Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Jazz

Sweet Georgia Brown

First recorded by Ben Bernie & His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra (US #1 1925).
Also recorded by Ethel Waters (US #6 1925), Isham Jones & His Orchestra (US #5 1925), Red Nichols & His Orchestra (1930).
Best-known recordings by Bing Crosby (US #5 1932), Stéphane Grappelli & Django Reinhardt (1938), Brother Bones & His Shadows (US #10/R&B #9 1948), Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers (1962).

From the wiki: “”Sweet Georgia Brown” is a Jazz standard and Pop tune written in 1925 by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics). It is believed Ben Bernie came up with the concept for the song’s lyrics – although he is not the accredited lyricist – after meeting Dr. George Thaddeus Brown in New York City: Dr. Brown, a longtime member of the State House of Representatives for Georgia, told Bernie about Dr. Brown’s daughter Georgia Brown and how subsequent to the baby girl’s birth on August 11, 1911 the Georgia General Assembly had issued a declaration that she was to be named Georgia after the state, an anecdote which would be directly referenced by the song’s lyric: ‘Georgia claimed her – Georgia named her.’ The tune was first recorded in March 1925 by Bernie & his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra, resulting in a five-week run at #1.

‘Round Midnight

First recorded (as “‘Round About Midnight”) by Cootie Williams & His Orchestra (1944).
Also recorded by Dizzy Gillespie (1946), Jackie Paris (1949), Sarah Vaughn (1963).
Popular versions by Thelonious Monk (1947|1957), Miles Davis (1956).

From the wiki: “By the time Thelonious Monk recorded ”Round Midnight’ as a band leader, in 1947, his composition was already well-known around jazz circles and was considered a classic. It has since gone on to become the most-recorded Jazz standard composed by a jazz performer, appearing on more than 1000 recordings. It is thought that Monk originally composed ”Round Midnight” sometime in 1940 or 1941. Historian Harry Colomby, however, claims that Monk could even have written an earlier version of the song around 1936 (at the age of 19) with the title ‘Grand Finale’.

“Cootie Williams began his professional career at age 14 on the trumpet with the Young Family band, a group who included saxophonist Lester Young. Williams later rose to prominence as a member of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, with whom he performed from 1929 to 1940. In 1940 he joined Benny Goodman’s orchestra, a highly publicized move that caused quite a stir at the time; then, in 1941, Williams formed the first of his own orchestras.

Watermelon Man

Written and first recorded by Herbie Hancock (US #121 1962).
Hit versions by Mongo Santamaria (US #10/R&B #8 1963), Gloria Lynne (US #62/R&B #8 1965), Erroll Garner (US #40 1968).
Also recorded by Jon Hendricks (1963), Manfred Mann (1965), Herbie Hancock (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Watermelon Man’ was written by Herbie Hancock and first released on his debut album, Takin’ Off (1962) in a hard bop arrangement featuring improvisations by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Hancock wrote the piece to help sell his debut album as a leader; the first piece of music he had ever composed with a commercial goal in mind. Hancock has described that, structurally, the composition was one of his strongest works due to its almost-mathematical balance.

“It was while Hancock was filling in for pianist Chick Corea in Mongo Santamaría’s band at a nightclub in The Bronx that Hancock played the tune for Santamaría at friend Donald Byrd’s urging. Santamaría started accompanying Hancock on his congas, then the band joined in, and the small audience slowly got up from their tables and started dancing. Santamaría later asked Hancock if he could record the tune. On December 17, 1962, Mongo Santamaría recorded a three-minute version, suitable for radio, and included the track on his album Watermelon Man (1962).”

Walk, Don’t Run

Written and first recorded by Johnny Smith (1954).
Also recorded by Chet Atkins (1957).
Hit versions by The Ventures (US #2/R&B #13/UK #8 1960), The John Barry Seven (UK #11 1960), The Ventures (as “Walk, Don’t Run ’64” US #8 1964).

From the wiki: “‘Walk, Don’t Run’ is an instrumental composition written and first recorded by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith in 1954. In 1957, Chet Atkins recorded a version of ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ that appeared on his Hi-Fi in Focus album.

“It was the Atkins recording the Tacoma-based instrumental rock band The Ventures heard before releasing their own version of the tune as a Surf Rock single in spring 1960 on Dolton Records, which quickly became a hit.

