Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

Help support this site! Consider clicking an ad from time to time. Thanks!

« Go Back to Previous Page «  

Category: Novelty

The Hokey Pokey

First recorded (in the United States) by The Sun Valley Trio (1948, released 1950).
Popular versions by Cliffie Stone & His Hometown Jamboree Gang (1951), Ray Anthony & His Orchestra (B-side 1953).

From the wiki: “‘The Hokey Pokey’, also known as ‘The Hokey Cokey’ in the United Kingdom, is a campfire song and participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. It is well-known in English-speaking countries. It originates in a British folk dance, with variants attested as early as 1826. The song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in the UK.

“Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak, and Tafit Baker of the musical group the Ram Trio, better known as the Sun Valley Trio, recorded the song in 1948 and it was released in 1950. They have generally been credited with creating this novelty dance as entertainment for the ski crowd at the Sun Valley, Idaho resort.

Limbo Rock

First recorded by The Champs (US #40 1961).
Other hit version by Chubby Checker (US #2/R&B #3 1962).
Also recorded (as “Let’s Limbo Some More”) by Chubby Checker (US #20 1963).

From the wiki: “Limbo Rock” is a popular song about limbo dancing written by Kal Mann (under the pseudonym Jan Sheldon) and Billy Strange. An instrumental version was first recorded by The Champs in 1961, a band of studio musicians that included a touring configuration of Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar), Plas Johnson (saxophone) and its newest member, Glen Campbell (guitar).

“Originally composed as ‘Monotonous Melody’, for the lack of any other name, the recording was retitled ‘Limbo Rock’ for release as the B-side to ‘Tequila Twist’, the 45 rpm followup to the Champs’ Top 10 hit ‘Tequila’. ‘Tequila Twist’ debuted at #98 in February 1962 on the Billboard Hot 100 … and then promptly disappeared. ‘Limbo Rock’ was then released as the A-side. It too debuted at #98 on the Hot 100 in May 1962 but managed to peak at #40, taking a very slow 12 weeks of chart progress to get there.

Alley Oop

Written and first recorded (as a demo) by Dallas Frazier (1957).
Hit version by The Hollywood Argyles (US #1/R&B #3 1960).
Re-recorded by Dallas Frazer (1966).

NOTE: Above audio is a re-recording produced in 1966 for Frazier’s album Elvira.

From the wiki: “‘Alley-Oop’ was written and composed by Dallas Frazier (‘Elvira‘) in 1957, inspired by the V. T. Hamlin-created comic strip of the same name. Three years later, in 1960, a short-lived studio band, the Hollywood Argyles, covered ‘Alley Oop’.

When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop

First recorded by Ray Kinney & His Hawaiian Musical Ambassadors (1936).
Also recorded by Dick McIntire & His Harmony Hawaiians (1936).
Hit version by Hilo Hattie (Clara Inter) & Al Kealoha Perry and His Singing Surfriders (1937).

From the wiki: “Don McDiarmid and Johnny Noble were members of Harry Owens’ band, the Royal Hawaiians, at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach when they composed ‘When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop’. Owens considered the song to be ‘inappropriate’ for his band to perform. Instead, former Royal Hawaiian vocalist Ray Kinney (he was the primary vocalist for the the premiere broadcast of Webley Edwards’ Hawaii Calls radio show from the Moana Hotel in July 1935), now leading his own band, the Hawaiian Room Orchestra, arranged the first recording of ‘Hilo Hattie’ on Decca Records under the group name ‘Ray Kinney & His Hawaiian Musical Ambassadors’.

“Hawaiian-born steel guitarist Dick McIntire, and his Mainland orchestra, the Harmony Hawaiians, also released a recording of ‘When Hilo Hattie Does the Hula Hop’ in 1936.

“In 1937, Clara Inter, born Kalala (‘Clara’) Hail, a member of the Royal Hawaiian Girls’ Glee Club, proved Harry Owens wrong by turning ‘When Hilo Hattie Does the Hula Hop’ into a worldwide success, and making it perhaps the most recognized number in Hawaiian history.

“Dragnet” TV Theme Song

Based on “The Killers Main Theme” by Miklos Rozsa (1946).
Hit versions (as “Dragnet”) by Ray Anthony & His Orchestra (US #3/UK #7 1953), Ted Heath Orchestra (UK #9 1953), Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers (as “Dragnet Blues” R&B #8 1953), The Art of Noise (UK #60/NZ #25/SWZ #29 1997).
Also recorded (as “St. George and the Dragonet”) by Stan Freberg (US #1 1953).

