Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Southern Nights

Written and first recorded by Allen Toussaint (1975).
Hit version by Glen Campbell (US #1/MOR #1/C&W #1/CAN #1/UK #28/AUS #36/NZ #10/IRE #3 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Southern Nights’ was written and recorded by Allen Toussaint, from his 1975 album, Southern Nights. It was later recorded by Glen Campbell, with a more up-tempo arrangement and modified lyrics (and a unique guitar lick that Campbell had learned from his friend, Jerry Reed), and released as the first promotional single from Campbell’s 1977 album, also titled Southern Nights.

“The lyrics of ‘Southern Nights’ were inspired by childhood memories Allen Toussaint had of visiting relatives in the Louisiana backwoods, which often entailed storytelling under star-filled nighttime skies. When Campbell heard Toussaint’s version, he immediately identified with the lyrics because they too reminded him of his own youth growing up on an Arkansas farm.

“Songwriter Jimmy Webb, who had penned ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ and ‘Galveston’ that became big hits for Campbell, remembers how Campbell first discovered ‘Southern Nights’:

‘I can remember him one day walking into my house, and I was listening to an Allen Toussaint record that my friend [guitarist] Freddy Tackett had given me. And we sat there for a while and listened, and this song came on — ‘Southern Nights’.

‘And he got so excited. I mean, he just got uncontrollably excited — ‘Can I have that? Can I have that?’ ‘

Webb assumed Campbell thought he had written the song and wanted to record it.

I said, ‘Allen Toussaint wrote it.’ Glen replied, ‘No, no. I mean, can I have your record?’ I said, ‘You want my record?’ He said, ‘Yeah, can I have that?’ And I gave him my Allen Toussaint album and he went out of there. I mean, he ran out of there.

Webb was shocked at how quickly Campbell had managed to revamp the arrangement and record his own version of the song.

‘That song was literally on the radio, like, two weeks later. It might have been three weeks later, but it was like a whisper in our world. It was like no time at all.’

“Released as a single by Campbell in January 1977, ‘Southern Nights’ immediately caught on with both country and pop audiences. In late March, ‘Southern Nights’ spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart marking it Campbell’s fifth and final #1 country hit. In late April, the track reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart marking Campbell’s second and last #1 pop hit.”

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