Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Jay & The Americans

Only in America

First recorded by The Drifters (1963, released 1996).
Hit version by Jay & the Americans (US #25 1963).

From Songfacts:

“Written by the brilliant Brill Building songwriting teams of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (‘Hound Dog’, 1953; ‘Stand By Me’, 1961; ‘On Broadway’, 1963) and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (‘On Broadway’, 1963; ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” 1964; ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’, 1965; ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’, 1982), ‘Only in America’ was first written for and recorded by The Drifters.

“It was written at a time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had become the law of the land, and the original lyrics when first submitted reflected the racism that existed at the time in the US:

‘Only in America, land of opportunity, can they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me / Only in America, Where they preach the Golden Rule, will they start to march when my kids go to school.’

“Atlantic Records had a problem with the original lyrics, so the songwriters rewrote them to be a satiric message about ‘patriotism’. The Drifters recorded the song with these new ‘patriotic’ lyrics, but the group refused to allow its release because they did not believe that message.

“Songwriters Mann and Weil were also upset with the changes to the song. Afterward, they began taking more control over how their songs were recorded, with Mann taking on additional studio production duties.

“Kenny Vance of Jay & the Americans recalls how they came to record this song: ‘I happened to go up to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s office, because I used to hang out there as a kid – they produced us. I guess I was like a barometer for them, and they played me ‘Only In America.’ I said, ‘Boy, that would be great if we could have that,’ because we’re Jay & the Americans. They took us over to Atlantic recording, who had a brand new-fangled machine, an 8-track recording deck. Up until those dark days we were recording all four-track. This allowed Jay & the Americans to record [our] vocals over the original backing tracks recorded for the Drifters.’

“Of the original Drifters’ recording Vance recalled ‘It’s a killer version. I had the acetate and I gave it to the guy at Rhino who was putting the CD out. I saved it all those years. It just was a killer performance.'”

[Additional source material: ‘Only in America’: 50 Years later a Drifters’ song has its day‘, Long Beach Post, November 5, 2008]

Jay & the Americans, “Only in America” (1963):

Cara Mia

First recorded by David Whitfield & the Mantovani Orchestra (US #10/UK #1 1954).
Other hit version by Jay & the Americans (US #4 1965 |NETH #1 1980).

From the wiki: “Authorship of ‘Cara Mia’ (in Italian, ‘my beloved’) is credited to Tulio Trapani (the nom de plume of the song’s co-writer and arranger Mantovani) and Lee Lange (Bunny Lewis, David Whitfield’s producer). English singer David Whitfield first recorded the song with the Mantovani Orchestra in 1954. Whitfield’s version became one of the biggest selling British records in the pre-rock days, the first UK record to spend ten consecutive weeks at #1 on the UK Singles chart. It sold more than three and a half million copies worldwide and was also a Top-10 hit in the US.

“The 1965 cover by Jay & the Americans became a #4 hit in the US. It was re-released in 1980 in the Netherlands and became a #1 hit there.”

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.”

This Magic Moment

First recorded by The Drifters (US #16 1960).
Other hit version by Jay & The Americans (US #6 1968).

From the wiki: “‘This Magic Moment’ was composed by lyricist Doc Pomus and pianist Mort Shuman, one of their best-known songs, and was first recorded in 1960 by Ben E. King and The Drifters. In 1969, ‘This Magic Moment’ was covered by Jay and the Americans and reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.”

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