Like many of you, I enjoy making mix tapes for road trips and parties. One day in 1985 while compiling another cassette, I decided to bypass my recent-acquisitions pile and instead gathered some older versions of popular songs that I had been noting. I thought a tape of these "Originals" would be interesting. The fun really came in sharing the results with friends: hearing the first recordings of hits like "California Sun," "Hanky Panky," "Louie Louie," "The Train Kept A-Rollin'," "Do-Wah Diddy" and "Shakin' All Over"; noting how closely The Rolling Stones copied Irma Thomas's "Time Is On My Side," then discovering it was cut even earlier by jazz trombonist Kai Winding!; learning that the oft-recorded "Iko Iko" began as "Jock-A-Mo" in 1953; realizing that Paul Revere & The Raiders' "Just Like Me" was not only a remake, but a considerably tamer version than the Wilde Knights' original. That was hundreds of songs (and many tapes) ago and it's still exciting to discover and share these finds. (Keep in mind this was at the dawn of CDs and not much in the way of archival tracks and information had been issued.)
An original recording might not be released until after another version has been made public. Conway Twitty's 1959 top-ten hit "Lonely Blue Boy" was first recorded by Elvis Presley (as "Danny") in 1958 but remained unreleased until 1978.
In late 1963, following JFK's assassination, the Brothers Four began looking at more serious material and were presented with some Bob Dylan material. Among his songs the group chose to record was "Mr. Tambourine Man," although it didn't appear until their 1965 album The Honey Wind Blows. In the meantime the Byrds had debuted with their infectious version. Was it coincidence that the Byrds, Brothers Four and Bob Dylan were all signed to Columbia Records?
Not an exact Science!
Certainly the concept of "Originals" is highly subjective. The Righteous Brothers' original of "Little Latin Lupe Lu" will be obvious to some while obscure to others. A person's age, musical interest and geography are all factors. Having grown up in the Detroit area in the '50s and '60s, listening primarily to rock radio, gives me a specific perspective. I do, nevertheless, try to consider the big picture. Be forewarned that not everything included here will be big news to music fans!
Field recordings, particularly those made by Alan Lomax, are a tricky area. It's a judgment call for each case but, whether I list any given one as the original or not, I make note of them.
I also try to determine the year a recording was made, which is not necessarily the year of its release. When an artist is listed both in the (original) "Artist" and "Remade By" columns, the two recordings are different, with the former being earlier than the "hit" version and sometimes fairly obscure.
Generally not included...
If a song has been a reasonably-sized pop hit more than once, I generally don't consider the first as an original in this context. Herman's Hermits are known for "I'm Into Something Good" but Earljean's earlier version was also popular. Likewise for "Barbara Ann," a hit for the Regents and later the Beach Boys, and "Love Potion #9" by the Clovers then the Searchers. There are exceptions such as the Jayhawks' "Stranded In The Jungle." Despite reaching Billboard's Pop Chart top 20 in 1956, I think it remains historically eclipsed by the Cadets' cover version. Being ignorant of Otis Redding at the time, I first heard "Respect" by the Rationals (out of Ann Arbor, Michigan), which predated Aretha Franklin's. I also include some first recordings of songs that were hits in the so-called pre-rock era. Examples include "I Understand" by the Four Tunes (1954), later a hit for the G-Clefs; Freddy Martin's 1946 "Bumble Boogie," revived by B. Bumble & The Stingers in 1961; "Blue Velvet," which charted in 1951 for Tony Bennett and was subsequently remade by the Clovers (1954) and Bobby Vinton (1963); and "Cherry Pie," first popular in 1954 by Marvin & Johnny, then Skip & Flip in 1960.
The songs and artists I've listed are not, I believe, what would be considered demosthat is, rough recordings not intended to be released to the public. I have come across some interesting cuts by Dorsey Burnette ("You're Sixteen") and Roy Orbison (the Everly Brothers' "Claudette") that are most likely demos. This would also apply to writer Chet Powers' "Get Together" and Hank Ballard's early take on "The Twist" done for Vee Jay Records. Gene Pitney's intended demo of "Hello Mary Lou" does qualify though since it was released on his first album. (Some writers' demos are good enough to get issued, and not just in response to a hit version by someone else.)
Because most are commonly knownor should be!I don't include originals recorded by Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan or most of the major Chess-label blues artists. Willie Dixon's original of the blues standard "Wang Dang Doodle" was only recently unearthed and released, so I've chosen to list it. Muddy Waters' "You Need Love" is also an exception for a couple of reasons. When I first located a copy, it had only been issued as a 45 (it's since been released on album). Although Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" prompted a lawsuit from its writer, Willie Dixon, Waters' recording isn't as obvious a source as is the Small Faces' 1966 version. Titled "You Need Loving," it was on their first album, unreleased on vinyl in the U.S. but sporadically availably here on CD.
When considering songs remade by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, I look for less familiar titles. The same applies to many of the '60s British Invasion artists who were busy mining American r&b gems.
Many people have made important contributions through the years, among them: Rob Allingham, Bear Family Records, Dave Bernath, Joel Bernstein (the Boston one), Bill Brent, Fred Clemens, Steve Cook, Alex Farkash, George Feist, Roger Ford, George Gimarc, Marv Goldberg, David Grillo, Bruce Grossberg, Gene Hayhoe, Rick Hunter, Candy Kay, Rob Kaczorowski, Cub Koda, Tom Leavens, Eric Levy, Vicktor Lindner, Roberto Lanterna, Bill Mankin, Andy McKaie, Marty Natchez, Jan Nauta, Bob Paton, Victor Pearlin, Bob Shannon, Tom Tierney, Billy Vera and Harry Weinger.
The Originals Project is ongoing and your input is encouraged. Please let me know of any candidates for entry or corrections. See Contact page.