From the wiki: “Miklós Rózsa was a Hungarian-American composer known for his dramatic film scores.

“His career in Hollywood gained him tremendous fame: Rózsa received 17 Oscar nominations and won the award three times for his music for the films Spellbound (1945), A Double Life (1947) and Ben-Hur (1959). But the only musical motif he wrote that is easily recognizable to the general public was not part of an award-winning composition. In fact, the motif is often not associated with Rózsa at all, since the more popular version is credited to another composer.

“The famous four-note motif was originally composed by Rózsa for the 1946 American film noir, The Killers. In 1951, the same motif appeared in the ‘Main Title’ theme music for the radio and television drama, Dragnet, composed by Walter Schumann. The music became the subject of a copyright lawsuit when Abeles & Bernstein, lawyers representing Robbins Music Corporation, the publishers of Rózsa’s score for The Killers, filed for copyright infringement on Rózsa’s behalf in January 1954.

Just a Gigolo

First recorded (as “Schöner Gigolo”) by Dajos Béla’s Orchestra (1929).
Hit English-language versions by Jack Hylton & His Orchestra (as “Handsome Gigolo” UK 1930), Bing Crosby (US #12 1931), Ted Lewis & His Band (US #1 1931), Louis Prima (1956), David Lee Roth (US #12/CAN #7/AUS #13/NZ #6 1985).

From the wiki: “‘Just a Gigolo’ was from the Austrian tango ‘Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo’, composed in 1928 in Vienna by Leonello Casucci to lyrics written in 1924 by Julius Brammer. ‘Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo’ was first published by Wiener Boheme Verlag in 1929 and performed by several orchestras in Germany that year, including Dajos Béla’s orchestra with the singer Kurt Mühlhardt.

“Back in the 1920s and ’30s, the definition of ‘gigolo’ wasn’t much different from how the word is used today, although the services he provided weren’t always sexual. Most often, the man was just be a paid dancing partner (‘paid for every dance, selling each romance’). Either way, ‘gigolo’ labels him a ‘kept man’ who can’t provide a living for himself without his good looks: he’s ‘just a gigolo.’ The original version, as written by Julius Brammer, was a poetic vision of the social collapse experienced in Austria after World War I, represented by the figure of a former hussar [cavalry officer] who remembers himself parading in his uniform, while now he has to get by as a lonely hired dancer.

Mahna Mahna

First appeared in the movie Svezia, inferno e paradiso [Sweden: Heaven and Hell] (1968).
Hit version (as “Mah Nà Mah Nà”) credited to “‘Sweden Heaven and Hell’ Soundtrack” (US #55/MOR #12/CAN #22 1969 |UK #8 1977).
Most popular version version performed by The Muppets (1969).

“Most people know Mahna Mahna as a Muppets sketch, but the song — titled Mah Nà Mah Nà — is actually by Italian composer Piero Umiliani. The Tuscan musician composed scores for exploitation films in the ’60s and ’70s, including spaghetti westerns and softcore sex films, but Mah Nà Mah Nà would be his most famous work.

“The song originally appeared in a racy Italian film called Svezia, inferno e paradiso (Sweden: Heaven and Hell), in a scene where a bunch of Swedish models crowd into a sauna wearing little more than bath towels.

Music to Watch Girls Go By

Co-written and first recorded by Sid Ramin (1965).
Hit versions by The Bob Crewe Generation (US #15/MOR #2 1966), Andy Williams (US #34/UK #33 1967 |UK#9 1999), Al Hirt (US #119/MOR #31 1967).
Also recorded (as “Music to Watch Space Girls Go By”) by Leonard Nimoy (1967).

From the wiki: “‘Music to Watch Girls Go By’ was composed by Tony Velona and Sidney ‘Sid’ Ramin, and was first recorded as a commercial jingle demo for Diet Pepsi, where producer Bob Crewe first heard the song. Crewe, using his own name, then recorded the song under his nom de plume ‘The Bob Crewe Generation’. Crewe’s ‘big-band, horn driven’ recording went to #15 on the Pop chart and #2 on the Easy Listening chart.

Yakety Sax

Co-written and first recorded by Randy Randolph (1958).
Hit version by “Boots” Randolph (US #35 1963).
Also recorded as “Yakety Axe” by Chet Atkins (C&W #4 1965).

