Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: The Weavers

Stewball

First recorded by Lead Belly (1940).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1944), Lonnie Donegan (1956), The Weavers (1960), John Herald & The Greenbriar Boys (1961).
Hit version by Peter, Paul & Mary (US #35/MOR #17 1963).

From the wiki: “There are two major but different arrangements of the sporting ballad, generally titled either ‘Skewball’ or ‘Stewball’; the latter spelling is more popular in America. Versions date at least as far back as the 18th century. In most versions of ‘Stewball’ the winning horse triumphs due to the stumbling of the lead horse; ‘Skewball’ wins simply by being the faster horse in the end. The oldest broadside identified with the ballad is dated 1784 and is held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. The song spread to America by 1829 when it was published in a songbook in Hartford. American versions were sung and adapted by slaves in the Southern United States, and have ‘Stewball’ racing in California, Texas, or Kentucky.

If I Had a Hammer

First recorded (as “The Hammer Song”) by The Weavers (1950).
Hit versions by Peter, Paul & Mary (US #10 1962), Trini Lopez (US #3 1963).

From the wiki: “‘If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)’ was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 in support of the progressive movement, and was first recorded by The Weavers in 1950. It was not particularly successful in commercial terms when it was first released. (The song was first performed publicly by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays on June 3, 1949, at St. Nicholas Arena in New York City at a testimonial dinner for the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States. It was later part of the three songs Seeger played as the warm-up act for Paul Robeson’s September 4, 1949, concert near Peekskill, New York, which subsequently erupted into a riot.)

“‘If I Had a Hammer’ went on to become a Top-10 hit for Peter, Paul and Mary in 1962, and then went to #3 a year later when recorded by Trini Lopez.”

Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

Adapted from “It It Wasn’t for Dickey” by Lead Belly (1937).
First recorded by The Weavers (US #19 1951).
Other hit versions by Jimmie Rodgers (US #3 1957), Frankie Vaughn (UK #8 1958).

From the wiki: “‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine’ is a love song written by The Weavers in 1950, and first recorded by the group in 1951. In his 1993 book Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Pete Seeger described the long genesis of this song. Apparently, Blues singer Lead Belly heard Irish performer Sam Kennedy in Greenwich Village singing the traditional Irish song ‘Drimmin Down’ aka ‘Drimmen Dow’, about a farmer and his dead cow. Lead Belly adapted the tune for his own farmer/cow song ‘If It Wasn’t for Dickey’, which he first recorded in 1937. Seeger liked Lead Belly’s version of the tune, and his chords as well. In 1950, the quartet The Weavers, which Seeger belonged to, had made a hit version of Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight, Irene’, and they were looking for new, similar material.

On Top of Spaghetti

Based on “On Top of Old Smoky” by The Weavers (US #2 1951).
Hit version by Tom Glazer & the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus (1963).

From the wiki: “‘On Top of Spaghetti’ is a ballad and children’s song with the most known performance by folk singer Tom Glazer with the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus in 1963. The song is sung to the tune of ‘On Top of Old Smoky’, first recorded in 1925 by George Reneau and made popular in 1951 by The Weavers. It is the tale of a meatball falling off of a pile of spaghetti and rolling away ‘after somebody sneezed.'”

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 Blind Blake Higgs (1952), 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: “According to Blind Blake Higgs, the Bahamanian calypso entertainer, the John B had been a sponger boat that one day went under. That’s not so unusual, all thing considered. So, what made this tragedy so special? One possible explanation is the name of the vessel: to illiterate ears, ‘John B’ sounds like ‘Zombie’. So, when said sloop vanished with no one returning, that’s the stuff where legends are made of.

“The popularity of the song triggered interest in the wreck’s whereabouts. The hull was found and rescued from under the sands of Governor’s Harbor in 1926. John T. McCutcheon, philosopher and cartoonist on holiday with his wife in the West Indies at that time, learned the song and brought the song to New York where poet Carl Sandberg collected it for his songbook The American Songbag (1927).

House of the Rising Sun

First recorded (as “Rising Sun Blues”) by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster (1933).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1941), Lead Belly (1944 |1948), Josh White (1947), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Pete Seeger (1958), Andy Griffith (1959), Miriam Makeba (1960).
Hit versions by The Animals (US #1/UK #1 1964), Frijid Pink (US #7/UK #4 1970).

From the wiki: “Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.

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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