Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Kenny Rogers

We’ve Got Tonight

First recorded by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (US #13 1978 |UK #49 1979).
Other hit versions by Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton (US #6/MOR #2/C&W #1/UK #28 1983), Lulu & Ronan Keating (UK #4/AUS #6 2002).

From the wiki: “‘We’ve Got Tonight’ was written by Bob Seger, from his 1978 album Stranger in Town, and became a hit single for Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. In 1983, Country-Pop star Kenny Rogers recorded the song as a duet with Pop star Sheena Easton. Their recording reached #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The duet also reached the Top 30 in the UK.

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)

First recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis (1967).
Hit version by The First Edition (US #5 1968).
Also recorded by Mickey Newbury, writer (1968); Kenny Rogers, solo (1978).

From the wiki: “‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’ is a counterculture-era song written by Mickey Newbury (‘An American Trilogy’). Said to reflect the LSD experience, the song was intended to be a warning against the danger of using LSD. First recorded in 1967 by Jerry Lee Lewis for the album Soul My Way (he rejected its release as a single), the song became a hit for The First Edition (with Kenny Rogers on lead vocals) in 1968.

“It was the First Edition’s first Top 10 appearance on the Billboard charts, and got the group their first national TV audience on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The song (as recorded by The First Edition) is also featured in a dream sequence from the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film, The Big Lebowski.”

She Believes in Me

Written and first recorded by Steve Gibb (1978).
Hit version by Kenny Rogers (US #5/C&W #1/UK #42/CAN #8 1979).

From the wiki: “‘She Believes in Me’ was written by Steve Gibb (not the Steve Gibb, son of Barry Gibb) and is the tale of a songwriter who has a beloved, that while she supports him, he sometimes wonders why. The song first appeared on Gibb’s 1978 album Let Me Sing. Recorded by Kenny Rogers in 1979, it became one of his biggest crossover hits in the late spring of 1979, reaching #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and crossing over to the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100.”


Written and first recorded by Dallas Frazier (US #72/CAN #27 1966).
Also recorded by Kenny Roger & The First Edition (1970), Rodney Crowell (C&W #95 1978).
Other hit version by The Oak Ridge Boys (US #5/MOR #8/C&W #1/CAN #26/AUS #87/NZ #13 1981).

From the wiki: “Songwriter Dallas Frazier penned ‘Elvira’ in 1966 and included it as the title track of the album he released that year. A number of recording artists, most notably Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, also recorded the song through the years, to varying degrees of success. Frazier’s own version peaked at #72 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966.

“In 1978, alternative country recording artist Rodney Crowell recorded a cover of ‘Elvira’ (with ‘Ashes by Now’ on the B-side) that became a minor C&W hit. However, Crowell’s version did have its fans — most notably The Oak Ridge Boys. In 1980, when the group began planning for their upcoming album, Fancy Free, the Oaks decided to cover the song.

Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town

First recorded by Johnny Darrell (C&W #9/UK #2 1967).
Also recorded by The Statler Brothers (1967).
Hit version by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition (US #6/C&W #39/UK #1 1969).
See also: “Billy, I’ve Got to Go to Town” by Geraldine Stevens (1969).

From the wiki: “‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town’ is a song written by Mel Tillis about a paralyzed veteran of a ‘crazy Asian war’ (given the time of its release, widely assumed but never explicitly stated to be the Vietnam War). ‘Ruby’ was originally recorded in 1967 by Johnny Darrell, who scored a #9 country hit with it that year. The song was made world-famous in 1969 by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

“In 1969, after Kenny Rogers and the First Edition’s success with the hits ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)‘ and ‘But You Know I Love You’, Rogers wanted to take his group more into a country music direction. They recorded their version of ‘Ruby’ (with Rogers singing the lead) in one take. The record was a major hit for them. It made #1 in the UK, staying in the UK Top 20 for 15 weeks. In the United States it reached #6 on the Hot 100 and #39 on the country chart. Worldwide, the single sold more than 7 million copies.

The Gambler

Written and first recorded by Don Schlitz (C&W #65 1978).
Also recorded by Bobby Bare (1978), Johnny Cash (1978).
Other hit version by Kenny Rogers (US #16/C&W #1 1979 |UK #81 1985 |UK #22 2007).

From the wiki: “‘The Gambler’ was written by Don Schlitz who first recorded it in 1978, and charted at #65 on the Billboard Country chart with it. Kenny Rogers released his cover version in November 1978 as the title track from his album The Gambler and would go on to win the Grammy award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980. ‘The Gambler’ was one of five consecutive songs by Rogers to hit #1 on the Billboard country music charts.

“This song had a huge impact on Schlitz’s career. He was able to quit his day job (actually a night job – he worked the graveyard shift) and become a full-time songwriter. Some of his other songs include ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter, and ‘On the Other Hand’ by Randy Travis. Schlitz wrote the song in 1976 when he was 23 years old. It took two years of shopping the song around Nashville before Bobby Bare recorded it on his album Bare at the urging of Shel Silverstein. Bare‘s version didn’t catch on and was never released as a single, but other musicians took notice and recorded the song in 1978, including Johnny Cash, who put it on his album Gone Girl.

“Before he recorded it himself, Kenny Rogers offered ‘The Gambler’ to Willie Nelson, who turned it down. Nelson recalls, ‘I was doing a song every night called ‘Red Headed Stranger’ which has 100 verses in it. I just didn’t want to do another long song, so [Kenny] said, ‘Okay, I will record it myself,’ so he did.’

Islands in the Stream

First recorded (as a demo) by The Bee Gees (1983).
Hit version by Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers (US #1/C&W #1/UK #7/CAN #1/AUS #1/NZ #2/SWE #3 1983).

“Islands in the Stream” is a timeless song penned by the Bee Gees, taking its name from the classic Ernest Hemingway novel. Originally conceived in an R&B style for Diana Ross (or Marvin Gaye, depending upon which Gibb brother tells you the story), the Gibbs later adapted it for inclusion in Kenny Rogers’ album, Eyes That See in the Dark.

In a candid revelation on Good Morning America, Kenny Rogers shared his initial aversion to ‘Islands in the Stream’. Despite his reservations, the transformative moment came when producer and co-writer Barry Gibb recognized the missing piece. After days of experimentation in the studio, Gibb declared, ‘We need Dolly Parton to make this thing pop.’ Serendipitously, Ken Kragen, Kenny’s manager, encountered Dolly at a grocery store, swiftly bringing her into the project.

The magic unfolded after Dolly joined the session. Kenny Rogers, who had previously harbored doubts, experienced a change of heart, declaring, “Now, I like the song.” The collaboration between Rogers and Parton not only elevated “Islands in the Stream” to legendary status but also stands as a testament to the unpredictable and serendipitous nature of musical alchemy.

“Islands in the Stream” knocked Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” out of the #1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100, also topping the Country and Adult Contemporary listings. In December of that year, it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over two million physical copies in the US.

The song was equally an international success, topping the Australian music chart one for one week in December 1983, and peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart.

Robin Gibb, interviewed re: “Islands in the Stream”:

Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream” (1983):