As a concept it’s a revelation – the original versions of (mostly) familiar songs that went on to become big hits by other artists. Familiarity is turned on its head as mental receptors attuned to the better-known hit versions – the received wisdom, if you like – are challenged for attention by the performers who made the original recordings to little or no acclaim. It’s a parallel universe where the reassuringly familiar landscape is a beautiful illusion.
Volume 1 of “You Heard It Here First” was among our best sellers of last year and we believe that this sequel is an even stronger package. Here again are pop hits as the soundtrack to our lives – but not as we know them.
Many of these original versions are exceedingly rare in vinyl form, notably Dan Penn’s self-penned original version of ‘I’m Your Puppet’ (on which Penn actually sings the line ‘I’m The Puppet’, in contrast to all the versions which followed) and the Corporation’s barnstorming ‘Candida’, subsequently a US #3 for Tony Orlando’s Dawn, though one wonders why the Corporation’s torrid original failed to make the same impact.
Tony Joe White’s ‘Polk Salad Annie’, a top 10 hit on the Monument label in 1969, laid down the template for the so-called swamp rock sound and was later popularised by Elvis who had a UK hit with the song in 1973. But for all his seeming self-assurance, White had struggled to make the song work , having cut it for Monument as ‘Old Man Willis’ a year earlier before re-recording it with a fresh set of lyrics as ‘Polk Salad Annie’. Here’s how it sounded before the re-write – a truly intriguing juxtaposition.
Most of Brian Hyland’s hits were written for him so it comes as a surprise to learn that his signature tune, ‘Sealed With A Kiss’, had first been recorded some two years earlier by the Four Voices, a clean-cut vocal group. That is the version which displays the apparent debt the song owed to ‘The Green Leaves of Summer’, a big hit of the day.
Transmogrified by successive generations of folk and pop artists into ‘Wimoweh’ ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Solomon Linda’s African tribal chant, ‘Mbube’, must be one of the most misappropriated tunes in post-war pop music, though in recent years Linda began to receive the acknowledgement for his memorable if inadvertent contribution to the pop canon and we are proud to present it here.
Sixties wheeler-dealer Simon Napier-Bell and TV maven Vicki Wickham took it upon themselves to pen English lyrics to a contemporary Italian hit, ’Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)’ in the back of a cab on their way to an evening meal at a restaurant in London’s West End in early 1966 – or so the redoubtable Napier-Bell has claimed in various autobiographies. Those twenty or so usefully occupied minutes produced ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, under which title the song has provided something of a lifelong annuity for the pair. Pino Donaggio’s gorgeous Italian original of this classic power ballad is among the highlights of the set.
‘Sorrow’ was knocked out without much conscious effort as a filler for the McCoys’ first album in the wake of their 1965 mega-hit ‘Hang On Sloopy’. Maybe the producers (who also happened to write the song) missed a trick by consigning ‘Sorrow’ to makeweight status, but no matter as Brit duo the Sorrows took the song into the UK Top 10 a few months later. That was the version that inspired David Bowie’s recording but it’s the McCoys’ stripped-down original which probably packs the mightiest charm of all.
The songs, compellingly sequenced, are all hits, the technicolour packaging incorporating all the prerequisite fax’n’info, gives off a warm comforting glow, and the entire concept constitutes a little bit of pop history in the making. What’s not to like?
By Rob Finnis