Hit songs become a part of our lives, whether we like it or not! We fall in love when them, dance to them, hear them everywhere we go, and then become sick of them…for a short time, at least. It’s a tale as old as time. But there have been quite a few mega-hits over the years that were almost mega-misses! Yes, some of the biggest songs of all times very nearly ended up in the trash, done by someone else, or were never written at all! Read on to learn 15 MONSTER hits that very nearly never made it to our stereos. It’s pretty scary to think of a world without these beloved classics!
15. “Applause” by Lady Gaga (2013)
By her own admission, Mother Monster wrote between 70 and 100 titles for her upcoming album ARTPOP, but her current single wasn’t among her favorites. “’Applause’ almost didn’t make the album,” Lady Gaga told Ryan Seacrest during a recent appearance on his radio program. But a 40-track listening session with Interscope Records head Jimmy Iovine saved the song from the trash can. “We played ’Applause’ last and Jimmy looked at me and said, ’Every record that you played me is better than the one that you played before it, so the last one should be the first single.'” Hey, you don’t get to be the head of a record company without good ears!
14.”Umbrella” by Rihanna (2007)
Hitmakers Tricky Stewart and The-Dream originally wrote “Umbrella-ella-ella” for Mary J. Blige. “They did the song for me,” She told MTV News in 2007. “And it was during the Grammy time and I was really, really busy. I heard it and I was like, ’Oh my goodness, that’s a smash. I love this song.’ And it was like, ’It’s yours.’ So in the midst of it being mine, they were probably telling [Rihanna] it was hers.” According to Rihanna herself, she wasn’t going to let it slip away! “I said, ’Listen, Umbrella is my song!’,” she revealed to Contact Music. “He must’ve thought I was really pushy and laughed it off. But I turned his face back to my own. ’No, I’m serious – I need ’Umbrella’. Two days later we found out the song was mine.” But Rihanna paid it forward, letting Miley Cyrus take “We Don’t Stop” which had originally been written for her.
13. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye ft. Kimbra (2011)
This monster hit from last summer had more than it’s fair share of obstacles. While penning the lyrics, the Australian singer-songwriter feared that he wrote himself into a corner. “I wrote the first verse, the second verse and I’d got to the end of the first chorus and for the first time ever I thought, ’There’s no interesting way to add to this guy’s story,'” he told the Herald Sun.“It felt weak.” But he soldiered on, instead writing a female counterpoint. Although the part ultimately went to New Zealander Kimbra, he originally booked a “’high profile’ female vocalist” who cancelled at the last minute. He even tried to make the song a duet with his girlfriend Tash Parker, but their real-life romantic happiness kind of ruined the break-up vibe of the track. Finally he picked up the phone and got Kimbra to deliver her stunning, Katy Perry-like vocal contribution. But even THEN, Gotye almost didn’t include the track on his 2011 album Making Mirrors, fearing that it sounded too much like his previous material!
12. “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke (2013)
It is the supreme summer song of 2013, but #Thicke’s record execs were not feelin’ the heat. “The record company didn’t get it,” he told the Associated Press. “They didn’t even pay for the video. They didn’t want to support it at all. Remy Martin paid for the video.” Robin and his wife, model Paula Patton, are spokespeople for the liquor brand that picked up the bill. But of course, the (questionably) racy video sold the suits on the song. “And as soon as the record company saw the video, they said, ’This is a smash.'” Sometimes we hear with our eyes.
11. “Where The Streets Have No Name” by U2 (1987)
Although destined to become a stadium anthem, the band had a difficult time getting this tune down on record. In fact, co-producer Brian Eno estimated that half of the time recording U2’s landmark The Joshua Tree album went to working on this song alone! Their arrangement was so complex that it had to be sketched out on a massive school blackboard and wheeled into the studio, and they labored for weeks to get just a single take. Eno was so frustrated by the tedious mixing process that he planned to “stage an accident” and erase the tapes and just start the whole thing over. The only thing stopping him was a fellow engineer, who ran over to physically stop Eno before he taped over the classic.
