Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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I’m the Greatest

Written and originally recorded (as a demo) by John Lennon (1971).
Album hit version by Ringo Starr (1973).

From the wiki: “‘I’m the Greatest'” was written by John Lennon in December 1970 as a wry comment on his past as a Beatle, and later tailored the composition for Ringo Starr to sing. With Lennon, Starr, and George Harrison appearing on the track, the song marks the only time that more than two ex-Beatles recorded together between the band’s break-up in 1970 and Lennon’s death in 1980.

“News of the Richard Perry-produced session led to speculation that the Beatles might re-form. The presence on the recording of bassist Klaus Voormann and keyboard player Billy Preston, as supposed stand-ins for Paul McCartney, created a line-up that the press had dubbed The Ladders, the post-Beatles group which Harrison had intended to install with his two former band mates.”

“Lennon began writing ‘I’m the Greatest’ in December 1970 a week after learning that McCartney intended to sue his Beatles bandmates in the British High Court. Lennon said he was inspired to write the song after watching the first UK television broadcast of the Beatles’ 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night. For Lennon, according to author Peter Doggett, viewing the Beatles’ film ‘felt like a postcard from a previous century: there he was, acting out the role that had become his life.’ He set about writing ‘I’m the Greatest’ as a sarcastic comment on his past. Lennon took the song’s title from a catchphrase adopted by boxer Muhammad Ali, whom the Beatles had met in February 1964, shortly before filming A Hard Day’s Night.

“Working at his home studio at Tittenhurst Park,[16] Lennon taped demos of the new composition (and also of ‘Make Love Not War’, a song he recorded formally as ‘Mind Games’ in 1973). In July 1971, towards the end of the recording sessions for his Imagine album, Lennon taped another demo of ‘I’m the Greatest’. He then put the composition aside until early 1973, when Starr approached his three former bandmates for songs to record for his first pop solo album, Ringo.

“In response, Lennon tailored the track to suit Starr’s perspective. Lennon later said that, with the song title being a well-known saying of Ali’s, he did not feel he could sing it himself without attracting controversy, whereas ‘people wouldn’t get upset’ if the statement came from Starr. In the second bridge of the song, the line ‘Yes, my name is Billy Shears’ recalls Starr’s alter-ego from the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – specifically, the character named at the end of the album’s title song and under which Starr sings the ensuing track, ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’.”

Ringo Starr, “I’m the Greatest” (1973):

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