Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Chuck Berry

Havana Moon

Written and first recorded by Chuck Berry (B-side 1956).
Hit album version by Santana (1983).

From the wiki: “‘Havana Moon’ was written and first recorded by Chuck Berry in 1956, and released as the B-side to the single ‘You Can’t Catch Me‘. Berry has described Nat ‘King’ Cole as his favorite ballad singer — Berry admired Cole’s perfect diction and elegant delivery. According to Rolling Stone magazine:

Berry’s story of a Cuban woman missing an American woman took its inspiration from playing Nat King Cole’s ‘Calypso Blues’ when Berry was still slugging it out at St. Louis’ Cosmopolitan Club at a time when Latin rhythms were popular. Berry had always admired Cole’s ‘perfect diction’ and delivery (‘He was better than ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ [Frank Sinatra],’ Berry had opined more than once), and decided to write his own song along the same lines after a gigging in New York City [in the mid-1950s], where he had met Cubans for the first time. ‘It is the differences in people that I think gives me a tremendous imagination to create a story for developing a lyric,’ he wrote in his autobiography. ‘I had read, seen or heard in some respect all the situations in the Havana story. Certainly, missing the boat and surely missing the girl had been experienced many times by me.’

Merry Christmas, Baby

Co-written and first recorded by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers (R&B #3 1947).
Other popular versions by Chuck Berry (1958); Elvis Presley (1971); Bruce Springsteen (1987); Bonnie Raitt & Charles Brown (1992); Cee Lo Green, Rod Stewart & Trombone Shorty (2012).

From the wiki: “‘Merry Christmas Baby’ is an R&B Christmas standard written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore. The original 1947 version by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers is considered to be the definitive version of this song.

Come Together

Inspired by “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry (1956).
Hit version by The Beatles (US #1/UK #4 1969).

From the wiki: “In 1969, Lennon composed the song ‘Come Together’ for The Beatles’ album Abbey Road but its history began when Lennon was inspired by Timothy Leary’s campaign for governor of California against Ronald Reagan, which promptly ended when Leary was sent to prison for possession of marijuana. Lennon recalled, ‘The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; ‘Come Together’ was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, Come Together, which would’ve been no good to him – you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?’

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.

Promised Land

Written and first recorded by Chuck Berry (US #41/R&B #16/UK #26 1965).
Other hit versions by Fred Weller (C&W #3 1971), Johnnie Allan (1971), Dave Edmunds (AUS #5 1972), Elvis Presley (US #14/C&W #9/UK #9 1974).
Also recorded by The Grateful Dead (1976).

From the wiki: “‘Promised Land’ was written by Chuck Berry to the melody of ‘Wabash Cannonball’, an American Folk song. It was first recorded in this version by Chuck Berry in 1964 for his album St. Louis to Liverpool. Released in 1965 as a promotional single, it was Berry’s first single issued following the completion of his prison sentence for a Mann Act conviction.

“In the lyrics, the singer (who refers to himself as ‘the poor boy’) tells of his journey from Norfolk, Virginia to the ‘Promised Land’, Los Angeles, California, mentioning various cities of the American Southeast that he encounters along his journey. Berry borrowed an atlas from the prison library to plot the song’s itinerary. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, ‘the poor boy’ calls Norfolk, Virginia (‘Tidewater four, ten-oh-nine’) to tell the folks back home he’s made it to the ‘promised land.’

Rock and Roll Music

Written and first recorded by Chuck Berry (US #8/R&B #6 1957).
Other hit versions by The Beatles (AUS #1/NOR #1/SWE #1/FIN/GER #2 1964), Humble Pie (US #105 1975), The Beach Boys (US #5/CAN #11/UK #36 1976), Mental As Anything (AUS #5 1988).

From the wiki: “‘Rock and Roll Music’ was written and recorded by rock ‘n roll icon Chuck Berry.

“The sessions for ‘Rock and Roll Music’ took place in May 1957 in Chicago, Illinois, produced by the Chess brothers – Leonard and Phil – and backing Chuck Berry were pianist Lafayette Leake, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Fred Below. Chess records issued the song as a single in September 1957 on both the 45 rpm and 78 rpm formats. It reached #6 on Billboard magazine’s R&B Singles chart and #8 on the Hot 100 chart before the year’s end.

“Five decades later, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Berry’s version at #128 on their list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’. The song is also a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the ‘500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll’.

I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n Roll)

Inspired by “You Never Can Tell”, Chuck Berry (1964).
Hit versions by Dave Edmunds (UK #26/AUS #32 1977), Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit (US #77 1985).
Also recorded by Nick Lowe’s Last Chicken in the Shop (1978).

From the wiki: “Nick Lowe has indicated Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ was the source of inspiration for his own song ‘I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock’n’Roll)’, first recorded and made popular in 1977 by Dave Edmunds. Lowe, the song’s writer, also recorded it as part of the 1978 Live Stiffs Live concert compilation (as ‘Nick Lowe’s Last Chicken in the Shop’) and, again, in the studio in 1985 with Huey Lewis & the News. This version was released as a single, peaking at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100.

My Ding-a-Ling

Written and first recorded by Dave Bartholomew (1952).
Also recorded by The Bees (as “Toy Bell” 1954), Chuck Berry (as “My Tambourine” 1968).
Hit version by Chuck Berry (US #1/&B #42/UK #1 1972).

From the wiki: “‘My Ding-a-Ling’ was originally recorded by Dave Bartholomew in 1952 for King Records. When Bartholomew moved to Imperial Records, he re-recorded the song under the new title, ‘Little Girl Sing Ding-a-Ling.’ (In 1954, The Bees also released a version on Imperial titled ‘Toy Bell.’) Bartholomew’s partnership with Fats Domino on Imperial Records produced some of his greatest successes. In the mid 1950s they co-wrote more than forty hits, including two songs that reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart, ‘Goin’ Home’ and ‘Ain’t That a Shame’, along with ‘I’m Walkin”, ‘I Hear You Knocking‘ and ‘One Night‘. Bartholomew is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.