Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Johnny Rivers

Mountain of Love

Written and first recorded by Harold Dorman (US #21 1959).
Other hit versions by Kenny Lynch (UK #33 1960), Johnny Rivers (US #9/CAN #4/AUS #19 1964), Charlie Pride (C&W #1/CAN #1 1981).

From the wiki: “‘Mountain of Love’ was written by Harold Dorman who first recorded the song in 1959, releasing it as a single in 1960 that peaked in the Top 40 at #21.

“In 1960, UK singer Kenny Lynch covered ‘Mountain of Love’ for the UK market, becoming his first charting single on the UK Singles chart. (Trivia: Lynch was on the same bill as the Beatles for their first UK tour, with the top-billed Helen Shapiro, in early 1963, and made the acquaintance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Later that year, he would become the first singer to cover a Beatles song (‘Misery’). In 1973, Lynch would also be among the celebrities appearing on the album cover of Wings’ Band on the Run.)

“A Johnny Rivers 1964 cover recording went Top 10 in the US and Top 5 in Canada. Charlie Pride topped the US Country singles chart in 1981 with his cover of ‘Mountain of Love’, his 26th #1 country hit.”

Midnight Special

First recorded (as “Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special”) by Dave Cutrell (1926).
Also recorded (as “The Midnight Special Blues”) by Sam Collins (1927).
Hit versions by Lead Belly (1934), Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper (C&W #4 1959), Paul Evans (US #16/UK #41 1960), Johnny Rivers (US #20/CAN #36/AUS #86 1965).
Also recorded by Harry Belafonte (1962), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969).

From the wiki: “‘Midnight Special’ was first commercially recorded on the OKeh label in 1926 as ‘Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special’ by Dave ‘Pistol Pete’ Cutrell (a member of McGinty’s Oklahoma Cow Boy Band). (In March 1929, the band, now named ‘Otto Gray and the Oklahoma Cowboys’, recorded the song again, this time with the traditional title using only the traditional lyrics.)

“Sam Collins recorded the song commercially in 1927 under the title ‘The Midnight Special Blues’ for Gennett Records. Collins’ version also follows the traditional style but his recording was the first to name the woman in the story, Little Nora, and he was the first singer to refer to the Midnight Special’s ‘ever-living’ light. In 1934 Huddie William ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter recorded a version of the song at Angola Prison for John and Alan Lomax, who mistakenly attributed it to him as the author. Ledbetter recorded at least three versions of the song, including one in 1940 with the Golden Gate Quartet, a gospel group.

Fire and Rain

First single release by R.B. Greaves (US #82 April 1970).
Also released by Johnny Rivers (US #94 August 1970).
Other hit version by James Taylor (US #3/MOR #7/CAN #2/UK #42 September 1970).

“Like a shy kid at a prom dance, ‘Fire and Rain’ had stood on the sidelines all year [after being first recorded in December 1969], waiting for its moment. In the spring, Warner Brothers had hesitated to release the song to radio. With its subdued tone and elliptical lyrics, it wasn’t an odds-on favorite to be a hit … The label also hesitated when soul singer R.B. Greaves, who’d had a major hit the year before with ‘Take a Letter, Maria’, released a cover of ‘Fire and Rain’. No one wanted [James] Taylor competing against his own song.

Seventh Son

First recorded by Willie Mabon (1955).
Hit versions by Johnny Rivers (US #7/CAN #1 1965), Georgie Fame (UK #25 1969).
Also recorded by Mose Allison (1959), Willie Dixon, writer (1969).

From the wiki: “‘The Seventh Son’, also recorded as ‘Seventh Son’, was written by Willie Dixon and first released as a single by Willie Mabon on Chess Records in 1955 (with Dixon on bass). Dixon recalled (via, ‘The seventh son is part of the scriptures of the Bible. ‘The seventh son of the seventh son born on the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month.’ I was born in the seventh month and I was the seventh child of my family.’ In the same interview, Mose Allison, who covered the song in 1959, remembered, ‘I thought that was a great song of that type. One of the common things is to feel that you are supernatural sometimes. And most people have felt that at one time or another.’

Rockin’ Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu

Written and first recorded (as “Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues”) by Huey “Piano” Smith (1957).
Hit versions by Huey “Piano” Smith & The Clowns (US #52/R&B #5 1957), Johnny Rivers (US #6/AUS #27/NZ #11 1972).
Also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Chris Farlowe (1966), David Lindley (1981).

From the wiki: “In 1955, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith turned 21, and became the piano player with Little Richard’s first band for Specialty Records. The same year Smith also played piano on several studio sessions for other artists such as Lloyd Price; one of the sessions resulted in the Smiley Lewis hit, ‘I Hear You Knocking‘.

“In 1957, Smith formed ‘Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and His Clowns’ and signed a long-term contract with Ace Records. The group hit the Billboard charts with several singles in succession, including ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu’, first recorded as ‘Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues’ in 1957 and released as the B-side to ‘Dearest Darling’.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

First recorded by Johnny Rivers (1965).
Hit version by Glen Campbell (US #26/C&W #2/CAN #1 1967).

From the wiki: “‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ was written by Jimmy Webb (‘Up, Up and Away‘). Originally recorded by Johnny Rivers in 1965 on his album Changes it would be made famous by Glen Campbell, appearing as the opening and title track on Campbell’s 1967 album By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Campbell’s recording reached #2 on the US Country Singles chart in 1968, and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100, and would go on to win two Grammy Awards in 1968: Best Vocal Performance (Male), and Best Contemporary Male Solo Vocal Performance. Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) has named ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ the third most-performed song from 1940 to 1990. Frank Sinatra called it ‘the greatest torch song ever written.’

Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancing)

First recorded (as “Slow Dancing”) by The Funky Kings (US# 61/MOR #13 1976).
Other hit versions by Johnny Rivers (US #10/MOR #1/CAN #3 1978), Johnny Duncan (C&W #6 1979).
Also recorded by Olivia Newton-John (1977), Unicorn (1977), Ian Gomm (1980).

From the wiki: “The first recording of ‘Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancing)’ was released on the self-titled 1976 album by the Funky Kings whose membership included its composer, Jack Tempchin (‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’, ‘Already Gone’, ‘You Belong to the City’), and Jules Shear (later of Jules & The Polar Bears, ‘If She Knew What She Wants‘). Titled ‘Slow Dancing’, its single release reached #13 on the AC chart before crossing over to #61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Olivia Newton-John also recorded “Slow Dancing” for her 1977 album Making a Good Thing Better.

Rock Me on the Water

First recorded by Johnny Rivers (1971).
Also recorded by Brewer & Shipley (1971).
Hit version by Jackson Browne (US #48 1972).

From the wiki: “‘Rock Me on the Water’ is an oft-covered song written singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. The title was released as the second single from his 1972 debut album, Jackson Browne, following the #7 success of Browne’s debut single, “Doctor My Eyes.” Browne’s version reached #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Sept. 23, 1972.

“Johnny Rivers was the first to release a recording of ‘Rock Me on the Water,’ including the song on his 1971 album Homegrown. It was not released as a single. Brewer & Shipley also recorded the song for release in 1971, on their album Shake Off the Demon.