Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Soul

Living in America

Co-written and first recorded (as a demo) by Dan Hartman (1984).
Hit version by James Brown (US #4/R&B #10/UK #5 1985).

From the wiki: ‘Living in America’ was written and first recorded as a demo by Dan Hartman (‘I Can Dream About You‘) in 1984, and posthumously released in 1994 on the album Keep the Fire Burnin’. Hartman produced both his original demo and the James Brown cover that would be used in the movie and on the soundtrack album for Rocky IV. ‘Living in America’ would be the last of Brown’s forty-four hit recordings to appear in the Billboard Top 40. (Also, Stevie Ray Vaughn played guitar on both the cover and original recordings!)”

C’est la Vie (Robbie Nevil)

First recorded by Beau Williams (1985).
Hit version by Robbie Nevil, co-writer (US #2/UK #3/CAN #1/AUS #4 1986).

From the wiki: “Written by Robbie Nevil with Duncan Pain and Mark Holding, ‘C’est la Vie’ was first recorded by gospel singer Beau Williams for his 1985 album Bodacious!

Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday

First recorded by Chris Clark (1966).
Hit version by Stevie Wonder (recorded 1967 |released US #7/R&B #5/MOR #10/UK #2/CAN #10/IRE #3/GER #15/NZ #10 1969).

From the wiki: “‘Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday’ was written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells and was first recorded, in 1966, by blue-eyed Soul singer and Motown recording artist Chris Clark. Clark became famous in England as the ‘white Negress’ (a nickname meant as a compliment) because the six-foot platinum blonde toured with fellow Motown artists who were predominantly black.

“America’s answer to Dusty Springfield, Clark managed to have only one chart hit in the US: ‘Love’s Gone Bad’ peaked at #105 on the Billboard’s Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart and #41 R&B in 1966. Much later, Clark would co-wrote the screenplay for the 1972 Diana Ross vehicle Lady Sings the Blues, for which Clark was nominated for an Academy Award. Clark also later became an executive for Motown Productions’ film and television division in Los Angeles.

Groovy Situation

First recorded by Mel & Tim (1969).
Hit versions by Gene Chandler (US #12/R&B #8 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Groovy Situation’ was written by Russell Lewis and Herman Davis, and first recorded by Mel and Tim (‘Backfield in Motion’) in 1969. It became a hit single when recorded by Gene Chandler (‘Duke of Earl’) in 1970, when it became Chandler’s second-biggest chart hit single.”

I’ve Got to Use My Imagination

Co-written and first recorded by Barry Goldberg (1973).
Hit version by Gladys Knight & The Pips (US #4/R&B #1 1973).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (bootleg 1984), Joe Cocker (1989), Gerry Goffin, co-writer (1995), Joan Osborne (2007).

From the wiki: “‘I’ve Got to Use My Imagination’ was written by Gerry Goffin (‘Up on the Roof‘, ‘Oh No Not My Baby‘, ‘Saving All My Love for You‘, ‘One Fine Day’) and by Barry Goldberg, and was first recorded by Goldberg in 1973 at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with co-producers Jerry Wexler and Bob Dylan (also on backing vocals and percussion).

“Goldberg was the pianist behind Dylan at the infamous ‘Dylan goes electric’ Newport Folk Festival performance in 1965 (he was a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band that had backed Dylan), and it was Dylan who helped Goldberg secure the deal with Atlantic Records that resulted in the 1974 release of Barry Goldberg.

Oh Love (Well, We Finally Made It)

First recorded by Smoke (1972).
Hit version by Love Unlimited (R&B #70 1973).

“‘Oh Love (Well We Finally Made It)’ was written by Barry White, was first recorded by Bob Relf’s group, Smoke, in 1972 (not to be confused with the UK group The Smoke). (Relf was one-half of ‘Bob & Earl’, after the departure of Bobby Day, who famously recorded ‘Harlem Shuffle‘ in 1963 with an arrangement by White.)

“White’s female trio, Love Unlimited, also recorded ‘Oh Love …’ at the same session, using the same backing track performed by Smoke that was later augmented with the addition of a string arrangement by White’s newly formed Love Unlimited Orchestra. But, Love Unlimited’s recording was held back from release, not becoming a promotional single until July 1973 when it would nick the R&B chart, peaking at #70.”


First recorded by Guinn Family (1986).
Hit version by Vanessa Williams (US #8/R&B #1/UK #74 1989).

