Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: 1920s

Big Rock Candy Mountain

First recorded (as “Big Rock Candy Mountains”) by Harry McClintock (1928).
Popular versions by Burl Ives (1949), Pete Seeger (1957), Dorsey Burnette (B-side US #102 1960).

From the wiki: “‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’, first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is a folk music song about a hobo’s idea of paradise – a place where ‘hens lay soft boiled eggs’ and there are ‘cigarette trees’. McClintock claimed to have written the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hobo-ing through the United States, but some believe that at least aspects of the song have existed for far longer. McClintock was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.), and the author of other labor songs as ‘Haywire Mac’, ‘Sam Bass’ and ‘Hallelujah Bum Again’. His original 1928 recording was used on the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack (minus the plural form). The song achieved widespread popularity in 1949 when a sanitized version intended for children was recorded by Burl Ives. A version recorded in 1960 by Dorsey Burnette reached #102 on Billboard’s chart.

I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag

Inspired by “Muskrat Ramble” by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five (1926).
Also recorded (as “Muskrat Ramble”) by Dean Martin (1950).
Popular version by Country Joe & The Fish (1967).

From the wiki: “‘Muskrat Ramble’ was written by Kid Ory and first recorded by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five (including Ory, on trombone) in 1926. The song served as the B-side to Armstrong’s first solo outing as a recording artist, ‘Heebie Jeebies’. In 2001, the heirs of Kid Ory launched a lawsuit against Country Joe McDonald, claiming that the music of ‘I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag’ constituted plagiarism of ‘Muskrat Ramble’. In 2005, courts ruled in McDonald’s favor primarily because the original 1926 recording had fallen into the public domain.

Wade in the Water

First recorded by The Sunset Four Jubilee Singers (1925).
Also recorded by Birmingham Jubilee Singers (1930), Odetta (1954), Johnny Griffin & the Big Soul Band (1960), Graham Bond Organisation (1965).
Hit versions by Ramsey Lewis (US #19/R&B #3/UK #31 1966), Herb Alpert (US #37/MOR #5 1967).
Melodic refrain used (in “Little Walter”) by Tony! Toni! Toné! (1988).

From the wiki: “‘Wade in the Water’ is the name of a Negro Spiritual first published in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (1901). It is associated with the songs of the Underground Railroad, and the verses reflect the Israelites’ escape out of Egypt as found in the Book of Exodus. Some sources claim that songs such as ‘Wade in the Water’ contained explicit instructions to fugitive slaves on how to avoid capture. (This particular song allegedly recommends leaving dry land and taking to the water as a strategy to throw pursuing bloodhounds off one’s trail.) The first known recording was made in 1925 by The Sunset Four Jubilee Singers.

“Other early recordings were published by the Birmingham Jubilee Singers (1930) and Odetta (1954). A 1960 instrumental recording by Johnny Griffin & the Big Soul Band is thought to have inspired both the Graham Bond and Ramsey Lewis recordings.

Sweet Georgia Brown

First recorded by Ben Bernie & His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra (US #1 1925).
Also recorded by Ethel Waters (US #6 1925), Isham Jones & His Orchestra (US #5 1925), Red Nichols & His Orchestra (1930).
Best-known recordings by Bing Crosby (US #5 1932), Stéphane Grappelli & Django Reinhardt (1938), Brother Bones & His Shadows (US #10/R&B #9 1948), Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers (1962).

From the wiki: “”Sweet Georgia Brown” is a Jazz standard and Pop tune written in 1925 by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics). It is believed Ben Bernie came up with the concept for the song’s lyrics – although he is not the accredited lyricist – after meeting Dr. George Thaddeus Brown in New York City: Dr. Brown, a longtime member of the State House of Representatives for Georgia, told Bernie about Dr. Brown’s daughter Georgia Brown and how subsequent to the baby girl’s birth on August 11, 1911 the Georgia General Assembly had issued a declaration that she was to be named Georgia after the state, an anecdote which would be directly referenced by the song’s lyric: ‘Georgia claimed her – Georgia named her.’ The tune was first recorded in March 1925 by Bernie & his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra, resulting in a five-week run at #1.

In the Jailhouse Now

First recorded (as “Jail House Blues”) by Whistler & His Jug Band (1924).
Also recorded by Earl McDonald’s Original Louisville Jug Band (1927), Jim Jackson (1928), Tim Blake Nelson (2000).
Popular versions by Jimmie Rodgers (US #14 1928), Webb Pierce (C&W #1 1955), Johnny Cash (C&W #8 1962), Sonny James (C&W #15 1977), Willie Nelson & Webb Pierce (C&W #72 1982).

