Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Rock

Wooden Ships

First recorded (as demos) by David Crosby (1968), Stephen Stills (1968).
Hit album versions by Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969), Jefferson Airplane (1969).

(Above: David Crosby demo.)

(Above: Stephen Stills demo)

From the wiki: “‘Wooden Ships’ was written by David Crosby, Paul Kantner, and Stephen Stills. ‘The song was composed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a boat named ‘Mayan’ owned by Crosby, who composed the music, while Kantner and Stills wrote most of the lyrics. Wooden Ships’ was first recorded as a demo by Crosby in March 1968 with the melody but no lyrics. Stills recorded his own demo the following month with most of the lyrics in place.

“On the original Crosby Stills & Nash release in 1969, Kantner could not be officially credited as one of the joint authors-composer due to legal issues. Crosby later said, ‘Paul called me up and said that he was having this major duke-out with this horrible guy (Matthew Katz) who was managing the band, and [Katz] was freezing everything their names were on. ‘He might injunct the release of your record,’ [Kanter] told me. So we didn’t put Paul’s name on it for a while. In later versions, we made it very certain that he wrote it with us. Of course, we evened things up with him with a whole mess of cash when the record went huge.’


First recorded by Hawkwind (1975).
Also recorded by by Motörhead (1977).
Hit version by Motörhead (UK #6 1981).

From the wiki: “‘Motorhead’ was written by Lemmy, later of the group Motörhead, while he was a band member in Hawkwind; it was his last before leaving the band. The song first appeared on the B-side of Hawkwind’s 1975 single ‘Kings of Speed’. The title of the song is American slang for a ‘speed’ (amphetamine) freak. The song was written in the Hyatt Hotel (a.k.a. ‘Riot House’) in West Hollywood, California. Lemmy explains:

‘I was on tour with Hawkwind in 1974, we were staying at the Riot House and Roy Wood and Wizzard were also in town. I got this urge to write a song in the middle of the night. I ran downstairs to the Wizzard room, got Roy’s Ovation acoustic guitar, then hurried back to mine. I went on to the balcony and howled away for four hours. Cars were stopping and the drivers were listening then driving off, and there I was yelling away at the top of my voice.

‘The six thousand miles was a reference to Los Angeles, and the rest is self-explanatory. And yes, I am the only person to fit the word ‘parallelogram’ into a Rock’n’roll number! I’m very proud of that.’

The Pusher

First recorded by Sparrow (1967).
Hit album version by Steppenwolf (1968).
Also recorded by Hoyt Axton (1971).

From the wiki: “‘The Pusher’ was written by Hoyt Axton (‘Joy to the World‘, ‘Never Been to Spain‘) after one of his friends died of a drug overdose. The song was one of the first to deal with harsh realities of drug use, and condemns ‘the pusher’ as a heartless criminal who is only after your money. It was made popular by the 1969 movie Easy Rider. ‘The Pusher’ was first recorded as a live performance at The Matrix in 1967 by Sparrow (pre-Steppenwolf moniker). But, according to organist Gordy McJohn, the group’s history with the song began in 1966 when singer John Kay and Jerry Edmonton were late for a performance:

Nick and Mars and me started that long version of ‘The Pusher’. John and Jerry’s flight was late one night at the Avalon Ballroom, so we started and then we perfected it at the ‘Arc’ in Sausalito on New Year’s Eve in 1966.

(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone

First recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders (1965).
Also recorded by The W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band (1966), The Rebounds (1966), Flies (1966), Jimi Hendrix (1969, released 1971).
Hit versions by The Monkees (US #20 1967), The Farm (UK #57 1990), P.J. & Duncan (UK #11 1996).

From the wiki: “‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’ was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (‘Last Train to Clarksville’, ‘I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight’). It was first recorded in 1965 by Paul Revere & the Raiders, and first appeared on their album Midnight Ride released in May 1966. Early covers included recordings by The W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band, The Rebounds, and The Flies. ‘Stepping Stone’ is best known as a hit for The Monkees (US #20). In early 1967, it became the first Monkees B-side to chart.”

