Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Willie Nelson

Blue Skies

First recorded by Vaughn De Leath (1927).
Popular recordings by Ben Selvin (US #1 1927), Al Jolson (1927, in The Jazz Singer), Benny Goodman (1935), Count Basie & His Orchestra (US #8 1946), Bing Crosby (1946), Willie Nelson (MOR #32/C&W #1/CAN #1 1978).
Inspired Theolonious Monk “In Walked Bud” (1947).

From the wiki: “‘Blue Skies’ was composed by Irving Berlin in 1926 as a last-minute addition to the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy. Although the show ran for 39 performances only, the song was an instant success, with audiences on opening night demanding 24 encores of the piece from star Belle Baker. During the final repetition, Ms. Baker forgot her lyrics, prompting Berlin to sing them from his seat in the front row.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Co-written and first recorded by Ed Bruce (C&W #15 1975).
Other hit version by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (US #42/C&W #1/CAN #1 1978).

From the wiki: “‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ was first recorded in 1975 by Ed Bruce, written by him and wife Patsy Bruce. Bruce’s rendition of the song went to number 15 on the Hot Country Singles charts. Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson covered the song on their 1978 duet album Waylon & Willie. This recording peaked at #1 in March 1978, spending four weeks atop the Country music charts while also crossing-over to the Billboard Hot 100, and won the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Members of the Western Writers of America chose ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.”

Midnight Rider

Written and first recorded by The Allman Brothers (1970).
Also recorded by Buddy Miles (1971).
Hit versions by Joe Cocker (US #23 1972), Gregg Allman (US #19 1973), Paul Davidson (UK #10 1976), Willie Nelson (C&W #6 1980).

From the wiki: “‘Midnight Rider’ is a popular and widely covered song by The Allman Brothers Band from their 1970 album Idlewild South, written by Gregg Allman and Robert Kim Payne. Drummer Buddy Miles (Electric Flag, Jimi Hendrix) recorded the first cover of ‘Midnight Rider’, in 1971, for the album A Message to the People. Recordings by Joe Cocker, Gregg Allman himself (on his solo album Laid Back), Paul Davidson, and Willie Nelson have all reached the US and UK charts as singles but the song, as recorded by The Allman Brothers Band, was never released as a single.”

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.

To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before

Co-written and first recorded by Albert Hammond (1975).
Also recorded by Bobby Vinton (1980).
Hit version by Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson (US #5/C&W #1/UK #17/CAN #4/AUS #1/NZ #2/SPN #2 1984).

From the wiki: “‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before’ is a song written by Hal David (former lyricist for Burt Bacharach) and Albert Hammond (‘The Air That I Breathe‘,’When I Need You‘). It was originally recorded in 1975 by Albert Hammond for his album 99 Miles From L.A., but his song became most famous with the 1984 recording by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, which appeared on Iglesias’s album 1100 Bel Air Place.

Crazy

Written and first recorded (as a demo) by Willie Nelson (1961).
Hit version by Patsy Cline (US #9/C&W #2/UK #14 1961).

From the wiki: “Willie Nelson wrote ‘Crazy’ in early 1961. At the time he was a journeyman singer-songwriter working at the time under the name of Hugh Nelson. Nelson originally wrote the song for country singer Billy Walker who turned it down for the same reason Roy Drusky turned down ‘I Fall to Pieces’ the previous year – that it was ‘a girl’s song’. The song’s eventual success helped launch Nelson’s career as a performer as well as a songwriter. (On an episode of VH1’s Storytellers, Nelson revealed that ‘Crazy’ was originally titled ‘Stupid’.)

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

First recorded by Fats Waller & His Rhythm (US #5 1935).
Other hit versions by The Boswell Sisters (US #3 1936), Billy Williams (US #3 1957), Willie Nelson (C&W #26/CAN #25 1981).
Also recorded by Frank Sinatra (1954 & 1962), Bing Crosby with Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band (1957), Bill Haley & His Comets (1957).

From the wiki: “‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ was composed in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young, and has become a standard of the Great American Songbook. The first recording on the song was by Fats Waller & His Rhythm, in a Victor Records recording session on May 8, 1935. It was covered the following year by The Boswell Sisters, reaching #3 on US popular music charts. (Connee Boswell would record a solo version in 1952.)

City of New Orleans

Written and first recorded by Steve Goodman (1970).
Hit versions by Arlo Guthrie (US #18 1972), Willie Nelson (US #30/C&W #1/CAN #1 1984).

From the wiki: “‘City of New Orleans’ is a folk song written by Steve Goodman (and first recorded for Goodman’s self-titled 1971 album), describing a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans on the Illinois Central Railroad’s City of New Orleans in bittersweet and nostalgic terms. Goodman got the idea while traveling on the Illinois Central line for a visit to his wife’s family.

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain

First recorded by Roy Acuff & His Smoky Mountain Boys (1947).
Also recorded by Hank Williams (1951), Elvis Presley (1976), Eva Cassidy (2008).
Hit versions by Willie Nelson (US #21/C&W #1 1975), UB40 (ARU #1 2013).

From the wiki: “‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’ is a song written by songwriter Fred Rose, and first recorded by Roy Acuff in 1947. The song was also recorded in 1951 by Hank Williams for the Mother’s Best Flour Hour radio program.

Always On My Mind

First recorded by Brenda Lee (C&W #45/CAN #40 1972).
Hit versions by Elvis Presley (C&W #16/UK #9 1972), John Wesley Ryles (C&W #20 1979), Willie Nelson (US #5/C&W #1 1982), Pet Shop Boys (US #4/UK #1/CAN #1 1988).

From the wiki: “‘Always on My Mind’ is an American country music song by Johnny Christopher, Mark James (‘Suspicious Minds‘, ‘Hooked On a Feeling‘) and Wayne Carson, recorded first by Brenda Lee in 1972.

“Wayne Carson says that he wrote the song in 10 minutes at his home in Springfield at his kitchen table and completed the song in studio with the assistance of Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Brenda Lee would be the first singer to record and release a version of ‘Always On My Mind’. Her single, however, would stall at #45 on the US Country Singles chart.

Let It Be Me

First recorded (in English) by Jill Corey (1957).
Hit versions by The Everly Brothers (US #7 1960), Betty Everett & Jerry Butler (US #5/R&B #1 1964), The Sweet Inspirations (R&B #13 1967), Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry (US #36/C&W #14/MOR #7 1969) and Willie Nelson (US #40/C&W #2/MOR #11 1982).

From the wiki: “[O]riginally published in 1955 as ‘Je t’appartiens,’ the score was written and first recorded in French by Gilbert B├ęcaud (‘September Morn’). The English-language version used lyrics by Mann Curtis and was first performed in 1957 by Jill Corey in the television series Climax!. Corey’s version, with orchestration by Jimmy Carroll, was released as a single and was moderately successful.

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