Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Handy Man

First recorded by Sparks of Rhythm (1956, released 1959).
Hit versions by Jimmy Jones (US #2/R&B #3/UK #3 1960), Del Shannon (US #22/UK #36 1964), James Taylor (US #4/MOR #1/UK #54 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Handy Man’ was written by singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell, and was first recorded by The Sparks Of Rhythm, a group of which Jones was a member. Signed to Apollo Records, ‘Handy Man’ was one of four songs the group recorded for the label in 1956 but nothing happened with the recordings, and Jones left the group 2-1/2 months after the session. (When ‘Handy Man’ was belatedly released in 1959, the Sparks Of Rhythm single [on Apollo 541] credited Andrew Barksdale and Charles Merenstein, who owned Apollo Records at the time, as writers, entirely omitting both Jones and Blackwell.)

“In 1959, Jones recorded the song himself, in an arrangement reworked by co-writer Blackwell who also produced the session. After ‘Handy Man’ starting moving up the music charts, Apollo Records suddenly released the Sparks of Rhythm version. Jone’s ‘Handy Man’ rose up the chart – to #3 on the R&B charts and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, becoming a million seller – while the Sparks of Rhythm recording was lost in oblivion.

“‘Handy Man’ was a hit again in 1964 for Del Shannon and, yet again (as a slow ballad), in 1977, for James Taylor.”

Jimmy Jones, “Handy Man’ (1960):

Del Shannon, “Handy Man” (1964):

James Taylor, “Handy Man” (1977):

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