Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Jazz

Watermelon Man

Written and first recorded by Herbie Hancock (US #121 1962).
Hit versions by Mongo Santamaria (US #10/R&B #8 1963), Gloria Lynne (US #62/R&B #8 1965), Erroll Garner (US #40 1968).
Also recorded by Jon Hendricks (1963), Manfred Mann (1965), Herbie Hancock (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Watermelon Man’ was written by Herbie Hancock and first released on his debut album, Takin’ Off (1962) in a hard bop arrangement featuring improvisations by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Hancock wrote the piece to help sell his debut album as a leader; the first piece of music he had ever composed with a commercial goal in mind. Hancock has described that, structurally, the composition was one of his strongest works due to its almost-mathematical balance.

“It was while Hancock was filling in for pianist Chick Corea in Mongo Santamaría’s band at a nightclub in The Bronx that Hancock played the tune for Santamaría at friend Donald Byrd’s urging. Santamaría started accompanying Hancock on his congas, then the band joined in, and the small audience slowly got up from their tables and started dancing. Santamaría later asked Hancock if he could record the tune. On December 17, 1962, Mongo Santamaría recorded a three-minute version, suitable for radio, and included the track on his album Watermelon Man (1962).”

Walk, Don’t Run

Written and first recorded by Johnny Smith (1954).
Also recorded by Chet Atkins (1957).
Hit versions by The Ventures (US #2/R&B #13/UK #8 1960), The John Barry Seven (UK #11 1960), The Ventures (US #8 1964).

From the wiki: “‘Walk, Don’t Run’ is an instrumental composition written and first recorded by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith in 1954. In 1957, Chet Atkins recorded a version of ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ that appeared on his Hi-Fi in Focus album. It was the Atkins recording the Tacoma-based instrumental rock band The Ventures heard before releasing their own version of the tune as a Surf Rock single in spring 1960 on Dolton Records, which quickly became a hit. The Ventures’ version is believed to be one of the first surfing songs to make the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #2. In the UK, the tune was covered by The John Barry Seven (before Barry began scoring movie music for the likes of James Bond, Born Free, and Midnight Cowboy) whose recording peaked at #11 on the UK Singles Chart.”

The “In” Crowd

First recorded by Dobie Gray (US #13/R&B #11/UK #25 1965).
Also recorded by First Gear (1965).
Other hit versions by The Ramsey Lewis Trio (US #5/R&B #2 1965), Bryan Ferry (UK #13 1974).

From the wiki: “‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ is a 1964 song written by Billy Page and arranged by his brother Gene that was originally performed by Dobie Gray on his album Dobie Gray Sings for ‘In’ Crowders That ‘Go Go. Gray’s powerful Motown-like version, complete with brass section, reached #13 in the US and #25 in the UK in 1965. The Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded an instrumental version of the tune later that same year at the suggestion of a coffee shop waitress.

Baby Face

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

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

Mack the Knife

First popular English-language recording Louis Armstrong & His All Stars (US #20 1956).
Other hit version by Bobby Darin (US #1/R&B #6/UK #1 1959).

From the wiki: “First composed in German by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama Die Dreigroschenoper (known in English as The Threepenny Opera), ‘Mack the Knife’ had its original premiere in Berlin in 1928. The play opens with the moritat singer comparing Macheath (unfavorably) with a shark, and then telling tales of his robberies, murders, rapes, and arson. The song was a last minute addition, inserted just before its première in 1928, because Harald Paulsen, the actor who played Macheath, demanded that Brecht and Weill add another number that would more effectively introduce his character.

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

First recorded by Fats Waller & His Rhythm (US #5 1935).
Other hit versions by The Boswell Sisters (US #3 1936), Billy Williams (US #3 1957), Willie Nelson (C&W #26/CAN #25 1981).
Also recorded by Frank Sinatra (1954 & 1962), Bing Crosby with Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band (1957), Bill Haley & His Comets (1957).

From the wiki: “‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ was composed in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young, and has become a standard of the Great American Songbook. The first recording on the song was by Fats Waller & His Rhythm, in a Victor Records recording session on May 8, 1935. It was covered the following year by The Boswell Sisters, reaching #3 on US popular music charts. (Connee Boswell would record a solo version in 1952.)

Beyond the Sea

First recorded (in English) by Harry James & His Orchestra with Marion Morgan (1947).
Hit versions Roger Williams (US #37 1955), Bobby Darin (US #6/R&B #15/UK #8 1959), George Benson (UK #60 1984).

From the wiki: “‘Beyond the Sea’ is the English adaptation of a romantic love song (‘La Mer’) by Charles Trenet. Trenet was most famous for his recordings from the late 1930s until the mid-1950s. In an era in which it was unusual for a singer to write their own material, Trenet wrote prolifically and declined to record any but his own songs.

If I Ever Lose This Heaven

First recorded by Quincy Jones, with Minnie Ripperton, Leon Ware and Al Jarreau (R&B #74 1974).
Hit version by Average White Band (US #39/R&B #25 1975).

From the wiki: “‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ was co-written by Quincy Jones (‘It’s My Party‘), Leon Ware, and Bruce Fisher (‘You Are So Beautiful‘) for Quincy’s 1974 album, Body Heat. Ware, Minnie Riperton (whose 1975 album, Adventures in Paradise, Ware would produce and collaborate), and Al Jarreau were among the studio vocalists Jones used for the album.

