Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: R&B

Funky Broadway, Part 1

Written and first recorded (as “Funky Broadway Parts 1 & 2”) by Dyke & the Blazers (1966).
Hit version by Wilson Pickett (US #8/R&B #1/UK #43 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Funky Broadway’ was written by Arlester ‘Dyke’ Christian, and was originally recorded by his band, Dyke & the Blazers, in 1967. The song became a hit later same year when recorded by Wilson Pickett in a session at Muscle Shoals produced by Jerry Wexler.The song is notable as being the first charted single with the word ‘Funky’ in the title as well as being prototypical funk music itself.

“The ‘Broadway’ referred to in the title of the original is the Broadway Road (now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) in Phoenix, Arizona, that was at the center of the culture and entertainment of the area’s African American community, and which was ‘Dyke’ Christian’s hometown at the time.”

Baby I’m Yours

First recorded (as a demo) by Van McCoy (1965).
Hit versions by Barbara Lewis (US #11/R&B #5 1965), Peter & Gordon (UK #19 1965), Jody Miller (C&W #5 1971), Linda Lewis (UK #33 1976).
Also recorded by The Paramounts (1965, released 1988), Cher (1990).

From the wiki: “Barbara Lewis has stated that Van McCoy wrote ‘Baby I’m Yours’ specifically for her. But, that when she first heard the demo she disliked the song. (She has suggested that she was actually daunted by the high quality of the vocal, by McCoy himself, on the demo, and at the original session recalled ‘I didn’t really put 100% into my vocal performance’ hoping that Atlantic would shelve the track as sub-par.)

“‘[Producer] Ollie [McLaughlin] told me ‘Barbara, we’re gonna have to go back to Detroit and dub you in. We gotta do your vocals over. You’re just not giving like you should on the song.’ We did several takes [in Detroit] and he was wondering ‘How am I going to get this girl to give? She’s so hard-headed.’ He said ‘You know, Barbara, Karen can sing that song better than you.’ That was his little daughter. And it pissed me off. I did one more take, and that was the take that they selected.’

Victim of a Foolish Heart

First recorded by George Jackson (recorded 1972, released 2012).
Hit version by Bettye Swann (US #63/R&B #16 1972).
Also recorded by Joss Stone (2003).

From the wiki: “George Jackson was the in-house songwriter for Rick Hall’s ‘Fame Records’ in Muscle Shoals from 1968 well into the 1970s, and wrote hits for Candi Staton, Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter, among others. He was also a great performer, but his demand as a songwriter kept his recording career very much in the background.

“In 1972, Jackson recorded ‘Victim of A Foolish Heart’ which is thought to have been recorded as a follow-up to George’s two previous Fame singles. But, his recording was shelved in favor of Bettye Swann’s version, which was released on Atlantic with some chart success. ‘Victim of a Foolish Heart’ would later be covered by Joss Stone, in 2003, on her multi million-selling Soul Sessions album.”

Hit the Road, Jack

First recorded (as a demo) by Percy Mayfield (1960).
Hit version by Ray Charles (US #1/R&B #1/UK #6 1961).

From the wiki: “‘Hit the Road Jack’ was written by R&B artist Percy Mayfield and was first recorded by Mayfield in 1960 as an a cappella demo sent to producer and Specialty Records owner Art Rupe. It became famous after it was recorded by Ray Charles, with an arrangement featuring Raelettes’ vocalist Margie Hendrix.”

Ruby Baby

First recorded by The Drifters (R&B #10 1956).
Other hit versions by Dion (US #2 1963), Billy “Crash” Craddock (C&W #1 1974).
Also recorded by The Beach Boys (1965, released 1993), Donald Fagen (1982).

From the wiki: “‘Ruby Baby’ was written by the hit songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (‘Hound Dog‘, ‘On Broadway‘). It was first recorded by the Drifters, who scored an R&B Top-10 hit with the song in 1956. Dion covered ‘Ruby Baby’ in 1963, scoring a Top-5 hit. In 1974, Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock topped the US Country chart with his cover version.

“The Beach Boys originally recorded ‘Ruby Baby’ for their 1965 album Beach Boys’ Party!, but the song remained unreleased until the band’s 1993 box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys. Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen covered ‘Ruby Baby’ for his 1982 solo album, Nightfly.”

Hey Harmonica Man

First recorded by Jo Jo Wail & the Somethings (1963).
Hit version by Stevie Wonder (US #29/R&B #5 1964).

From the wiki: “‘Hey Harmonica Man’ was written by Marty Cooper and Lou Josie, and was first recorded in 1963 by Jo Jo Wail & the Somethings. It would be covered by Stevie Wonder in 1964.

