I like this concept, y’all. I like it a lot. If you know other songs that belong on this list, let me know in the comments section.
1. “Anna (Go to Him)” – The Beatles
Early in their nightclub and recording careers, the Beatles performed many songs by black songwriters. Not only hall-of-famers like Chuck Berry and Smokey Robinson, but forgotten artists such as Larry Williams, Roy Lee Johnson and Arthur Alexander.
Alexander wrote and recorded “Anna (Go to Him)” in 1962. The next year, John Lennon sang it for the very first Beatles album. (Click here to hear Arthur Alexander’s version.)
2. “Java” – Al Hirt
If you’re old enough to remember “middle of the road” pop music, then surely you know this melody. To me, it’s as quintessentially ’60s as Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea.” And just as corny.
Come to find out it was written by New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint when he was 20 years old. (Click here for Toussaint’s original cut. The drummer sounds like he got three arms. He’s killin’!)
3. “Hard Headed Woman” – Elvis Presley
A No. 1 hit for Elvis in 1958, “Hard Headed Woman” was written for him by Claude Demetrius, a successful black songwriter who had worked with Louis Jordan. (Click here to hear “I Like ’Em Fat Like That,” a tune Demetrius wrote with Jordan.)
According to Wikipedia, “Hard Headed Woman” was the first rock ’n’ roll 45 to be officially designated a “gold record.”
4. “It’s All Over Now” – The Rolling Stones
This was the Stones’ very first No. 1 single in Britain. “It’s All Over Now” has since been covered by the likes of Rod Stewart, the Grateful Dead and the Chambers Brothers. In New Orleans, the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth brass bands have turned it into a familiar parade number.
The song was written by Bobby Womack and his sister-in-law, Shirley Jean, for Womack’s family group, the Valentinos. (Click here to hear the Valentinos original.)
5. “Oh Dem Golden Slippers” – The Sing-A-Long Gang
Remember those Golden Grahams commercials from the ’70s? Oh, those Golden Grahams. Oh, those Golden Grahams... Yep, a black guy wrote that melody... 130 years ago.
I grew up knowing “Oh Dem Golden Slippers” as a piece of Americana, like “Sweet Adeline.” Never knew that it used to be sung in blackface. And that it was written by Negro minstrel James A. Bland, who also wrote “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”
Born before the Civil War to a free and educated black family in Flushing, N.Y., Bland graduated from Howard University in 1873 and spent 20 years performing in London.
Today, there are housing projects named after Mr. Bland in Flushing, Queens, and Alexandria, Virginia.
(Click here to hear Nina Simone sing another of Bland’s enduring tunes, “In the Evening by the Moonlight.”)