Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Folk

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

Written and first performed by Anne Bredon (1959).
First commercial recording by Joan Baez (1961).
Also recorded by The Plebs (1964), The Association (1965).
Album hit version by Led Zeppelin (1969).

https://youtu.be/rvZm8B5xhuw

From the wiki: “‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ was written by Anne Bredon née Johannsen in the late 1950s. Bredon appeared on the live Folk music radio show, The Midnight Special, on Pacifica radio’s KPFA singing ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. A fellow Folk singer guesting on the program, Janet Smith, took up the song and developed it further, playing it live at hootenanny events at Oberlin College, one performance of which was attended by Joan Baez. Baez requested of Smith to send her a recording of her songs, including ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’, which Baez subsequently began performing herself.

“Vanguard Records, Baez’s label, later sent Smith a letter asking if she had written ‘Babe’. In the meantime, Baez had recorded the song and included it on her In Concert album. Initial pressings listed no writer’s credit for ‘Babe’. The 1964 recording by the Surrey, England, band The Plebs credits ‘Trad arr. Dennis’ but, later the same year, the Joan Baez Songbook rightfully lists Anne Bredon as the author as does the 1965 recording of the song by The Association. (It was the group’s first single release, but had no chart impact.)

Casey Jones

First recorded by The American Quartet with Billy Murray (1910).
Hit version by Eddy Arnold (C&W #15 1956).

From the wiki: “‘The Ballad of Casey Jones’ is a traditional song about railroad engineer Casey Jones and his death at the controls of the train he was driving. The song helped preserve the memory of Jones’ feat down through the years in its 40+ versions and enhanced Casey’s legendary status to the extent that he has even become something of a mythological figure like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan to the uninformed. Soon after Casey’s death, the song was first sung by engine wiper and friend of Casey’s named Wallace Saunders to the tune of a popular song of the time known as ‘Jimmie Jones’.

“But Saunders never had his original version copyrighted, and thus there is no way of knowing precisely what words he sang. Illinois Central Engineer William Leighton appreciated the song’s potential enough to tell his brothers Frank Leighton and Bert Leighton, who were vaudeville performers, about it. They took it and sang it in theaters around the country with a chorus they added. But apparently even they neglected to get it copyrighted.

“Finally, with vaudeville performers T. Lawrence Seibert credited with the lyrics and Eddie Newton the music it was published and offered for sale in 1909 with the title ‘Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer’, and first recorded in 1910 by Billy Murray’s American Quartet.”

The Mighty Quinn

Written and first recorded (as “Quinn the Eskimo”) by Bob Dylan (1967, officially released 1985).
Hit version by Manfred Mann (US #10/UK #1/IRE #1/GER #1 1968).

From the wiki: “‘Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ is a folk-rock song written by Bob Dylan and first recorded during The Basement Tapes sessions in 1967 but was not officially released until 1985. (A 1969 live recording of ‘Quinn’ by Dylan, from the Isle of Wight, was released on Self Portrait in 1970). Meanwhile, the song was picked up and recorded by the British band Manfred Mann, who released it under the title “Mighty Quinn”. Manfred Mann first heard it on a bootleg of Dylan recordings, Dylan’s White Album (said to be the ‘mother of all bootlegs’), at Feldmans Music on Charing Cross Road, London. Dylan says the song was inspired by the Eskimo in the Nicholas Ray film The Savage Innocent (1960), symbol of pure freedom on American soil.”

Walk Right In

First recorded by Cannon’s Jug Stompers (1929).
Hit version by The Rooftop Singers (US #1/MOR #1/R&B #4/C&W #23/UK #10/AUS #1 1962).

From the wiki: “‘Walk Right In” is the title of a country-blues song written by Gus Cannon and originally recorded by Cannon’s Jug Stompers in 1929. Gus constructed his first banjo out of a steelpan and racoon skin, and began his career entertaining at sawmills, levee and railroad camps in the Mississippi Delta around the turn of the century.

“Cannon helped to popularize jug bands when, along with Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson, he formed a band to play parties and dances. In 1914 Cannon began touring in medicine shows. He supported his family through a variety of jobs, including sharecropping, ditch digging, and yard work, but supplemented his income with music. Cannon’s Jug Stompers first recorded at the Memphis Auditorium in January 1928. (Modern listeners can also hear Cannon’s Jug Stompers’ recording of ‘Big Railroad Blues’ on the compilation album The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead.)

