Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Hey Harmonica Man

First recorded by Jo Jo Wail & the Somethings (1963).
Hit version by Stevie Wonder (US #29/R&B #5 1964).

From the wiki: “‘Hey Harmonica Man’ was written by Marty Cooper and Lou Josie, and was first recorded in 1963 by Jo Jo Wail & the Somethings. It would be covered by Stevie Wonder in 1964.

“Wonder has poured scorn on his pre-’65 Motown output; whenever he’s asked about these records, he seems to lump them all together as a collection of ‘juvenilia’. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s ‘Hey Harmonica Man’ for which he reserves particular criticism, describing it on more than one occasion as ’embarrassing’.

“[C]oming off the back of an unexpected Number One hit record in ‘Fingertips’ and searching for both credibility and direction, having finally thrown off half of the marketing department’s condescending nickname [‘Little Stevie Wonder’], he’s suddenly saddled with something which paints him right back into that same corner he’d been trying to climb out of. It’s not that Motown were treating him as some sort of freak show, but it’s not too far off either; it’s somewhat galling to observe that, two years down the line from Stevie’s Motown début 45 ‘I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues’, the label’s basic strategy hadn’t changed: Look at this blind kid! He can sing *and* play the harmonica! Often quite well!

“A West Coast production like the rest of the Stevie At The Beach album, it worked relatively well; if not artistically, then at least commercially (the single hit the R&B Top Five and the pop Top-30. ‘Hey Harmonica Man’ was by far Stevie’s biggest hit since ‘Fingertip’s’, helping him continue to earn his keep while his labelmates started to hit the charts with increasing regularity), but it’s not a record to linger in the mind. The lyrics are a bit of self-mythologising, ostensibly building Stevie up by having him wow a rubbernecking surf party crowd (played here by some nasal-sounding Los Angeles backing vocalists), but actually playing to the exact same stereotypes he’d pandered to on his début:

Hey harmonica man!
What you calling my name?
Tell us if you can!
It’s my one big thing
Is it really true…
What you wanna know?
What they say you can do?
Ain’t you ever heard me blow?
Can you play that thing?
I can play that thing.
Make you dance and sing?
Make you dance and sing!
Do it if you can, can, can, Harmonica Man!
Aw, I’m gonna blow now!

Source: Motown Junkies

Stevie Wonder, “Hey Harmonica Man” (1964):

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