Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Folk

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. It was first recorded in 1917 by Orquesta del Zoológico (‘The Zoo Orchestra’).

“In 1965, the American musician Paul Simon listened for the first time to ‘El Condor Pasa’ at a performance of Los Incas, who recorded their version of the song in 1963, in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Est Parisien in a concert both Los Incas and Simon & Garfunkel both participated. Simon asked the band permission to use it, 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 Billboard 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.”

Song of the Volga Boatman

First recorded (as “Ey, Ukhnem!”) by G.A. Kazachenko (1903).
Hit version Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (1938 |US#1 1941).

[Above performance recorded by Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, in 1922.]

From the wiki: “The ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ (known in Russian as Эй, ухнем! [Ey, ukhnem!, ‘yo, heave-ho!’], after the refrain) is a well-known traditional Russian song collected by Mily Balakirev, leader of ‘The Five’ who attempted to keep Russian art clean from European influences, and first published in his book of folk songs in 1866 while also being dramatically depicted by painter Ilya Repin in 1873. First recorded in 1903, it was popularized by Feodor Chaliapin in the 1920s with his recorded rendition. Glenn Miller’s jazz arrangement took the song to #1 in the US charts in 1941.”

Sloop John B.

First recorded (as “Histe Up the John B.”) by Cleveland Simmons Group (1935).
First popular version recorded (as “The Wreck of the John B.”) by The Weavers (1950).
Also recorded by Blind Blake Higgs (1952), The Kingston Trio (1958), Johnny Cash (1959), Jimmie Rodgers (1960), Dick Dale & His Del-Tones (1962).
Hit version (titled “The Sloop John B.”) by The Beach Boys (US #3/UK #2 1966).

From the wiki: “According to Blind Blake Higgs, the Bahamanian calypso entertainer, the John B had been a sponger boat that one day went under. That’s not so unusual, all thing considered. So, what made this tragedy so special? One possible explanation is the name of the vessel: to illiterate ears, ‘John B’ sounds like ‘Zombie’. So, when said sloop vanished with no one returning, that’s the stuff where legends are made of.

“The popularity of the song triggered interest in the wreck’s whereabouts. The hull was found and rescued from under the sands of Governor’s Harbor in 1926. John T. McCutcheon, philosopher and cartoonist on holiday with his wife in the West Indies at that time, learned the song and brought the song to New York where poet Carl Sandberg collected it for his songbook The American Songbag (1927).

House of the Rising Sun

First recorded (as “Rising Sun Blues”) by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster (1933).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1941), Lead Belly (1944 |1948), Josh White (1947), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Pete Seeger (1958), Andy Griffith (1959), Miriam Makeba (1960).
Hit versions by The Animals (US #1/UK #1 1964), Frijid Pink (US #7/UK #4 1970).

From the wiki: “Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.

See the Sky About to Rain

Written and first recorded by Neil Young (1971, released 2013).
Hit album version by The Byrds (1973).
Re-recorded by Neil Young (1974).

From the wiki: “‘See the Sky About to Rain’ was written by Neil Young, and first recorded by him in 1971, live in concert. Recordings of Young’s 1970-71 solo concert tour were released in 2013 on the album Live from the Cellar Door. The Byrds, in 1973, were the first to commercially released the song (on Byrds). Young revisited his song in 1974 and re-recorded it in the studio for his 1974 album On the Beach.”

Cotton Fields

Written and first recorded by Lead Belly (1940).
Also recorded by Odetta (1954), Harry Belafonte (1958).
Hit versions by The Highwaymen (US #13 1961), The Beach Boys (UK #5 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Cotton Fields’ was written by Blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, who made the first recording of the song in 1940. ‘Cotton Fields’ was introduced into the canon of Folk music via its inclusion on the 1954 album release Odetta & Larry which comprised performances by Odetta and accompanist Larry Mohr at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco. The song’s profile was boosted via its recording by Harry Belafonte first on his 1958 albums Belafonte Sings the Blues and Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. (Belafonte had learned ‘Cotton Fields’ from Odetta and been singing it in concert as early as 1955.) The song entered Pop culture with the #13 hit recording in 1961 by The Highwaymen. The Beach Boys reached the UK Top 5 with a 1968 recording, released as a single in 1970, of ‘Cotton Fields’.”