El Condor Pasa

First recorded by Orquesta del Zoológico (1917).
Also recorded by Los Incas (1963).
Hit version by Simon & Garfunkel (US #18/AUS #1/GER #1 1970).

https://youtu.be/JfVoK5QJU8U

From the wiki: “‘El Cóndor Pasa’ (Spanish for ‘The Condor Passes’), written in 1913, was an orchestral piece originally performed in the operetta El Cóndor Pasa by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles, and based on a traditional Andean folk tune. It was first recorded in 1917 by Orquesta del Zoológico (‘The Zoo Orchestra’).

“In 1965, the American musician Paul Simon listened for the first time to ‘El Condor Pasa’ at a performance of the group Los Incas, who first recorded their version of the song in 1963, in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Est Parisien in a concert both Los Incas and Simon & Garfunkel both participated. Simon asked the band permission to use it, to which the band replied that the song was a melody belonging to Robles and arranged by Los Incas’ director Jorge Milchberg. However, when the song was released on the album Bridge Over Troubled Water only Simon was listed as the author. Also, Simon & Garfunkel had used without permission the Los Incas’ 1963 recording as their instrumental arrangement.

Until It’s Time For You to Go

Written and first recorded by Buffy St. Marie (1965).
Hit versions by The Four Pennies (UK #19 1965), Neil Diamond (US #53/MOR #11 1970), Elvis Presley (US#40/MOR #9/UK #5 1972), The New Birth (US #97/R&B #21 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Until It’s Time for You to Go’ was written by Canadian First Nations singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie for her 1965 album Many a Mile. It was a UK Top 20 hit for British group The Four Pennies in 1965, a Billboard Hot 100 single for Neil Diamond in 1970, an MOR and Top-5 UK for Elvis Presley in 1972, and a modest R&B hit in 1973 for The New Birth featuring future Supremes member Susaye Greene.”

Scarborough Fair

First recorded by Gordon Heath & Lee Payant (1955).
Also recorded by Audrey Coppard (1956), Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger (1957), Martin Carthy (1965), Marianne Faithfull (1966).
Hit versions by Simon & Garfunkel (US #11/MOR #5 1966), Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (US #16/MOR #2 1968).

From the wiki: “‘Scarborough Fair’ is a traditional English ballad about the Yorkshire town of Scarborough. The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was by Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, expatriate Americans who operated a café and nightclub, L’Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris, for their album An Evening at the Abbaye in 1955, using an 1891 melody by Frank Kidson (a folk song collector from Leeds). The same arrangement was also included on A. L. Lloyd’s 1955 album The English And Scottish Popular Ballads. Lloyd

“But, the version using the melody later developed by Simon & Garfunkel in ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ was first recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard. This arrangement was also recorded by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (‘Killing Me Softly with His Song‘) on The Singing Island (1957) (but it is likely that it was Coppard who learned the song from MacColl, who had published a book of Teesdale folk songs after hearing the song sung in the 1940s). In April 1966, Marianne Faithfull (‘As Tears Go By‘) recorded and released her own take on ‘Scarborough Fair’ for her album North Country Maid about six months prior to Simon & Garfunkel’s release of their single version of the song in October 1966.

The Unicorn Song

Written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein (1962).
Hit version by The Irish Rovers (US #7/MOR #2/IRE #5 1968).

From the wiki: “‘The Unicorn Song’ was written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein in 1962, released in 1962 on his album Inside Folk Songs, and made very popular by The Irish Rovers, from Toronto, Canada, in 1968. The song tells that unicorns were not a myth but a creature that literally missed the boat, not boarding the Ark in time to be saved from the Great Flood. It remains one of the best-known songs of the The Irish Rovers’ long career.

“In the original recording of the song, The Irish Rovers speak half of the lyrics; on the remakes, the majority of the song is sung – except for the final line, which is also spoken freely, without the music. Will Millar of The Irish Rovers recorded another, earlier version of the song with the St. Michaels Kids. In 1981, Millar opened an Irish pub in Toronto, Ontario, under the name The Unicorn.”

I Am a Rock

Written and first recorded by Paul Simon (1965).
Hit version by Simon & Garfunkel (US #3/UK #17 1966).

