Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tom’s Diner

Written and first recorded by Suzanne Vega (1982).
Hit versions Suzanne Vega (UK #58 1987), DNA (as “Oh Suzanne!”) ft. Suzanne Vega (US #5/R&B #10/UK #2 1990/CAN #4/AUS #8/GER #1), Giorgio Moroder ft. Britney Spears (2015).

From the wiki: “Tom’s Diner’ was written and first recorded by Suzanne Vega in 1982. The song’s orgin can be traced back to a story published on November 18, 1981, in the New York Post, thanks to this set of lines:

‘I open up the paper, there’s a story of an actor / Who had died while he was drinking, it was no one I had heard of / And I’m turning to the horoscope, and looking for the funnies.’

“By cross-referencing the New York daily papers operating in 1981, fans of the song isolated the star in question as William Holden, an Academy Award winner who died alone and drunk in his apartment.

“The first release of ‘Tom’s Diner’ appeared as part of the inaugural collection published by Fast Folk Musical magazine. Vega was the magazine’s first subscription manager. Its parent organization was Fast Folk, a Greenwich Village collective of folk musicians who had banded together with the goal of promoting ‘noncommercial artistic music’ in the wake of that genre’s relative unpopularity in the early ‘80s. In 1987, ‘Tom’s Diner’ appears twice on Vega’s second album, Solitude Standing: first in its original a cappella version, and again as an album-closing reprise. ‘Tom’s Diner’ made a dent on the UK Singles Chart but did not chart in the US.

“In 1990, recording as DNA, British electronic producers Nick Batt and Neal Slateford sample Vega’s ‘Tom’s Diner’ vocal and turn it into the centerpiece of a Proto-trip-hop remix. Trying but failing to contact her label to secure copyright permission, the duo nonetheless release the song to British clubs and record stores as ‘Oh Suzanne!’ Vega’s label finds out. But, instead of pursuing legal action, they meet with DNAm and buy the rights to the song, turning it into ‘Tom’s Diner, by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega’. It becomes a major international hit and Vega’s second top 10 hit in the US, and it revitalizes her career.”

Trivia: “The MPEG-2 audio compression format — otherwise known as MP3 — achieved international standardization in 1987. One of the driving forces behind the format was German audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg, who used ‘Tom’s Diner’ as his test subject. ‘I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm … Somewhere down the corridor a radio was playing ‘Tom’s Diner’. I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice,’ recounted Brandenburg in a 2000 Business 2.0 feature. Brandenburg and his team listened to the song hundreds of times, refining their algorithm until Vega’s original and compressed voices were almost indistinguishable. Vega’s unknown role in the format’s creation earns her the moniker ‘the Mother of the MP3.'” [More deets: “Suzanne Vega is the ‘Mother of the MP3′”]

Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner” album reprise (1987):

DNA ft. Suzanne Vega, “Oh Suzanne!” (1990):

Giorgio Moroder ft. Britney Spears, “Tom’s Diner” (2015):

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