Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Folk

Go Where You Wanna Go

Written and first recorded by The Mamas & The Papas (1966).
Hit version by The 5th Dimension (US #16/CAN #9 1966).

From the wiki: “‘Go Where You Wanna Go’ was written by John Phillips, and was first recorded by the Mamas & The Papas for their LP If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears.

“In [Hal] Blaine’s book, Michelle admits ‘Our group had never sung with anything but an acoustic guitar until that fateful day in 1965 when we came together in Studio 3 at Western Recorders. There, the Mamas and the Papas’ ‘sound’ was created with the distinctive beat that Blaine already made himself famous for.’

“That ‘sound’ was the key. Sloan writes, ‘We needed to find a mic that worked magic for their voices, and the perfect echo and reverb for them. Without it, their voices didn’t seem to fly.’ You can hear it on the first Mamas and Papas single, ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’, which inexplicably failed to catch on when it was released on Dunhill.”

What Really Happened To The Mamas And The Papas?, by Mitchell Cohen, 2017

“‘Go Where You Wanna Go’ was later made into a hit by the The 5th Dimension, who recorded the song for their debut studio album, Up, Up and Away, in 1966, becoming the group’s very first single release.”

We’ll Sing in the Sunshine

First recorded (as “Sing in the Sunshine”) by Hoyt Axton with The Sherwood Singers (1963)
Hit versions The Lancastrians (UK #44 1964), by Gale Garnett (US #4/MOR #1/AUS #10/NZ #1 1964), Helen Reddy (MOR #12 1978).

From the wiki: “‘We’ll Sing in the Sunshine’ was written by Gale Garnett for her then-boyfriend, Hoyt Axton, and was first recorded in 1963 by Axton (‘Joy to the World‘, ‘No No Song‘) and The Sherwood Singers for the album The Happy Song. Garnett recorded her own version a year later, scoring a US Top-10 hit and reaching #1 in her native New Zealand. The song went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1965.

“In the UK, ‘We’ll Sing in the Sunshine’ was covered by The Lancastrians in a version featuring guitar work from both Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan. Helen Reddy’s 1978 cover, produced by Kim Fowley, was issued as a single and, although reacing reached #12 on the MOR music chart, it became the first lead single from a Reddy album to miss the Billboard Hot 100. Nonetheless, the song took on new life when Reddy sang the song on The Muppet Show while singing and dancing with Sopwith the Camel.”

Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)

First recorded by Bobby Darin (Jul 1962 |Released Nov 1963).
First released by The New World Singers (Released Jul 1963).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (Nov 1962 |Released Aug 1963).
Inspired by “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons (When I’m Gone)” by Paul Clayton (1960).
Hit version by Peter Paul & Mary (US #9/MOR #2 1963). The Wonder Who? (parodied as “Don’t Think Twice” US #12 1965).

From the wiki: “‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ was written by Bob Dylan in 1962, recorded on November 14 that year, and released on the 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and as a single in August 1963. There were other, earlier recordings and releases prior to Dylan’s because of the music’s availability via Witmark Publishing Co. Bobby Darin first recorded the song in July 1962, four months before Dylan. The New World Singers (‘Blowin’ in the Wind‘) released their version one month prior Dylan, in July 1963.

“The cover recording by Peter, Paul & Mary, released in September 1963 (entering the Billboard Hot 100 at #67), was the second consecutive Dylan song released as singles – preceded by ‘Blowin’ in the Wind‘ – from the album In the Wind.

“The Four Seasons released a cover of the song as a single in 1965 (with the title “Don’t Think Twice”) under the pseudonym The Wonder Who?, one of a handful of ‘names’ used by the group at that time. On the heels of recording a live album of Broadway tunes (to complete the settlement of the group’s lawsuit with Vee-Jay Records), Valli, Crewe, and Gaudio had planned on recording an album consisting entirely of songs written by Bob Dylan. But, as recording progressed, the concept was modified to include songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Valli was not happy with his vocals on the various takes of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ when he decided to record the song with a ‘joke’ falsetto vocal to reduce the tension in the studio. An executive of Philips Records heard a replay of the recording with the ‘joke’ vocal and wanted it to be released as a single.

“Sold in a picture sleeve with a connect the dots puzzle, the record with the truncated name (‘Don’t Think Twice’) was released as by ‘The Wonder Who?’ in November 1965. As the single was sliding down the chart in January 1966, after peaking at #12, a Frankie Valli ‘solo’ single (‘(You’re Gonna) Hurt Yourself’) and a Four Seasons single (‘Working My Way Back to You’) were also in the upper half of the chart, giving three simultaneous hit records by the group under different guises.”

