Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Fire and Rain

First single release by R.B. Greaves (April 1970).
Also released by Johnny Rivers (August 1970).
Hit version by James Taylor (US #3/MOR #7/CAN #2/UK #42 September 1970).

“Like a shy kid at a prom dance, ‘Fire and Rain’ had stood on the sidelines all year [after being first recorded in December 1969], waiting for its moment. In the spring, Warner Brothers had hesitated to release the song to radio. With its subdued tone and elliptical lyrics, it wasn’t an odd-on favorite to be a hit … The label also hesitated when soul singer R.B. Greaves, who’d had a major hit the year before with ‘Take a Letter, Maria’, released a cover of ‘Fire and Rain’. No one wanted [James] Taylor competing against his own song.

“Yet ‘Fire and Rain’, a regular part of Taylor’s set on the road, was making inroads with his audiences; its understated vulnerability, uncluttered melody, and easy-to-follow metaphors drew them in. When L.A. pop star Johnny Rivers unveiled another cover of the song in August [1970] – this one a lavish production with horns and female backup singers – Warners had no choice but to promote Taylor’s own version. ‘Finally,’ announced an ad in the music press, ‘the original (and, we think, best) ‘Fire and Rain’ is now a single.’

“… Since [Taylor’s previous single] ‘Sweet Baby James’ hadn’t made the charts, expectations were modest; true enough, ‘Fire and Rain’ debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at number 100. It didn’t stay there long.”

Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970, David Browne, 2012

Johnny Rivers, “Fire and Rain” (1970):

James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” (1970):

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