Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Hoyt Axton

We’ll Sing in the Sunshine

First recorded (as “Sing in the Sunshine”) by Hoyt Axton with The Sherwood Singers (1963)
Hit versions The Lancastrians (UK #44 1964), by Gale Garnett (US #4/MOR #1/AUS #10/NZ #1 1964), Helen Reddy (MOR #12 1978).

From the wiki: “‘We’ll Sing in the Sunshine’ was written by Gale Garnett for her then-boyfriend, Hoyt Axton, and was first recorded in 1963 by Axton (‘Joy to the World‘, ‘No No Song‘) and The Sherwood Singers for the album The Happy Song. Garnett recorded her own version a year later, scoring a US Top-10 hit and reaching #1 in her native New Zealand. The song went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1965.

“In the UK, ‘We’ll Sing in the Sunshine’ was covered by The Lancastrians in a version featuring guitar work from both Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan. Helen Reddy’s 1978 cover, produced by Kim Fowley, was issued as a single and, although reacing reached #12 on the MOR music chart, it became the first lead single from a Reddy album to miss the Billboard Hot 100. Nonetheless, the song took on new life when Reddy sang the song on The Muppet Show while singing and dancing with Sopwith the Camel.”

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.

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.”

Pancho and Lefty

Written and first recorded by Townes Van Zandt (1973).
Also recorded by Emmylou Harris (1977), Hoyt Axton (1977).
Hit version by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard (MOR #21/C&W #1/CAN #1 1983).

From the wiki: “”Pancho and Lefty” is a song written by country singer and songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Often considered his “most enduring and well-known song,” Van Zandt first recorded it for his 1972 album, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Emmylou Harris then covered the song for her 1977 album, Luxury Liner. Also in 1977, Hoyt Axton recorded it on his album Snowblind Friend. The song became a #1 Country hit in 1983 when Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson adopted it as the title track of their duet album Pancho & Lefty. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time.

Joy to the World

Written and first recorded by Hoyt Axton (1971).
Hit version by Three Dog Night (US #1 1971).

From the wiki: “‘Joy to the World’ was originally intended for use in The Happy Song, an animated film for children. The film never materialized. The story is told that while recording material for his first album with Capitol Records, the song’s writer, Hoyt Axton, had to convince the label to let him record ‘Joy to the World’. He had the tune, he said, but not all of the lyrics. Axton was encouraged by the engineers to sing nonsensical lyrics so that an arrangement could be built around the tune and he could later record ‘real’ lyrics. Axton recalls ”Jeremiah’ was an expedient of the time. I’d had the chorus for three months [but nothing else]. I took a drink of wine, leaned on the speaker, and said ‘Jeremiah was a bullfrog.’ It was meaningless. It was a temporary lyric.’ (A member of Three Dog Night said that the original lyric to the song was ‘Jeremiah was a prophet’ but ‘no one liked that.’)

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