From the wiki: “‘Dreamin” is a song written by Lisa Montgomery and Geneva Paschal and originally performed by the family group Guinn in 1986. In 1988, Vanessa Williams recorded the song and released it as the lead single from her debut album, The Right Stuff. ‘Dreamin” became her first #1 R&B hit and her first song to chart Top 40.”

California Soul

First recorded by The Messengers (1967).
Hit versions by The 5th Dimension (US #25/R&B #49 1969), Marlena Shaw (recorded 1969 |UK #157 2008), Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (recorded 1967 |US #56 1970), Riot Act (UK #59 2005).
Also recorded by Edwin Starr (1970), The Undisputed Truth (1971).

From the wiki: “‘California Soul’ was a pop-soul song written by Nick Ashford & Valeria Simpson and first recorded in 1967 by Motown Record’s Monkees-inspired group, The Messengers, released as the B-side of the group’s ‘Window Shopping’ single. It would also be recorded in 1967 by Motown superstars Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – one of Tammi’s final recordings before being diagnosed with brain cancer – but would go unreleased until 1970 when it became the celebrated duo’s final single, released following Tammi’s death in March 1970, and final song to reach the Hot 100.

“‘California Soul’ first charted as a single recorded in late 1968 by The 5th Dimension. US singer Marlena Shaw covered the song the following year for her album Spice of Life. Shaw’s version originally was not released as a single in the US but did later become a staple of the UK ‘Northern Soul’ scene in the 1970s. Following its use in a TV advert in 2008, the song’s UK re-release became Shaw’s best-known recording in the UK. UK group Riot Act charted in 2005 with their recording of ‘California Soul’.

“Apart from The Messengers and Marvin Gaye & Tami Terrell, other Motown recording artists recorded covers of ‘California Soul’, including Edwin Starr, in 1970; and the Undisputed Truth, in 1971. ”

The Jerk

Based on “Girl You Don’t Know Me” by The Impressions (1964).
Hit version by The Larks (US #7/R&B #1 1964).

From the wiki: “Released as a single in 1964 on the Money record label, ‘The Jerk’ was a hit for the Los Angeles band The Larks. Larks’ group member Don Julian wrote new lyrics for their song based on an earlier recording by The Impressions, ‘Girl You Don’t Know Me’, written by Curtis Mayfield.”

I Believe in You and Me

First recorded by The Four Tops (R&B #40 1982).
Also recorded by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. (1983), David Peaston (1991).
Hit version by Whitney Houston (US #4/R&B #4/UK #16 1996).

From the wiki: “‘I Believe in You and Me’ is a ballad written in 1982 by Sandy Linzer and David Wolfert, and first recorded and released by The Four Tops in 1982. In 1983, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. (formerly of The 5th Dimension) recorded the first cover of the song for their album Solid Gold. David Peaston would win the Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist in 1991 for his recording.

Get Here

Written and first recorded by Brenda Russell (R&B #37 1988).
Hit version by Oleta Adams (US #5/MOR #3/R&B #8/UK #4/CAN #27/IRE #4 1990).

From the wiki: “‘Get Here’ was written by American singer/songwriter Brenda Russell (‘Piano in the Dark’) which became an international hit via a 1990 recording by Oleta Adams. Russell wrote the song while staying at a penthouse in Stockholm, Sweden: the tune came to her as she viewed some hot air balloons floating over the city, a sight Russell recalls set her ‘really tripping on how many ways you can get to a person’ (the eventual song’s lyrics include the line: ‘You can make it in a big balloon but you’d better make it soon’).

Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)

Co-written and first recorded by Stevie Wonder (1967, released 1977).
Hit versions by Aretha Franklin (US #3/R&B #1 1973 |UK #24 1974), Luther Vandross (US #87/R&B #5 1984), Basia (US #33 1989), Miki Howard (R&B #3/UK #67 1990).

From the wiki: “‘Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’ was written by Morris Broadnax, Clarence Paul, and Stevie Wonder. The song was originally recorded by Stevie Wonder in 1967, but it was not released until appearing on the 1977 anthology album Looking Back.

“Wonder played Aretha Franklin the song in 1973, and she knew how to ‘take’ someone else’s song (as she had already done with Otis Redding’s ‘Respect‘). Produced by Franklin, Arif Mardin and Jerry Wexler, ‘Until You Come Back’ became Franklin’s second-highest charting Pop song of the ’70s. When her recording reached its highest position at #3, Franklin became the first artist to record singles that peaked at each of #s 1-10 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Marvin Gaye became the first male artist to achieve the ‘occupy-all-10’ when ‘Sexual Healing’ reached #3 in 1982.)

