Pop Music: The Original Versions of these Songs are better than the More-familiar Hit Versions

Pop Music: The Original Versions of these Songs are better than the More-familiar Hit Versions

Sometimes, a cover version of a song becomes bigger than the original version. Sometimes, the cover version even makes people forget that the original version even exists. Sometimes, the original version is still better, even if it is forgotten.

If I Were a Carpenter

“If I Were a Carpenter” has become a pop music standard. It has been recorded numerous times by many artists from different music genres. It has been a hit on the pop, soul, and country music charts. Artists who have had hit versions of the song include Bobby Darin, the Four Tops, and Johnny Cash & June Carter.

The song was written by songwriter / folk singer Tim Hardin, who actually performed his version at Woodstock. Of all the versions I have heard, I prefer Tim Hardin’s original version, released in 1967.


The First Cut is the Deepest

Many of us are familiar with Rod Stewart’s 1976 version of “The First Cut is the Deepest”. Many of us are familiar with Cheryl Crow’s 2005 version of the song. But how many realize that the song was written by Cat Stevens and dates back to the year 1965?

Back then, Cat Stevens wasn’t necessarily working on a career as a performer. He was trying to make it as a songwriter. He cut a demo of “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 1965 in order to promote his songs to other performers. In 1967, somebody by the name of P.P. Arnold recorded the song, and it became a hit in England. Cat Stevens himself recorded it for an album later in the same year. Since it was already a hit for Arnold, Stevens didn’t think of releasing his version as a single. But his original version is very good. Here is Cat Stevens’ 1967 version.

Blue Bayou

Most people think of “Blue Bayou” as Linda Ronstadt’s song. Her version was a huge hit in 1977. Perhaps it is even her signature song. Because of this song, Linda Ronstadt’s name is even in the sports vernacular. Announcers in different sports often say “Linda Ronstadt” to mean “blew by you” while describing a play they just witnessed.

But “Blue Bayou” was an oldie before Ronstadt recorded it. The original version was recorded by Roy Orbison in 1961, and his version became a hit in 1963. Roy Orbison teamed with Joe Melson to write the song.

I’m not trying to take anything away from Linda Ronstadt. I thoroughly enjoy her music. But I don’t think you can get much better than Roy Orbison’s style and voice.

Here is Roy Orbison’s 1963 version.

Roy Orbison died in December of 1988. In the final two years of his life, he managed to revive his career and return to stardom. Here he is singing Blue Bayou with an all-star cast from “Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black & White Night”, a concert film originally broadcast in January of 1988.


The song “Woodstock” is written from the perspective of one person in attendance at the famous 1969 Woodstock music festival. It was written and recorded shortly after the event. The song “Woodstock” became a hit in 1970 for Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and also for Matthews Southern Comfort. Many people today are mostly familiar with the CSNY version.

The song was actually written by Joni Mitchell, who started singing it in concert even before anybody had recorded it. She included her version on an album, and released it as the B side to her hit “Big Yellow Taxi”. But she gave the song to her boyfriend Graham Nash of CSNY for that band to record.

Given the song’s message, it is perhaps ironic that Joni Mitchell did not attend Woodstock. Graham Nash was there performing with his band, but Mitchell declined an invitation to attend. Her manager told her that it would be better if she appeared on the Dick Cavett Show instead of performing at Woodstock.

The original version by Joni Mitchell doesn’t sound quite as polished as the CSNY version that everybody is familiar with. It doesn’t have the great harmonizing vocals. But if you enjoy Joni Mitchell’s unique folk style, here is her version.

This Masquerade

“This Masquerade” was a huge hit for George Benson, who recorded it in 1976 and won a Record of the Year Grammy in 1977 for the song. Many others have recorded it over the years, perhaps most notably the Carpenters.

I love the arrangement of Benson’s version. But I still prefer the original version recorded by its songwriter, Leon Russell. Leon Russell recorded it for his 1972 album “Carney”, and released the song as the B side to his hit single “Tightrope”.

Muskrat Love

This is certainly a polarizing song. People either love it or hate it. Many people don’t realize that the hit 1976 version by Captain & Tennille is not the original version.

The first version of the song wasn’t from Captain & Tennille, though. The band America had a hit in 1973, although their version wasn’t as successful. America’s version is the version I first knew. Many of us at the time assumed that this song was an America original, since they tended to write their own songs. But America’s version wasn’t an original, either.

The title “Muskrat Love” isn’t even the original title of the song. Songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey had recorded it in 1972 with the title “Muskrat Candlelight”. America changed the title when they recorded their version.

Here is Willis Alan Ramsey’s original version of “Muskrat Candlelight”.

For those who only know Captain & Tennille’s version, here is America’s version of “Muskrat Love” – not the original, but still infinitely better than Captain & Tennille’s version, in my opinion.

Jerry Wyant