Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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The Stranger

First recorded (as a demo) by Billy Joel (1977).
Hit version by Billy Joel (JPN #2 1977).

From the wiki: “‘The Stranger’ was written by Billy Joel as the title track (and second song) of his popular 1977 album. According to Joel, the song relates to how we don’t always know ourselves or others. ‘The Stranger’ is the collective for the unknown things. ‘Although we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell,’ he said.

“Joel’s halfhearted suicide attempt at age 21 (he tried to end his life by drinking furniture polish) was an inspiration for the song, as it revealed a dark side of his personality that wasn’t readily apparent. Joel originally wanted the introducing theme to be played by some kind of instrument but after he demonstrated the melody to his producer, Phil Ramone, by whistling it, Ramone convinced Joel to scrap the idea of an instrument and to whistle it instead:

“[Joel] wanted to create an evocative mood, sort of like what Orson Welles did in The Third Man, but he couldn’t quite come up with anything. He whistled an idea merely as an example of something that could be emulated on an instrument. ‘I look at [Phil Ramone] and I said, ‘So what instrument should that be?'” Joel recalled. ‘And he looks at me and he goes, ‘You just did it.’ I hadn’t even considered that. I’m not the greatest whistler in the world, but he said that’s what should be on the recording. And I listened back and I went, ‘Holy shit, he’s right.””

Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger’ at 40: A Track-by-Track Guide, Rolling Stone, September 29, 2017

Billy Joel, “The Stranger” (1977):

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