Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: 1910s

Peg o’ My Heart

First recorded by Charles Harrison (US #1 1913).
Other hit versions by Henry Burr (US #2 1913), The Three Suns (US #1 1947), Buddy Clark (US #1 1947), The Harmonicats (US #1 1947), Ted Weems & His Orchestra (US #5 1947).
Also recorded by Dropkick Murphys w/ Bruce Springsteen (2011).

From the wiki: “‘Peg o’ My Heart’ was written by Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher. The song was inspired by the main character, Peg, in the very successful musical comedy of the time, Peg O’ My Heart, starring Laurette Taylor in the title role. It would be first performed publicly by Irving Kaufman in 1912 at The College Inn in New York City after he had stumbled across a draft of sheet music on a shelf at the Leo Feist publishing offices. ‘Peg o My Heart’ would be featured in the 1913 musical Ziegfeld Follies where it gained wide attention.

“The first recording of ‘Peg o’ My Heart’ was made by Charles Harrison, in July 1913. Henry Burr followed in August 1913 with his rendition. Both proved to be nationally-popular recordings. ‘Peg o’ My Heart’ saw a resurgence of popularity after WWII with numerous covers jockeying for popularity in 1947, including #1 recordings by The Three Suns, Buddy Clark, and The Harmonicats. In 2011, Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys would revive the song, with a guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen.”

Casey Jones

First recorded by The American Quartet with Billy Murray (1910).
Hit version by Eddy Arnold (C&W #15 1956).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Casey Jones’ is a traditional song about railroad engineer Casey Jones and his death at the controls of the train he was driving. The song helped preserve the memory of Jones’ feat down through the years in its 40+ versions and enhanced Casey’s legendary status to the extent that he has even become something of a mythological figure like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan to the uninformed. Soon after Casey’s death, the song was first sung by engine wiper and friend of Casey’s named Wallace Saunders to the tune of a popular song of the time known as ‘Jimmie Jones’.

“But Saunders never had his original version copyrighted, and thus there is no way of knowing precisely what words he sang. Illinois Central Engineer William Leighton appreciated the song’s potential enough to tell his brothers Frank Leighton and Bert Leighton, who were vaudeville performers, about it. They took it and sang it in theaters around the country with a chorus they added. But apparently even they neglected to get it copyrighted.

“Finally, with vaudeville performers T. Lawrence Seibert credited with the lyrics and Eddie Newton the music it was published and offered for sale in 1909 with the title ‘Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer’, and first recorded in 1910 by Billy Murray’s American Quartet.”

El Condor Pasa

First recorded by Orquesta del Zoológico (1917).
Also recorded by Los Incas (1963).
Hit version by Simon & Garfunkel (US #18/AUS #1/GER #1 1970).

From the wiki: “‘El Cóndor Pasa’ (Spanish for ‘The Condor Passes’) is an orchestral musical piece from the operetta El Cóndor Pasa by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles, written in 1913 and based on a traditional Andean folk tune.

“In 1965, the American musician Paul Simon listened for the first time to the version of the melody of the Los Incas band performance that took place at the Théâtre de l’Est parisien (Paris) in which both participated. Simon asked the band permission to use it in his production, to which the band replied that the song was a melody belonging to Robles and arranged by Los Incas’ director Jorge Milchberg. However, when the song was released on the album Bridge Over Troubled Water only Simon was listed as the author. Also, Simon & Garfunkel had used without permission the Los Incas’ 1963 recording as their instrumental arrangement.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

First recorded by Albert Clough (US #2 1911).
Other popular versions by The Peerless Quartet (US #1 1911), Oliver Hardy & Stan Laurel (1938), Mitch Miller (1961), Timi Yuro (MOR #15 1962).
Also recorded by Bing Crosby (1934).

From the wiki: “‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ was written by Leo Friedman with lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson. The song was published in 1910 and first recorded by Albert Clough in May, 1911. The Peerless Quartet recorded their version in November, 1911, topping the sheet music chart that year. The song was also comically sung by Oliver Hardy (with Stan Laurel playing the tuba) in the 1938 motion picture Swiss Miss.”

My Melancholy Baby

First recorded by Walter Van Brunt (US #9 1915).
Other hit versions by Gene Austin (US #3 1928), Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra (US #6 1936), Bing Crosby (US #14 1939), Sam Donahue & His Orchestra (US #5 1945), Tommy Edwards (US #26/R&B #27/UK #29 1959).

From the wiki: “‘Melancholy Baby’ was written by Ernie Burnett with lyrics by his wife, Maybelle Watson. First publicly performed (as ‘Melancholy’) in 1912 by William Frawley (‘Fred Mertz’ on I Love Lucy), the song was first recorded in 1915 by Walter Van Brunt, Thomas Edison’s favorite tenor. The song title was changed in ‘My Melancholy Baby’ in 1914. The first popular recording was made by Gene Austin in 1928 (Van Brunt’s popularity was based on sheet-music sales). Teddy Wilson’s 1936 recording featured an 18-year Ella Fitzgerald, who was pulled into the session at the last minute when Billie Holiday couldn’t attend the date.

“Songwriter Burnett was seriously wounded in France during World War I. He lost his memory together with his identity dog-tags. While recuperating in hospital, a pianist entertained the patients with popular tunes including ‘Melancholy Baby’. Burnett rose from his sickbed and exclaimed: ‘That’s my song!’

Colonel Bogey March

First recorded by The Band of HM Royal Marines, Plymouth Division (1914).
Most popular versions by Malcolm Arnold (as “The River Kwai March Theme” 1957), Mitch Miller (as “The River Kwai March/Colonel Bogey March” US #20 1957).

From the wiki: “The ‘Colonel Bogey March’ is a popular march written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (under the pseudonym ‘Kenneth Alford’), a British Army bandmaster who later became the director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth. The first recording of the march was made in 1914 by the Second Batallion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. The tune was inspired by a military man and golfer who whistled a characteristic two-note phrase instead of shouting ‘Fore!’. The name ‘Colonel Bogey’ began in the later 19th century as the imaginary ‘standard opponent’ of the Colonel Bogey scoring system and, by Edwardian times, the ‘Colonel’ had been adopted by the golfing world as the presiding spirit of the golf course. ‘Bogey’ is now a golfing term meaning ‘one over par’. At the start of World War II, the ‘Colonel Bogey March’ became part of British way of life when the tune was set to popular lyrics, ‘Hitler Has Only Got One Ball’, with the tune becoming an unofficial national anthem to rudeness.

Man of Constant Sorrow

First recorded by Dick Burnett (as “Farewell Song” c. 1913), Emry Arthur (1928).
Hit versions by The Stanley Brothers (1951 | 1959), Ginger Baker’s Air Force (C&W #36/UK #86 1970), Soggy Bottom Boys (C&W #35 2000).
Also recorded by Judy Collins (as “Maid of Constant Sorrow”) (1961), Bob Dylan (1962), Jerry Garcia (1993).

From the wiki: “‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ (also known as ‘I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow’) is a traditional American folk song first recorded in 1913 by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky, who published the song as ‘Farewell Song’. (Some uncertainty exists as to whether Burnett himself wrote the song. One claim is that it was sung by the Mackin clan in 1888 in Ireland and that Cameron O’Mackin emigrated to Tennessee, bringing the song with him.) Another early version was commercially released by Emry Arthur in 1928.

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