From the wiki: “‘Yakety Sax’ was jointly composed by James Q. ‘Spider’ Rich and Homer ‘Boots’ Randolph III. The selection, which includes pieces of assorted fiddle tunes, was originally composed by Rich for a performance at a venue called The Armory in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

“Randolph’s song was inspired by the saxophone solo in the Leiber and Stoller song ‘Yakety Yak’, recorded in 1958 by The Coasters. Randolph first recorded ‘Yakety Sax’ that year for RCA Victor, under the name he used early in his career, ‘Randy Randolph’, but it did not become a hit until after his 1963 re-recording for Monument Records released under his better-known nom de plume, ‘Boots’ Randolph.

The “Tonight Show” Theme (“Johnny’s Theme”)

First recorded (as “Toot Tweet (It’s Really Love)”) by Tutti’s Trumpets (1959).
Also recorded (as “It’s Really Love”) by Annette Funicello (1960).
Best-known recording/s by The Tonight Show Band (1962).

From the wiki: “‘Johnny’s Theme’, performed as the theme song of ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ for 30 years, began life as ‘Toot Sweet’, a pop instrumental composed in 1959 by Paul Anka and recorded that same year by Tutti’s Trumpets as the B-side to The Camarata Strings’ single ‘Lost In a Fog’ released on Disney’s Buena Vista label. Salvatore ‘Tutti’ Camarata, the ‘Tutti’ of Tutti’s Trumpets and bandleader of the Camarata Strings, was Annette Funicello’s producer at the time. He asked Anka to contribute some songs for Funicello’s first album to follow her work on The Mickey Mouse Club. Anka added lyrics to ‘Toot Sweet’ and published them under the title ‘It’s Really Love’.

On Top of Spaghetti

Based on “On Top of Old Smoky” by The Weavers (US #2 1951).
Hit version by Tom Glazer & the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus (1963).

From the wiki: “‘On Top of Spaghetti’ is a ballad and children’s song with the most known performance by folk singer Tom Glazer with the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus in 1963. The song is sung to the tune of ‘On Top of Old Smoky’, first recorded in 1925 by George Reneau and made popular in 1951 by The Weavers. It is the tale of a meatball falling off of a pile of spaghetti and rolling away ‘after somebody sneezed.'”

Colonel Bogey March

First recorded by The Band of HM Royal Marines, Plymouth Division (1914).
Most popular versions by Malcolm Arnold (as “The River Kwai March Theme” 1957), Mitch Miller (as “The River Kwai March/Colonel Bogey March” US #20 1957).

From the wiki: “The ‘Colonel Bogey March’ is a popular march written and first published in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (under the pseudonym ‘Kenneth Alford’), a British Army bandmaster who later became the director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth. The first recording of the march was made in 1914 by the Second Batallion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. The tune was inspired by a military man and golfer who whistled a characteristic two-note phrase instead of shouting ‘Fore!’.

“‘Going round in bogey’, starting at the Great Yarmouth Golf Club in 1890, was based on the phrase ‘bogey man’. Nationally, in the UK, golfers competed against ‘Colonel Bogey’, and this gave the title to the 1914 marching tune, ‘Colonel Bogey March’. By Edwardian times, the ‘Colonel’ had been adopted by the golfing world internationally as the presiding spirit of the golf course. ‘Bogey’ is now the golfing term meaning ‘one over par’.

I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts

First recorded by Primo Scala & His Banjo and Accordian Band with The Keynotes (1949).
Also recorded by Billy Cotton & His Band (1949).
Hit versions by Freddy Martin & His Orchestra feat. Merv Griffith (US #8 1949), Danny Kaye (US #26 1950).

From the wiki: “‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts’ is a novelty song composed in 1944 (as “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts”) by English songwriter Fred Heatherton, and first recorded in 1949 by Harry Bidgood, aka ‘Primo Scala’, who recorded under a variety of different names (including ‘Rossini’ and ‘Don Porto’). Over the course of 20 years Bidgood would frequently broadcast on the BBC.

“‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts’ was a staple song of the Billy Cotton Band Show on British radio and television. The song is still played over the public address at Cambridge United football matches after home wins. In 1949, ‘Cocoanuts’ became a US Top 10 hit for Freddy Martin & His Orchestra, with vocalist Merv Griffin; the following year, it was a hit for Danny Kaye.”

