Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Surfin’ USA

Inspired by “Route 90” by Clarence Garlow (as a B-side 1952) and “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry (US #2/R&B #1/UK #16 1958).
Hit version by The Beach Boys (US #3/R&B #20/UK #34 1962).

From the wiki: “‘Route 90’, co-written and first recorded in 1952 by Louisiana stomper Clarence Garlow, served as the basis for two hit songs: Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ (1958) and ‘Surfin’ Safari’ (1962) by The Beach Boys. Somewhat ironically, it would be Berry – not Garlow (who passed away in 1986) – who would sue The Beach Boys for copyright infringement. Garlow’s only hit song recording was ‘Bon Ton Roula’, which peaked at #7 on the R&B chart in 1950.

“After an unsuccessful swing through Los Angeles, Garlow relocated to Beaumont, Texas, where he began working as a disc-jockey at KJET Radio, fronting his ‘Bon Ton Show’ until 1961. By that time Garlow had ceased performing and recording but continued his radio work, both in Beaumont and later in Orange, Texas, until the early 1970s. He supplemented his income by working as a mailman.

“Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ (backed by ‘Reelin’ and Rockin’) reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, Berry’s second-highest position ever on that chart (‘My Ding-a-Ling’ hit #1 in 1972). And Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song @272 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“According to Brian Wilson:

“‘I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots. I started humming the melody to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, ‘God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’s melody? The concept was about, ‘They are doing this in this city, and they’re doing that in that city’ So I said to Jimmy, ‘Hey Jimmy, I want to do a song mentioning all the surf spots.’ So he gave me a list.’

“Under pressure from Berry’s msic publisher, Arc Music, Wilson’s father and manager, Murry Wilson, gave the publisher copyright to the Beach Boys’ recording, including Brian Wilson’s lyrics, prior to the release of ‘Surfin’ USA’ as a single. However, when the single was first released in 1963, the record only listed Brian Wilson as the composer. Later releases, beginning with Best of The Beach Boys album in 1966, listed Chuck Berry as the songwriter. Still later releases listed both writers – Berry (for the music) and Wilson (for the lyrics).

“Despite tensions with Berry over the controversy at the time, Carl Wilson said the Beach Boys ‘ran into Chuck Berry in Copenhagen and he told us he loves ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’. The Beach Boys would scored a Top-5 hit in 1976 with Berry’s ‘Rock and Roll Music’, their last foray into the Top-10 until an original, ‘Kokomo’ peaked at #1 in 1988.”

Chuck Berry, “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958):

The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ USA” (1962):

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