Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Drifters

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):

Ruby Baby

First recorded by The Drifters (R&B #10 1956).
Other hit versions by Dion (US #2/R&B #5 1963), Billy “Crash” Craddock (US #33/MOR #23/C&W #1 1974).
Also recorded by The Beach Boys (1965, released 1993), Donald Fagen (1982).

From the wiki: “‘Ruby Baby’ was written by the hit songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (‘Hound Dog‘, ‘On Broadway‘). It was first recorded by the Drifters, who scored an R&B hit with the song in 1956. Dion covered ‘Ruby Baby’ in 1963, scoring a Top-5 hit. In 1974, Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock topped the US Country chart with his cover version.

“The Beach Boys recorded ‘Ruby Baby’ during sessions for their 1965 album Beach Boys’ Party!, but the recording remained unreleased until the band’s 1993 box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys. Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen covered ‘Ruby Baby’ for his 1982 solo album, Nightfly.”

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.”

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. 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.

On Broadway

Originally recorded by The Cookies (1962).
Also recorded (and released first) by The Crystals (1962).
Hit versions by The Drifters (US #9/R&B #7 1963) and George Benson (US #7/R&B #2 1978).

From the wiki: “Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were based at Aldon Music, in NYC, and the song as written by Mann-Weil was originally recorded by The Cookies (although The Crystals’ version beat them to release) and featured an upbeat lyric in which the protagonist is still on her way to Broadway and sings ‘I got to get there soon, or I’ll just die.’ For the Crystals’ recording, Phil Spector created his soon-to-be trademark cocktail of pizzicato strings, mandolins and castanets. Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ was inspired by, and reflects, the ‘neon lights of Broadway’. It might not even exist without ‘On Broadway’.

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