Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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The Ballad of Ira Hayes

Written and first recorded by Peter LaFarge (1962).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #3 1964).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (1970, released 1973).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ was written by folk singer Peter La Farge (himself a Nargaset Indian, poet, and novelist, and Native American rights advocate), and first recorded by him in 1962. It tells the story of Ira Hayes, one of the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who became famous for having raised the US flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II. Hayes was a Pima Native American and a United States Marine corporal who was one of the six flag raisers immortalized in the iconic Iwo Jima photograph.

“Hayes was never comfortable with his new-found fame, however, and after his discharge from the Marine Corps he descended into alcoholism. Hayes recalled, ‘I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies. They were better men than me and they’re not coming back.’ Hayes died of exposure to cold and alcohol poisoning after a night of drinking in January 1955. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on February 2, 1955.

“‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ has been covered many times. The most popular version was recorded by Johnny Cash in 1964, for his concept album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. The album’s promotional single, ‘Ballad of Ira Hayes’, reached #3 on the Country singles chart while the album itself peaked at #2. But this required effort as Cash encountered resistance to his recordings.

“Facing censorship and an angry backlash from radio stations, disc-jockeys and fans for speaking out on behalf of Native people, Cash decided to fight back. He boughtr a full-page ad that appeared in the August 22, 1964 issue of Billboard magazine, calling some DJs and programmers ‘gutless’ for not playing the Ira Hayes song, and asking why they were afraid to do so. He left the question unanswered.

“Bob Dylan covered ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ during his sessions for Self Portrait (released in 1970), though his version did not see release until Columbia used it as part of the Dylan album of 1973. On November 16, 1975, Dylan performed the song live at the Tuscarora Reservation, and this rendition appears on the 2019 box set The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings and in the 2019 film Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.

“In 2010, the Western Writers of America chose ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.”

Johnny Cash, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” (1964):

Bob Dylan, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” (1970):

Bob Dylan, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” from Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story (1975):

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