Pearly Shells (Pupu A ‘O ‘Ewa)

First recorded (in English) by The Hawaii Calls Orchestra (1962).
Hit version by Burl Ives (US #60/MOR #12 1964).
Also recorded (as “First Night of the Full Moon”) by Jack Jones (US #59/AUS #8 1964).
Also recorded by Don Ho (1967).

From the wiki: “‘Pearly Shells’ was based on the melody of an old Hawaiian song, ‘Pupu A ‘O ‘Ewa’. English lyrics were written by Webley ‘Web’ Edwards, creator of the radio program Hawaii Calls, and Leon Pober, and was first recorded in English by The Hawaii Calls Orchestra in 1962. In 1928, Edwards had relocated from Oregon to Hawaii where he became an auto salesman. It was during this time he developed a keen interest in native Hawaiian musical traditions. In 1935 he became the producer for a radio show which showcased authentic island music, Hawaii Calls.

Hawaii Calls debuted on July 3, 1935 and was broadcast for 37 years. (Edwards was the first radio announcer to broadcast the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. It was he who said on air: ‘Attention. This is no exercise. The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor!’ He was also one of only two broadcast journalists aboard the USS Missouri during the surrender ceremony at Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.)”

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.

The Circle Game

First recorded by Ian & Sylvia (1967).
Also recorded by Buffy Sainte Marie (1967).
Hit album versions by Tom Rush (US #68 1968), Joni Mitchell, writer (US #27 1970).

From the wiki: “‘The Circle Game’ was written by Joni Mitchell but was first recorded by Ian & Sylvia in 1967. Tom Rush recorded the song in 1968 and used as the title track for his song-cycle album, The Circle Game. The songs on the album follow the cycle of a relationship from its beginning to an end, according to the lyric content and sequencing of songs.

“‘The Circle Game’ can be read as the turning point of the relationship while Rush’s song ‘Rockport Sunday’ ends the romance instrumentally. Mitchell would record a cover of her own composition for inclusion on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon that also included such notable original songs as ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Woodstock’.”

As Tears Go By

First recorded (as a demo titled “As Time Goes By”) by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards (1964).
Hit versions by Marianne Faithful (US #22/UK #9 1965), The Rolling Stones (US #6 1965).

From the wiki: “‘As Tears Go By’ was one of the first original compositions by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Up until that point The Rolling Stones had chiefly been performing Blues standards. A story surrounding the song’s genesis has it that Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Jagger and Richards in a kitchen in order to force them to write a song together, even suggesting what type of song he wanted: ‘I want a song with brick walls all around it, high windows and no sex.’ The result was initially named ‘As Time Goes By’, the title of the song Dooley Wilson sings in the film Casablanca. It was Oldham who replaced ‘Time’ with ‘Tears’. According to Jagger biographer Philip Norman, the song was mainly created by Jagger, in co-operation with session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan (who plays the 12-string guitar on the demo).

“Oldham subsequently gave the ballad (a format that the Stones were not yet known for) to Marianne Faithfull, then 17, for her to record as a B-side. Without even asking if she could sing, Andrew asked her if she wanted to cut the record. The success of the recording caused the record company, Decca, to switch the song to an A-side, where it became a very popular single on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.”

You Were On My Mind

Written and first recorded by Ian & Sylvia (1964).
Also recorded by The Chad Mitchell Trio (1965), The Vogues (1965).
Hit versions by We Five (US #3 1965), Crispian St. Peters (US #36/UK #2 1966), Barry McGuire (ITA #19 1966).