Tangled Up in Blue

First recorded by Bob Dylan (1974, released 1991).
Hit version by Bob Dylan (US #31 1975).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (1984).

From the wiki: “‘Tangled Up in Blue’ was written by Bob Dylan, and first appeared on the album Blood on the Tracks in 1975. Released as a single, ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone ranks it #68 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. According to The Telegraph, Dylan said ‘I wanted to defy time … When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it altogether. I wanted that song to be like a painting.’ Dylan had been influenced by his then-recent study of painting and the Cubist school of artists, who had sought to incorporate multiple perspectives within a single plane of view. Dylan has often stated that the song took ‘ten years to live and two years to write.’

“‘Tangled Up in Blue’ was one of five songs on Blood on the Tracks that Dylan initially recorded in New York City in September 1974 and which was then re-recorded in Minneapolis in December that year; the later recording became the album track and single. One of the September 1974 outtakes was released in 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.

Shanghai Noodle Factory

First recorded by Jay & the Americans (1967).
Hit album version by Traffic (1968, released 1969).

From the wiki: “‘Shanghai Noodle Factory’ was written by Steve Winwood sometime between his departure from The Spencer Davis Group in the spring of 1967 and his co-founding of the band Traffic, but was first recorded by the group Jay & the Americans (‘Come A Little Bit Closer’, ‘Cara Mia’, ‘This Magic Moment‘) as the B-side to the non-charting single ‘French Provincial’. Coincidentally, the original recording was produced by co-writer and Traffic producer Jimmy Miller. Traffic would later record its own version of Winwood’s song, but it would not appear on an album until the 1969 release of Last Exit.”

Givin’ It Up For Your Love

Written and first recorded by Jerry Williams (1979).
Hit version by Delbert McClinton (US #8 1981).

From the wiki: “Jerry Williams’ big break as a songwriter came when Delbert McClinton recorded a cover of ‘Givin’ It Up For Your Love’, from Williams’ album Gone. Williams would go on to write for Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Clint Black, and contributed two songs, ‘Real Man’ and ‘I Will Not Be Denied’, to Bonnie Raitt’s 1989 Grammy Award-winning album Nick of Time. Williams also helped Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan write the song ‘Tick Tock’. By age 14, Williams had dropped out of school and was working Texas roadhouses with his own band, The Epics. He later toured with Little Richard’s band until authorities discovered Williams’ age and sent him home. Williams says he learned to play lead guitar from a fellow band member, Jimmy James – better known as Jimi Hendrix.”

Rock and Roll Love Letter

Written and first recorded by Tim Moore (1975).
Hit version by Bay City Rollers (US #28 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Rock and Roll Love Letter’ is the second single from American Tim Moore’s second album, Behind the Eyes. It was written by Tim Moore. Tim Moore’s original version was not successful. It was later covered by the band Bay City Rollers, and that version became a Top 40 hit.”

I’ll Follow the Sun

First recorded by The Silver Beetles (1960).
Hit album version by The Beatles (EP UK #5 1965/SWE #4 1965).

From the wiki: “‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ was written and sung by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon–McCartney. It appears on the Beatles for Sale album in the UK and on Beatles ’65 in the US, but was written long before. A version recorded in 1960 can be found in the bootleg record You Might As Well Call Us the Quarrymen.

“When asked about the lyrics, McCartney would recall, ‘I wrote that in my front parlour in Forthlin Road. I was about 16. ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ was one of those very early ones. I seem to remember writing it just after I’d had the flu and I had that cigarette. I remember standing in the parlour, with my guitar, looking out through the lace curtains of the window, and writing that one.’


First recorded (as a demo) by Pete Townshend (1974).
Hit version by The Who (US #16 1975 |UK #10/CAN #1/AUS #1 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Squeeze Box’ was written by Pete Townshend, and was originally intended for a Who television special planned in 1974. The lyrics are couched in sexual double entendres. In the planned performance of the song, the members of the band were to be surrounded by one-hundred semi-naked women playing ‘squeezeboxes’ – a colloquial expression for accordions and concertinas – as the song was played.

