Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Harlem Nocturne

First recorded by Ray Anthony & His Orchestra (1939).
Hit versions by Herbie Fields (1953), The Viscounts (US #52 1959 |US #39 1966).
Also recorded by Johnny Otis (1945), Mel Torme (1963), Duke Ellington (c. 1970?).

From the wiki: “‘Harlem Nocturne’ was written by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers in 1939. The song was adopted by bandleader Randy Brooks the next year as his theme song, but was first recorded in 1939 by Ray Anthony & His Orchestra. Hagen was a trombonist in Ray Noble’s band at the time. He had been inspired by Duke Ellington’s saxophone player Johnny Hodges and wrote ‘Harlem Nocturne’ for Noble’s sax man Jack Dumont, originally titling it ‘Duke’s Soup’. The name change was suggested by the publisher.

“More than 500+ artists have covered ‘Harlem Nocturne’, including Duke Ellington, Harry James, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Lounge Lizards, Earl Bostic, Quincy Jones, Boots Randolph, and The Ventures. In 1945, Johnny Otis recorded it as an early single on the Savoy label. In the early 1950s, Billie Holiday accompanist saxophonist Herbie Fields released ‘Harlem Nocturne’ as a single, becoming one of the first popular Jazz versions. Vocalists have also recorded this song, adding lyrics to it. Mel Tormé recorded a version with lyrics for his 1963 album Songs of New York, beginning ‘a nocturne for the blues.’

“But it was the Viscounts, a New Jersey band, who put the song on the Pop music map. The Viscounts were an instrumental quintet whose 1959 recording added a new twist: an eerie guitar echo effect that’s been retained in many subsequent versions. The original recording peaked at #59 on the Billboard Hot 100. Several years later, the same Viscounts recording was reissued on another record label, Amy. This time, in 1966, the song cracked the Top 40 for a brief one-week stay. Nonetheless, music critic and writer Dave Marsh includes the Viscounts’ ‘Harlem Nocturne’ in his 1999 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.

“Co-writer Hagen became most famous after going on to compose TV theme songs including The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, USMC, I Spy, Mod Squad, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. ‘Harlem Nocturne’, itself, became the theme song for the television series Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and The New Mike Hammer.”

Johnny Otis, “Harlem Nocturne” (1945):

Herbie Fields, “Harlem Nocturne” (1953):

The Viscounts, “Harlem Nocturne” (1959):

Mel Tormé, “Harlem Nocturne” (1963):

Duke Ellington, “Harlem Nocture” (c. 1970?):

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