From the wiki: “‘You Were On My Mind’ was written by Sylvia Tyson in 1964, and originally performed and recorded by her and Ian Tyson as the duo Ian & Sylvia. It first appeared on their 1964 album, Northern Journey. The following year, We Five recorded a cover that charted in the Billboard Top 5. Crispian St. Peters (‘The Pied Piper’) scored a sizable UK hit in 1966 with his cover version. A 1966 cover by Barry McGuire (‘Eve of Destruction’, ‘California Dreamin’‘) peaked in the Italian Top 20.”

Society’s Child

Written and first recorded (as “Baby, I’ve Been Thinking (Society’s Child)”) by Janis Ian (1966).
Hit version by Janis Ian (US #14 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)’ was a song written in 1965 by Janis Ian centering around the then-taboo subject of interracial romance. Ian was 13 years old when she was motivated to write the song and she completed it when she was 14. Ian published it (credited to ‘Blind Girl Grunt’) in Broadside (Issue #67), the underground magazine that had brought attention to folk songs by artists like Bob Dylan (who had made some early recordings, in 1962 and 1963, as ‘Blind Boy Grunt’) and Pete Seeger before they hit the mainstream.

“The song was originally recorded for Atlantic, who declined to release it and returned the master to Ian. It was after meeting producer Shadow Morton that Ian re-entered the studio to record the retitled ‘Society’s Child’ with additional studio musicians. Still, there was resistance to it. Morton took the new recording to 22 record companies before Verve/Folkways, a spin-off of MGM Records, agreed to distribute the single.

Carolina in My Mind

Written and first recorded by James Taylor (US #118 1968 |US #67 1970).
Other hit version by George Hamilton IV (C&W #29/CAN #3 1969).
Hit album re-recording by James Taylor (1976).
Also recorded by The Everly Brothers (1969), Melanie (1970).
Performed by Glen Campbell & Linda Ronstadt (1971).

From the wiki: “‘Carolina in My Mind’ was written and first performed by singer-songwriter James Taylor on his 1968 debut album, James Taylor, on Apple Records. The original recording of the song was done at London’s Trident Studios during the July to October 1968 period, and was produced by Peter Asher. The song’s lyric ‘holy host of others standing around me’ is allegedly a reference to the Beatles, who were recording The Beatles (aka the ‘White Album’) in the same building as Taylor was recording his album. Indeed, the original recording of ‘Carolina in My Mind’ features a credited appearance by Paul McCartney on bass guitar and an uncredited appearance by George Harrison on backing vocals.

“Owing to the same problems which plagued the release of the album (namely, Taylor’s inability to promote it due to his hospitalization for drug addiction), the single’s original release reached only #118 on US pop charts and failed to chart in the UK. Following the success of Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James, and its hit single ‘Fire and Rain’, ‘Carolina in My Mind’ was re-issued by Apple as a single in October 1970 and rose to #67 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ballad of Ira Hayes

Written and first recorded by Peter LaFarge (1962).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #3 1964).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (1973).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ was written by folk singer Peter La Farge (himself a Nargaset Indian, poet, and novelist, and Native American rights advocate), and first recorded by him in 1962. It tells the story of Ira Hayes, one of the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who became famous for having raised the US flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II. Hayes was a Pima Native American and a United States Marine corporal who was one of the six flag raisers immortalized in the iconic Iwo Jima photograph.

If I Were a Carpenter

Written and first released by Tim Hardin (1966).
Hit versions by Bobby Darin (US #8/UK #9 1966), The Four Tops (US #20/R&B #17/UK #7 1968), Johnny Cash & June Carter (US #36/C&W #2 1970).

From the wiki: “‘If I Were a Carpenter’ was written by Tim Hardin (‘Reason to Believe‘), and first released by him in 1966 as the B-side to ‘How Can We Hang On to a Dream’. The recording would see a subsequent release in 1967 on the album Hardin 2. According to Mojo magazine (February 2012), the song was partly inspired by engineer John Judnich, who built for Hardin a small recording setup in Lenny Bruce’s Sunset Plaza house.