From the wiki: “‘I Am a Rock’ was written by Paul Simon, and first recorded by Simon solo as the opening track on his album The Paul Simon Songbook which he originally recorded and released as a solo performance in August 1965 but only in the United Kingdom. Later that year, Simon and Art Garfunkel, as the American pop/folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, re-recorded the song on December 14, 1965, and included it as the final track on their album Sounds of Silence. ‘I Am a Rock’ became the duo’s third Top 5 hit in the US when released as a single in May 1966.”

Song of the Volga Boatman

First recorded (as “Ey, Ukhnem!”) by G.A. Kazachenko (1903).
Hit version Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (1938 |US#1 1941).

[Above performance recorded by Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, in 1922.]

From the wiki: “The ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ (known in Russian as Эй, ухнем! [Ey, ukhnem!, ‘yo, heave-ho!’], after the refrain) is a well-known traditional Russian song collected by Mily Balakirev, leader of ‘The Five’ who attempted to keep Russian art clean from European influences, and first published in his book of folk songs in 1866 while also being dramatically depicted by painter Ilya Repin in 1873. First recorded in 1903, it was popularized by Feodor Chaliapin in the 1920s with his recorded rendition. Glenn Miller’s jazz arrangement took the song to #1 in the US charts in 1941.”

Sloop John B.

First recorded (as “Histe Up the John B.”) by Cleveland Simmons Group (1935).
First popular version recorded (as “The Wreck of the John B.”) by The Weavers (1950).
Also recorded by Blind Blake Higgs (1952), The Kingston Trio (1958), Johnny Cash (1959), Jimmie Rodgers (1960), Dick Dale & His Del-Tones (1962).
Hit version (titled “The Sloop John B.”) by The Beach Boys (US #3/UK #2 1966).

From the wiki: “According to Blind Blake Higgs, the Bahamanian calypso entertainer, the John B had been a sponger boat that one day went under. That’s not so unusual, all thing considered. So, what made this tragedy so special? One possible explanation is the name of the vessel: to illiterate ears, ‘John B’ sounds like ‘Zombie’. So, when said sloop vanished with no one returning, that’s the stuff where legends are made of.

“The popularity of the song triggered interest in the wreck’s whereabouts. The hull was found and rescued from under the sands of Governor’s Harbor in 1926. John T. McCutcheon, philosopher and cartoonist on holiday with his wife in the West Indies at that time, learned the song and brought the song to New York where poet Carl Sandburg collected it for his songbook The American Songbag (1927).

House of the Rising Sun

First recorded (as “Rising Sun Blues”) by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster (1933).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1941), Lead Belly (1944 |1948), Josh White (1947), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Pete Seeger (1958), Andy Griffith (1959), Miriam Makeba (1960).
Hit versions by The Animals (US #1/UK #1 1964), Frijid Pink (US #7/UK #4 1970).

From the wiki: “Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.

See the Sky About to Rain

Written and first recorded by Neil Young (1971, released 2013).
Hit album version by The Byrds (1973).
Re-recorded by Neil Young (1974).

From the wiki: “‘See the Sky About to Rain’ was written by Neil Young, and first recorded by him in 1971, live in concert. Recordings of Young’s 1970-71 solo concert tour were released in 2013 on the album Live from the Cellar Door. The Byrds, in 1973, were the first to commercially released the song (on Byrds). Young revisited his song in 1974 and re-recorded it in the studio for his 1974 album On the Beach.”

Cotton Fields

Written and first recorded by Lead Belly (1940).
Also recorded by Odetta (1954), Harry Belafonte (1958).
Hit versions by The Highwaymen (US #13 1961), The Beach Boys (UK #5 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Cotton Fields’ was written by Blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, who made the first recording of the song in 1940. ‘Cotton Fields’ was introduced into the canon of Folk music via its inclusion on the 1954 album release Odetta & Larry which comprised performances by Odetta and accompanist Larry Mohr at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco. The song’s profile was boosted via its recording by Harry Belafonte first on his 1958 albums Belafonte Sings the Blues and Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. (Belafonte had learned ‘Cotton Fields’ from Odetta and been singing it in concert as early as 1955.) The song entered Pop culture with the #13 hit recording in 1961 by The Highwaymen. The Beach Boys reached the UK Top 5 with a 1968 recording, released as a single in 1970, of ‘Cotton Fields’.”

Big Rock Candy Mountain

First recorded (as “Big Rock Candy Mountains”) by Harry McClintock (1928).
Popular versions by Burl Ives (1949), Pete Seeger (1957), Dorsey Burnette (B-side US #102 1960).

