by South; ‘Cherry Hill Park’), and first recorded by Royal in 1967 and charting modestly in the Billboard Hot 100. British singer Kris Ife covered ‘Hush’ in 1967 in the UK market. It was this version that inspired Deep Purple’s 1968 hit cover, recorded for their 1968 debut album Shades of Deep Purple. The track became the group’s first hit single peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #2 on the Canadian singles chart. ‘Hush’ is one of four songs originally recorded by Deep Purple with vocals sung by Rod Evans before Ian Gillan later performed the group’s vocal leads.”

Summer Wine

First recorded by Lee Hazelwood & Suzi Jane Hokom (1966).
Hit version by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood (1967).

From the wiki: “‘Summer Wine’ was written by Lee Hazlewood. It was originally sung in 1966 by Hazelwood and Suzi Jane Hokom, but it was made famous by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood in 1967; the first of Sinatra and Hazlewood’s string of popular duets. The song has since been covered by the likes of Demis Roussos, Bono of U2 with The Corrs, and others.”

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