Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Reggae/Ska

Stir It Up

Written and first recorded by The Wailing Wailers (1967).
Hit versions by Johnny Nash (US #12/UK #13 1972), Diana King (R&B #53 1994).
Also recorded by Bob Marley & the Wailers (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Stir It Up’ was written by Bob Marley in 1967, for his wife Rita, and was first recorded and released the same year by the Wailing Wailers. Following Marley’s return to Jamaica from the United States in 1967, the Wailers started their own label, Wail’n Soul’m Records, and released their first independent single, ‘Freedom Time’. ‘Nice Time’, ‘Thank You Lord’, and ‘Stir It Up’ (backed with ‘The Train’) were all recorded in the same year. The label folded shortly after, after which Marley began writing for American singer Johnny Nash. Nash used members of The Wailers and recorded several Marley songs on his 1972 album, I Can See Clearly Now, including ‘Stir It Up’.

Keep On Running

Written and first recorded by Jackie Edwards (1965).
Hit version by The Spencer Davis Group (US #76/UK #1/CAN #22/IRE #3/NZ #4 1965).
Re-recorded by Jackie Edwards (1976).

From the wiki: “‘Keep on Running’ was written and first recorded by Jackie Edwards, which became a #1 UK hit when recorded by The Spencer Davis Group. Edwards recorded his original version while working in the UK for Island Records as a songwriter. It first appeared on his 1965 album Come on Home, and was later re-recorded by Edwards again as a reggae arrangement in the mid-1970s for his Do You Believe In Love album.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter)

Written and first recorded by King Radio (1937).
Hit version by Robert Palmer (US #63 1976).
Also recorded by Harry Belfonte (1956), Robert Mitchum (1957), The Carpenters (1977).

From the wiki: “The Calypso song ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’ was written and first recorded by King Radio (Norman Span) in 1937. Variations of the song have been recorded by many artists including Harry Belafonte, Chubby Checker, Rosanne Cash, Robert Mitchum, and The Carpenters. Robert Palmer charted in the Billboard Hot 100 with his 1976 cover recording. ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’ was also a staple of the live repertoire of the Grateful Dead from 1981 to 1995.”

One Love

First recorded by The Wailing Wailers (1965).
Also recorded (as “All in One”) by The Wailers (1970).
Hit version by Bob Marley & The Wailers (UK #5/NZ #1 1977).

From the wiki: “‘One Love’ was written by Bob Marley (with a later credit extended to Curtis Mayfield) and first recorded in a Ska style in 1965 by The Wailing Wailers. The song contains an interpretation of The Impressions’ song ‘People Get Ready’, written by Curtis Mayfield. This version was later included on their first singles compilation The Wailing Wailers in 1966.

“It was rerecorded as part of the 1970 medley ‘All In On’e, which contained reggae reworkings of the Wailers’ early ska songs. Yet another re-recording, in 1977, became a part of Marley’s Exodus album in 1977, and was released as one of that album’s promotional singles charting in the UK Top-10 and topping the music sales chart in New Zealand.


First recorded (as “Mary Anne”) by Roaring Lion (1946).
Hit versions by Terry Gilkyson & The Easy Riders (US #4 1957), The Hilltoppers (US #3 1957).

From the wiki: “‘Mary Ann’ was composed by Calypso artist Roaring Lion (Raphael De Leon) and was popular with steelbands and revelers during a spontaneous Carnival celebration on V-J Day in Trinidad in 1945, at the end of World War II. From a young age, Lion had became known for his skill in creating calypsos, particularly in his ability to extemporize lyrics on any subject. His career officially began in 1924; he cut his first sides in his late teens.

“Lion recorded extensively between the 1930s and 1950s (‘If You Wanna Be Happy‘), and was one of the calypsonians who deserves the most credit for the increasing international popularity of the genre during this period. In March 1934 the Trinidadian phonograph merchant Eduardo Sa Gomes sent Lion and fellow calypsonian Attila The Hun (Raymond Quevedo) to New York to record; they became the first calypsonians to record abroad. On that trip Lion also entertained the President of the United States – President Franklin D. Roosevelt – at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. (FDR would also visit Trinidad in 1936, where he would again be entertained by Lion and Atilla.)