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).

Stewball

First recorded by Lead Belly (1940).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1944), Lonnie Donegan (1956), The Weavers (1960), John Herald & The Greenbriar Boys (1961).
Hit version by Peter, Paul & Mary (US #35/MOR #17 1963).

From the wiki: “There are two major but different arrangements of the sporting ballad, generally titled either ‘Skewball’ or ‘Stewball’; the latter spelling is more popular in America. Versions date at least as far back as the 18th century. In most versions of ‘Stewball’ the winning horse triumphs due to the stumbling of the lead horse; ‘Skewball’ wins simply by being the faster horse in the end. The oldest broadside identified with the ballad is dated 1784 and is held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. The song spread to America by 1829 when it was published in a songbook in Hartford. American versions were sung and adapted by slaves in the Southern United States, and have ‘Stewball’ racing in California, Texas, or Kentucky.

If I Had a Hammer

First recorded (as “The Hammer Song”) by The Weavers (1950).
Hit versions by Peter, Paul & Mary (US #10 1962), Trini Lopez (US #3 1963).

From the wiki: “‘If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)’ was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 in support of the progressive movement, and was first recorded by The Weavers in 1950. It was not particularly successful in commercial terms when it was first released. (The song was first performed publicly by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays on June 3, 1949, at St. Nicholas Arena in New York City at a testimonial dinner for the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States. It was later part of the three songs Seeger played as the warm-up act for Paul Robeson’s September 4, 1949, concert near Peekskill, New York, which subsequently erupted into a riot.)

“‘If I Had a Hammer’ went on to become a Top-10 hit for Peter, Paul and Mary in 1962, and then went to #3 a year later when recorded by Trini Lopez.”

Woodstock

Written and first performed by Joni Mitchell (1969).
Hit versions by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (US #11 1970), Matthew’s Southern Comfort (US #23/UK #1/CAN #5/IRE #2/POL #2/SWE #2 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Woodstock’ was written by Joni Mitchell and included on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. But, was first performed Mitchell at the Big Sur Folk Festival in September 1969, one month after the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. The song was notably covered by both Matthews Southern Comfort, and by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and would on to become a counterculture anthem. Mitchell wrote the song from what she had heard from then-boyfriend, Graham Nash, about the Woodstock concert. She had not been there herself; she had been told by a manager that it would be more advantageous for her to appear at the time on The Dick Cavett Show. Mitchell wrote it in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival.

May You Never

Written and first recorded by John Martyn (1971).
Re-recorded by John Martyn (1973).
Hit album version by Eric Clapton (1977).

From the wiki: “‘May You Never’ became something of a signature song for its writer, John Martyn, becoming a staple of his live performances. Released in November 1971 as a single, in an early form with a full band, the song was re-recorded during for the Solid Air album sessions in 1973. Eric Clapton covered ‘May You Never’ on his 1977 album Slowhand. When Martyn was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards, Clapton sent a message saying that [Martyn] was ‘so far ahead of everything else it was inconceivable’ and acknowledged the extent of his influence on ‘everyone who ever heard him.'”

Loddy Lo

Written and first recorded (as “Hey Lolly Lolly”) by Woody Guthrie (1944, released 1952).
Also recorded by Pete Seeger (as “Hey Li-Lee”, 1954), The Vipers Skiffle Group (sa “Hey Liley Liley Lo”, 1957), The Limeliters (as “Hey Li Lee Li Lee”, 1961).
Hit version by Chubby Checker (US #12/R&B #4 1963).

From the wiki: “Woody Guthrie recorded a version of “Hey Lolly Lolly” in 1944 which was not released until 1952. Pete Seeger recorded ‘Hey Li-Lee’ in 1954 but the song did not first gain wide familiarity until The Limeliters recorded their variation, ‘Hey Li Lee Li Lee’, during the early ’60s Folk music revival. Chubby Checker further adapted the song, recording ‘Hey Lolly Lolly’ in 1963 and going Top 20 with it on the Billboard Hot 100 and Top 5 US R&B charts.”

Tom’s Diner

Written and first recorded by Suzanne Vega (1982).
Hit versions Suzanne Vega (UK #58 1987), DNA (as “Oh Suzanne!”) ft. Suzanne Vega (US #5/R&B #10/UK #2 1990/CAN #4/AUS #8/GER #1), Giorgio Moroder ft. Britney Spears (2015).

