Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: 1950s

On the Street Where You Live

First performed by John Michael King (1956).
Hit versions by Vic Damone (US #4/UK #1 1956), Eddie Fisher (US #18 1956), Andy Williams (US #28/MOR #3 1964).

From the wiki: “‘On the Street Where You Live’ was composed by Frederick Loewe with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, from the 1956 Broadway musical, My Fair Lady. It is sung in the musical by the character Freddy Eynsford-Hill, portrayed by John Michael King in the original Broadway production. The most popular single of the song was recorded by Vic Damone in 1956 for Columbia Records. Eddie Fisher also had a Top-20 Billboard hit with the song in 1956. Andy Williams’ recording appeared in the Billboard Top-40 in 1964.”

Dance with Me, Henry

First recorded and co-written (as “The Wallflower”) by Etta James (R&B #1 1955).
Other hit version by Georgia Gibbs (US #1 1955).
Also re-recorded by Etta James (1958).

From the wiki:”‘The Wallflower’ (also known as ‘Roll with Me, Henry’ and ‘Dance with Me, Henry’) was one of several answer songs to ‘Work with Me, Annie’, by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. Written by Johnny Otis (‘Willie and the Hand Jive‘), Hank Ballard (‘The Twist‘) and Etta James, James recorded it for Modern Records, with uncredited vocal responses from Richard Berry (‘Louie, Louie‘), under the title ‘The Wallflower’ and it became a R&B hit, topping the U.S. R&B chart for 4 weeks. More popularly known as ‘Roll with Me Henry’, James’ original version was considered too risque to play on Pop radio stations. In 2008, James received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for her original 1955 recording.

“In 1955, the song was covered for the Pop music market by Georgia Gibbs – with uncredited vocal responses from Thurl Ravenscroft (the booming voice behind Tony the Tiger’s ‘They’re grrreat!’ in Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes television commercials, and as the vocalist for the song ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’), under the title ‘Dance with Me Henry’.”

The Happy Wanderer

First hit version (as “Der Frohliche Wanderer”) by The Obernkirchen Children’s Choir (UK #2 1954).
Other hit version by Frank Weir & His Saxophone, Chorus and Orchestra (US #4 1954), Henri René & His Musette Orchestra (US #8 1954).

From the wiki: “‘The Happy Wanderer’ (‘Der fröhliche Wanderer’ or ‘Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann’) was first written as poetry by Florenz Friedrich Sigismund (1788-1857). The present tune was composed by Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller shortly after World War II. It is often mistaken for a German folk song, but it is actually an original composition. Friedrich-Wilhem’s sister, Edith Möller, conducted a small amateur children’s and youth choir in Schaumburg County, Northern Germany, internationally named Obernkirchen Children’s Choir, and adapted Sigismund’s words for her choir. The amateur choir, many of whose original members were war orphans, turned into an unlikely international phenomenon in the following years.

“In 1953 a BBC radio broadcast of the choir’s winning performance at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod turned the song into an instant hit. On January 22, 1954, the song entered the UK singles chart and stayed on the chart—only a Top 12 at the time — for 26 non-consecutive weeks, peaking at #2 (for five consecutive weeks). With the BBC’s strong international influence ‘The Happy Wanderer’ turned up everywhere, e.g., as the winning song of the 1955 Calypso road-march season of the Trinidad Carnival. (People protested after this event, complaining that only Calypsoes should be chosen over foreign music).

Hey Little Girl

Inspired by “Hambone” by The Red Saunders Orchestra with The Hambone Kids (1952).
Hit version by Dee Clark (US #20/R&B #2 1959).

From the wiki: “Dee Clark was born Delecta Clark (or Delectus Clark, Jr.), in Blytheville, Arkansas, in 1938 and moved to Chicago in 1941. His mother, Essie Mae Clark, was a Gospel singer and encouraged her son to pursue his love of music. Clark made his first recording in 1952 as one of the original members of The Hambone Kids, who enjoyed some success with a recording, with The Red Saunders Orchestra, of ‘Hambone’ on the OKeh label. Clark embarked on a solo career in 1957, initially following the styles of Clyde McPhatter and Little Richard. When Little Richard temporarily abandoned his music career to study the Bible, Clark fulfilled Richard’s remaining live dates and also recorded with his backing band, The Upsetters.