If You Wanna Be Happy

Based on “Marry an Ugly Woman” by Roaring Lion (1934).
Also recorded (as “From a Logical Point of View”) by Robert Mitchum (1957).
Hit version by Jimmy Soul (US #1/R&B #1 1962 |UK #39 1963).

From the wiki: “‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ is based on the song ‘Marry an Ugly Woman’ by the Calypso artist Roaring Lion, from Trinidad, first recorded in 1934. Robert Mitchum did a cover version of ‘Ugly Woman’ on Calypso — Is Like So…! titled ‘From a Logical Point of View’ (1957).

“Jimmy Soul’s ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ was adapted by Joseph Royster, Carmella Guida and Frank Guida (‘Quarter to Three’) and recorded by Soul in 1962, topping both the Pop and R&B charts in the US.”

Rivers of Babylon

Written and first recorded by The Melodians (JAM #1 1970).
Other hit version by Boney M. (US #30/UK #1/CAN #9/AUS #1/IRE #1/GER #1 1978).

From the wiki: “The Melodians’ original version of the song appeared in the soundtrack album of the 1972 movie The Harder They Come, making it internationally known. The lyrics are adapted from the texts of Psalm 137 and Psalm 19 in the Bible [KJV]: ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion… ‘

Let Your Yeah Be Yeah

First recorded by Jimmy Cliff (1970, released 1976).
Hit versions by The Pioneers (UK #5 1971), Brownville Station (US #57 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ was written by Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff who first recorded the song in 1970 but which went unreleased until 1976.

“Vocal trio The Pioneers recorded their version, co-produced by Cliff, in 1971. It peaked at #5 on the UK singles chart. In 1973, ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ was recorded by the US rock band Brownsville Station (‘Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room’) for their album Yeah!. Released as a single, it was the band’s second song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #57.”

Baby, Come Back

First recorded by The Equals (1966 |IRE #2/BEL #1/NETH #6/NOR #4/AUS #10 1967 |US #32/UK #1 1968).
Also recorded by Eddy Grant (1984).
Other hit version by Pato Banton & UB40 (UK #1/AUS #11/IRE #2/SCOT #1/NZ #1 1994).

From the wiki: “‘Baby, Come Back’ was written by Eddy Grant (‘Police On My Back‘, ‘Electric Avenue’), and originally performed and recorded by him and the rest of his band – The Equals – in 1966. The song was first released in 1966, a year after the band formed, but did not chart. However, after impressive sales in the rest of Europe (where it reached the Top 10 in Belgium and The Netherlands), the single was re-issued in the UK and reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart in July 1968.

“The song was covered by its writer, Eddy Grant, as a solo effort in 1984 without any chart success.

“In 1994, ‘Baby, Come Back’ was covered by Pato Banton who was joined by Robin and Ali Campbell of UB40 – Banton dubbing verses between the Campbells singing the original hook and chorus. Topping the UK Singles chart beginning in November 1994, Banton’s cover was the 4th biggest-selling UK single of 1994.”

Pass the Dutchie

First recorded (as “Pass the Kuchie”) by The Mighty Diamonds (1982).
Also (as “Gimme the Music”) by U Brown (1982).
Hit version by Musical Youth (UK #1 1982 |US#10/R&B #8/CAN #1/AUS #1/NZ #1/IRE #1/BEL #1/GER #2 1983).

From the wiki: “‘Pass the Dutchie’ was a cover version of two songs: ‘Pass the Kuchie’ by The Mighty Diamonds, which deals with the recreational use of cannabis (‘kouchie’ being slang for a cannabis pipe), and ‘Gimme the Music’ by U Brown.

“For the cover version by Musical Youth, ‘Pass the Kuchie’ was bowdlerized to ‘Pass the Dutchie’, and all obvious drug references were removed from the lyrics (e.g., when the original croons ‘How does it feel when you got no herb?’, the cover version refers instead to ‘food’. ‘Dutchie’ is used as a patois term to refer to a food cooking pot such as a Dutch oven in Jamaica and the Caribbean.) However, ‘Pass the Dutchie’ has since entered into the language itself, denoting a blunt stuffed with marijuana and rolled in a wrapper from a Dutch Masters cigar.