“The Ventures’ version is believed to be one of the first ‘surf’ songs to make the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #2. In the UK, the tune was covered by the John Barry Seven (before Barry began scoring movie music for the likes of James Bond, Born Free, and Midnight Cowboy) whose cover of the Ventures’ arrangement peaked at #11 on the UK Singles Chart.”

The “In” Crowd

First recorded by Dobie Gray (US #13/R&B #11/UK #25 1965).
Also recorded by First Gear (1965).
Other hit versions by The Ramsey Lewis Trio (US #5/R&B #2 1965), Bryan Ferry (UK #13 1974).

From the wiki: “‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ is a 1964 song written by Billy Page and arranged by his brother Gene that was originally performed by Dobie Gray on his album Dobie Gray Sings for ‘In’ Crowders That ‘Go Go. Gray’s powerful Motown-like version, complete with brass section, reached #13 in the US and #25 in the UK in 1965. The Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded an instrumental version of the tune later that same year at the suggestion of a coffee shop waitress.

Baby Face

First recorded by The Jan Garber Orchestra (US #1 1926).
Other popular versions by Ipana Troubadours (US #10 1926), Art Mooney (US #3 1948), Little Richard (US #41/R&B #12/UK #2/NOR #1 1958), Bobby Darin (US #42/UK #40 1962), Wing and a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps (US #14/Soul #32 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Baby Face’ was written by Harry Akst, the lyrics by Benny Davis. The song was published in 1926, and first became popular that same year when recorded by the Jan Garber Orchestra. It has since been covered by many recording artists, including Al Jolson, The Revelers, Bobby Darin, and Wing and a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps. Swan Districts, an Australian Rules club in the WAFL since 1934, bases its club song on this tune.

Mack the Knife

First recorded (as “Die Morität von Mackie Messer”) by Harald Paulsen (1928).
First English-language recording by Gerald Price (1954).
First popular English-language recording Louis Armstrong & His All Stars (US #20 1956).
Other hit version by Bobby Darin (US #1/R&B #6/UK #1 1959).

From the wiki: “First composed in German by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama Die Dreigroschenoper (known in English as The Threepenny Opera), ‘Mack the Knife’ had its original premiere in Berlin in 1928, titled ‘Die Morität von Mackie Messer’ (‘The Ballad of Mack the Knife’). The play opens with the moritat singer comparing ‘Mackie’ (Macheath) unfavorably with a shark, and then telling tales of his robberies, murders, rapes, and arson.

“‘Mack the Knife’ was a last-minute addition to the show, inserted just before its Berlin premiere, because Harald Paulsen, the actor who played Macheath, demanded that Brecht and Weill add a number to the score that would more effectively introduce his character.

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

First recorded by Fats Waller & His Rhythm (US #5 1935).
Other hit versions by The Boswell Sisters (US #3 1936), Billy Williams (US #3 1957), Willie Nelson (C&W #26/CAN #25 1981).
Also recorded by Connee Boswell (1953), Frank Sinatra (1954 & 1962), Bing Crosby with Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band (1957), Bill Haley & His Comets (1957).

From the wiki: “‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ was composed in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young, and has become a standard of the Great American Songbook. The first recording on the song was by Fats Waller & His Rhythm, in a Victor Records recording session on May 8, 1935. It was covered the following year by The Boswell Sisters, reaching #3 on US popular music charts. (Connee Boswell would record a solo version in 1952.)

Beyond the Sea

First recorded (as “La Mer”) by Roland Gerbeau (1946).
Also recorded (as “La Mer”) by Charles Trenent (1946).
First recorded (in English) by Harry James & His Orchestra with Marion Morgan (1947).
Hit versions Roger Williams (US #37 1955), Bobby Darin (US #6/R&B #15/UK #8 1959), George Benson (UK #60 1984).

From the wiki: “‘Beyond the Sea’ is the English adaptation of a romantic love song (‘La Mer’, ‘The Sea’) popularized in 1946 by French singer Charles Trenet, most famous for his recordings from the late 1930s until the mid-1950s. In an era in which it was unusual for a singer to write their own material, Trenet wrote prolifically and declined to record any but his own songs.