“Over the next four years Clark landed several moderate hits, two of which (‘Just Keep It Up’ and the Otis Blackwell-composed ‘Hey Little Girl’) reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Clark’s biggest single, ‘Raindrops’, a ballad augmented by heavy rain and thunder sound effects and Clark’s swooping falsetto, was released in the spring of 1961 and became his biggest hit, charting Top 5 in the US and internationally.”

Hearts of Stone

First recorded by Jewels (1954).
Hit versions by The Charms (US #15/R&B #1 1954), The Fontane Sisters (US #1 1954).

From the wiki: “‘Hearts of Stone’ was written by Eddie Ray and Rudy Jackson, a member of the San Bernardino, California-based R&B vocal group the Jewels, a group who began as a gospel group, then became the Marbles, recording for the Lucky label out of Los Angeles.

“According to Johnny Torrence, leader of the Marbles/Jewels, ‘Hearts of Stone’ was taken from a song they had recorded during their Gospel days. ‘Hearts of Stone’ was subsequently covered and taken up the charts by East Coast R&B vocal group the Charms, causing the story of the Jewels’ involvement to be ignored by various writers and DJs who assumed the Charms’ cover was the original. The Charms’ version of the song went to #1 on the R&B Best Sellers and #15 on the pop charts.

The Ballad of Davy Crockett

First performed by The Wellingtons (1954).
First released by Bill Hayes (US #1/UK #2 1955).
Other hit versions by Fess Parker (US #6 1955), Tennessee Ernie Ford (US #5/C&W #4/UK #3 1955), Mac Wiseman (US #10 1955), Max Bygraves (UK #20 1955).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ was introduced on ABC’s television series Disneyland, in the premiere episode of October 27, 1954, sung by The Wellingtons but performed on-screen by Fess Parker, playing the role of Davy Crockett, accompanied by similarly attired musicians. The song would later be heard throughout the follow-up Disneyland television miniseries, Davy Crockett, first telecast on December 15, 1954. The Wellingtons were originally called The Lincolns, and recorded for Kapp Records. As The Wellingtons, they were signed by Walt Disney to record the theme song for Disney’s The Wonderful World of Color and, subsequently, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’.

“Trivia: Gilligan’s Island producer Sherwood Schwartz, working with composer George Wyle, came up with a Folk song theme song that told the back story of the castaways, and hired The Wellingtons to sing it. The song was a hit. The Wellingtons appear in a second season (1965–66) episode of Gilligan’s Island as a Rock group called ‘The Mosquitoes’.

Cara Mia

First recorded by David Whitfield & the Mantovani Orchestra (US #10/UK #1 1954).
Other hit version by Jay & the Americans (US #4 1965 |NETH #1 1980).

From the wiki: “Authorship of ‘Cara Mia’ (in Italian, ‘my beloved’) is credited to Tulio Trapani (the nom de plume of the song’s co-writer and arranger Mantovani) and Lee Lange (Bunny Lewis, David Whitfield’s producer). English singer David Whitfield first recorded the song with the Mantovani Orchestra in 1954. Whitfield’s version became one of the biggest selling British records in the pre-rock days, the first UK record to spend ten consecutive weeks at #1 on the UK Singles chart. It sold more than three and a half million copies worldwide and was also a Top-10 hit in the US.

“The 1965 cover by Jay & the Americans became a #4 hit in the US. It was re-released in 1980 in the Netherlands and became a #1 hit there.”

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.”

Yakety Sax

Written and first recorded by “Boots” Randolph (1958).
Hit versions by “Boots” Randolph (US #35 1963).
Also recorded as “Yakety Axe” by Chet Atkins (C&W #4 1965).

From the wiki: “‘Yakety Sax’ was jointly composed by James Q. ‘Spider’ Rich and Homer ‘Boots’ Randolph III. The selection, which includes pieces of assorted fiddle tunes, was originally composed by Rich for a performance at a venue called The Armory in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Randolph’s recording was inspired by a sax solo in the Leiber and Stoller song ‘Yakety Yak’, recorded in 1958 by The Coasters. Randolph first recorded ‘Yakety Sax’ that year for RCA Victor, but it did not become a hit until after his 1963 re-recording for Monument Records.