Only the Good Die Young

First recorded (as a demo) by Billy Joel (1977).
Hit version by Billy Joel (US #24/CAN #18 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Only the Good Die Young’ was written by Billy Joel for his landmark 1977 album, The Stranger. The original demo recording featured a slower, reggae arrangement (the demo is included in the box set, My Life).

“‘I wrote it as a reggae song,’ Joel recalled. ‘And Liberty [DeVitto], my drummer, is so sick of reggae that he literally throws his drumsticks at me and says, ‘Ugh, I frigging hate reggae! The closest you’ve ever been to Jamaica is when you changed trains in Queens.” It was Joel’s producer, Phil Ramone, who recommended to Joel ‘Don’t play any different than you play on the road — be the rock ‘n’ roll animal that you are.’ The third take of the song in the studio is what appears on the album, The Stranger.

You Can Get It If You Really Want

First released by Desmond Dekker (US #103/UK #2 1970).
Hit album version by Jimmy Cliff (1970, released 1972).

From the wiki: “‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’, written by Jimmy Cliff, was recorded in 1970 by both Cliff and Desmond Dekker using the same backing track. Dekker’s version was the first to be commercially released, in 1970; Cliff’s original 1970 recording was later added in 1972 to the movie soundtrack of The Harder They Come.”

The Harder They Come

Written and first recorded (as “The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall”) by Jimmy Cliff (1971).
Hit versions by Jimmy Cliff (1972), Joe Jackson (NETH #35/SWE #18 1980).

From the wiki: “‘The Harder They Come’ is a Reggae song by the Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff, first recorded and released as the B-side to the original release of ‘Sitting In Limbo’ in 1971. Cliff re-recorded (and retitled) the song in 1972 for inclusion in the movie soundtrack for The Harder They Come. ‘The Harder They Come’ has been ranked #341 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

My Boy Lollipop

First recorded (as “My Boy Lollypop”) by Barbie Gaye (1956).
Hit version by Millie Small (US #2/UK #2/IRE #1 1964).

From the wiki: “‘My Boy Lollipop’ (originally written as ‘My Girl Lollypop’) was written in the mid-1950s by Robert Spencer of the doo-wop group The Cadillacs, and is usually credited to Spencer, Morris Levy, and Johnny Roberts. It was first recorded in New York in 1956 by Barbie Gaye. A cover version, recorded eight years later by Jamaican teenager Millie Small, with very similar rhythm, became one of the top-selling ska songs of all time.

A Message to You, Rudy

First recorded (as “Rudy, A Message to You”) by Dandy (1967).
Hit version by The Specials (UK #10/IRE #19/AUS #29/NZ #29/NETH #22 1979).
Also recorded by Barenaked Ladies (demo 1988), Amy Winehouse (2008).

From the wiki: “‘A Message to You, Rudy’ is a 1967 rocksteady song written by Dandy Livingstone. The song, originally entitled ‘Rudy, A Message to You’ later achieved broader success when, in 1979, The Specials’ cover reached #10 in the UK Singles Chart. Veteran trombone player Rico Rodriguez played on both Livingstone’s 1967 and The Specials’ 1979 recordings.

Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)

First recorded (as “Day Dah Light”) by Edric Conner & The Caribbeans (1952).
Hit versions by The Tarriers (US #4/R&B #14/UK #15 1956), Sarah Vaughn (US #19 1956), Harry Belafonte (US #5/R&B #7/UK #2 1956), The Fontane Sisters (US #13 1957).

From the wiki: “‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’ was originally a Jamaican folk song of unknown title. It was thought to be sung by Jamaican banana workers, with a repeated melody and refrain (call and response); with each set lyric there would be a response from the workers but using many different sets of lyrics, some possibly improvised on the spot.

Red, Red Wine

Written and first recorded by Neil Diamond (US #62 1966).
Other hit versions by Jimmy James & The Vagabonds (UK #46 1966), Tony Tribe (UK #46 1969), Roy Drusky (C&W #17/CAN #16 1972), UB40 (US #34/UK #1/NZ #1 1984 |US #1 1988).

From the wiki: “‘Red, Red Wine’ was written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond (‘September Morn‘,’I’m a Believer‘,’Until It’s Time for You to Go‘). It has been covered by Tony Tribe, and Jimmy James & the Vagabond (both charting in the UK in the late ’60s), American country singer Roy Drusky (who charted in 1972) and, most famously, by British reggae group UB40, whose version topped the UK and US singles charts – four years apart.

