Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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1278 total songs ... and counting!

Native New Yorker

First recorded by Frankie Valli (1977).
Hit version by Odyssey (US #21/MOR #28/DANCE #3/CAN #13/UK #3/IRE #7 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Native New Yorker’ was written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell. It was first recorded in 1977 by Frankie Valli and released on his album Lady Put the Light Out.

“Later in 1977 the song became a hit single for the soul dance band Odyssey. The tenor saxophone solo on Odyssey’s recording is played by Michael Brecker. George Young, of the Saturday Night Live band, was part of the horn section, too, where he played alto sax.

The Hokey Pokey

First recorded (in the United States) by The Sun Valley Trio (1948, released 1950).
Popular versions by Cliffie Stone & His Hometown Jamboree Gang (1951), Ray Anthony & His Orchestra (B-side 1953).

From the wiki: “‘The Hokey Pokey’, also known as ‘The Hokey Cokey’ in the United Kingdom, is a campfire song and participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. It is well-known in English-speaking countries. It originates in a British folk dance, with variants attested as early as 1826. The song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in the UK.

“Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak, and Tafit Baker of the musical group the Ram Trio, better known as the Sun Valley Trio, recorded the song in 1948 and it was released in 1950. They have generally been credited with creating this novelty dance as entertainment for the ski crowd at the Sun Valley, Idaho resort.

Bonaparte’s Retreat

First recorded by A.A. Gray (1924).
Also recorded by Crockett’s Kentucky Mountaineers (1927), William Hamilton Stepp (1937).
Hit versions by Pee Wee King & His Golden Western Cowboys (C&W #10 1949), Kay Starr (US #4 1950), Billy Grammer (US #50 1959), Glen Campbell (C&W #3/CAN #1 1974).

From the wiki: “‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ is the name of two related songs. The original was a wordless melody that existed as various fiddle tunes dating back to at least the late 19th century and probably well before that. In 1950, American country music artist Pee Wee King recorded a modified version of the song, with lyrics added. The song has become associated with American old-time and bluegrass music, and is considered to be a staple in the traditional American songbook. The title originates from Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous retreat from Russia in 1812, and the song is believed to have first been written in the aftermath of that event.

“Fiddler A. A. Gray recorded the song in 1924. In 1937, American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, while traveling through Kentucky, recorded violinist William Hamilton Stepp playing ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’. This recording was inducted in 2016 into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

Life is a Highway

Written and first recorded (as “Love is a Highway”) by Tom Cochrane (ca. 1980s, released 1991).
Hit version by Tom Cochrane (CAN #1 1991 |US #6/UK #62/AUS #2/NZ #2 1992).
Other hit versions by Chris LeDoux (C&W #64 1998), Rascal Flatts (US #7/C&W #18/CAN #10 2006).

From the wiki: “‘Life Is a Highway’ was written by Canadian musician Tom Cochrane. Cochrane recalls “Life Is a Highway” was originally conceived in the 1980s and demo recorded as ‘Love is a Highway’ while he was still a member of the band Red Rider, but was shelved at that time because he felt the unfinished song was unusable. However, following a trip with his family to Eastern Africa with the World Vision famine relief organization, Cochrane revisited the song on the advice of his friend, John Webster.

“In a 2017 interview with The Canadian Press to mark the song’s 25th anniversary, Cochrane said Webster encouraged him to revisit the demo recording, which at that point only had mumbled vocals and improvised lyrics, but not the song’s well-known chorus. ‘(The song) became a pep talk to myself… saying you can’t really control all of this stuff, you just do the best you can,’ he says. Cochrane says he was trying to make sense of the poverty he witnessed on his trip, which he found ‘shocking and traumatic.’

I Can’t Stand the Rain

First recorded by Ann Peebles (US #38/R&B #6/UK #41 1974).
Other hit version by Eruption (US #18/DISCO #6/AUS #1/#1 BEL 1977).

From the wiki: “‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’ was written by Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, and Bernard ‘Bernie’ Miller a song and was first recorded by Peebles in 1973.