Daddy’s Home

Based on “A Thousand Miles Away” by The Heartbeats (US #52/R&B #5 1956).
Hit versions by Shep & the Limelites (US #2/R&B #4 1961), Cliff Richard (US #23/MOR #3/UK #2 1981).

From the wiki: “‘A Thousand Miles Away’, written by James Sheppard, was recorded in 1956 by the Doo-wop group The Heartbeats (who were discovered by William Miller, A&R man for Hull Records, who also received a co-writing credit). Sheppard wrote the song after his ex-girlfriend moved away to Texas. He would go on to form the group Shep & the Limelites in 1960, at which point he adapted his original song into a new one, titled ‘Daddy’s Home’. Kahl Music, publisher of ‘A Thousand Miles Away’, sued Keel Music, publisher of ‘Daddy’s Home’, for copyright violation. Keel eventually lost, and this resulted in the end of both the Limelites and of Hull Records in 1966.

“The original ‘A Thousand Miles Away’ enjoyed a revival in the early 1970s when it was included on the American Graffiti motion picture soundtrack. UK singer Cliff Richard scored a Top 10 (and US Top 40) hit with his 1981 cover of ‘Daddy’s Home’.”

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’.”

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

First performed by Claramae Turner (1954).
Hit version by Tony Bennett (US #19/MOR #7 1962 |UK #25 1965).

From the wiki: “‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ was written in the fall of 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, by George Cory and Douglass Cross, two amateur writers nostalgic for San Francisco after moving to New York. The song was originally written for opera singer Claramae Turner, a personal friend of Cross, who often used it as an encore. However, she never got around to recording it. The song found its way to Tony Bennett through Ralph Sharon, Bennett’s longtime accompanist and friends with the composers. Sharon brought the music along when he and Bennett were on tour and on their way to San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.

“Prior to Bennett hearing it, the song was first pitched to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who Turner suggested Cross take it to. Ford turned the song down but, in an ironic turn of events, later purchased a ranch in Lake County, California, owned by Cross’s family.

Desafinado

First recorded by João Gilberto (1958).
Hit versions by Ella Fitzgerald (US #102/UK #38 1962), Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd (US #15/MOR #4/UK #11 1962).

From the wiki: “‘Desafinado’ (a Portuguese word usually rendered into English as ‘out of tune’ or as ‘off Key’) is a Bossa nova song composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim with lyrics (in Portuguese) by Newton Mendonça. English-language lyrics were later written by Jon Hendricks and ‘Jessie Cavanaugh’ (a pseudonym used by The Richmond Organisation). Another English lyric, more closely based on the original Portuguese lyric (but not an exact translation) would later be written by Gene Lees.

“The 1962 recording by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (from the album Jazz Samba) would become the definitive version, becoming a major Pop hit in 1962 in both the US and the UK. The song was voted by the Brazilian edition of Rolling Stone magazine as the 14th greatest Brazilian song. ‘Desafinado’ was also inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.”

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Written and first recorded by Larry Williams (1958).
Also recorded by Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks (1959), The Fabulous Echoes (1965), The Plastic Ono Band (1969).
Hit album version by The Beatles (1965).

From the wiki: “‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ was composed and first recorded by Larry Williams (‘Nobody‘) in 1958, sharing some similarities with the Little Richard-composed hit ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’. The song has been covered many times, including, most famously, by the Beatles on the 1965 Help! album. (The recording was initially intended for the 1965 American album Beatles VI, along with the Larry Williams cover, ‘Bad Boy’, recorded by the group on the same day.) Paul McCartney has stated that he believes ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ to be one of the Beatles’ best recordings. ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ also appeared as a live recording by the Beatles’ John Lennon on The Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album.

Wand’rin Star

First recorded by James Barton (1951).
Hit version by Lee Marvin (UK #1/IRE #1 1969).

From the wiki: “‘Wand’rin Star’ was written by Alan Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) for the stage musical Paint Your Wagon in 1951. The song was performed on stage by James Barton, in his original role of prospector Ben Rumson, and was first recorded by Barton in 1951. When the film of the musical was produced in 1969, Lee Marvin took the role of prospector Rumson. Not a natural singer, Marvin nevertheless sang all of his songs in the film, rejecting the idea of miming to another singer’s voice. Despite the film being a box office flop, the soundtrack became a success. Orchestrated and arranged by Nelson Riddle, Marvin’s version of the song ‘Wand’rin Star’ becoming an unlikely #1 single (for three weeks!) in Ireland and the UK for him, famously keeping The Beatles at #2 in the UK with their single ‘Let It Be’. Marvin never released a follow-up single, so is classed as a one-hit wonder.”