From the wiki: “‘In The Jailhouse Now’ is an American novelty Blues song originally found in vaudeville performances from the early 20th century. In 1924, Whistler’s Jug Band from Louisville, Kentucky, recorded it under the title ‘Jail House Blues’. In 1927, Earl McDonald’s Original Louisville Jug Band made another recording of the song; in January 1928, Jim Jackson recorded ‘Jailhouse’ and established the first song’s first copyright titled as ‘In the Jailhouse Now’ although the song is usually now credited to Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers recording of ‘In the Jailhouse Now’ was recorded February 15, 1928, in Camden, New Jersey, and features Rodgers’ famous yodel throughout the song. In 1938, Gene Autry and his side-kick, Smiley Burnette (as ‘Frog’), sang the Jimmie Rodgers version in the movie Prairie Moon.

C.C. Rider (See See Rider)

First recorded (as ‘See See Rider Blues’) by Ma Rainey (US #12 1925).
Popular versions by Wee Bea Booze (R&B #1 1943), Chuck Willis (US #12/R&B #1 1957), LaVern Baker (US #34/R&B #9 1963), Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels (US #10 1965), The Animals (US #10/CAN #1/AUS #8 1966).
Also recorded by The Orioles (1952), Elvis Presley (1970 |1973).

From the wiki: “The song is generally regarded as being traditional in origin. Ma Rainey’s version (recorded as ‘See See Rider Blues’) became popular during 1925, telling the story of an unfaithful lover, commonly called ‘easy riders’ (‘See See rider, see what you have done’), making a play on the word ‘see’ and the sound of ‘easy’. The song has since become one of the most famous of all Blues songs, with well over 100 versions.

Matchbox

Written and first recorded (as “Match Box Blues”) by Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927).
Also recorded by The Shelton Brothers (1947), Carl Perkins (1956).
Hit version by The Beatles (US #17 1964).

From the wiki: “It was Carl Perkins’s father, Buck, who suggested that Carl record ‘Match Box Blues’. Buck knew only a few lines from the song, either from the 1927 recording by Blind Lemon Jefferson, or from a version recorded by Country musicians The Shelton Brothers. As Perkins began singing the few words his father had suggested, Jerry Lee Lewis, who was at that time a session piano player at Sun Studios, began a restrained boogie-woogie riff. Carl picked out a melody on the guitar to the riff and improvised more lyrics. Perkins’ recording was released in February 1957 with no apparent chart impact.

Baby Face

First recorded by The Jan Garber Orchestra (US #1 1926).
Other popular versions by Ipana Troubadours (US #10 1926), Art Mooney (US #3 1948), Little Richard (US #41/R&B #12/UK #2/NOR #1 1958), Bobby Darin (US #42/UK #40 1962), Wing and a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps (US #14/Soul #32 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Baby Face’ was written by Harry Akst, the lyrics by Benny Davis. The song was published in 1926, and first became popular that same year when recorded by the Jan Garber Orchestra. It has since been covered by many recording artists, including Al Jolson, The Revelers, Bobby Darin, and Wing and a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps. Swan Districts, an Australian Rules club in the WAFL since 1934, bases its club song on this tune.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

First released by Charles Hart (1927).
Also recorded by Vaughn DeLeath (1927), Henry Burr (1927), The Carter Family (1936), Al Jolson (1950).
Hit versions by Blue Barron Orchestra (US #19 1950), Jaye P. Morgan (US #65 1959), Elvis Presley (US #1/C&W #22/R&B #3 1960).

From the wiki: “‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ was written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926, and first published in 1927. A number of artists first recorded the song in 1927, most notably by Ned Jakobs on May 8 but the first released recording belongs to Charles Hart whose production was released on May 9, 1927. (Jakobs’ version was released on May 17.) Vaughn De Leath (also known as ‘The Original Radio Girl’) recorded two versions of the song in 1927, the second as vocalist for The Colonial Club Orchestra. Another version was released later that year by famed tenor Henry Burr. The Carter Family also recorded a version in 1936 but with a different melody.

Someone to Watch Over Me

First recorded by Gertrude Lawrence (US #2 1926).
Other hit versions by George Gershwin (US #13 1926), George Olsen & His Orchestra (US #3 1927), Frank Sinatra (UK #13 1954), Linda Ronstadt (1980).
Also recorded by Margaret Whiting (1944).