“According to Bryant:

“One evening in Memphis in 1973, soul singer Ann Peebles was meeting friends, including her partner, Hi Records staff writer Don Bryant, to go to a concert. Just as they were about to set off, the heavens opened and Peebles snapped: ‘I can’t stand the rain.’ As a professional songwriter in constant need of new material, Bryant was used to plucking resonant phrases out of the air and he liked the idea of reacting against recent R&B hits that celebrated bad weather, such as the Dramatics’ ‘In the Rain’ or Love Unlimited’s ‘Walkin’ in the Rain with the One I Love’.

(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard

First recorded (as “The Old Schoolyard”) by Linda Lewis (1975).
Hit version by Cat Stevens (US #33/MOR #28/CAN #27/UK #44/AUS #18 1977).

From the wiki: “‘(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard’ was inspired by the playground at St. Joseph’s in London, where Stevens went to school, recalling simple days filled with childhood fun.

“Stevens wrote the song for Linda Lewis, who was the first to record the song. Lewis had sung on Stevens’ 1972 album Catch Bull At Four and had accompanied him on his 1974 ‘Bamboozle’ tour. Clive Davis of Arista Records signed Lewis on the strength of her performance of ‘The Old Schoolyard’, which she released as an album track on her 1975 collection, Not A Little Girl Anymore.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

First released by The Beatles (1965).
Hit version by The Silkie (US #10/UK #28 1965).

From the wiki: “‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ was written and sung by John Lennon (though credited to Lennon–McCartney) and released on the Beatles’ movie soundtrack album Help! in August 1965. It was not released as a promotional single.

“The Silkie, a band that had been signed by Brian Epstein, recorded their version a few months after the Beatles. The Silkie were an English folk music group. Their name was derived from an Orcadian song ‘The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry’, which they sometimes performed. They were briefly considered to be the English equivalent of Peter, Paul and Mary, with their common repertoire of Bob Dylan songs, and the original Australian folk group, The Seekers.

Try to Remember

First performed by Jerry Orbach (1960).
Hit versions by Ed Ames (US #73/MOR #17 1965), The Brothers Four (US #91/MOR #10 1965), Roger Williams (US #97 1965), New World Trio (AUS #11 1968), Gladys Knight & the Pips (US #11/MOR #2/R&B #6/UK #4 1975).

From the wiki: “‘Try to Remember’ was written for the musical comedy The Fantasticks, sung as the introductory song in the show to get the audience to imagine what the sparse set suggests.

“Its lyrics, by author and lyricist Tom Jones (not the singer), famously rhyme ‘remember’ with ‘September’, ‘so tender’, ’ember’, and ‘December’, and repeat the sequence -llow throughout the song: verse 1 contains ‘mellow’, ‘yellow’, and ‘callow fellow’; verse 2 contains ‘willow’, ‘pillow’, ‘billow'”; verse 3 contains ‘follow’, ‘hollow’, ‘mellow’; and all verses end with ‘follow’. Harvey Schmidt composed the music.

“In 1965, five years after its Broadway debut, ‘Try To Remember’ made it into the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart three times with versions by Ed Ames, Roger Williams, and the Brothers Four. ‘Try to Remember’ has since been covered by many artists over the years and has become a popular standard in the American songbook.

It Don’t Matter to Me

First recorded by Bread (September 1969).
Hit version re-recorded by Bread (US #10/MOR #2/CAN #6 September 1970).
Also recorded by Maxine Weldon (1971).

From the wiki: “‘It Don’t Matter to Me’ was written by David Gates. It was first recorded for the eponymous debut album of his group, Bread, and released as an album track in September 1969.

“In 1970, during sessions for Bread’s second album, On the Waters, Gates had the group re-record ‘It Don’t Matter to Me’ for the group’s follow-up single to the #1 hit ‘Make It With You’. (The re-recording, however, was not included on the second album.) Released as a single in September 1970, this new version hit the Top-10 in both the U.S. and Canada, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spending two weeks at #6 in Canada.

Never My Love

First released by Robert Knight (released February 1967).
Hit versions by The Association (released June 1967 US #2/MOR #1/CAN #1/NZ #6), The 5th Dimension (US #12/MOR #1/R&B #45/CAN #9 1972), Blue Swede (US #7/CAN #7 1974), The Addrisi Brothers (US #80 1977).