From the wiki: “Tom’s Diner’ was written and first recorded by Suzanne Vega in 1982. The song’s orgin can be traced back to a story published on November 18, 1981, in the New York Post, thanks to this set of lines:

‘I open up the paper, there’s a story of an actor / Who had died while he was drinking, it was no one I had heard of / And I’m turning to the horoscope, and looking for the funnies.’

“By cross-referencing the New York daily papers operating in 1981, fans of the song isolated the star in question as William Holden, an Academy Award winner who died alone and drunk in his apartment.

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.

Back on the Street Again

First recorded by Steve Gillette (1967).
Also recorded by The Stone Poneys (1967).
Hit version by The Sunshine Company (US #36 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Back on the Street Again’ was written by Steve Gillette and first recorded by him for his own debut eponymous album released in 1967. Later the same year, Gillette would record a cover of his own song as a member of The Stone Poneys, singing harmony to Linda Ronstadt’s lead on the group’s debut album which yielded the hit single, ‘Different Drum‘. The Sunshine Company (‘Up, Up and Away‘) would also record the song in 1967 and with it achieve the group’s biggest chart success with their only US Top 40 hit.”

Friends

Written and first recorded (as “(You Got to Have) Friends”) by Buzzy Linhart (1970).
Hit version by Better Midler (US #40/MOR #9 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Friends’ (also titled ‘(You Got to Have) Friends’) was written by Buzzy Linhart and Mark ‘Moogy’ Klingman and was first recorded by Linhart in 1970. Bette Midler was one of Linhart’s close friends during the early 1970s. While rehearsing for an audition for a Broadway show called Mirror Cracked, Linhart sang ‘Friends’ to Midler. After hearing the song, Midler asked Linhart if she could sing the song during a show that she was performing at the Continental Baths in New York. Soon after, Midler recorded the song (twice!) on her debut album The Divine Miss M, and released the song as a single backed with ‘Chapel of Love‘.

Baby the Rain Must Fall

First recorded by The We Three Trio (1964).
Also recorded by Chris Connor (1965).
Hit version by Glen Yarbrough (1965).

From the wiki: “‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’ was written by film score composer Elmer Bernstein (‘The Magnificent Seven’) and Ernie Sheldon, and was first performed and recorded by The We Three Trio for the motion-picture Baby the Rain Must Fall where it was heard during the opening credits. The song was later covered by Glenn Yarbrough for his 1965 album Baby the Rain Must Fall, with an arrangement by future Bread founder David Gates. ‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’ was also covered in 1965 by Chris Connor, who included it on her album Chris Connor Sings Gentle Bossa Nova.”

Love’s Been Good to Me

Written and first released by Rod McKuen (1964).
Also recorded by The Kingston Trio (1964), Mark Lindsay (1969).
Hit version by Frank Sinatra (US #75/MOR #8/UK #8 1969).

From the wiki: “Rod McKuen wrote over 1,500 songs, including ‘Love’s Been Good to Me’, ‘Seasons in the Sun‘, and ‘Jean‘, which have accounted for the sale of over 100 million records worldwide according to the Associated Press. First recorded in 1964 by McKuen, The Kingston Trio covered the song for the album The Kingston Trio (Nick Bob John). In 1969, Frank Sinatra commissioned an entire album of poems and songs by McKuen; arranged by Don Costa, it was released under the title A Man Alone: The Words and Music of Rod McKuen. The album featured the song ‘Love’s Been Good to Me’, which was to become one of McKuen’s best-known songs. ”

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.)

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.”

The Mighty Quinn

Written and first recorded (as “Quinn the Eskimo”) by Bob Dylan (1967, officially released 1985).
Hit version by Manfred Mann (US #10/UK #1/IRE #1/GER #1 1968).

From the wiki: “‘Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ is a folk-rock song written by Bob Dylan and first recorded during The Basement Tapes sessions in 1967 but was not officially released until 1985. (A 1969 live recording of ‘Quinn’ by Dylan, from the Isle of Wight, was released on Self Portrait in 1970). Meanwhile, the song was picked up and recorded by the British band Manfred Mann, who released it under the title “Mighty Quinn”. Manfred Mann first heard it on a bootleg of Dylan recordings, Dylan’s White Album (said to be the ‘mother of all bootlegs’), at Feldmans Music on Charing Cross Road, London. Dylan says the song was inspired by the Eskimo in the Nicholas Ray film The Savage Innocent (1960), symbol of pure freedom on American soil.”