“Hardin and Bobby Darin attended each others recording session at the studio and swapped songs, with Hardin recording Darin’s ‘Simple Song Of Freedom’ that became Hardin’s only charting recording (US #47 1969). Darin’s Top-10 recording of ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ used the same arrangement and instrumentation as Hardin’s original.

Sunday Will Never Be the Same

Written (by Terry Cashman) and first recorded (as a demo) by Cashman, Pistilli & West (1967, released 1968).
Hit version by Spanky and Our Gang (US #9/CAN #7 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Sunday Will Never Be the Same’ was written by Terry Cashman and Gene Pistilli. Cashman sent his demo to Lou Adler at Dunhill Records, with the hope that The Mamas & The Papas would record the song, and recalls: ‘Adler saying ‘Hey, this is a great song.’ But John Philips is doing mostly his own songs right now. So, okay, fine. The Left Banke sounded to me also like a group that could do this song, but they passed on it. And then with nobody in mind I went to a producer named Jerry Ross, who was a very hot producer (‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie‘, ‘98.6’).

Mr. Tambourine Man

Recorded (as a demo) by The Jet Set (1964).
First commercial release by The Brothers Four (1965).
Hit version by The Byrds (US #1/UK #1 1965).

From the wiki: “In 1964, The Byrds – then known as The Jet Set – first recorded ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ as an audition demo prior to being signed to Columbia Records. Two other songs from the session (but not ‘Tambourine Man’) were released by Elektra Records in a one-off deal and had no chart impact. For the Columbia Records recording session leading to their first hit record, The Byrds did the vocals and lead guitar on the recording but session musicians (the infamous ‘Wrecking Crew‘) were brought in to play the other instruments. Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Glen Campbell were among the assorted session players used for The Byrds’ first recordings.

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.

Early Morning Rain

First released by Ian & Sylvia (1965).
Hit versions by Peter, Paul & Mary (US #91/MOR #13 1965), George Hamilton IV (C&W #9 1966), Oliver (MOR #38 1971), Paul Weller (UK #40 2005).
Also recorded by The Grateful Dead (1965), Gordon Lightfoot, author (1966), Elvis Presley (1972).

From the wiki: “‘Early Morning Rain’ (sometimes ‘Early Mornin’ Rain’) was composed by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, perhaps as early as 1964. The song appears on his 1966 debut album Lightfoot! but is thought to have been recorded in 1964 or 1965. Husband and wife duo Ian & Sylvia were the first to release ‘Early Morning Rain’; Peter, Paul & Mary’s version, also recorded in 1965, was the first to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. There was over a year’s time lag between the PP&M recording and Lightfoot’s recording and its release. The Grateful Dead also recorded the song in 1965.”

Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues

Written and first recorded (as a demo) by Danny O’Keefe (1967, released 1972).
First released by The Bards (1968).
Also recorded by Danny O’Keefe (1971), Elvis Presley (1973).
Hit versions by Danny O’Keefe (US #9/MOR #5/C&W #63 1972), Red Steagall (C&W #41 1979), Leon Russell (C&W #63 1984).

From the wiki: “‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues’ was written by Danny O’Keefe (‘The Road‘) and first recorded by him in 1967 for the Jerden record label, owned by Jerry Denton who didn’t release the record but claimed the credits. It was covered by a Seattle band, The Bards, and released in 1968 as the B-side to the song ‘Tunesmith’ on Parrot Records. Luckily for O’Keefe, his contract was bought by Atlantic boss Ahmed Ertegun, who returned him half of the publishing credit without obligation. That’s when Danny re-recorded ‘Goodtime Charlie’ under better conditions for Cotillion Records, in 1971, produced by Ahmed. One year later, the song was recut for the Signpost label under the supervision of Arif Mardin and released on the album O’Keefe. When that version hit, Denton released the original demo version on the semi-bootleg The Seattle Tapes.”

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