Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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A Boy Named Sue

Written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein (1969).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (US #2/MOR #1/CW #1/CAN #3/UK #4 1969).

From the wiki: “‘A Boy Named Sue’ is a poem by Shel Silverstein that has been made popular by Johnny Cash. The core story of the song was inspired by humorist Jean Shepherd, a close friend of Silverstein, who was often taunted as a child because of his feminine-sounding name.

“Cash was at the height of his popularity when he recorded the song live at California’s San Quentin State Prison at a concert on February 24, 1969. The song became Cash’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top ten single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969, held out of the top spot by’ Honky Tonk Women’ by The Rolling Stones. The track also topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts that same year.

“Cash wrote that he had just received the song and only read over it a couple of times before including it in the San Quentin concert to try it out – he did not know the words and on the filmed recording he can be seen regularly referring to a piece of paper. Cash was surprised at how well the song went over with the audience. The rough, spontaneous performance with sparse accompaniment was included in the Johnny Cash At San Quentin album, ultimately becoming one of Cash’s biggest hits.

“With public decorum being more conservative in America when the song was released in the 1960s, the term ‘son of a bitch’ in the line ‘I’m the son of a bitch that named you Sue!’ was censored in the radio version and the final line was edited to remove the word ‘damn’. Both the edited and unedited versions are available on various albums and compilations.

“According to Shel Silverstein’s biographer Mitch Myers, it was June Carter Cash who encouraged her husband to perform the song. Silverstein introduced it to them at what they called a ‘Guitar Pull,’ where musicians would pass a guitar around and play their songs.

“Silverstein later wrote a follow-up named ‘The Father of a Boy Named Sue’ on his 1978 Songs and Stories album, in which he tells the old man’s point of view of the story.”

Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue” (1969):

Shel Silverstein, “The Father of a Boy Named Sue” (1978):

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