“Other popular recordings of ‘Until You Come Back to Me’ include the Luther Vandross charting medley of ‘Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me’ (1984), Basia’s 1989 recording for her second album, London Warsaw New York, that charted in the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 40, and Miki Howard’s cover in 1990 that charted in the U.K. and R&B in the U.S.”

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.

Last Dance

Written and first recorded by Paul Jabara (1978).
Hit version by Donna Summer (US #3/R&B #5/UK #51 NETH #8 1978).

From the wiki: “‘Last Dance’ was written by Paul Jabara and was first recorded by him in 1978. According to the song’s co-producer Bob Esty, Paul Jabara locked Donna Summer in a Puerto Rico hotel bathroom and forced her to listen to a cassette of him singing a rough version of ‘Last Dance’. Summer liked the song and Jabara asked Esty and her producer Giorgio Moroder to work with him on an arrangement for Summer to use for her recording.

Show and Tell

First recorded by Johnny Mathis (MOR #36 1972).
Other hit versions by Al Wilson (US #1/R&B #10/UK #51 1973), Peabo Bryson (R&B #1 1989).

From the wiki: “‘Show and Tell’ was written by Jerry Fuller (‘Travelin’ Man’, originally written for Sam Cooke but recorded by Ricky Nelson; ‘Young Girl’, ‘Lady Willpower’ and ‘Over You’ for Gary Puckett & the Union Gap). The song was first recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1972. Released as a single, it peaked at #36 on Billboard’s easy-listening music chart.

“A 1973 cover of the song by Al Wilson reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1974 and was also named a Cashbox Magazine Number One Single of the Year.

“Peabo Bryson had a #1 R&B hit with his version of the song in 1989, but it did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100.”

Brother Louie

Written and originally recorded by Hot Chocolate (UK #7 1973).
Other hit version by Stories (US #1 1973).
Also recorded by Roy Ayers (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Brother Louie’ is a song about an interracial love affair, written and sung by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson of the group Hot Chocolate (‘You Sexy Thing’). It was a Top 10 hit on the UK Singles Chart for the band in 1973, produced by Mickie Most (The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, The Jeff Beck Group), and featured Alexis Korner with a spoken-word lyric.

“‘Brother Louie’ was covered by the American band Stories (featuring singer Ian Lloyd) about six months after Hot Chocolate’s UK hit. Another cover – an instrumental arrangement – was also released in 1973 by Roy Ayers on his album Virgo Red, playing vibes in place of vocals.”

Come See Me (I’m Your Man)

First recorded by J.J. Jackson (1966).
Hit version by The Pretty Things (UK #43/AUS #92 1966).

From the wiki: “J.J. Jackson is an American Soul/R&B singer, songwriter, and arranger who started out as a songwriter and arranger for ‘Brother’ Jack McDuff, Jimmy Witherspoon, and The Shangri-Las, among others. Jackson’s songwriting credits include ‘It’s Easier to Cry’ (The Shangri-Las), released as the B-side to ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ in 1964, and The Pretty Things’ 1966 hit single, ‘Come See Me’. He is perhaps best known for the soul hit ‘But It’s Alright’ which, after its 1966 release, became one of the best known dance music tunes of the decade.

Here I Am, Baby

First recorded by Barbara McNair (1966).
Hit version by The Marvelettes (US #44/R&B #14 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Here I Am, Baby’ was written by Smokey Robinson in 1967 for actress and singer Barbara McNair (‘For Once in My Life‘). It was the title track of her album Here I Am. McNair’s big career break had come in the late 1950s with a win on Arthur Godfrey’s TV show Talent Scouts, which led to bookings at The Purple Onion and the Cocoanut Grove. She soon became one of the country’s most popular headliners and a guest on such television variety shows as The Steve Allen Show, Hullabaloo, The Bell Telephone Hour, and The Hollywood Palace, while recording for the Coral, Signature, Motown, and other labels. But, she became best-known as a TV actress guesting on series such as Dr. Kildare, The Eleventh Hour, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes and McMillan and Wife.

Save Me

Based on “Help Me (Get the Feeling)” by Ray Sharpe & The King Curtis Orchestra (1966).
Also recorded (as “Help Me”) by Owen Gray (1966).
Inspired by “Gloria” by Them (1964).
Hit album version by Aretha Franklin (1967).
Also recorded by Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger With The Trinity (1968), Nina Simone (1969).
Also recorded (as “Instant Groove”) by King Curtis (1969).

