Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: James Taylor

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.

Handy Man

First recorded by Sparks of Rhythm (1956, released 1959).
Hit versions by Jimmy Jones (US #2/R&B #3/UK #3 1960), Del Shannon (US #22/UK #36 1964), James Taylor (US #4/MOR #1/UK #54 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Handy Man’ was written by singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell, and was first recorded by The Sparks Of Rhythm, a group of which Jones was a member. Signed to Apollo Records, ‘Handy Man’ was one of four songs the group recorded for the label in 1956 but nothing happened with the recordings, and Jones left the group 2-1/2 months after the session. (When ‘Handy Man’ was belatedly released in 1959, the Sparks Of Rhythm single [on Apollo 541] credited Andrew Barksdale and Charles Merenstein, who owned Apollo Records at the time, as writers, entirely omitting both Jones and Blackwell.)

Carolina in My Mind

Written and first recorded by James Taylor (US #118 1968 |US #67 1970).
Other hit version by George Hamilton IV (C&W #29/CAN #3 1969).
Hit album re-recording by James Taylor (1976).
Also recorded by The Everly Brothers (1969), Melanie (1970).
Performed by Glen Campbell & Linda Ronstadt (1971).

From the wiki: “‘Carolina in My Mind’ was written and first performed by singer-songwriter James Taylor on his 1968 debut album, James Taylor, on Apple Records. The original recording of the song was done at London’s Trident Studios during the July to October 1968 period, and was produced by Peter Asher. The song’s lyric ‘holy host of others standing around me’ is allegedly a reference to the Beatles, who were recording The Beatles (aka the ‘White Album’) in the same building as Taylor was recording his album. Indeed, the original recording of ‘Carolina in My Mind’ features a credited appearance by Paul McCartney on bass guitar and an uncredited appearance by George Harrison on backing vocals.

“Owing to the same problems which plagued the release of the album (namely, Taylor’s inability to promote it due to his hospitalization for drug addiction), the single’s original release reached only #118 on US pop charts and failed to chart in the UK. Following the success of Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James, and its hit single ‘Fire and Rain’, ‘Carolina in My Mind’ was re-issued by Apple as a single in October 1970 and rose to #67 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Up on the Roof

First recorded by Little Eva (1962).
Hit versions by The Drifters (US #5/R&B #4 1963), Kenny Lynch (UK #10 1962), Julie Grant (UK #33 1963), Laura Nyro (US #92 1970), James Taylor (US #28 1980), Robson & Jerome (UK #1 1995).
Also recorded by Carole King (1970).

From the wiki: “‘Up on the Roof’ is a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, first recorded in 1962 by Little Eva. The song was also recorded by The Drifters and released late that year, becoming a major hit in early 1963 (reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #4 on the US R&B Singles chart).

“In the UK the Drifters’ version of ‘Up on the Roof’ failed to reach the Top 50, being trumped by two local cover versions, sung by, respectively, Julie Grant and Kenny Lynch (‘Mountain of Love‘). The Kenny Lynch version, which largely replicated the Drifters’ original, was the more successful, reaching #10 UK. The Julie Grant version, which reached #33 UK, was reinvented as a Merseybeat number. Its producer, Tony Hatch, would later be inspired to write Petula Clark’s iconic hit ‘Downtown’, which was originally envisioned as being in the style of The Drifters, with whom Hatch had hoped to place it.

You’ve Got a Friend

Written and first released by Carole King (1971).
Hit version by James Taylor (US #1/UK #4 1971).

From the wiki: “‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was written by Carole King, and included on both her album Tapestry and James Taylor’s album Mud Slide Slim, recorded simultaneously in 1971 with shared musicians. Tapestry was the first of the two albums to be released, in February 1971. Mud Slide Slim would be released in March 1971.

Something in the Way She Moves

First recorded by Tom Rush (released, April 1968).
Also recorded by James Taylor (released, December 1968).
Re-recorded by James Taylor (1976).

From the wiki: “On the The Circle Game (1968), Folk musician Tom Rush covered three songs from fellow singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, one by Jackson Browne, and two James Taylor songs including ‘Something in the Way She Moves’ – that song’s first appearance. (Taylor had played the song for Rush when he visited the New York City office of Elektra Records for an audition in 1967.) The album tracks followed the cycle of a relationship from its beginning to an end, according to the lyric content and the sequencing of songs on the album. Supporting this concept is the cover shot which pictures then girlfriend Jill Lumpkin behind Tom Rush, as photographed by (future Beatle wife) Linda Eastman.

Mockingbird

First recorded by Inez & Charlie Foxx (US #7/R&B #2 1963).
Other hit version by Carly Simon & James Taylor (US #5/UK #34 1974).

From the wiki: “The original single was credited to Inez Foxx with vocal accompaniment by her brother Charlie, as they alternated the lyric on a syllabic basis. Considered something of a novelty song, it was a great success for them upon its release by Sue Records, reaching #2 on the U.S. R&B chart and #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1963.

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