Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Janis Joplin


First recorded by Helen Jepson (1936).
Hit versions by Billie Holiday (US #12 1936), Sidney Bechet (1939), Sam Cooke (US #81 1959), Al Martino (UK #49 1960), The Marcels (US #78/UK #46 1961), Billy Stewart (US #10/R&B #7/UK #39 1966), Fun Boy Three (UK #18 1982).
Also recorded by Janis Joplin (1968).

From the wiki: “‘Summertime’ is an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy, on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin. The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described as ‘without doubt … one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote … Gershwin’s highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of blacks in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century.’

“Gershwin began composing the song in December 1933, attempting to create his own spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of the period. Gershwin had completed setting Heyward’s poem to music by February 1934, and spent the next 20 months completing and orchestrating the remainder of the score for the opera.

Ball and Chain

First recorded (as “Ball ‘n Chain”) by Big Mama Thorton (c. 1961, released 1968).
Hit album version by Big Brother & The Holding Company (1968).

From the wiki: “‘Ball and Chain’ (also known as ‘Ball ‘n Chain’) was written and first recorded by Blues artist Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton (‘Hound Dog‘). Although her recording did not appear on the record charts, ‘Ball ‘n’ Chain’ has become one of Thornton’s best-known songs largely due to performances and recordings by Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company. According to music writer Gillian Gaar, Thornton originally had recorded the song for Bay-Tone Records in the early 1960s, but it was not released until 1968 (by Arhoolie Records). Gaar adds that ‘[Bay-Tone held] on to the copyright – which meant that Thornton missed out on the publishing royalties when Janis Joplin recorded the song later in the decade.’

“However, Thornton’s (and Big Brother/Joplin’s) releases do list ‘W.M. Thornton’ as the songwriter. In 1967, after hearing a set by Big Mama Thornton at the Both/And Club, Joplin and Big Brother guitarist James Gurley asked Thorton if they could record ‘Ball and Chain’. ‘OK, take it – and sing it,’ was all Thorton said and then she meticulously wrote down the lyrics of the song for Gurley to use. With permission granted, and a signed release by Thorton’s manager, Jim Moore, Big Brother & The Holding Company began performing ‘Ball and Chain’ as part of their set.

Me and Bobby McGee

First recorded by Roger Miller (C&W #12 1969).
Other hit versions by Gordon Lightfoot (US #13/CAN #1 1970), Janis Joplin (US #1 1971). Jerry Lee Lewis (US #40/MOR #39/CAN #50 1971).
Also recorded by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition (1969), Kris Kristofferson (1970), The Statler Brothers (1970).

From the wiki: “Roger Miller was the first artist to record and to have a hit with ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, written by Kris Kristofferson (‘Help Me Make Through the Night‘, ‘Lovin’ Her Was Easier (That Anything I’ll Ever Do Again‘) and Fred Foster, peaking with it at #12 on the US Country chart in 1969.

“Kenny Rogers & the First Edition then covered the song (with Rogers on lead vocals), releasing it in on their album Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town in 1969. Gordon Lightfoot’s 1970 recording hit #13 on the US pop chart and #1 country in his native Canada in 1970, and was also a Top-10 hit in South Africa in 1971.

“Just a few days before her death in October 1970, Janis Joplin covered the song for inclusion on her forthcoming Pearl album. Kristofferson had previously sung the song for Joplin, and singer Bob Neuwirth had taught it to her. Kristofferson, however, did not know Joplin had recorded ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ until after her death – the first time he heard it was the day after she died. Joplin’s version topped the charts in 1971 to become her only #1 single and, in 2004, her recording of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ was ranked #148 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Kristofferson would record an arrangement of his own song for his 1970 debut album, Kristofferson.

Piece of My Heart

First recorded by Erma Franklin (US #62/R&B #10 1967 |UK #9 1992).
Other hit versions by Big Brother and the Holding Company (US #12 1968), Faith Hill (C&W #1 1994), Shaggy feat. Marsha (UK #7/NZ #6 1997), Melissa Ethridge & Joss Stone (US #32 2005), Beverly Knight (UK #15 2006).

From the wiki: “‘Piece of My Heart’ is a romantic love song written by Jerry Ragovoy (‘Time Is On My Side‘) and Bert Berns and originally recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967. Franklin’s version was a Top-10 R&B hit in the U.S., and also peaked at #62 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Her recording of ‘Piece of My Heart’ was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1968. In the UK, the single was re-released in 1992, due to a successful Levi’s jeans commercial, when it peaked at #9 on the UK Singles chart.

“Erma’s solo recording career was hampered by misfortune and by contracts with record labels who did not find the most suitable material for her husky voice. In the mid-1970s Erma left the music industry, apart from occasional engagements with her sister, Aretha.