From the wiki: “”Never My Love” was a pop standard written by siblings Don and Dick Addrisi. Growing up, both Don and Dick played parts in their family’s acrobatic group, The Flying Addrisis. In the 1950s, they got in touch with Lenny Bruce about starting a singing career and moved to California. They auditioned for parts on the Mickey Mouse Club, but were rejected. Soon after, however, they signed to Del-Fi Records and recorded several singles which produced a modest chart hit for them in 1959, ‘Cherrystone’. The brothers enjoyed greater success as a songwriting duo.

Wabash Cannonball (or Wabash Cannon Ball)

First recorded by Hugh Cross (1929).
Also recorded by The Carter Family (1929, released 1932).
Hit version by Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseeans (1936).
Also performed by Woody Guthrie (1944).
Also recorded by Roy Acuff & His Smoky Mountain Boys (1947), Bill Haley (as “Jukebox Cannonball” 1952), Lonnie Donegan (as “Grand Coulee Dam” UK #6 1956).

From the wiki: “J.A. Roff’s 19th-century train song ‘The Great Rock Island Route’ was rewritten in 1904 by William Kindt as ‘Wabash Cannon Ball’, and though the famed Carter Family is sometimes cited as the first to record it (with A.B. Carter credited as composer), an arrangement by Hugh Cross & his guitar was put to wax more than seven months before theirs … and which was released three years prior to the release of the Carter Family recording.

“The artist most commonly associated with the song is Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseeans whose first recording of ‘Wabash Cannonball’ was made in 1936 and released in December 1938. Crazy Tennesseean member Sam ‘Dynamite’ Hatcher was the actual vocalist on the recording, but it was Acuff’s imitation of a train whistle, something he said he learned while working for the L & N Railroad, that made the recording so iconic. Acuff would himself record a vocal version of ‘Wabash Cannonball’ in 1947.

Smile (from “Modern Times”)

Written by Charles Chaplin and first performed (as an instrumental) in Modern Times (1936).
Hit versions by Nat “King” Cole (US #10/UK #2 1954), Sunny Gale (US #19 1954).
Also recorded by Michael Jackson (1995).

From the wiki: “‘Smile’ was first performed untitled in Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 part-talkie motion picture Modern Times as film’s ‘romance theme’. Chaplin, the composer, says he found inspiration for the song in Puccini’s ‘Tosca’. The composition was arranged for the movie by Edward Powell & David Raskin with the soundtrack orchestra conducted by Alfred Newman (one of Randy Newman’s uncles).

“John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons later added the lyrics and the ‘Smile’ title in 1954. The lyrics were based on lines and themes from the motion picture, telling the listener to cheer up and that there is always a bright tomorrow, ‘just as long as you smile.’

Limbo Rock

First recorded by The Champs (US #40 1961).
Other hit version by Chubby Checker (US #2/R&B #3 1962).
Also recorded (as “Let’s Limbo Some More”) by Chubby Checker (US #20 1963).

From the wiki: “Limbo Rock” is a popular song about limbo dancing written by Kal Mann (under the pseudonym Jan Sheldon) and Billy Strange. An instrumental version was first recorded by The Champs in 1961, a band of studio musicians that included a touring configuration of Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar), Plas Johnson (saxophone) and its newest member, Glen Campbell (guitar).

“Originally composed as ‘Monotonous Melody’, for the lack of any other name, the recording was retitled ‘Limbo Rock’ for release as the B-side to ‘Tequila Twist’, the 45 rpm followup to the Champs’ Top 10 hit ‘Tequila’. ‘Tequila Twist’ debuted at #98 in February 1962 on the Billboard Hot 100 … and then promptly disappeared. ‘Limbo Rock’ was then released as the A-side. It too debuted at #98 on the Hot 100 in May 1962 but managed to peak at #40, taking a very slow 12 weeks of chart progress to get there.

The Umbrella Man (aka Any Umbrellas?)

First recorded by Bud Flanagan & Chesney Allen (1939).
Hit versions by The Johnny Messner Music Box Band (US #12 1939), Kay Kyser & His Orchestra (US #1 1939).

From the wiki: “‘The Umbrella Man’ (sometimes referred to as ‘Any Umbrellas?’, and not to be confused with the Partridge Family song — or the Roald Dalh story — of the same name) was written by British songwriters James Cavanaugh, Larry Stock and Vincent Rose. According to the lyrics, the ‘Umbrella Man’ was a repairman who mends umbrellas and parasols. He will also sharpen knives, darn socks, and even mend a broken heart of two.