“According to legend, ‘La Mer’ was composed by Trenent on-board a train in 1943 as he was gazing out of the window at the Étang de Thau, a lagoon in the south of France. He jotted it down on a piece of paper and in the afternoon he worked out the details with his pianist Léo Chauliac. That evening they performed it in front of an audience without much of an impact. Trenet explained in an interview that he was told that ‘La Mer’ was not ‘swing’ enough to be a hit, and for this reason the song then sat in a drawer for two years before being recorded for the first time in 1945 by Roland Gerbeau. Trenet would record a cover of his own song also in 1946.

If I Ever Lose This Heaven

First recorded by Quincy Jones, with Minnie Ripperton, Leon Ware and Al Jarreau (R&B #74 1974).
Hit version by Average White Band (US #39/R&B #25 1975).

From the wiki: “‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ was co-written by Quincy Jones (‘It’s My Party‘), Leon Ware, and Bruce Fisher (‘You Are So Beautiful‘) for Quincy’s 1974 album, Body Heat. Ware, Minnie Riperton (whose 1975 album, Adventures in Paradise, Ware would produce and collaborate), and Al Jarreau were among the studio vocalists Jones used for the album.

Mambo No. 5

First recorded by Pérez Prado y su Orquesta (1949).
Also recorded by Radio Disney (1999).
Hit versions by Lou Bega (US #3/UK #1/CAN #1/AUS #1/GER #1/IRE #1 1999), Bob the Builder (UK #1/AUS #2/IRE #4 2001).

From the wiki: “‘Mambo No. 5’ is a mambo and jive dance song originally recorded and composed by Cuban Dámaso Pérez Prado – the ‘King of Mambo’ – in 1949. The song’s popularity was renewed in 199 by German artist Lou Bega’s sampling and vocal version of the original, released on Bega’s debut album A Little Bit of Mambo.

Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)

First recorded by The Bay Harbor Society Orchestra (1922).
Hit version by Frank Sinatra (1958).

From the wiki: “‘Chicago’ is a popular song written by Fred Fisher, and first published in 1922 and recorded by The Bay Harbor Society Orchestra. Other early recordings of the song were made by Django Reinhardt (1937), and Earl Hines (1950). ‘Chicago’ was featured in H.C. Potter’s 1939 film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. It was later performed by Sinatra in the 1957 movie, The Joker Is Wild, and recorded for Sinatra’s 1958 album Come Fly with Me. Other popular versions of ‘Chicago’ were also recorded by Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, and The Dudley Moore Trio.”


Written and first recorded by Allen Toussaint (1958).
Hit version by Al Hirt (US #4/MOR #1 1963).
Also recorded by The Angels (1964), The Beautiful South (1994).
Performed by The Muppets (1966|1968|1977).

From the wiki: “‘Java’ is an instrumental adaptation from a 1958 LP of piano compositions, The Wild Sounds of New Orleans, by Tousan, also known as New Orleans producer-songwriter Allen Toussaint (‘Working in a Coal Mine’, ‘Southern Nights’). As was the case of the rest of Toussaint’s LP, ‘Java’ was composed at the studio, primarily by Toussaint (along with Freddy Friday, Marilyn Schack, Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler).

“In 1963, trumpet player Al Hirt recorded the instrumental, and the track became the lead single from his album, Honey in the Horn. It was Hirt’s first and biggest hit on the US pop charts, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spending four weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart in early 1964. Hirt released a live version on his 1965 album, Live at Carnegie Hall. Hirt’s recording won the Grammy Award for “Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with Orchestra” in 1964.


Written and originally recorded by Jose Feliciano (1975).
Hit album version by George Benson (1976).

From the wiki: “In 1975, on his last RCA album, Just Wanna Rock’n’Roll, guitarist Jose Feliciano released his jazz-funk-Latin instrumental composition ‘Affirmation’. It was covered a year later by jazz guitarist George Benson, on his hit album Breezin’.”


Originally recorded by Gabor Szabo (US #43 1971).
Hit version by George Benson (US #63/MOR #13/R&B #65 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Breezin” was written by Bobby Womack (‘It’s All Over Now‘) and first recorded by Hungarian Jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo. Szabó was famous for mixing jazz, pop-rock and his native Hungarian music. He began playing guitar at the age of 14, inspired by jazz music he heard on the Voice of America broadcasts. He escaped Hungary and moved to the United States in 1956, a year of the attempted revolt against Soviet-dominated Communist rule, and attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

Written and first recorded by Duke Ellington & His Kentucky Club Orchestra (1926).
Hit version by Duke Ellington & His Washingtonians (US #10 1927).
Covered by Steely Dan (1974).