“Wonder has poured scorn on his pre-’65 Motown output; whenever he’s asked about these records, he seems to lump them all together as a collection of ‘juvenilia’. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s ‘Hey Harmonica Man’ for which he reserves particular criticism, describing it on more than one occasion as ’embarrassing’.

Whatta Man

First recorded (as “What a Man”) by Linda Lyndell (R&B #50 1968).
Other hit version by Salt N Pepa (US #3/R&B #3/UK #7 1993/AUS #2 1993).

From the wiki: “Linda Lyndell sang in gospel churches as a child; though she was white, she sang in both white and black churches, and eventually began singing with R&B groups as a teenager. In the 1960s she sang as a support act with James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, and in 1967 Atlanta disc jockey Dave Crawford tipped her to Stax Records producers Isaac Hayes and David Porter. They recorded her first single, ‘Bring Your Love Back to Me’, in December 1967 and released it on Volt Records, but the song did not become a hit. In 1968 she did a second session, cutting the tune ‘What a Man’. The song was essentially improvised in the studio by Lyndell, record producer Dave Crawford, and the Stax studio musicians in Memphis, TN.

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’.”

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.

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’.”

Wishing on a Star

First recorded by Rose Royce (R&B #52/UK #3 1978).
Other hit versions by Fresh 4 (UK #10 1989), The Cover Girls (US #9/UK #38 1992), Jay Z (UK #13 1998).

From the wiki: “‘Wishing on a Star’ was written by Billie Rae Calvin and produced by famed former-Motown ‘psychedelic shaman’ Norman Whitfield, and was included on Rose Royce’s second album, Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom. The original recording of ‘Wishing on a Star’ was not a big hit in the US, peaking at #52 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, but was a big chart hit in the United Kingdom, reaching #3 in March 1978. A cover by Fresh 4, in 1989, also peaked in the UK Top 10. The Cover Girls released a version in 1992 that peaked in the US Top 10.

Nothing Compares 2 U

First recorded by The Family (1985).
Hit version by Sinead O’Connor (US #1/UK #1/CAN #1/IRE #1/AUS #1 1989).
Also recorded by Prince & The New Power Generation (1993), fDeluxe (aka The Family) (2016).

From the wiki: “‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was written and composed by Prince for one of his side projects, The Family. It was later made famous by Irish recording artist Sinéad O’Connor, whose arrangement was released as the second single from her second studio album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. This version, which O’Connor co-produced with Nellee Hooper, became a worldwide hit in 1990.

“The Family’s origins started with the disintegration of The Time in 1984. Lead singer Morris Day had left the band to pursue a solo career and guitarist Jesse Johnson became the de facto band leader. Prince invited the remaining members of The Time – Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, and Paul Peterson – to his home and presented them with his new project. They agreed to become a new band called The Family, with Peterson renamed ‘St. Paul’ as the new frontman and bassist. The Family was a relatively important album in Prince’s musical career because it allowed him to test several musical concepts that he would later fully integrate in his music. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ appeared on the album but it was not released as a single, and received little recognition. (A mix of the song, featuring Prince on vocals, was released in 1993 under the guise of The New Power Generation.)

Caldonia (What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?)

First recorded by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (R&B #1 1945).
Other hit versions by Erskine Hawkins (US #12/R&B #2 1945), Woody Herman & His Orchestra (US #2 1945), James Brown (US #95 1964).
Also recorded by Champion Jack Dupree (1967), B.B. King (1971).

From the wiki: “‘Caldonia’ is a Jump Blues song, written by Louis Jordan (but crediting his then-wife, Fleecie Moore, for tax-evading purposes) and first recorded in 1945 by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five. The lyrics may have been inspired by a real character: a tall Crescent City drag queen wearing oversized shoes. A cover version by Erskine Hawkins (‘Tuxedo Junction‘), also in 1945, was described by Billboard magazine as ‘rock and roll’, the first time that phrase was used in print to describe any style of music. Woody Herman and his orchestra also covered ‘Caldonia’ in 1945, arranged by the young Neal Hefti, with Herman singing the lead vocal. Jordan re-recorded the song in 1956, arranged by Quincy Jones and featuring torrid guitar work by Mickey Baker. Baker again recorded the song, in 1967, this time backing up Champion Jack Dupree.

I Got You (I Feel Good)

First recorded (as “I Found You”) by Yvonne Fair & the James Brown Band (1962).
Also recorded by James Brown (1964).
Hit version by James Brown (US #3/R&B #1/UK #29 1965).

From the wiki: “‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ was developed from an earlier Brown-penned song, ‘I Found You’, with a nearly identical melody and lyrics. ‘I Found You’ was recorded by Brown’s back-up singer, Yvonne Fair, and was released as a single in 1962 with little success.