From the wiki: “‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’, first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is a folk music song about a hobo’s idea of paradise – a place where ‘hens lay soft boiled eggs’ and there are ‘cigarette trees’. McClintock claimed to have written the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hobo-ing through the United States, but some believe that at least aspects of the song have existed for far longer. McClintock was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.), and the author of other labor songs as ‘Haywire Mac’, ‘Sam Bass’ and ‘Hallelujah Bum Again’. His original 1928 recording was used on the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack (minus the plural form). The song achieved widespread popularity in 1949 when a sanitized version intended for children was recorded by Burl Ives. A version recorded in 1960 by Dorsey Burnette reached #102 on Billboard’s chart.

The Circle Game

First recorded by Ian & Sylvia (1967).
Also recorded by Buffy Sainte Marie (1967).
Hit album versions by Tom Rush (US #68 1968), Joni Mitchell, writer (US #27 1970).

From the wiki: “‘The Circle Game’ was written by Joni Mitchell but was first recorded by Ian & Sylvia in 1967. Tom Rush recorded the song in 1968 and used as the title track for his song-cycle album, The Circle Game. The songs on the album follow the cycle of a relationship from its beginning to an end, according to the lyric content and sequencing of songs.

“‘The Circle Game’ can be read as the turning point of the relationship while Rush’s song ‘Rockport Sunday’ ends the romance instrumentally. Mitchell would record a cover of her own composition for inclusion on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon that also included such notable original songs as ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Woodstock’.”

As Tears Go By

First recorded (as a demo titled “As Time Goes By”) by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards (1964).
Hit versions by Marianne Faithful (US #22/UK #9 1965), The Rolling Stones (US #6/MOR #10 1965).

https://youtu.be/VumR41QADNk

From the wiki: “‘As Tears Go By’ was one of the first original compositions by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Up until that point The Rolling Stones had chiefly been performing Blues standards. A story surrounding the song’s genesis has it that Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Jagger and Richards in a kitchen in order to force them to write a song together, even suggesting what type of song he wanted: ‘I want a song with brick walls all around it, high windows and no sex.’

“The result was initially named ‘As Time Goes By’, the title of the song Dooley Wilson sings in the film Casablanca. It was Oldham who replaced ‘Time’ with ‘Tears’. According to Jagger biographer Philip Norman, the song was mainly created by Jagger, in co-operation with session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan (who plays the 12-string guitar on the demo).

“Oldham subsequently gave the ballad (a format that the Stones were not yet known for) to Marianne Faithfull, then 17, for her to record as a B-side. Without even asking if she could sing, Andrew asked her if she wanted to cut the record. The success of the recording caused the record company, Decca, to switch the song to an A-side, where it became a very popular single on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.”

You Were On My Mind

Written and first recorded by Ian & Sylvia (1964).
Also recorded by The Chad Mitchell Trio (1965), The Vogues (1965).
Hit versions by We Five (US #3 1965), Crispian St. Peters (US #36/UK #2 1966), Barry McGuire (ITA #19 1966).

http://youtu.be/iFp9c_tvZZ8?t=4s

From the wiki: “‘You Were On My Mind’ was written by Sylvia Tyson in 1964, and originally performed and recorded by her and Ian Tyson as the duo Ian & Sylvia. It first appeared on their 1964 album, Northern Journey. The following year, We Five recorded a cover that charted in the Billboard Top 5. Crispian St. Peters (‘The Pied Piper’) scored a sizable UK hit in 1966 with his cover version. A 1966 cover by Barry McGuire (‘Eve of Destruction’, ‘California Dreamin’‘) peaked in the Italian Top 20.”

Society’s Child

Written and first recorded (as “Baby, I’ve Been Thinking (Society’s Child)”) by Janis Ian (1966).
Hit version by Janis Ian (US #14 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)’ was a song written in 1965 by Janis Ian centering around the then-taboo subject of interracial romance. Ian was 13 years old when she was motivated to write the song and she completed it when she was 14. Ian published it (credited to ‘Blind Girl Grunt’) in Broadside (Issue #67), the underground magazine that had brought attention to folk songs by artists like Bob Dylan (who had made some early recordings, in 1962 and 1963, as ‘Blind Boy Grunt’) and Pete Seeger before they hit the mainstream.

