Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Sunday Morning Coming Down

First recorded by Ray Stevens (US #81/C&W #55 1969).
Other hit version by Johnny Cash (C&W #1 1970).
Also recorded by Kris Kristofferson (1970).

From the wiki: “‘Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down’ was written by Kris Kristofferson and was first recorded in 1969 by Ray Stevens, for his album Kristofferson, whose production reached #55 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

“The most successful version of the song originated from a Johnny Cash performance, taped live at the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium during a July 1970 recording his CBS TV variety show, The Johnny Cash Show, as part of a ‘Ride This Train’ segment, which was broadcast as the first episode of the Season Two. A companion album was then released by CBS Records in October 1970, with ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ issued as the promotional single. Both the album and the single topped the Country music charts, and won the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year in 1970.

“According to Kristofferson, in a 2013 interview, the song ‘opened up a whole lot of doors for me. So many people that I admired, admired it. Actually, it was the song that allowed me to quit working for a living.’

“Legend has it that Kristofferson, a commercial utility helicopter pilot in 1970 following his military service discharge, landed a helicopter in Johnny Cash’s backyard just to make him listen to his demo of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’. Cash wasn’t home but his attention was piqued.

“The son of a US Army Air Force officer, Kristofferson joined the US Army in 1960 (after becoming a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University and earning a degree in English literature from Merton College) and became an Airborne Ranger helicopter pilot. In 1965, Kristofferson turned down an assignment to teach at West Point, left the Army and, inspired by songwriters like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, moved to Nashville to pursue his music.

“He got a job sweeping floors at Columbia Recording Studios in Nashville. While there, he met June Carter and asked her to give Johnny Cash a tape of his. She did, but Johnny put it in a large pile with others and it was forgotten. Kristofferson also worked as a commercial helicopter pilot for a south Louisiana firm called Petroleum Helicopters International (PHI), based in Lafayette, Louisiana. Kristofferson recalls, ‘I would work a week down here [in south Louisiana] for PHI, sitting on an oil platform and flying helicopters. Then I’d go back to Nashville at the end of the week and spend a week up there trying to pitch the songs, then come back down and write songs for another week. I can remember ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night‘ I wrote sitting on top of an oil platform. I wrote ‘Bobby McGee‘ down here, and a lot of them [in south Louisiana].'”

Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970):

Johnny Cash, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970):

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