Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: 1990s

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.’

Beauty and the Beast

First performed and recorded by Angela Lansbury (1991).
Hit version by Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson (US #9/MOR #3/CAN #2/UK #9/AUS #17 1991).

From the wiki: “‘Beauty and the Beast’ was written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken for the Disney animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991). The film’s theme song, a Broadway-inspired ballad, was first recorded by British-American actress Angela Lansbury in her role as the voice of the character Mrs. Potts.

“Disney first solely recruited Canadian singer Celine Dion in 1991 to record a radio-friendly version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to promote the film and the film’s forthcoming soundtrack album. However, the studio was concerned that the then-newcomer would not be a strong enough marquee name on her own in the United States (up until then, Dion had had only two songs reach the Billboard Hot 100 and only one hit Top-10), so the more bankable Peabo Bryson (‘Tonight, I Celebrate My Love’, ‘If Ever You’re in My Arms Again’), with his far larger fan-base, was brought in to be a duet partner. (In the beginning Dion had been reluctant to record ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at all because she had just been replaced from recording ‘Dreams to Dreams’, the theme song of the animated film An American Tail: Fievel Goes West – a song that had first been offered to but was rejected by Linda Ronstadt, but which would ultimately be recorded by Ronstadt after she changed her mind.)

A Whole New World (Alladin’s Theme)

First recorded by Brad Kane & Lea Salonga (1992).
Hit version by Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle (US #1/MOR #1/CAN #6/UK #12/AUS #10/NZ #8/IRE #11 1992).

From the wiki: “‘A Whole New World (Alladin’s Theme)’ is from Disney’s 1992 animated feature film Aladdin, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice. The original version was sung for the film by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga. They also performed the song in their characters at the 65th Academy Awards, where it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

“A single version of the song was released that year and was performed by American recording artists Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. This version is played in the movie’s end credits and is referred on the soundtrack as ‘Aladdin’s Theme’. This version peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart on March 6, 1993. The track peaked at #12 in the UK Singles Chart in 1992.

“‘A Whole New World (Alladin’s Theme)’ is the first and so far only song from a Disney animated film to top the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as being the first and so far only Disney song to win a Grammy Award for Song of the Year (at the 36th Annual Grammy Awards).”

Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle, “Whole New World (Alladin’s Theme)” (1992):

Hurt (Johnny Cash)

Written and first recorded by Nine Inch Nails (1994).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #56/ALT #33/UK #39 2002).

From the wiki: “‘Hurt’ was written by Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor for the group’s second studio album, The Downward Spiral (1994). The song received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996, but ultimately lost to Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’.

“In 2002, ‘Hurt’ was covered by Johnny Cash to commercial and critical acclaim; it was one of Cash’s final hits released before his death, and the related music video was considered one of the greatest of all time by publications such as NME. Reznor praised Cash’s interpretation of the song for its ‘sincerity and meaning’, going as far as to say ‘that song isn’t mine anymore.’ The line ‘crown of shit’ was changed by Cash to ‘crown of thorns’, not only removing profanity from the lyrics but also more directly referencing Jesus and Cash’s devout Christianity.

Stay (I Missed You)

First recorded (as a demo) by Lisa Loeb (1992).
Hit version by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories (US #1/MOR #5/CAN #1/UK #6/AUS #6 1994).

From the wiki: “‘Stay (I Missed You)’ was written by singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb. It was released in May 1994 as the lead single from the original motion-picture soundtrack for Reality Bites. ‘Stay’ was originally conceived by Loeb in 1990. Loeb, who had attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for a summer session after graduating from Brown University, formed a full band called Nine Stories in 1990.

“The band, named after a book by J.D. Salinger, included Tim Bright on guitar, Jonathan Feinberg on drums, and Joe Quigley on bass. Loeb began working with producer Juan Patiño to make the cassette Purple Tape in 1992. It included the earliest recordings of later popular tracks such as ‘Do You Sleep?’, ‘Snow Day’, ‘Train Songs’, ‘It’s Over’ and ‘Stay (I Missed You)’. Loeb sold the violet-colored cassette to fans at gigs and used it as a sonic calling card to music industry gatekeepers.

