Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Written and first performed by Joni Mitchell (1969).
Hit versions by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (US #11 1970), Matthew’s Southern Comfort (US #23/UK #1/CAN #5/IRE #2/POL #2/SWE #2 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Woodstock’ was written by Joni Mitchell and included on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. But, was first performed Mitchell at the Big Sur Folk Festival in September 1969, one month after the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. The song was notably covered by both Matthews Southern Comfort, and by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and would on to become a counterculture anthem. Mitchell wrote the song from what she had heard from then-boyfriend, Graham Nash, about the Woodstock concert. She had not been there herself; she had been told by a manager that it would be more advantageous for her to appear at the time on The Dick Cavett Show. Mitchell wrote it in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival.

“About the same time that Ladies of the Canyon was released, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s upbeat hard rock arrangement was released as lead single from their Déjà Vu album. Although Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young learned the song from Joni Mitchell herself, the band’s version slightly rearranged the lyrics from her original. They put the line, “we are billion year old carbon”—which only appeared in her final chorus—into each of the first three choruses. Then they replaced that line with “we are caught in the devil’s bargain” in the last chorus which was also in Mitchel’s final chorus.

“‘Woodstock’ became an international hit in 1970–71 via a version by Matthews Southern Comfort whose frontman Iain Matthews recalled, ‘We had to do four songs on a BBC [Radio] lunchtime show. We worked up an arrangement for ‘Woodstock” – which Matthews knew from Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon album – ‘and the response was so good that we [recorded and released it] as a single.’ Andy Leigh, the group’s bassist, said, ‘The record company stated said they would only release [our version] if [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young] did not have a [UK] hit with theirs.’ After the CSN&Y version failed to reach the UK charts ‘[MCA] reluctantly released ours because of that agreement but they wouldn’t spend a penny on promotion.’

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Woodstock” (1970):

Matthews Southern Comfort, “Woodstock” (1970):

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