“It was first published in 1924, first performe live in 1938 by the comedy double act Flanagan and Allen in the musical revue These Foolish Things, and first recorded by the duo in 1939. It has since been used in Dennis Potter’s motion picture The Singing Detective (1986) and the TV adaptation of John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy (1987).

Alley Oop

Written and first recorded (as a demo) by Dallas Frazier (1957).
Hit version by The Hollywood Argyles (US #1/R&B #3 1960).
Re-recorded by Dallas Frazer (1966).

NOTE: Above audio is a re-recording produced in 1966 for Frazier’s album Elvira.

From the wiki: “‘Alley-Oop’ was written and composed by Dallas Frazier (‘Elvira‘) in 1957, inspired by the V. T. Hamlin-created comic strip of the same name. Three years later, in 1960, a short-lived studio band, the Hollywood Argyles, covered ‘Alley Oop’.

If Not For You

Written and first recorded by Bob Dylan (1970 |NETH #30 1971).
First released by George Harrison (1970).
Other hit version by Olivia Newton-John (US #25/MOR #1/CAN #3/ UK #7/AUS #7/NZ #8 1971).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan & George Harrision (1970, released 1991).

From the wiki: “‘If Not for You’ was written by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan for his October 1970 album New Morning. The song was a love song to Dylan’s first wife, Sara Dylan. He recorded it several times in 1970; the session for the released version took place in New York in August. He also recorded the song with George Harrison on May 1, soon after the break-up of the Beatles, a session that attracted much speculation in the music press. The May recording remained unreleased until its inclusion on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) in 1991.

“In November 1970, Harrison released his arrangement of ‘If Not for You’ on his triple album All Things Must Pass. The best-known cover version was recorded by Olivia Newton-John in 1971, using Harrison’s arrangement of the song. Newton-John’s single became her first hit song, peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart and topping the Billboard Easy Listening chart, as well as the title track to her debut album, If Not for You.

Steamroller Blues

Written and first recorded by James Taylor (1970).
Hit version by Elvis Presley (US #17 1973).
Also recorded (as “Steamroller”) by Merry Clayton (1971).

From the wiki: “‘Steamroller Blues’ (a.k.a. ‘Steamroller’) is a blues parody written by James Taylor, that appeared on his 1970 album Sweet Baby James. It was intended to ‘mock’ the inauthentic blues bands (most always white) of the day.

“Rock journalist David Browne wrote that ‘[d]uring the Flying Machine days in the Village, Taylor had heard one too many pretentious white blues bands and wrote ‘Steamroller’ to mock them.” The song was also included on Taylor’s diamond-selling Greatest Hits 1976 compilation, using a live version recorded in August 1975 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.

Theme from “Peter Gunn”

Written and first performed by Henry Mancini (1958).
Hit versions by Ray Anthony & His Orchestra (US #8/R&B #12 1959), Duane Eddy (US #27/UK #6 1959), Deodato (US #84/R&B #96/DANCE #20 1976), Art of Noise (US #50/CAN #14/UK #8/DANCE #2 1986).

From the wiki: “‘Peter Gunn’ was composed by Henry Mancini for the television show of the same name. The song was also released on the original soundtrack album, The Music from Peter Gunn, released in 1959. Mancini won an Emmy Award and two Grammys for Album of the Year and Best Arrangement

Overture from “Tommy”

First recorded by The Who (1969).
Hit version by The Assembled Multitude (US #16 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Overture’ was written by Pete Townshend and first recorded in 1969 by The Who. ‘Overture’ is one of three instrumental tracks Townshend wrote and the group recorded for their landmark rock opera LP Tommy. It was the lead track when the album was released in May 1969. More than year later, in October 1970, ‘Overture’ was released as the B-side of the promotional single ‘See Me, Feel Me’ – which did not chart – and retitled ‘Overture from Tommy‘.

“Three months before its release as a Who B-side single, the Assembled Multitude, an instrumental ensemble group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, scored with a reworking of ‘Overture’. Their promotional A-side single peaked at #16 in August, 1970 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.”