(To) Make You Feel My Love

First released by Billy Joel (US #50 1997).
Other hit versions by Garth Brooks (C&W #1/MOR #8/CAN #7 1998), Adele (UK #26 |UK #4/NETH #3/SCOT #4/IRE #5 2008 2010 |UK #34 2011).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (1997), Bryan Ferry (2007).

From the wiki: “‘Make You Feel My Love’ was written by Bob Dylan that appeared on his 1997 album Time Out of Mind. It was first commercially released by Billy Joel, under the title ‘To Make You Feel My Love’, before Dylan’s version appeared later that year. It has since been covered by numerous performers and has proved to be a commercial success for recording artists such as Garth Brooks (from the movie Hope Floats), and Adele.

Change the World

First released by Wynonna (Feb 1996).
Hit version by Eric Clapton (US #5/MOR #1/R&B #54/CAN #1/UK #18/AUS #8/NZ #3 July 1996 |JPN #7).

From the wiki: “’Change the World’ was written by Tommy Sims, Gordon Kennedy, and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Six months prior to the release of Eric Clapton’s hit version, the song was released by country superstar Wynonna Judd for her album Revelations, released in February 1996. Wynonna, however, did not release her version as a promotional single (‘To Be Loved By You’ was instead released) despite the popularity of Clapton’s subsequent recording when his recording was released to radio in July 1996.

Achy Breaky Heart

First recorded (as “Don’t Tell My Heart”) by The Marcy Brothers (1991).
Hit versions by Billy Ray Cyrus (US #4/C&W #1/CAN #4/UK #1/AUS #1/NZ #1 1992), Alvin & the Chipmunks (C&W #71/UK #53 1993).

From the wiki: “‘Achy Breaky Heart’ was written by Don Von Tress. Originally titled ‘Don’t Tell My Heart’ and performed by The Marcy Brothers in 1991, its name was later changed to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and performed by Billy Ray Cyrus on his 1992 album Some Gave All. Cyrus’ recording became a crossover hit on both pop and country radio, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Hot Country Singles chart, becoming the first country single to be certified Platinum since Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands in the Stream‘ in 1983.

“The song was initially to be recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys in the early 1990s but the group decided against recording it after lead singer Duane Allen said that he did not like the words ‘achy breaky’.

I Swear

First released by John Michael Montgomery (US #42/C&W #1 1993).
Hit version by All-4-One (US #1/R&B #13/UK #2/CAN #1/AUS #1/NETH #1 1994).

From the wiki: “‘I Swear’ was written by Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers, who also recorded a demo of it in 1989 at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They couldn’t convince anyone to record the song at the time but, in 1992, they recorded a new demo of ‘I Swear’ which attracted the attention of John Michael Montgomery. Montgomery would record the song in 1993 and release it as the first single from his 1994 album Kickin It Up.

Step by Step

First recorded by The Superiors (1987).
Hit version by New Kids on the Block (US #1/UK #2/CAN #1/1990).

From the wiki: “‘Step by Step’ was written by Maurice Starr, discoverer of The New Edition (1982) and New Kids on the Block (1984), and was originally recorded by one of Starr’s later group creations, The Superiors. ‘Step by Step’ was released as a Motown single in 1987 with no apparent chart impact.


First released (as “Brændt [Burnt]”) by Lis Sørensen (1993).
Also recorded by Ednaswap (1995 |1997).
Hit version by Natalie Imbruglia (US #1/UK #2/CAN #1/BE #1/SWE #1 1997).

From the wiki: “‘Torn’ was written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, and Phil Thornalley during a demo session in 1993 before Ednaswap was formed. This song has been covered a surprising number of times, considering that it was written by a nearly unknown alternative rock band. The first recorded version of the song was, in 1993, a translation by Danish singer Lis Sørensen, ‘Brændt’ (which translates to ‘Burnt’ in English).