“The song was originally recorded for Atlantic, who declined to release it and returned the master to Ian. It was after meeting producer Shadow Morton that Ian re-entered the studio to record the retitled ‘Society’s Child’ with additional studio musicians. Still, there was resistance to it. Morton took the new recording to 22 record companies before Verve/Folkways, a spin-off of MGM Records, agreed to distribute the single.

Carolina in My Mind

Written and first recorded by James Taylor (US #118 1968 |US #67 1970).
Other hit version by George Hamilton IV (C&W #29/CAN #3 1969).
Hit album re-recording by James Taylor (1976).
Also recorded by The Everly Brothers (1969), Melanie (1970).
Performed by Glen Campbell & Linda Ronstadt (1971).

From the wiki: “‘Carolina in My Mind’ was written and first recorded by singer-songwriter James Taylor on his 1968 debut album, James Taylor, released by Apple Records. The original recording of the song was done at London’s Trident Studios during the July to October 1968 period, and was produced by Peter Asher.

“The song’s lyric ‘holy host of others standing around me’ is allegedly a reference to the Beatles, who were recording The Beatles (aka the ‘White Album’) in the same building as Taylor was recording his album. Indeed, the original recording of ‘Carolina in My Mind’ features a credited appearance by Paul McCartney on bass guitar and an uncredited appearance by George Harrison on backing vocals.

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.

If I Were a Carpenter

Written and first released by Tim Hardin (1966).
Hit versions by Bobby Darin (US #8/UK #9 1966), The Four Tops (US #20/R&B #17/UK #7 1968), Johnny Cash & June Carter (US #36/C&W #2 1970).

From the wiki: “‘If I Were a Carpenter’ was written by Tim Hardin (‘Reason to Believe‘), and first released by him in 1966 as the B-side to ‘How Can We Hang On to a Dream’. The recording would see a subsequent release in 1967 on the album Hardin 2. According to Mojo magazine (February 2012), the song was partly inspired by engineer John Judnich, who built for Hardin a small recording setup in Lenny Bruce’s Sunset Plaza house.

“Hardin and Bobby Darin attended each others recording session at the studio and swapped songs, with Hardin recording Darin’s ‘Simple Song Of Freedom’ that became Hardin’s only charting recording (US #47 1969). Darin’s Top-10 recording of ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ used the same arrangement and instrumentation as Hardin’s original.

Sunday Will Never Be the Same

Written (by Terry Cashman) and first recorded (as a demo) by Cashman, Pistilli & West (1967, released 1968).
Hit version by Spanky and Our Gang (US #9/CAN #7 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Sunday Will Never Be the Same’ was written by Terry Cashman and Gene Pistilli. Cashman sent his demo to Lou Adler at Dunhill Records, with the hope that The Mamas & The Papas would record the song, and recalls: ‘Adler saying ‘Hey, this is a great song.’ But John Philips is doing mostly his own songs right now. So, okay, fine. The Left Banke sounded to me also like a group that could do this song, but they passed on it. And then with nobody in mind I went to a producer named Jerry Ross, who was a very hot producer (‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie‘, ‘98.6’).

Mr. Tambourine Man

Recorded (as a demo) by The Jet Set (1964).
First album release by Bob Dylan (March 1965).
Hit version by The Byrds (US #1/UK #1/CAN #2/IRE #1 April 1965).
Also recorded by The Brothers Four (recorded 1964, released May 1965).

From the wiki: “In 1964, The Byrds – then known as The Jet Set – first recorded ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ as an audition demo prior to being signed to Columbia Records. Two other songs from the session (but not ‘Tambourine Man’) were released by Elektra Records in a one-off deal and had no chart impact. For the Columbia Records recording session leading to their first hit record, The Byrds did the vocals and lead guitar on the recording but session musicians (the infamous ‘Wrecking Crew‘) were brought in to play the other instruments. Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Glen Campbell were among the assorted session players used for The Byrds’ first recordings.

“The very first recording ever of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was a 6+-minute demo completed by Bob Dylan (along with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) during a marathon session for the Another Side Of Bob Dylan album (on June 9th, 1964). The song had been written by Dylan while driving cross-country from New York to San Francisco via New Orleans. He wrote the song and recorded the demo with Elliot that eventually found its way to The Jet Set née The Bryds. (Dylan’s demo would later resurface on the soundtrack to the Dylan bio-doc No Direction Home.)

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