“Townshend first recorded demo of the song featured a farfisa arrangement, as well as with Bluegrass banjos. When the anticipated TV special did not materialize, The Who recorded ‘Squeeze Box’ and the song was released as the first single from The Who by Numbers in 1975 in the US and 1976 in the UK. ‘Squeezebox’ became an international hit, becoming the band’s first-ever Top-10 hit in Britain since 1972.

Walking on Sunshine

First recorded by Katrina & the Waves (1983).
Hit version by Katrina & the Waves (US#9/UK #8/CAN #3/IRE 2/AUS #4 1985).

(Above: Canadian TV appearance, c. 1983.)

From the wiki: “‘Walking on Sunshine’ was written by Kimberley Rew for Katrina & the Waves’ 1983 debut album. The band recorded – at their own expense – an LP of their original material designed to be sold at gigs. The album was shopped around to various labels, but only Attic Records in Canada responded with an offer. Consequently, although Katrina & the Waves were based in England, the first album, Walking On Sunshine, was released only in Canada. The title track garnered enough critical attention and radio play (especially for the title track) to merit a Canadian tour and a follow-up album in Canada (Katrina and the Waves 2, in 1984).

“In 1985, the group was signed to an international deal by Capitol Records. For the first Capitol album, the band re-recorded, remixed, or overdubbed 10 songs from their earlier albums, including ‘Walking on Sunshine’, to create their major-label self-titled debut album in 1985. A substantially-rearranged ‘Walking on Sunshine’ was released as the album’s first promotional single, and scored the group a Top 10 chart hit in both the US and the UK. A Grammy award nomination for Best New Artist followed.

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Written and first recorded by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (1973).
Hit version (as “Sandy”) by The Hollies (US #85/GER #22/NZ #12/NETH #9 1975).

From the wiki: “‘4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’, often known just as ‘Sandy’, was written in 1973 by Bruce Springsteen and first appeared as the second song on the album The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle. Van Morrison’s influence can be heard in Springsteen’s songwriting about his hometown, closely paralleling Morrison’s romanticism of his hometown, Belfast, Ireland.

“No singles were released from The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle … except in Germany – the first-ever Springsteen 7-inch issued outside the United States – where Springsteen’s ‘Sandy’ met with no apparent chart success.

“However, ‘Sandy’ became the first song written by Springsteen to chart, anywhere, when The Hollies’ cover version, released in April 1975, hit #85 in the US, and charted higher in a few other international markets (e.g. Top-10 in the Netherlands). While not a big hit unto itself, The Hollies’ use of “Sandy” presaged other artists mining the early Springsteen songbook for material, a notion that would soon be exploited to much greater commercial success by Manfred Mann and others.

No No Song

Written and first recorded by Hoyt Axton (1974).
Hit version by Ringo Starr (US #3/CAN #1 1975).

From the wiki: “Ringo Starr’s cover of Hoyt Axton’s and David Jackson’s ‘No No Song’ was included on Starr’s 1974 album Goodnight Vienna. The song was released as a single in the US in January 1975, becoming a #1 hit in Canada and a #3 hit in the US. Harry Nilsson provided backing vocals.”

Happiness is Just Around the Bend

First recorded by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express (1973).
Hit version by The Main Ingredient (US #35/R&B #7 1974).
Also recorded by Cuba Gooding, Sr. (1983), Altern-8 (1991).

From the wiki: “‘Happiness is Just Around the Bend’ was written by Brian Auger and first recorded in 1973 by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. A cover recording in 1974 by The Main Ingredient charted in the US Top 40, peaking at #35, and the R&B Top 10, peaking at #7.

Video Killed the Radio Star

First recorded by Bruce Wooley & the Camera Club (1978).
Hit version by The Buggles (US #40/UK #1/CAN #6/AUS #1/IRE #1/ITA #1/SWE #1/JPN #1 1981).