Jeepers Creepers

First performed by Louis Armstrong (1938).
First recorded by Ethel Waters (1938).
Hit versions by Al Donahue & His Orchestra (US #1 1938), Larry Clinton & His Orchestra (US #12 1938), Louis Armstrong (US #12 1939).

From the wiki: “‘Jeepers Creepers’ was written by Harry Warren, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer (Mercer claims to have first heard the expression from Henry Fonda), for the 1938 Warner Brothers movie Going Places. Louis Armstrong appears in the part of Gabriel, the trainer of a race horse named Jeepers Creepers. Jeepers Creepers is a very wild horse and can only be soothed enough to let someone ride him when Gabriel plays the song ‘Jeepers Creepers’ on his trumpet or sings it to him. Warren and Mercer would share an Academy Award nomination for Best Song in 1939.


First recorded (as “Ue no Muite Arukou”) by Kyu Sakamoto (JPN #1 1961 |US #1/R&B #18 May 1963 |UK #6 Jun 1963).
Also recorded by Clyde Beavers (1963), The Fabulous Echoes (1965), Jewel Akens (as “My First Lonely Night”) (1966), Selena (1990).
Other hit versions by Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen (UK #10 Jan 1963), A Taste of Honey (US #3/R&B #1 1981), 4 P.M. (US #8/R&B #75/UK #152 1994).

From the wiki: “‘Ue o Muite Arukō’, ‘I Look Up As I Walk’) is a Japanese-language song first recorded in 1963 by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, and composed by Hachidai Nakamura (music) and Rokusuke Ei (lyrics). Ei wrote the lyrics while returning home from a protest against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, feeling dejected about the failure of the protest movement. But, Ei purposely rendered the lyrical content generic so that the lines might refer to any lost love. In Anglophone countries ‘Ue o Muite Arukō’ is best known under the alternative title ‘Sukiyaki’ (a term with no relevance to the song’s lyrics). The English-language title – for a Japanese hot pot dish – actually has nothing to do with the lyrics or the meaning of the song. A Newsweek magazine columnist noted that the re-titling was like issuing ‘Moon River’ in Japan under the title ‘Beef Stew’.

Lady Godiva

Originally recorded by Paul Jones (1966).
Hit versions by Peter & Gordon (US #6/UK #16/CAN #1/AUS #1 1966), Alex Day (UK #15 2012).

From the wiki: “Written by Mike Leander, Charlie Mills, and Gordon Mills, ‘Lady Godiva’ is a music hall-style number which frivolously references the legend of Lady Godiva, re-imagining it in the modern day: a director from Hollywood witnesses her legendary ride (with ‘her long blonde hair’ obscuring her breasts and other private parts) and recruits the lady to star in his (pornographic) movie.

“Peter & Gordon’s producer John Burgess brought ‘Lady Godiva’ to the attention of the duo, which Burgess had recently produced for former Manfred Mann lead singer and harmonicist Paul Jones’ album My Way. Peter Asher recalls that he [Asher] objected to recording the song – the duo’s previous hits were almost all melancholy love songs. P&G’s other half, Gordon Waller, responded ‘It’ll be funny [so] shut up’.

American Patrol

First performed by the U.S. Marine Band (1892).
First recorded by John Phillip Sousa’s Band (1901).
Hit version by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (US #15 1941).

From the wiki: “‘American Patrol’ is a popular march written by Frank White (F.W.) Meacham in 1885, incorporating both original musical themes by Meacham and melodies from American patriotic songs of the era such as ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean’ and ‘Dixie’. It was first performed by the U.S. Marine Band on July 2, 1892 in Portland, Oregon. The first recording of ‘American Patrol’ was by John Phillip Sousa’s Band in 1901.

“Jerry Gray arranged a swing version of the march for Glenn Miller’s orchestra in 1941, where the theme ‘The Girl I Left Behind’ can be also heard as an overlay. The recording was reissued as RCA Victor 20-1564-A backed with ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen‘ as Side 1.

“The ‘patrol’ format was popular in the second half of the 19th century, and other compositions bear titles such as ‘Turkish Patrol’, ‘Ethiopian Patrol’, ‘Owl’s Patrol’, ‘Welsh Patrol’ and ‘Arab Patrol’. The format was intended to represent a military band approaching, passing, and fading into the distance.”