That Old Black Magic

First performed by Johnnie Johnston (1942).
First released by Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra with Johnnie Johnston (1942).
Other hit versions by Judy Garland (1943), Margaret Whiting (US #10 1943), The Glenn Miller Orchestra (US #1 1943), Sammy Davis, Jr. (US #16 1955), Louis Prima & Keely Smith (US #18 1958), Bobby Rydell (US #21/CAN #13 1961).

From the wiki: “‘That Old Black Magic’ was written in 1942 by Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics). The two wrote it for the 1942 film Star Spangled Rhythm, when it was sung by Johnnie Johnston and danced by Vera Zorina. ‘That Old Black Magic’ was nominated for the Academy Award for ‘Best Original Song’ in 1943 but lost out to ‘You’ll Never Know’ (from the movie Hello, Frisco, Hello).

Black Betty

First recorded by James “Iron Head” Baker (1933).
Also recorded by Lead Belly (1939), Starstruck (1975).
Hit version by Ram Jam (US #18/UK #7/AUS #3 1977).

From American Songwriter: “According to reports, the song was first formally recorded in 1933 by U.S. musicologists John and Alan Lomax. It was performed a cappella by convict James ‘Iron Head’ Baker and a group of prisoners at Central State Farm, in Sugar Land, Texas. At the time, Baker was 63 years old.

“Lead Belly, who had a strong relationship with the Lomaxes, recorded a version in 1939 in New York for the Musicraft Records label. Musicraft released that recording that year as part of a five-disc album, Negro Sinful Songs sung by Lead Belly. Lead Belly’s version was also recorded a cappella, with handclaps. Later versions, though, utilized guitar accompaniment. In 1964, for example, Odetta recorded a version with musical instruments.

When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop

First recorded by Ray Kinney & His Hawaiian Musical Ambassadors (1936).
Also recorded by Dick McIntire & His Harmony Hawaiians (1936).
Hit version by Hilo Hattie (Clara Inter) & Al Kealoha Perry and His Singing Surfriders (1937).

From the wiki: “Don McDiarmid and Johnny Noble were members of Harry Owens’ band, the Royal Hawaiians, at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach when they composed ‘When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop’. Owens considered the song to be ‘inappropriate’ for his band to perform. Instead, former Royal Hawaiian vocalist Ray Kinney (he was the primary vocalist for the the premiere broadcast of Webley Edwards’ Hawaii Calls radio show from the Moana Hotel in July 1935), now leading his own band, the Hawaiian Room Orchestra, arranged the first recording of ‘Hilo Hattie’ on Decca Records under the group name ‘Ray Kinney & His Hawaiian Musical Ambassadors’.

“Hawaiian-born steel guitarist Dick McIntire, and his Mainland orchestra, the Harmony Hawaiians, also released a recording of ‘When Hilo Hattie Does the Hula Hop’ in 1936.

“In 1937, Clara Inter, born Kalala (‘Clara’) Hail, a member of the Royal Hawaiian Girls’ Glee Club, proved Harry Owens wrong by turning ‘When Hilo Hattie Does the Hula Hop’ into a worldwide success, and making it perhaps the most recognized number in Hawaiian history.

Turn the Page

Written and first recorded by Bob Seger (1973).
Also recorded by Bob Seger (1976).
Hit versions by Jon English (AUS #20 1974), Metallica (US #102/US Rock #1/CAN #5/AUS #11/NZ #22/NOR #11/FIN #7 1994).

From the wiki: “‘Turn the Page’ was first written and by Bob Seger in 1972 and released on his Back in ’72 album in 1973. It was not released as a single at that time. But, a live version of the song on the 1976 Live Bullet album was released in Germany and the UK with no apparent chart impact.

“Seger says he wrote the song in a hotel room in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Drummer David Teegarden recalls:

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Written and first recorded by Bob Dylan (1967).
Hit version by Robert Palmer with UB40 (UK #6/CAN #58/IRE #6/AUS #4/NZ #1/SUI #5/NETH #4 1990).

From the wiki: “‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ was written by Bob Dylan in 1967, and first released on the alb um John Wesley Harding. He first performed the song in concert at the Isle of Wight Festival with The Band on August 31, 1969. Since then, Dylan has included it in more than 400 live performances.