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.’

Night Train

First recorded by Jimmy Forrest & His All Star Combo (R&B #1 1951).
Inspired by Johnny Hodges “That’s the Blues, Old Man” (1940) & Duke Ellington “Happy Go Lucky Local” (1941).
Other hit versions by Buddy Morrow (US #27/UK #12 1952), Rusty Bryant (as “All Nite Long” 1952), James Brown & the Famous Flames (US #35/R&B #5 1962).

From the wiki: “‘Night Train’ was written by Jimmy Forrest but the song has a long and complicated history. The piece’s opening riff was first recorded in 1940 by a small group led by Duke Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges under the title ‘That’s the Blues, Old Man’. Ellington used the same riff as the opening and closing theme of a longer-form composition, “Happy-Go-Lucky Local”, that was itself one of four parts of his Deep South Suite. Forrest was part of Ellington’s band when it performed this composition, which has a long tenor saxophone break in the middle. After leaving Ellington, Forrest and his All Star Combo recorded ‘Night Train’ for United Records and, in 1951, had a major R&Bs hit. While ‘Night Train’ employs the same riff as the earlier recordings, it is used in a much earthier R&B setting.

Quiet Village

Written and first recorded by Les Baxter (1952).
Hit version by Martin Denny (US #4/R&B #11 1959).

From the wiki: “‘Quiet Village’ is an Exotica instrumental that was written and first recorded by Les Baxter (‘Unchained Melody‘) in 1952. Seven years later, in 1959, Martin Denny added exotic sounds to the song, and his instrumental version made it to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #11 on the R&B charts. Arguably the creator of ‘world music’, Denny’s arrangements were a combination of ethnic styles: South Pacific, the Orient and Latin rhythms. It was during a mid-1950’s engagement at Honolulu’s Hawaiian Village Shell Bar that Denny originally discovered what would become his trademark sound.

Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

Adapted from “It It Wasn’t for Dickey” by Lead Belly (1937).
First recorded by The Weavers (US #19 1951).
Other hit versions by Jimmie Rodgers (US #3 1957), Frankie Vaughn (UK #8 1958).

From the wiki: “‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine’ is a love song written by The Weavers in 1950, and first recorded by the group in 1951. In his 1993 book Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Pete Seeger described the long genesis of this song. Apparently, Blues singer Lead Belly heard Irish performer Sam Kennedy in Greenwich Village singing the traditional Irish song ‘Drimmin Down’ aka ‘Drimmen Dow’, about a farmer and his dead cow. Lead Belly adapted the tune for his own farmer/cow song ‘If It Wasn’t for Dickey’, which he first recorded in 1937. Seeger liked Lead Belly’s version of the tune, and his chords as well. In 1950, the quartet The Weavers, which Seeger belonged to, had made a hit version of Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight, Irene’, and they were looking for new, similar material.

Calcutta

Based on “Tivoli Melodie” by Werner Müller (1958).
Hit version by Lawrence Welk (US #1/R&B #10 1960), The Four Preps (US #96 1961).

From the wiki: “‘Calcutta’ was written in 1958 by the German songwriter Heino Gaze. Its original title was ‘Tivoli Melodie’; it was re-titled several times, until it became known as ‘Calcutta’ because of the song’s reference to the Indian city. The American songwriting team of Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss later wrote English lyrics, celebrating the charms of the ‘ladies of Calcutta.’ An instrumental recording of ‘Calcutta’ by American bandleader and TV host Lawrence Welk in 1961 became a US chart hit, the most successful of Welk’s career, and the only Tango-based recording to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Dancers Bobby Burgess (who first appeared on television as a Walt Disney Mouseketeer) and Barbara Boylan, cast members on Welk’s weekly TV show, worked up a dance routine to go along with “Calcutta”, which they performed numerous times on the Welk show over the years. The Four Preps (‘Love of the Common People‘, 1967) released a vocal version shortly after Welk’s recording. It briefly entered the Billboard Hot 100.”

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.”

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.

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