Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Billy Joel

She’s Got a Way

Written and first recorded by Billy Joel (1971).
Also recorded (as “He’s Got a Way”) by Merrilee Rush (unreleased 1971).
Hit version by Billy Joel (US #23/MOR #4 1982).

From the wiki: “‘She’s Got a Way’ was written by Billy Joel and originally released on his first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor (1971). In a 1981 interview, Joel expressed mixed feelings about the song: ‘ … I thought it was cornball for years. I had trouble singing it at first. Then I got into it and decided everybody has a corny side, I suppose.’ A re-recording, performed live, was a featured single from Joel’s 1981 album Songs in the Attic.

(To) Make You Feel My Love

First released by Billy Joel (US #50 1997).
Other hit versions by Garth Brooks (C&W #1/MOR #8/CAN #7 1998), Adele (UK #26 |UK #4/NETH #3/SCOT #4/IRE #5 2008 2010 |UK #34 2011).
Also recorded by Bob Dylan (1997), Bryan Ferry (2007).

From the wiki: “‘Make You Feel My Love’ was written by Bob Dylan that appeared on his 1997 album Time Out of Mind. It was first commercially released by Billy Joel, under the title ‘To Make You Feel My Love’, before Dylan’s version appeared later that year. It has since been covered by numerous performers and has proved to be a commercial success for recording artists such as Garth Brooks (from the movie Hope Floats), and Adele.

The Stranger

First recorded (as a demo) by Billy Joel (1977).
Hit version by Billy Joel (JPN #2 1977).

From the wiki: “‘The Stranger’ was written by Billy Joel as the title track (and second song) of his popular 1977 album. According to Joel, the song relates to how we don’t always know ourselves or others. ‘The Stranger’ is the collective for the unknown things. ‘Although we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell,’ he said.

“Joel’s halfhearted suicide attempt at age 21 (he tried to end his life by drinking furniture polish) was an inspiration for the song, as it revealed a dark side of his personality that wasn’t readily apparent. Joel originally wanted the introducing theme to be played by some kind of instrument but after he demonstrated the melody to his producer, Phil Ramone, by whistling it, Ramone convinced Joel to scrap the idea of an instrument and to whistle it instead:

Only the Good Die Young

First recorded (as a demo) by Billy Joel (1977).
Hit version by Billy Joel (US #24/CAN #18 1977).

From the wiki: “‘Only the Good Die Young’ was written by Billy Joel for his landmark 1977 album, The Stranger. The original demo recording featured a slower, reggae arrangement (the demo is included in the box set, My Life).

“‘I wrote it as a reggae song,’ Joel recalled. ‘And Liberty [DeVitto], my drummer, is so sick of reggae that he literally throws his drumsticks at me and says, ‘Ugh, I frigging hate reggae! The closest you’ve ever been to Jamaica is when you changed trains in Queens.” It was Joel’s producer, Phil Ramone, who recommended to Joel ‘Don’t play any different than you play on the road — be the rock ‘n’ roll animal that you are.’ The third take of the song in the studio is what appears on the album, The Stranger.

The Longest Time

First recorded (as a demo, “The Prime of Your Life”) by Billy Joel (1982).
Hit version by Billy Joel (US #14/MOR #1/CAN #36/UK #25/IRE #18/AUS #15/NZ #24 1984).

From the wiki: “‘The Longest Time’ was written by Billy Joel and first recorded as the demo ‘The Prime of Your Life’ in 1982. The song would later evolve into a tribute of the 1950s doo-wop sounds that Joel loved.

“The released promotional single, in 1984, would be recorded quasi-a capella: Only one musical instrument, a bass guitar, is present in the arrangement. All other sounds in the song are Joel’s vocals (14 different background tracks), along with the percussive sounds of finger-snaps and hand-claps.”