Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Wedding Bell Blues

Written and first recorded by Laura Nyro (US #103 1966).
Also recorded by Lesley Gore (1969).
Hit version by The 5th Dimension (US #1/R&B #23/UK #16/CAN #3 1969).

From the wiki: “‘Wedding Bell Blues’ was written and first recorded by Laura Nyro in 1966 that would go to become a #1 hit for The 5th Dimension in 1969 and, subsequently, a popular phrase in American culture.

“Nyro wrote ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ at the age of 18 as a ‘mini-suite’, conveying the dual themes of adoring love and frustrated lament, and featuring several dramatic rhythmic changes.

“When Nyro first recorded ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ in 1966, she had arranged it in a spare, almost demo-like form*, intending this version to be a part of what would become her More Than a New Discovery album. However, producer Herb Bernstein would not allow Nyro use the arrangement, which ultimately led to her to more or less disown the entire album. What was recorded and released was fairly similar in content and arrangement to the later, much more familiar, 5th Dimension version, albeit with a somewhat more soulful vocal line. Nyro’s album arrangement was released as a Verve/Folkways single in September 1966 but did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining instead ‘bubbling under’ the Hot 100 – peaking at #103.

“Lesley Gore had been longtime fan of Nyro’s writing and jumped at the chance to record ‘Wedding Bell Blues’. Released late in the summer of 1969, Gore and her label, Mercury, anticipated that a chart hit would reignite Gore’s career. Music trade magazines proffered early praise for the recording:

“The Laura Nyro classic gets a powerful vocal workout from Miss Gore, and should prove the entry to bring her back to a high spot on the charts. Top programming fare.”

Billboard magazine, September 6, 1969

“… But, the subsequent, almost-simultaneous release of the 5th Dimension’s own cover (the same week as the above quote was published) soon dashed any hope of a Gore ‘comeback’ chart success.

“The 5th Dimension had already found hits with Nyro’s ‘Stoned Soul Picnic‘ and ‘Sweet Blindness’ during 1968. When recording tracks for their upcoming album The Age of Aquarius, producer Bones Howe suggested it would be amusing to record another Nyro song, this one about a woman trying to get someone named Bill to commit to marriage. As it happened, 5th Dimension singer Marilyn McCoo was engaged to another member, Billy Davis, Jr., though they had not set a wedding date. (In 1969 television appearances, McCoo would explicitly sing parts of the song to Davis; Davis would respond with quizzical looks. See video below.)

“So the group recorded it, and in May 1969 the album was released. The first single ahead of the album, ‘Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In’, was a tremendous hit, while success of the second single, ‘Workin’ On a Groovy Thing‘, was much more moderate. When a disc jockey in San Diego began playing ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ off the album, Soul City Records saw its potential, and in September 1969 it was put out as a single.”

* Pure speculation on my part, but I could imagine Nyro’s original “spare” interpretation – the one that producer Bernstein disliked – sounding very similar to the arrangement she would later record live in Tokyo in 1994.

Lesley Gore, “Wedding Bell Blues” (1969):

The 5th Dimension, “Wedding Bell Blues” (1969):

The 5th Dimension, “Wedding Bell Blues” TV performance (1969):

Laura Nyro, “Wedding Bell Blues” live performance @ Tokyo (1994):

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