From the wiki: “‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ was written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley in 1978, and was first recorded by Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club (with Thomas Dolby on keyboards) for the album English Garden. Horn and Downes would, in 1979, go on to form The Buggles, cover ‘Video’ and release it as The Buggles’ debut single in September 1979 from the album The Age of Plastic. In 1980, Horn and Downes were invited to join the rock group Yes; Horn becoming the lead vocalist, replacing Jon Anderson. The ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ music video is well-remembered as the first music video shown on MTV in the United States at 12:01am on 1 August 1981, and as the first video shown on MTV Classic in the United Kingdom on 1 March 2010. The song has received several critical accolades, such as being ranked #40 on VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the ’80s and The Guardian newpaper’s Top 100 British Number 1 Singles.

Let’s Live for Today

First recorded (as”Piangi Con Me”) by The Rokes (1967).
First recorded (in English) by The Rokes (1967).
Also recorded (and first released) by The Living Daylights (1967).
Hit version by The Grass Roots (US #8 1967).

From the wiki: “The song that would become ‘Let’s Live for Today’ was originally written by David Shapiro and Ivan Mogul in 1966, with Italian lyrics and the Italian title of ‘Piangi Con Me’ (translated as ‘Cry with Me’). At the time, Shapiro was a member of The Rokes, an English beat group who had relocated to Italy in 1963. Following its success on the Italian charts, plans were made to release ‘Piangi Con Me’ in the United Kingdom and as a result, the song was translated into English and given the new title of ‘Passing Thru Grey’. However, the song’s publisher in Britain, Dick James Music, was unhappy with the lyrics of “Passing Thru Grey” and decided that they should be changed.

“Michael Julien, a member of the publisher’s writing staff, was assigned the task of composing new words for the song and it was his input that transformed it into ‘Let’s Live for Today’. Before the Rokes could release the song in the UK, however, another British group, The Living Daylights, released a version of it. Ultimately, neither The Living Daylights nor The Rokes would reach the charts with their recording of the song.

Devil Woman

First recorded by Kristine (1975).
Hit version by Cliff Richard (US #6/UK #9 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Devil Woman’ was written by Terry Britten and Christine Holmes (singer of the Family Dogg, ‘Arizona‘) and was first recorded by Holmes under the name ‘Kristine’. It became a #9 UK hit in June 1976 for Cliff Richard, and was his first single to reach the Top 20 in the US. The song is told from the point of a view of a man jinxed from an encounter with a stray cat with evil eyes, and his discovery that the psychic medium (a Gypsy woman) whose help he sought to break the curse was the one responsible for the curse in the first place. Richard supposedly was hesitant to cut it until he modified some lyrics to play down the occult theme.”

Fox on the Run

First recorded by Manfred Mann (US #95/UK #5 1968).
Also recorded by The Country Gentlemen (1970).
Other hit version by Tom T. Hall (C&W #9 1976).

From the wiki: “Note: NOT the mid-’70s hit by Sweet. ‘Fox on the Run’ was first recorded by Manfred Mann as a single issued 29 November 1968. It was introduced to Bluegrass by Bill Emerson and quickly became a Bluegrass favorite, first recorded in that genre by The Country Gentlemen in 1970. In 1976, ‘Fox on the Run’ was covered by Country music singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall whose recording peaked in the US Country Top-10, its highest-charting US performance.”

Do Ya

First recorded by The Move (B-side US #93/UK #7 1972).
Also recorded by Utopia (1975).
Hit version by Electric Light Orchestra (US #24 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Do Ya’ was written by Jeff Lynne in 1971 and was first recorded by British Rock band The Move in 1972 when Lynne was a member of the group. The final Move line-up of 1972 was the trio of Lynne, Roy Wood and Bev Bevan; together, they rode The Move’s transition into the Electric Light Orchestra ca. 1971. Released on a maxi single along with ‘California Man’ and ‘Ella James’, ‘Do Ya’ proved to be The Move’s farewell disc, and the only song recorded by the group to chart in the US Billboard Hot 100. (The Move had ten UK Top 20 hits before its breakup.) ELO formed during The Move’s latter years to accommodate Wood’s and Lynne’s desire to create modern Rock and Pop songs with classical overtones. ELO’s sixth album, the platinum-selling A New World Record, became their first UK Top 10 album when it was released in 1976. It contained the hit singles ‘Livin’ Thing’, ‘Telephone Line’, ‘Rockaria!’ and ‘Do Ya’, the re-recording of The Move song that charted Top 30 in the US in 1977.

