DEAR JERRY: Until your most recent column, I never knew the Righteous Brothers had two different charted versions of "Unchained Melody" at the same time, one a vinyl 45 and the other a cassette single.
I doubt that ever happened again, but were there ever two different versions of the same song, by the same artist, on the pop chart at the same time, both on vinyl singles?
Marty Peterman, Lewiston, Maine
DEAR MARTY: Here is the first qualifying occurrence that comes to mind, and the only one thus far:
Bobbie Gentry's Grammy-winning "Ode to Billy Joe" (Capitol 5950), a No. 1 hit in 1967, returned to the charts in 1976 (Capitol 4294), inspired by release of the "Ode to Billy Joe" film. Meanwhile, a single of a newly-recorded soundtrack theme, "Ode to Billy Joe - Main Title" (Warner Bros. WSB 8210), also charted.
What sets this event apart from other singers with more than one version of the same song is, for four weeks in the summer of 1976, Bobbie Gentry had both recordings of "Ode to Billy Joe" on the Top 100; the Capitol reissue at No. 54, and the Warner single at No. 65.
In 1973, James Brown nearly equaled Bobbie Gentry's dual chartings, with two new and different versions of his 1958 hit, "Think." Those two, both on Polydor (14177 and 14185), lingered briefly near the bottom quadrant of the charts, but they were never on the same weekly survey.
In a somewhat related category, many singers recorded different songs using the same title. Some noteworthy examples include:
The Dave Clark Five reached the Top 15 with "Everybody Knows (I Still Love You)" in 1964, then returned in '67 with a very different "Everybody Knows," that settled for a spot among the Top 50.
Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" topped the charts in 1962. In 1975, he recorded a slower version that landed in the Top 10.
In 1964, Barbra Streisand followed her Top 5 hit, "People," with the delightful "Funny Girl." Originally intended for the Winter Garden (N.Y.) stage, this Top 50 tune was not used in the show. In 1968, a completely different "Funny Girl" became the title song of the film with the same name.
Tony Williams and the Platters released a primitive "Only You (And You Alone)" in 1954, and it didn't chart. One year later, a more professional version was No. 1 on the R&B charts, and in everyone's Top 5.
A different version of Elvis Presley's 1968 "Guitar Man" single was issued in 1981. The latter release peaked at No. 28, eight chart spots higher than the original.
Presley's "A Little Less Conversation," only reached the Top 60 in 1968. But when a previously unissued version, also made in '68, underwent a 2002 remix, it became worldwide hit, including four weeks at No. 1 in the UK and the theme for TV's "Las Vegas."
In 1951, Tommy Edwards had some success with "It's All in the Game," but a modernized version in 1958 sold millions. Edwards did the same in 1959 with two more of his early '50s hits: "The Morning Side of the Mountain" (1951) and "Please Mr. Sun" (1952).
Rod Stewart also had three tunes that became hits twice, each a different recording than the original. "Reason to Believe" (1971 and 1993) and "Have I Told You Lately" (1992 and 1993) fared better the second time around, but the opposite happened with "Twisting the Night Away" (1973 and 1987).
Allan Sherman enjoyed such success in the summer of '63 with "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)" that he returned a year later with another letter from Camp Granada, also titled "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)." In a shrewd move, Warner Bros. coupled the 1963 and '64 tunes, with "(Original Version)" noted, and "(New 1964 Version)" on the A-side.
The Bill Doggett Combo's two-part instrumental "Honky Tonk" came first in 1956, followed later that year by a vocal of "Honky Tonk." The combo is Bill Doggett's, but he is an organist, not a singer. The "Honky Tonk" vocal is by Tommy Brown, previously a vocalist with the Griffin Brothers.
James Brown did the reverse of Bill Doggett. His vocal of "Try Me" came out first (1958), and the organ-led instrumental followed in 1965.
One of the best known hits with two versions is Elton John's "Candle in the Wind." Originally written as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, it appeared as just another track on the 1973 LP, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." That same version became a Top 10 hit as a single in 1987.
Sir Elton revised the basic song 10 years later, making it a tribute to the late Princess Diana, titled "Candle in the Wind 1997." This was actually the B-side of "Something About the Way You Look Tonight," though both sides debuted at No. 1. simultaneously.
On the flip side of Sam Cooke's 1957, No. 1 hit, "You Send Me," is an up tempo treatment of the Gershwin's "Summertime." In 1958, Cooke recorded "Summertime" as a ballad, but it remained on the shelf until 1959, when it was coupled with his 1957 "Summertime." The labels read "Summertime (Part 1)" (ballad) and "Summertime (Part 2)" (up tempo).
Dobie Gray's only Top 10 song was "Drift Away," but it achieved that lofty chart spot twice, first in 1973, and then with a new version in 2003.
The Beatles made three "Revolution" songs, all in 1968. The first one recorded is the leisurely paced, doo-wopish "Revolution 1" on the White Album. Pressured by his bandmates, Lennon agreed to recut the same song as a rocker, which became the "Revolution" single. "Revolution 9," also on the White Album, is actually a Lennon/Ono sound collage whose only connection to the others is that an unused fadeout from the slow version is used as part of the collage.
Not included in this research are songs intended for multiple versions, such as Tommy Facenda's "High School U.S.A.," Terry Lee Jenkins' "My Home Town," and Terry Cashman's "Talkin' Baseball."
Also excluded are different versions on album tracks, and remixes where the original recordings are electronically modernized, such as Frankie Avalon's "Venus," and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" by the 4 Seasons.
IZ ZAT SO? I'm not sure how significant alternative recordings are, if made only to placate censors and radio programmers. Returning to the studio merely to replace an offending word or two probably should not qualify as a different song. But so you won't think I forgot that niche, here are six that deemed it better to switch than fight:
1960: Marty Robbins "El Paso" (excessive length)
1961: Jimmy Dean "Big Bad John" (bad language)
1965: Lou Christie "Rhapsody in the Rain" (sexual reference)
1967: "Brown Eyed Girl" (sexual reference)
1967: Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels "Sock It to Me" (bad language)
1970: The Kinks "Lola" (product reference)