Mambo No. 5

First recorded by Pérez Prado y su Orquesta (1949).
Hit versions by Lou Bega (US #3/UK #1/CAN #1/AUS #1/GER #1/IRE #1 1999), Bob the Builder (UK #1/AUS #2/IRE #4 2001).
Also recorded by Radio Disney (1999).

From the wiki: “‘Mambo No. 5’ is a mambo and jive dance song originally recorded and composed by Cuban Dámaso Pérez Prado. the ‘King of Mambo’, in 1949. The song’s popularity was renewed by German artist Lou Bega’s sampling and vocal version of the original, released under the same name on Bega’s 1999 debut album A Little Bit of Mambo.

Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)

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

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

Java

Written and first recorded by Allen Toussaint (1958).
Hit version by Al Hirt (US #4/MOR #1 1963).
Also recorded by The Angels (1965). Performed by The Muppets (1977).

From the wiki: “‘Java’ is an instrumental adaptation from a 1958 LP of piano compositions, The Wild Sounds of New Orleans, by Tousan, also known as New Orleans producer-songwriter Allen Toussaint (‘Working in a Coal Mine’, ‘Southern Nights’). As was the case of the rest of Toussaint’s LP, ‘Java’ was composed at the studio, primarily by Toussaint.

“In 1963, trumpet player Al Hirt recorded the instrumental, and the track became the lead single from his album, Honey in the Horn. It was Hirt’s first and biggest hit on the US pop charts, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spending four weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart in early 1964. Hirt released a live version on his 1965 album, Live at Carnegie Hall. Hirt’s recording won the Grammy Award for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with Orchestra in 1964.

Affirmation

Written and originally recorded by Jose Feliciano (1975).
Hit album version by George Benson (1976).

From the wiki: “In 1975, on his last RCA album, Just Wanna Rock’n’Roll, guitarist Jose Feliciano released his jazz-funk-Latin instrumental composition ‘Affirmation’, which was covered one year later by jazz guitarist George Benson on his hit album Breezin’.”

Breezin’

Originally recorded by Gabor Szabo (US #43 1971).
Hit version by George Benson (US #63/R&B #65 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Breezin” was written by Bobby Womack (‘It’s All Over Now‘) and first recorded by Hungarian Jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo. Szabó was famous for mixing jazz, pop-rock and his native Hungarian music. He began playing guitar at the age of 14, inspired by jazz music he heard on the Voice of America broadcasts. He escaped Hungary and moved to the United States in 1956, a year of the attempted revolt against Soviet-dominated Communist rule, and attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

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

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

Caravan

First recorded by Barney Bigard & His Jazzopaters (1936).
Hit versions by The Duke Ellington Orchestra (1937), Billy Eckstine (US #27/R&B #14 1949), Ralph Marterie (US #6 1953), Santo & Johnny (US #48 1959), Duane Eddy (UK #42 1961).
Also recorded by The Mills Brothers (1941).

From the wiki: “‘Caravan’ is a jazz standard composed by Juan Tizol. The first version of the song was recorded in Hollywood in 1936, performed as an instrumental by Barney Bigard & His Jazzopators. The band members were: Cootie Williams (trumpet), Juan Tizol (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Duke Ellington (piano), Billy Taylor (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).

“All the players on the original recorded were members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which often split into smaller units to record small-band discs. Although Ellington performed in this recording, the session leader was Bigard under whose name the song was first released. The following year, the Duke Ellington Orchestra itself covered ‘Caravan’, the first of more than 350 recordings Ellington made of the song.

“In 1941, the Mills Brothers paid tribute to Ellington by recording an a capella version of ‘Caravan’, substituting their voices for instruments. A vocal cover, with lyrics by Irving Mills, was recorded in December 1948 by Billy Eckstine, with orchestration by Hugo Winterhalter, that charted Billboard Top-30 and Top-20 R&B in 1949, a recording an accomplishment Ellington is said to have been especially elated.

“Ralph Materie charted even higher in 1953 with his cover. Santo & Johnny also charted with their ‘Caravan’ cover in 1959. In 1961, a version credited to Duane Eddy appeared on the label Gregmark Records. It did not chart in the US, but was issued on Parlophone in the UK, where it peaked at #42.”

In the Name of Love

First recorded (instrumentally) by Grover Washington, Jr. (1980).
Hit vocal versions by Robert Flack (US #24 1982), co-writers Ralph MacDonald feat. Bill Withers (US #6 1984).

From the wiki: “‘In the Name of Love’ was written by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter (‘Where is the Love’, 1971), and Bill Withers (‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, 1971; ‘Lean on Me’, 1972), and was first recorded and released as an instrumental by saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. in 1980 on his album Winelight. A vocal cover was recorded in 1982 by Roberta Flack (‘Killing Me Softly with His Song‘) for her album I’m the One, and, in 1984, by co-writers Ralph MacDonald and Bill Withers for MacDonald’s album Universal Rhythm. Both singles charted in the Billboard Hot 100 in each of those respective years.”

Lullaby of Birdland

Co-written and first recorded by George Shearing (1952).
Hit versions by Ella Fitzgerald (US #31 1954), Blossom Dearie & Blue Stars (US #16 1956).
Also recorded by Sarah Vaughn (1954), Mel Tormé (1956), Amy Winehouse (2004).

From the wiki: “‘Lullaby of Birdland’ is a 1952 popular song with music by George Shearing and lyrics by George David Weiss under the pseudonym ‘B. Y. Forster’ in order to circumvent the rule that ASCAP and BMI composers could not collaborate. The song title refers to Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and the Birdland jazz club named after him.

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