Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: 1950s

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 by John Fogerty (2009).
Also recorded as “Dancing in the Dark” parody by Big Daddy (UK #27 1985).

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’, that charted in the UK.”

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, though, the song was first pitched to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who Turner first suggested Cross take it to. Ford turned the song down (but, in a coincidental turn of events, later purchased a ranch in Lake County, California, north of San Francisco, 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 he 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.

Only You (And You Alone)

First recorded by The Platters (1954).
Hit versions by The Hilltoppers (US#8/UK #3 1955), The Platters (US #5/R&B #1 1955 |UK #18 1957), Ringo Starr (US #6/MOR #1/UK #28 1975), Reba McEntire (C&W #13 1982).

From the wiki: “‘Only You (And You Alone)’ (often shortened to ‘Only You’) was composed by Buck Ram. The first recording of the song by The Platters, for Federal Records, turned out poorly in 1954. But, after a re-recording the song scored a major hit when it was re-released in 1955. Platters bass singer Herb Reed later recalled how the group hit upon its successful version: ‘We tried it so many times, and it was terrible. One time we were rehearsing in the car … and the car jerked. Tony went ‘O-oHHHH-nly you.’ We laughed at first, but when he sang that song—that was the sign we had hit on something.’ ‘Only You’ was the only Platter’s recording on which songwriter and Platter’s manager Ram played the piano. The Platters’ re-release beat out a rival cover version by The Hilltoppers (‘Marianne‘).

Learnin’ the Blues

First recorded by Joe Valino (1955).
Hit version by Frank Sinatra (US #1/UK #2 1955).
Also recorded by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (1957).

From the wiki: “‘Learnin’ the Blues’ was written by Dolores Vicki Silvers, and first recorded in 1955 by Joe Valino. It’s not clear whether Silvers was the sole composer or possibly had help from Valino, a Pop-Jazz vocalist in the mode of Frank Sinatra and a breed of Pop singer who would be swept away in the late ’50s with the advent of Rock ‘n’ roll.

“After a rep from Barton Music – Frank Sinatra’s publishing company – heard the song, they acquired its rights, effectively thwarting Valino from gaining his first hit. (Valino would, in 1956, find chart success with ‘Garden of Eden’.) Frank subsquently listened to Joe’s record and decided to cut it himself, giving Sinatra his best-charting single of the ’50s, peaking at #1. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong covered the song on their 1957 collaboration Ella and Louis Again.”

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’.”

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), “Great Speckled Bird” by Roy Acuff (1936).
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 …’ her success paved the way for other female artists to achieve chart success in Country music, particularly Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton, and for 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.

Petite Fleur (Little Flower)

First recorded by The Sidney Bechet All-Stars (1952).
Hit version by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band (US #5/R&B #28/UK #3 1959).

From the wiki: “‘Petite Fleur’ was written by Sidney Bechet and first recorded by The Sidney Bechet All Stars in January, 1952. The song became an international hit in 1959 as a clarinet solo by Monty Sunshine with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band.”

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

Written and first performed by Anne Bredon (1959).
First commercial recording by Joan Baez (1961).
Also recorded by The Plebs (1964), The Association (1965).
Album hit version by Led Zeppelin (1969).

From the wiki: “‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ was written by Anne Bredon née Johannsen in the late 1950s. Bredon appeared on the live Folk music radio show, The Midnight Special, on Pacifica radio’s KPFA singing ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. A fellow Folk singer guesting on the program, Janet Smith, took up the song and developed it further, playing it live at hootenanny events at Oberlin College, one performance of which was attended by Joan Baez. Baez requested of Smith to send her a recording of her songs, including ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’, which Baez subsequently began performing herself.

“Vanguard Records, Baez’s label, later sent Smith a letter asking if she had written ‘Babe’. In the meantime, Baez had recorded the song and included it on her In Concert album. Initial pressings listed no writer’s credit for ‘Babe’. The 1964 recording by the Surrey, England, band The Plebs credits ‘Trad arr. Dennis’ but, later the same year, the Joan Baez Songbook rightfully lists Anne Bredon as the author as does the 1965 recording of the song by The Association. (It was the group’s first single release, but had no chart impact.)

Ooby Dooby

First recorded (as a demo) by The Wink Westerners (1955).
First released by The Teen Kings (1955).
Hit version by Roy Orbison & The Teen Kings (US #59 1956).

From the wiki: “‘Ooby Dooby’ was written by Dick Penner and Wade Moore. The song was first recorded in early 1955 by The Wink Westerners, a group that Roy Orbison had formed in high school, as a demo for Columbia Records which failed to ignite any interest. Later, after forming The Teen Kings during his first semester of junior college, Orbison would re-record ‘Ooby Dooby’ in late 1955. The song was released as the B-side to ‘Trying To Get To You’ by Norman Petty’s Odessa, Texas, Je-Wel records label with no apparent chart impact.

“In 1955, while Johnny Cash toured the Odessa area and played on the same local radio show bill as the Teen Kings, Cash suggested to Orbison that he approach Sam Phillips at Sun Records, home of rockabilly stars including Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Phillips was persuaded to listen to the Teen Kings’ recording. Impressed, Phillips and offered the group a contract in 1956.

The Bristol Stomp

Based on “Every Day of the Week” by The Students (1958).
First recorded (as “The Bristol Stomp”) by Terry & the Applejacks (1961).
Hit version by The Dovells (US #2 1961).

From the wiki: “‘Bristol Stomp’ was written in 1961 by Kal Mann and Dave Appell, two executives with the Cameo-Parkway record label, for The Dovells, an a cappella singing group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who recorded the song for Cameo-Parkway late that year. ‘The Bristol Stomp’ was originally recorded by a group from Bristol, Pennsylvania, Terry and the Applejacks (Terry was the son of co-writer Dave Appell); the song was based on the earlier ‘Every Day of the Week’ recorded in 1958 by the Cincinnati, Ohio, Doo-wop group, The Students.”

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