Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Shel Silverstein

The Unicorn Song

Written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein (1962).
Hit version by The Irish Rovers (US #7/MOR #2/IRE #5 1968).

From the wiki: “‘The Unicorn Song’ was written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein in 1962, released in 1962 on his album Inside Folk Songs. The song tells that unicorns were not a myth but a creature that literally missed the boat, not boarding the Ark in time to be saved from the Great Flood.

“The song was made very popular by the Irish Rovers, from Toronto, Canada, in 1968. It remains one of the best-known songs of the the Irish Rovers’ long career.

“In their original recording of the song, the Irish Rovers speak half of the lyrics; on the remakes, the majority of the song is sung – except for the final line, which is also spoken freely, without the music. In 1981, Will Millar of the Irish Rovers opened an Irish pub in Toronto under the name The Unicorn.”

A Boy Named Sue

Written and first recorded by Shel Silverstein (1969).
Hit version by Johnny Cash (US #2/MOR #1/CW #1/CAN #3/UK #4 1969).

From the wiki: “‘A Boy Named Sue’ is a poem by Shel Silverstein that has been made popular by Johnny Cash. The core story of the song was inspired by humorist Jean Shepherd, a close friend of Silverstein, who was often taunted as a child because of his feminine-sounding name.

“Cash was at the height of his popularity when he recorded the song live at California’s San Quentin State Prison at a concert on February 24, 1969. The song became Cash’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top ten single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969, held out of the top spot by’ Honky Tonk Women’ by The Rolling Stones. The track also topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts that same year.

“Cash wrote that he had just received the song and only read over it a couple of times before including it in the San Quentin concert to try it out – he did not know the words and on the filmed recording he can be seen regularly referring to a piece of paper. Cash was surprised at how well the song went over with the audience. The rough, spontaneous performance with sparse accompaniment was included in the Johnny Cash At San Quentin album, ultimately becoming one of Cash’s biggest hits.