Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Alan Lomax

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 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: “‘Sloop John B.’ was originally a traditional West Indies folk song, ‘The John B. Sails,’ taken from Carl Sandburg’s 1927 collection of folk songs, The American Songbag, which, in turn, was derived from a novel, Pieces of Eight, published in a 1916 issue of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

Goodnight, Irene

First released by Lead Belly (1933).
Hit version by The Weavers (US #1 1950).

From the wiki: “Lead Belly was singing a version of the song from as early as 1908, which he claimed to have learned from his uncles Terell and Bob. An 1886 song by Gussie L. Davis has several lyrical and structural similarities to the latter song, however no information on its melody has survived. Some evidence suggests the 1886 song was itself based on an even earlier song which has not survived. Regardless of where he first heard it, by the 1930s Lead Belly had made the song his own, modifying the rhythm and rewriting most of the verses.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)

Written and originally recorded (as “Mbube”) by Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds (1939).
Hit versions by The Weavers (US #6 1951), The Tokens (US #1 1961), Tight Fit (UK #1 1982).

From the wiki: “‘Mbube’ (Zulu: lion) was written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin, who worked for the Gallo Record Company as a cleaner and record packer, and who performed with a choir, The Evening Birds.

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