From the wiki: “‘East St Louis Toodle-Oo’ is a composition written by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley and recorded several times by Ellington for various labels from 1926-1930 using various band names. The original recording features a growling plunger-muted trumpet part played by co-composer Miley, one of the first jazz trumpeters to utilize the style. This style was carried on by later Ellington trumpeters Cootie Williams and Ray Nance.


First recorded by Barney Bigard & His Jazzopaters (1936).
Hit versions by The Duke Ellington Orchestra (1937), Billy Eckstine (US #27/R&B #14 1949), Ralph Marterie (US #6 1953), Santo & Johnny (US #48 1959), Duane Eddy Al Casey (UK #42 1961).
Also recorded by The Mills Brothers (1941).

From the wiki: “‘Caravan’ is a jazz standard composed by Juan Tizol. The first version of the song was recorded in Hollywood in 1936, performed as an instrumental by Barney Bigard & His Jazzopators. The band members were: Cootie Williams (trumpet), Juan Tizol (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Duke Ellington (piano), Billy Taylor (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).

“All the players on the original recording by the Jazzopaters were, in reality, members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which often split into smaller units to record small-band discs. Although Ellington performed in this recording, the session leader was Bigard under whose name the song was first released. The following year, the Duke Ellington Orchestra itself covered ‘Caravan’, the first of more than 350 recordings Ellington made of the song.

“In 1941, the Mills Brothers paid tribute to Ellington by recording an a capella version of ‘Caravan’, substituting their voices for instruments. A vocal cover, with lyrics by Irving Mills, was recorded in December 1948 by Billy Eckstine, with orchestration by Hugo Winterhalter, that charted Billboard Hit Parade Top-30 and Top-20 R&B in 1949, an accomplishment his friend, Ellington, is said to have been especially pleased.

“Ralph Materie charted even higher in 1953 with his cover. Santo & Johnny also charted with their ‘Caravan’ cover in 1959. In 1961, a version credited to Duane Eddy – but in reality future Wrecking Crew sessionman Al Casey – appeared on the label Gregmark Records. It did not chart in the US, but was issued (under Eddy’s name) on Parlophone in the UK where it peaked at #42.”

In the Name of Love

First recorded (instrumentally) by Grover Washington, Jr. (1980).
Hit vocal versions by Robert Flack (US #24 1982), co-writers Ralph MacDonald feat. Bill Withers (US #6 1984).

From the wiki: “‘In the Name of Love’ was written by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter (‘Where is the Love’, 1971), and Bill Withers (‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, 1971; ‘Lean on Me’, 1972), and was first recorded and released as an instrumental by saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. in 1980 on his album Winelight.

“A vocal cover was recorded in 1982 by Roberta Flack (‘Killing Me Softly with His Song‘) for her album I’m the One, and, in 1984, by co-writers Ralph MacDonald and Bill Withers recorded ‘In the Name of Love’ for MacDonald’s album Universal Rhythm. Both singles charted in the Billboard Hot 100 in each of those respective years, with the MacDonald/Withers arrangement charting the highest.”

Lullaby of Birdland

Co-written and first recorded by George Shearing (1952).
Hit versions by Ella Fitzgerald (US #31 1954), Blossom Dearie & Blue Stars (US #16 1956).
Also recorded by Sarah Vaughn (1954), Mel Tormé (1956), Amy Winehouse (2004).

From the wiki: “‘Lullaby of Birdland’ is a 1952 popular song with music by George Shearing and, later, lyrics by George David Weiss (under the pseudonym ‘B. Y. Forster’ in order to circumvent the rule that ASCAP and BMI composers could not collaborate).

“The song title refers to Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and the Birdland jazz club named after him on Broadway near 52nd Street in New York City. Shearing recalls that he wrote ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ for Morris Levy, the owner of the Birdland club. Levy had gotten in touch with Shearing and explained that he’d started a regular Birdland-sponsored disk jockey show, and he wanted Shearing to record a theme which was ‘to be played every hour on the hour.’ Shearing says he wrote ‘the whole thing […] within ten minutes.’

“First released by Shearing as an instrumental in 1952, vocal arrangements of ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ soon followed, with Ella Fitzgerald’s 1954 recording peaking at #31 on the Hit Parade.

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