“In 1964, Brown recorded an early version of ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ with a different arrangement, including a stuttering rhythm and prominent baritone sax line, under the title ‘I Got You’. This version appeared on the Smash Records album Out of Sight and was used in the 1965 film Ski Party, in which Brown lip-synched his performance. It was intended for a single release but was withdrawn due to a court order from King Records, with whom Brown was involved in a contract dispute.

“Re-recorded and released as a single in 1965 titled ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’, the song would go to become Brown’s highest-charting song and is arguably his most widely-known recording.

(Do the) Mashed Potatoes

First recorded by Nat Kendrick & the Swans (US #84/R&B #8 1960).
Also adapted (as “Mashed Potatoes (U.S.A.)”) by James Brown (1961).
Other hit version (as “The Pastrami”) by The Dartells (US#11/R&B #15 1963).

From the wiki: “‘(Do the) Mashed Potatoes’ was first released as a two-part single in 1960. For contractual reasons the recording was credited to ‘Nat Kendrick and the Swans’ but was, in fact, recorded by James Brown with his band in 1959. The recording arose out of James Brown’s success in using the Mashed Potato dance as part of his stage show. (The dance moves vaguely resemble that of the twist.) Brown wanted to record a ‘Mashed Potatoes’-themed instrumental with his band in order to capitalize on the dance’s popularity. However, King Records head Syd Nathan, a frequent critic of Brown’s proposals, would not allow it.

“Brown approached Henry Stone, a friend in the music business who ran the Dade Records label, about recording the piece with him. Stone, although nervous about crossing Nathan (with whom he did business), arranged for Brown to record at his Miami studio and agreed to produce the session.

“‘(Do the) Mashed Potatoes’ was recorded with Brown playing the piano and shouting the song’s title. To prevent Brown’s voice from being recognized, Stone overdubbed shouted vocals by Carlton ‘King’ Coleman, a local Miami radio disc-jockey, onto the recording, although Brown’s voice remains audible in the background. Leadership of the band was officially credited to Nat Kendrick, who was Brown’s drummer at the time, while the writing was credited to ‘Dessie Rozier’, another pseudonym for Brown.

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.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Written and first recorded by Gil Scott-Heron (1970).
Popular version by Gil Scott-Heron (1971).
See also: “The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka” by Roy Clark (1972)

From the wiki: “‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ is a song-poem written by Gil Scott-Heron. Scott-Heron first recorded it as a live performance for his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, on which he recited the lyrics, accompanied by congas and bongo drums. A re-recorded version, with a full band, was the B-side to Scott-Heron’s first single, ‘Home Is Where the Hatred Is’, in 1971 from his album Pieces of a Man. This version of ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ was also included on Scott-Heron’s compilation album, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1974).

“The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States. Its lyrics either mention or allude to several television series, advertising slogans and icons of entertainment and news coverage that serve as examples of what ‘the revolution will not’ be or do.

Rock the Joint

First recorded by Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians (R&B #6 1949).
Also recorded by Bill Haley & His Saddlemen (1952).
Other hit version by Bill Haley & His Comets (UK #20 1957).

From the wiki: “‘Rock the Joint’, also known as ‘We’re Gonna Rock This Joint Tonight’, is a boogie song first recorded by various proto-Rock and roll singers, most notably by Jimmy Preston and Bill Haley. Preston’s original 1949 version has been cited as a contender for being ‘the first Rock and roll record’; Haley’s 1952 recording is widely considered to be one of the first Rockabilly records (along with Haley’s cover of ‘Rocket 88‘).

“The song’s authorship is credited to Harry Crafton, Wendell ‘Don’ Keane, and Harry ‘Doc’ Bagby (who were musicians contracted to the Gotham label in New York, owned by Ivin Ballen). The song was influenced by earlier R&B recordings such as Wynonie Harris’ 1948 R&B hit ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight‘. Label owner Ballen passed the song on to Jimmy Preston, fresh off a hit with ‘Hucklebuck Daddy’ in 1949, who, with his Prestonians, recorded ‘Rock the Joint’ in Philadelphia in May 1949. Preston’s recording charted R&B Top 10 in 1949.

Unchain My Heart

First recorded by Otis Williams & His Charms (1960).
Hit versions by Ray Charles (US #9/R&B #1 1961), Joe Cocker (US #11/UK #46 1987 |UK #17 1992).

From the wiki: “‘Unchain My Heart’ was written by Bobby Sharp, and first recorded in 1960 by Otis Williams & His Charms. Sharp, a drug addict at the time, sold the song to Teddy Powell for $50. Powell demanded half the songwriting credit. Sharp later successfully fought for the rights to his song. In 1987, he was also able to renew the copyright for his publishing company, B. Sharp Music.

“The song became a hit for Ray Charles when released as a single in late 1961. Accompanied by his Raelettes, Charles’ band also included longtime saxophonist David ‘Fathead’ Newman. The track was further popularized by Joe Cocker when he named his 1987 album after the song. The promotional single nudged the US Top 10 in 1987, and also charted in the UK. Cocker’s recording was re-released in 1992 and, second time around, reached #17 on the UK Singles chart.”

