Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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If Not For You

Written and first recorded by Bob Dylan (1970 |NETH #30 1971).
First released by George Harrison (1970).
Other hit version by Olivia Newton-John (US #25/MOR #1/CAN #3/ UK #7/AUS #7/NZ #8 1971).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan & George Harrision (1970, released 1991).

From the wiki: “‘If Not for You’ was written by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan for his October 1970 album New Morning. The song was a love song to Dylan’s first wife, Sara Dylan. He recorded it several times in 1970; the session for the released version took place in New York in August. He also recorded the song with George Harrison on May 1, soon after the break-up of the Beatles, a session that attracted much speculation in the music press. The May recording remained unreleased until its inclusion on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) in 1991.

“In November 1970, Harrison released his arrangement of ‘If Not for You’ on his triple album All Things Must Pass. The best-known cover version was recorded by Olivia Newton-John in 1971, using Harrison’s arrangement of the song. Newton-John’s single became her first hit song, peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart and topping the Billboard Easy Listening chart, as well as the title track to her debut album, If Not for You.

“Dylan first recorded ‘If Not for You’ in March 1970, late in the sessions for his Self Portrait double LP, although it was never intended for that album. He then recorded a new version on May 1 with George Harrison at Columbia Records’ Studio B in New York (an arrangement that would not see release until 1991). Charlie Daniels, who played bass at the session, with Russ Kunkel on drums, described it as ‘a day I’ll never forget,’ adding: ‘It wasn’t Bob Dylan and George Harrison. It was four guys in the studio making music … It was such a nice thing, such a great day, hour after hour.’ News of the collaboration between Dylan and Harrison caused considerable excitement in the music press, even though Columbia made a point of announcing that neither artist deemed the results worthy of release.

“Dylan’s arrangement was issued as an A-side single in Europe, the song peaked at #30 on the Dutch Single Top 100 chart in April 1971. Dylan considered following up the album’s success with a series of concerts but chose to delay his return to live performance and continue to focus on his and Sara’s family life.

“George Harrison included ‘If Not for You’ on his first post-Beatles solo album, All Things Must Pass, released on November 27, 1970. He first taped a solo performance of the song when previewing potential material for his co-producer, Phil Spector, at EMI Studios in London. Recorded in late May, this recital also included Dylan’s ‘I Don’t Want to Do It’ and the Harrison–Dylan collaboration ‘Nowhere to Go’ (originally ‘When Everybody Comes to Town’), both of which originated from Harrison’s time in Woodstock with Dylan and the Band in late 1968.

“In 1971, singer Olivia Newton-John recorded ‘If Not for You’ on the suggestion of her manager after he had heard Harrison’s treatment of the song despite her reservation that it was not ‘her type of song.’ The producers John Farrar and Bruce Welch arranged the song closer to Harrison’s version than to Dylan’s, with the slide guitar used in Harrison’s version featuring prominently. She released ‘If Not for You’ as her first international single, after appearances on Cliff Richard’s concert tour and the TV show It’s Cliff Richard. Marking the start of her 1970s country pop period, her recording was one of many examples of middle-of-the-road artists covering tracks from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.”

George Harrison, “If Not For You” (1970):

Bob Dylan & George Harrison, “If Not For You” (1970):

(video not available)

Olivia Newton-John, “If Not For You” (1971):

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