From Vinyl Witness: “One of the more interesting musical reinventions in 60′s Soul & Pop is ‘Help Me’ by Ray Sharpe with the King Curtis Orchestra. The track is revered among collectors as one of the first appearances by a young James ‘Jimi’ Marshall Hendrix on guitar. Jimi Hendrix at the time was in King Curtis’s band, who backed Sharpe on this track. In addition to the early notoriety, the song went on to have unexpected second and third lives.

“‘Help Me’ began as a simple progression from King Curtis, Atlantic Records’ go-to band leader at the time. It was based on the recent hit, ‘Gloria‘, by Them.

Smiling Faces Sometimes

Originally recorded by The Temptations (1971).
Hit version by The Undisputed Truth (US #3/R&B #2/MOR #34 1971)
Also recorded by Bobbi Humphrey (1972), Rare Earth (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’ was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and was originally recorded by the Temptations in 1971. Producer Whitfield had the song re-recorded by the Undisputed Truth the same year, resulting in a Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit for the group – their only one.

Knock on Wood

Co-written and first recorded by Eddie Floyd (US #28/R&B #1 1966).
Other hit versions by Otis Redding & Carla Thomas (US #30/R&B #8/UK #35 1967), David Bowie (1974 UK #10/IRE #4), Ami Stewart (US #1/UK #6/CAN #1/ 1979).

From the wiki: “Written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, ‘Knock on Wood’ was first recorded in 1966 by Eddie Floyd. According to Floyd, the line ‘It’s like thunder, lightning, the way you love me is frightening’ was inspired by a thunderstorm that was occurring the afternoon the song was written with Cropper, the famed Stax guitarist, in a Memphis hotel room.

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher

First recorded (as “(My Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”) by The Dells (1967, released 1968).
Also recorded (as”(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”) by Otis Redding (1967 |B-side R&B #30 1969).
Hit versions by Jackie Wilson (US #6/R&B #1 1967 |UK #11 1969), Canada Goose (US #90/CAN #44 1970), Rita Coolidge (US #2/UK #48/AUS #6 1977).

From the wiki: Chess Records’ in-house writers and producers Gary Jackson and Raynard Miner wrote ‘(My Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’, which was initially recorded by The Dells (‘Oh, What a Night’) in February 1967. However, their recording was not released until May 1968 on the album There Is. Another writer, Gary Jackson, made some changes to the song, and this version, retitled ‘(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher’ was recorded by Otis Redding for Atco Records prior to his passing in December 1967. It would be posthumously released in 1969, 18 months later, as the B-side to ‘Free Me’.

“Jackson also pitched the song to producer Carl Davis at Brunswick Records. When Brunswick artist Jackie Wilson recorded his vocal track, Davis recalls, the song – now titled ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’, had been arranged ‘like a soul ballad. I said that’s totally wrong. You have to jump and go with the percussion … If he didn’t want to sing it that way, I would put my voice on the record and sell millions.’ After hearing Davis’s advice, Wilson cut the lead vocal for the new up-tempo ‘Higher and Higher’ arrangement in a single take.

All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You

First recorded (as “All I Want to Do is Make Love to You”) by Dobie Gray (1979).
Hit version by Heart (US #2/UK #8/CAN #1/AUS #1 1990).

From the wiki: “It was composed by veteran songwriter and producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange. The song was first recorded as ‘All I Want to Do is Make Love to You’ by Dobie Gray in 1979, though with completely different lyrics.

Midnight Train to Georgia

Written and first recorded (as “Midnight Plane to Houston”) by Jim Weatherly (1972).
Hit versions by Cissy Houston (R&B #45 1973), Gladys Knight & The Pips (US #1/R&B #1/UK #10 1973).

From the wiki: “The song was originally written and performed by Jim Weatherly (‘(You’re the) Best Thing That Ever Happened‘) under the title ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’, recorded for Amos Records.

“‘It was based on a conversation I had with somebody… about taking a midnight plane to Houston,’ Weatherly recalls. ‘I wrote it as a kind of a country song. Then we sent the song to a guy named Sonny Limbo in Atlanta and he wanted to cut it with Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney Houston) … He asked if I minded if he changed the title to ‘Midnight Train to Georgia.’ And I said, I don’t mind. Just don’t change the rest of the song.’ Houston took Weatherly’s song into the R&B chart under the title ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’.