Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Last Kiss

Written and first recorded by Wayne Cochran (1961).
Hit versions by J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers (US #2 1964), Wednesday (US #34/CAN #2 1975), Pearl Jam (US Rock #2/UK #42 1999).

From the wiki: “‘Last Kiss’ was written and recorded by Wayne Cochran in 1961 for the Gala record label. It failed to do well on the charts. Cochran subsequently re-recorded his song for the King label in 1963; again, with no chart impact. ‘Last Kiss’ was later revived, in 1964, by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers; Canadian group Wednesday, in 1974; and Pearl Jam, in 1999.

J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers, “Last Kiss” album cover, 1964.

“Cochran’s version was a local hit in Georgia, with copies sold out of the trunks of cars. Major Bill Smith (producer of ‘Hey Paula’ by Paul and Paula) bought a copy and persuaded J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers to cover it. The Cavaliers’ cover was released in June 1964 and reached the Top 10 in October, the song’s and the group’s first real commercial success. The Last Kiss album cover shows Wilson kneeling over the young woman portraying the dying girl. Supposedly, first printings of the cover showed blood trickling from the girl’s face but was later air-brushed out.

“Four months after the Cavaliers’ recording was released, Wilson and the band were touring in Ohio when the group’s producer, Son Roush, apparently fell asleep at the wheel. The car drifted left of center and rammed head-on into a trailer truck. Roush was killed instantly. Wilson survived with a few broken ribs and a broken ankle, but went right on with the tour, taking only a week off and coming out on the stage on crutches to sing ‘Last Kiss’ and ‘Hey, Little One’, even for his appearance on American Bandstand. It is believed those appearances helped push the song to #2 on the Billboard Hot 10.

“‘Last Kiss’ was also covered by Pearl Jam for the 1999 charity album No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees. The idea to cover ‘Last Kiss’ came about after band member Eddie Vedder discovered a copy of the Cavaliers record an antique mall in Seattle, Washington. Vedder convinced the rest of the band to try out the song and it was performed a few times on the band’s 1998 tour. The band eventually recorded the song at a soundcheck during a Washington, D.C. soundcheck that tour, and the recording was released as a 1998 fan club Christmas single. Pearl Jam spent only a couple of thousand dollars mixing the song and bassist Jeff Ament recalls, ‘It was the most minimalist recording we’ve ever done.’ The following year Pearl Jam’s recording of ‘Last Kiss’ began to be played by radio stations and was ultimately put into heavy rotation across America. By popular demand the cover was released to the public as a single on June 8, 1999, with all of the proceeds going to the aid of refugees of the Kosovo War.

“Trivia: Cochran went on to have limited success in the Miami area playing Rhythm & Blues with his band Wayne Cochran And The C.C. Riders. The bass player for that band was Jaco Pastorius, who went on to revolutionize the electric bass.”

J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers, “Last Kiss” (1964):

Wednesday, “Last Kiss” (1975):

Pearl Jam, “Last Kiss” (1999):

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