Take Me For a Little While

First recorded by Evie Sands (1965).
Also recorded by Jackie Ross (1965).
Hit versions by Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles (US #89/R&B #36 1966), Vanilla Fudge (US #38 1968).

From the wiki: “In 1965, Evie Sands began her lasting collaboration with the producer/composers Chip Taylor (‘Wild Thing‘, ‘Angel of the Morning‘) and Al Gorgoni with the release of the single ‘Take Me For a Little While’ (written by Trade Martin). But, prior to its release, a test pressing of Sands’ recording was stolen by a Chicago-based producer, shopping it to established Chess Records recording artist Jackie Ross who was coming off the major Pop-Soul hit ‘Selfish One’. Ross – who was unaware of the duplicity involved, and who left Chess shortly afterwards – and her producers loved the song, and recorded, pressed and released the record within 48 hours, beating Sands’ version to the street by a week. The ensuing battle between the two versions killed whatever chance either had to chart nationwide, and the subsequent legal struggle set-back Sands’ career before it had had a chance to get started.

“Sands’ follow-up single, ‘I Can’t Let Go‘, was lost amidst the post ‘Take Me’ chaos, leaving Brit invaders The Hollies clear to score a hit cover in the spring of 1966.

Take Me to the River

First recorded by Al Green (1974).
Hit versions by Syl Johnson (US #48/R&B #7 1975), Talking Heads (US #26 1979).
Also recorded by Foghat (1976), Levon Helm (1978), Brian Ferry (1978).

From the wiki: “‘Take Me to the River’ was written by singer Al Green and guitarist Mabon ‘Teenie’ Hodges, and first recorded by Green in 1974 for the album Al Green Explores Your Mind. Green’s original recording was ranked #117 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. According to producer Willie Mitchell, Green and Mabon Hodges wrote the song while staying in a rented house at Lake Hamilton, Arkansas, for three days in 1973 in order to come up with new material. Green dedicated his performance on the record to ‘…Little Junior Parker, a cousin of mine, he’s gone on but we’d like to kinda carry on in his name.’ According to one critic, ‘Green’s song squares the singer’s early religious convictions with more earthly interests,’ but when Green became a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in 1976, the singer dropped the song from his repertoire.

Over You

First recorded by Aaron Neville (US #111/R&B #21 1960).
Other hit version by Paul Revere & The Raiders (US #133 1964).

Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)

First recorded by Sylvester & the Hot Band (1973).
Hit version by Three Dog Night (US #33 1974).
Also recorded by Frankie Miller (1974), Little Feat (1974, released 2000), Levon Helm (1978).

From the wiki: “‘Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)’ was written by Allen Toussaint, and was first recorded in 1973 by Sylvester & the Hot Band for the album Bazaar. In 1974, Toussaint would also produced an album by Frankie Miller, High Life, that included ‘Play Something Sweet’ among six other Toussaint-penned songs featured.

“It was Miller’s version, one among several other productions recorded in 1974, including arrangements by B.J. Thomas and Maria Muldaur, that attracted the immediate interest of Three Dog Night whose 1974 arrangement would became the only release of ‘Play Something Sweet’ to crack the US Top-40.

“Another recording produced in 1974 was by Little Feat, during the course of the Feats Don’t Fail Me Now recording sessions. This version, however, would not be released until 2000 when it was included in the retrospective compilation Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat.

“Levon Helm would record ‘Play Something Sweet’ for his second album independent of The Band, Levon Helm, in 1978.”

Darling Baby

First recorded (as “Let’s Talk It Over”) by Lamont Anthony (Dozier) (1960).
Hit version by The Elgins (US #72/R&B #4 1966).

From the wiki: “Lamont Dozier (Lamont Anthony) is best known as a member of Holland–Dozier–Holland, the songwriting and production team responsible for much of the Motown sound and numerous hit records by artists such as Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Isley Brothers. But, Dozier recorded a few unsuccessful records for various Detroit labels (including early Motown subsidiary, Anna) before signing on with Motown in 1962. Anna Records was a short-lived record label, known as a forerunner of Motown, founded in Detroit by sisters Anna and Gwen Gordy (who co-wrote ‘Let’s Talk It Over’) and Roquel Billy Davis in 1959. The label signed such acts as David Ruffin, future lead singer of the Temptations; Joe Tex; Johnny Bristol and his partner Jackey Beavers (the original duo behind the Supremes’ ‘Someday We’ll Be Together‘), and future Motown hit-making songwriter-producer Lamont Dozier (who went by the name Lamont Anthony at the time). Anna Records also hired future Motown star Marvin Gaye as drummer for the label.

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