I Shot the Sheriff

Written and first recorded by The Wailers (1973).
Hit version by Eric Clapton (US #1/UK #9/CAN #1/NZ #1 1974).

From the wiki: “‘I Shot The Sheriff’ was written by Bob Marley, told from the point of view of a narrator who claims to have acted in self-defense when the sheriff tried to shoot him. The song was first released in 1973 on The Wailers’ album Burnin’. Eric Clapton recorded a cover version that was included on his 1974 album, 461 Ocean Boulevard. It is the most successful version of the song, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2003, Clapton’s version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.”

The Tide is High

Originally recorded by The Paragons (1967).
Also recorded by Uroy (1971), Gregory Isaacs (1978).
Hit versions by Blondie (US #1/UK #1/CAN #1/NZ #1 1980), Atomic Kitten (UK #1 2002).

From the wiki: “‘The Tide is High’ was written by John Holt and was first recorded by The Paragons, the vocal trio of which he was a member, and featured the violin of ‘White Rum’ Raymond.

“The recording was produced by Duke Reid, released as a 7-inch single on Reid’s Treasure Isle and Trojan labels and as the B-side of the ‘Only a Smile’ single. Both tracks were included on the 1970 collection On the Beach. The song became popular in the UK amongst West Indians and skinheads when a ‘deejay’ version recorded by U-Roy was released in 1971. Gregory Issacs also released ‘The Tide is High’ as a single in 1978.

“‘The Tide Is High’ was most famously covered by Blondie in 1980, in a reggae-mariachi style that included horns and strings. It was released as the lead single from the band’s fifth studio album, Autoamerican (1980), providing Blondie with their third #1 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“In 2002, ‘The Tide Is High’ again topped the UK Singles chart when the song was covered by English girl group Atomic Kitten. Released as the second single from their second studio album, Feels So Good, their version of the song also added a new bridge, hence the subtitle ‘Get the Feeling’.”

Uroy, “The Tide is High” (1971):

Gregory Isaacs, “The Tide is High” (1978):

Blondie, “The Tide is High” (1980):

Atomic Kitten, “The Tide is High (Get the Feeling)” (2002):

Police on My Back

Written (by Eddy Grant) and first recorded by The Equals (1967).
Hit album version by The Clash (1980).

From the wiki: “‘Police on My Back’ was written by Eddy Grant when he was leader of the Equals, a racially-mixed British group who fused rock, reggae, and soul rhythms. The band’s sole international hit was the admirably eccentric groover ‘Baby Come Back’. First released as a promotional single in Germany in 1967 and in 1968 in the UK, the Netherlands and Austria (with no apparent chart success), ‘Police on My Back’ was included on the Equals Explosion album released in the UK in 1968, and in the US in 1968 on the compilation ‘greatest hits’ album Baby, Come Back.

“The Clash picked ‘Police on My Back’ to cover while recording their fourth album, the sprawling three-LP set Sandanista!. While the Equals’ original version has a clear if muted reggae undertow, the song became a hard-charging, high-velocity onslaught when recorded by The Clash.

“‘Police on My Back’ was a rare example of the Clash tackling a reggae tune and, rather than trying to fuse its Caribbean rhythms with the band’s muscular approach, instead stripped the tune to its bare bones and tackling it as straight rock & roll. The track was cited by some critics in reviews of Sandinista! as the most ‘Clash-sounding’ song on the album – with the irony being that ‘Police on My Back’ was a cover; not a Clash original.”

Wild World

Originally recorded by Jimmy Cliff (UK #8 July, 1970).
Other hit versions by Cat Stevens (US #11 November, 1970), The Gentrys (MOR #28 1971) Maxi Priest (US #25/UK #5 1988), Mr. Big (US #27/UK #59 1993).

From the wiki: “Jimmy Cliff’s version, released a few months before the song’s writer, Cat Stevens, released his version, reached #8 on the UK Singles Chart. Surprisingly, Stevens’ version was not released as a single in the UK, thus its appearance only on US radio charts. Some of the subsequent covers have also been in the reggae style, indicating that they may be covers of Cliff’s version, as opposed to direct covers of Cat Stevens’ original acoustic arrangement.