You know the song “Delta Dawn,” right? If not from Tanya Tucker’s Top 10 country hit in 1972, then Helen Reddy’s No. 1 hit in 1973. Or maybe you know Bette Midler’s cover from 1972’s The Divine Miss M? But did you know the messy story around these three women and their versions?
Alex Harvey, the song’s co-writer (with Larry Collins), first recorded “Delta Dawn” in 1971. Tracy Nelson sang it at the Bottom Line in New York City, which is where Midler first came across it, adding it to her songlist. She performed it on The Tonight Show, and a Nashville producer approached her about signing a recording contract with him. Because Midler was already signed with Atlantic, he threw the song at Tanya Tucker.
Meanwhile, a replica of Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” was offered to Barbra Streisand, who turned it down. So the song went to Helen Reddy (for whom Harvey used to open). Midler went right ahead and recorded her own version of it, which was due to be released to radios in June 1973, but Reddy’s single went out two days earlier. The result? Reddy’s went to No. 1 and Midler had to abruptly switch to the track’s B-side, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which became a top 10 hit for her.
What I’m saying is, in the 1970s you probably heard “Delta Dawn” a lot.