Walk Right In

First recorded by Cannon’s Jug Stompers (1929).
Hit version by The Rooftop Singers (US #1/MOR #1/R&B #4/C&W #23/UK #10/AUS #1 1962).

From the wiki: “‘Walk Right In” is the title of a Country-blues song written by Gus Cannon and originally recorded by Cannon’s Jug Stompers in 1929. Cannon helped to popularize jug bands when, along with Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson, he formed a band to play parties and dances. In 1914 Cannon began touring in medicine shows. He supported his family through a variety of jobs, including sharecropping, ditch digging, and yard work, but supplemented his income with music. Cannon’s Jug Stompers first recorded at the Memphis Auditorium in January 1928. (Modern listeners can also hear Cannon’s Jug Stompers’ recording of ‘Big Railroad Blues’ on the compilation album The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead.)

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.

Until It’s Time For You to Go

Written and first recorded by Buffy St. Marie (1965).
Hit versions by The Four Pennies (UK #19 1965), Neil Diamond (US #53/MOR #11 1970), Elvis Presley (US#40/MOR #9/UK #5 1972), The New Birth (US #97/R&B #21 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Until It’s Time for You to Go’ was written by Canadian First Nations singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie for her 1965 album Many a Mile. It was a UK Top 20 hit for British group The Four Pennies in 1965, a US Hot 100 single for Neil Diamond in 1970, an MOR and Top 5 UK for Elvis Presley in 1972, and a modest R&B hit in 1973 for The New Birth featuring future Supremes member Susaye Greene.”

Scarborough Fair

First recorded by Gordon Heath & Lee Payant (1955).
Also recorded by Audrey Coppard (1956), Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger (1957), Martin Carthy (1965), Marianne Faithfull (1966).
Hit versions by Simon & Garfunkel (US #11/MOR #5 1966), Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (US #16/MOR #2 1968).

From the wiki: “‘Scarborough Fair’ is a traditional English ballad about the Yorkshire town of Scarborough. The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was by Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, expatriate Americans who operated a café and nightclub, L’Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris, for their album An Evening at the Abbaye in 1955, using an 1891 melody by Frank Kidson (a folk song collector from Leeds). The same arrangement was also included on A. L. Lloyd’s 1955 album The English And Scottish Popular Ballads. Lloyd

“But, the version using the melody later developed by Simon & Garfunkel in ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ was first recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard. This arrangement was also recorded by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (‘Killing Me Softly with His Song‘) on The Singing Island (1957) (but it is likely that it was Coppard who learned the song from MacColl, who had published a book of Teesdale folk songs after hearing the song sung in the 1940s). In April 1966, Marianne Faithfull (‘As Tears Go By‘) recorded and released her own take on ‘Scarborough Fair’ for her album North Country Maid about six months prior to Simon & Garfunkel’s release of their single version of the song in October 1966.

The Unicorn Song

Written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein (1962).
Hit version by The Irish Rovers (US #7/MOR #2/IRE #5 1968).

From the wiki: “‘The Unicorn Song’ was written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein in 1962, released in 1962 on his album Inside Folk Songs, and made very popular by Canadian band The Irish Rovers in 1968. The song tells that unicorns were not a myth but a creature that literally missed the boat, not boarding the Ark in time to be saved from the Great Flood. It remains one of the best-known songs of the The Irish Rovers’ long career.

“In the original recording of the song, The Irish Rovers speak half of the lyrics; on the remakes, the majority of the song is sung – except for the final line, which is also spoken freely, without the music. Will Millar of The Irish Rovers recorded another, earlier version of the song with the St. Michaels Kids. In 1981, Millar opened an Irish pub in Toronto, Ontario, under the name The Unicorn.”

I Am a Rock

Written and first recorded by Paul Simon (1965).
Hit version by Simon & Garfunkel (US #3/UK #17 1966).

From the wiki: “‘I Am a Rock’ was written by Paul Simon, and first recorded by Simon solo as the opening track on his album The Paul Simon Songbook which he originally recorded and released as a solo performance in August 1965 but only in the United Kingdom. Later that year, Simon and Art Garfunkel, as the American pop/folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, re-recorded the song on December 14, 1965, and included it as the final track on their album Sounds of Silence. ‘I Am a Rock’ became the duo’s third Top 5 hit in the US when released as a single in May 1966.”

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