From the wiki: “‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin for the musical Oh, Kay! (1926). George Gershwin originally approached the song as an uptempo jazz tune, but his brother Ira suggested that it might work much better as a ballad, and George ultimately agreed.

Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)

First recorded by The Bay Harbor Society Orchestra (1922).
Hit version by Frank Sinatra (1958).

From the wiki: “‘Chicago’ is a popular song written by Fred Fisher, and first published in 1922 and recorded by The Bay Harbor Society Orchestra. Other early recordings of the song were made by Django Reinhardt (1937), and Earl Hines (1950). ‘Chicago’ was featured in H.C. Potter’s 1939 film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. It was later performed by Sinatra in the 1957 movie, The Joker Is Wild, and recorded for Sinatra’s 1958 album Come Fly with Me. Other popular versions of ‘Chicago’ were also recorded by Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, and The Dudley Moore Trio.”

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

Written and first recorded by Duke Ellington & His Kentucky Club Orchestra (1926).
Hit version by Duke Ellington & The Washingtonians (US #10 1927).
Covered by Steely Dan (1974).

From the wiki: “‘East St Louis Toodle-Oo’ is a composition written by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley and recorded several times by Ellington for various labels from 1926-1930 under various titles. The original recording features a growling plunger-muted trumpet part played by co-composer Miley, one of the first jazz trumpeters to utilize the style. This style was carried on by later Ellington trumpeters Cootie Williams, and Ray Nance.

Singin’ in the Rain

First performed and recorded by Ukulele Ike (US #1 1929).
Also performed by Judy Garland (1940).
Most familiar version performed by Gene Kelly (1952).

From the wiki: “‘Singin’ In the Rain’ is a song with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown, published in 1929. However, it is unclear exactly when the song was written; it has been claimed that the song was performed as early as 1927.

“We do know it was first performed by Doris Eaton Travis in the 1929 revue The Hollywood Music Box Revue. The song became a hit and was recorded on disc by a number of artists, first and most notably by Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards) on May 28, 1929, in Los Angeles, for Columbia Records. Edwards would also perform the number on-screen with the Brox Sisters in the early MGM musical The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The song was also performed on film by Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily (1932), and by Judy Garland in Little Nellie Kelly (1940).”

Corrina, Corrina

First recorded by Bo Carter (Chatmon) & Charlie McCoy (1929).
Hit versions by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (1940), Ray Peterson (US #9/UK #41 1960), The Rising Sons (1966).
Also recorded by Elston Gunn (Bob Dylan) (1962).

From the wiki: “‘Corrina, Corrina’ may have traditional roots; however, early versions are different musically and lyrically. One of the earliest is the commercial sheet music song ‘Has Anybody Seen My Corrine?’ published by Roger Graham in 1918. Just prior to World War II, Bob Wills adapted the song to a Western swing dance song. Following his recording with The Texas Playboys in April 1940, the song (recorded as “Corrine, Corrina”) entered the standard repertoire of all Western swing bands, influencing the adoption of ‘Corrina, Corrina’ by Cajun bands and later by individual country artists.

Careless Love

First recorded (as “Loveless Love”) by Noble Sissle & His Sizzling Syncopaters (1921).
Also recorded (as “Loveless Love”) by W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues Band (1921), James P. Johnson (1921), Alberta Hunter (1923).
Other popular versions (as “Careless Love”) by Bessie Smith (US #5 1925), T. Texas Tyler (1946), The Ravens (1949), Fats Domino (1951), Ray Charles (1962).

From the wiki: “‘Careless Love’ is a traditional song of obscure origins. The song lyrics change from version to version, but usually speak of the heartbreak brought on by ‘careless love’; most often a girl’s lament for having loved unwisely, worrying what her mother will say when she returns home, ‘wearing her apron high’ (i. e. pregnant) The song was one of the best-known pieces in the repertory of the Buddy Bolden band in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the very start of the 20th century, but it is thought that the first recording of ‘Loveless Love/Careless Love’ was made by Noble Sissle & His Sizzling Syncopaters at a New York City recording session in January, 1921.

“Bessie Smith recorded the first popular version of ‘Careless Love’ in 1925. The song has since gone on to become a jazz and blues standard. Hundreds more recordings Smith’s nationally-popular verson, in blues, jazz, folk, country, and pop styles. T. Texas Tyler recorded a Texas Swing version in 1946 for 4-Star records. Fats Domino made a recording of it in 1951, releasing it as the B-side of ‘Rockin’ Chair’. Ray Charles’ recorded ‘Careless Love’ for his landmark 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

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