Stay (I Missed You)

First recorded (as a demo) by Lisa Loeb (1992).
Hit version by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories (1994).

From the wiki: “‘Stay (I Missed You)’ was written by singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb. It was released in May 1994 as the lead single from the original motion-picture soundtrack for Reality Bites. ‘Stay’ was originally conceived by Loeb in 1990. Loeb, who had attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for a summer session after graduating from Brown University, formed a full band called Nine Stories in 1990. The band, which was named after the book by J.D. Salinger, included Tim Bright on guitar, Jonathan Feinberg on drums, and Joe Quigley on bass. Loeb began working with producer Juan Patiño to make the cassette Purple Tape in 1992. It included the earliest recordings of later popular tracks such as ‘Do You Sleep?’, ‘Snow Day’, ‘Train Songs’, ‘It’s Over’ and ‘Stay (I Missed You)’. Loeb sold the violet-colored cassette to fans at gigs and used it as a sonic calling card to music industry gatekeepers.

Billy, Don’t Be a Hero

First recorded by Paper Lace (US #96/UK #1 1974).
Other hit version by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods (US #1 1974).

From the wiki: “‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’ was written by two British song writers Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, was first a hit in the UK for Paper Lace (‘The Night Chicago Died’); some months later it was covered in the US by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods who scored a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. In the song, a young woman is distraught that her fiancé chooses to leave the area with Army recruiters and go with them to fight. Because the song was released in 1974, it was associated by some listeners with the Vietnam War, though it actually does not reference a specific ‘war’.”

Baby, I Love Your Way

First recorded by Peter Frampton (1975).
Hit versions by Peter Frampton (US #12/UK #45/CAN #3 1976), Will to Power (US #1 1988), Big Mountain (US #6/UK #2/EUR #1 1994).

From the wiki: “‘Baby, I Love Your Way’ was written by Peter Frampton, and first released in September 1975 on the his self-titled studio album Frampton. A live version of the song was later released on Frampton’s 1976 multi-platinum album Frampton Comes Alive!, and it charted Top 15 on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1988, the group Will To Power had a US #1 hit with a medley of this and ‘Free Bird’. Big Mountain hit #6 in the US and #2 in the UK with ‘Baby, I Love Your Way’ in 1994, from the soundtrack to Reality Bites.”

Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)

Written and first recorded by Moon Martin (1978).
Hit version by Robert Palmer (US #14/CAN #1 1979).

From the wiki: “‘Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)’ was written by Moon Martin and first recorded for his 1978 album Shots From a Cold Nightmare. A year later the song was covered by Robert Palmer for his 1979 album Secrets and went on to become a US and Canadian hit. The main difference between Moon’s version and the cover by Robert Palmer is that Palmer’s version is in major key while Moon’s is in minor, making the song sound more ominous.”

One Man Band

First recorded by Roger Daltry (1973).
Hit version by co-writer Leo Sawyer (US #96/UK #6 1974).

From the wiki: “‘One Man Band’ is a song first recorded by The Who’s lead singer, Roger Daltrey, for his debut solo album Daltrey. It was written by David Courtney and Leo Sayer (‘The Show Must Go On‘, ‘More Than I Can Say‘), and features Daltrey’s Acoustic guitar strumming. According to Daltrey, it ‘reminiscences of Shepherd’s Bush’ (a place in west London where Daltrey had grown up and where The Who were formed) and became one the albums highlights; later being released as a single in its own right in some European territories but without any US chart success.

“The song was covered by the co-writer, Leo Sayer, a year later for his solo album Just a Boy and was also released as a single which later became one of Sayer’s biggest UK hits.”

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