10. “Kiss” by Prince (1986)Here’s another song that fought hard for the right to be heard! The Artist Currently Known As Prince originally gave the song to the group Mazarati, who gave the tune a funky overhaul. Prince was so impressed when he heard their version that he took the song back for himself! He wiped their vocals off the track, recorded his own singing, slapped on a killer guitar solo, and BOOM: New Prince single. At least that’s what he was hoping, but Warner Brothers felt the sound was too stripped down for release. Obviously he got away with it, because he’s Prince. Massive success ensued.
9. “Only Wanna Be With You” by Hootie & the Blowfish (1994)
We’ve always felt this hit was pretty corny, and we’re pleased to learn that the band felt the same way! Apparently they recorded the tune as a semi-tribute to Bob Dylan (sampling lyrics from “Idiot Wind” and name checking “Tangled Up In Blue”) and intended it to be “the cheesiest song ever.” But this was a case of the record execs knowing a hit when they heard one, and insisted that it be included on the chart-topping debut, Cracked Rear View. The monster hit status was only slightly dampened by the fact that Dylan took them to court for unauthorized use of his lyrics. Oops.
8. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by Eurythmics (1983)
Long before they became an international hit machine, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were two struggling musicians in a pretty desperate spot. They had been dropped by their label after a flop-filled first album, and their management prospects weren’t looking any better. To complete the Dickens-like story, they were reduced to taking out a massive bank loan to rent some rudimentary recording equipment and a small space above a warehouse. Fights became common, and after a particularly bitter one (allegedly culminating with Lennox sobbing on the floor), Stewart began absently messing around with his synthesizer to clear his head. Through this noodling he accidentally reversed a programmed bass line, and the result…actually wasn’t bad. In fact, it was good enough to bring Lennox over to a synth of her own where she begin improvising chords and some lyrics. These became the new wave classic, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).”
7. “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas (1967)
Originally recorded in March 1964, the tapes sat unheard on a shelf for three years after they were red-flagged by Motown’s notorious quality control team. Allegedly they feared that a song about a woman whose boyfriend who had been sent away would draw uncomfortable comparisons to the growing military action in Vietnam. But as time went on and the public opinion on the conflict soured, record execs decided that the subtle social commentary would aid the already-catchy single. They released it in February 1967, and it soon became a top ten hit. It wouldn’t be the last time Motown would shy away from contemporary events…
6. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye (1971)
Most people really like Gaye’s socially conscious ode to a nation divided, at least enough to take it to Number 2 on the Billboard Charts and make it a beloved classic. The song was ranked 4th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and 14th on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs. So it’s fairly safe to assume that “What’s Goin’ On” has a lot of fans. But Motown Records founder Berry Gordy was not one of them. He dismissed the finished product as “the worst thing I ever heard in my life,” citing the jazzy-feel as not fitting with the Motown sound. “That Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting, it’s old,” he railed. He also balked at the straight-from-the-headlines lyrics, feeling that Marvin’s protest song was simply going too far. Gordy flatly refused to issue the song, and Gaye countered by going on strike, refusing to record any new material until the track was released. Feeling the pinch from losing one of their biggest recording artists, Gordy relented and put the song out in January 1971.
5. “Pinball Wizard” by The Who (1969)
Pete Townshend was hard at work putting the finishing touches of his grand rock opera Tommy, when he decided to play a rough cut to influential British rock critic Nick Cohn. Although polite, Townshend could tell that the journalist’s response was decidedly unenthusiastic. “It’s a bit boring,” he finally admitted, and suggested that Townshend add something to lighten to heavy spiritual tone of the record about a “deaf, dumb and blind” messiah. Knowing that Cohn was a massive fan of pinball, he suggested making Tommy a Bally table champion. Cohn thought this was brilliant, and a great review was surely in the bag! Pete went off and immediately threw together “Pinball Wizard,” which he thought was pretty much an embarrassment. At the time he thought it was “the most clumsy piece of writing I’d ever done,” but he soon came around.
4. “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica (1991)
James Hetfield wrote this slow jam while on the phone with his then-girlfriend when he was away on tour. Cradling the phone with one hand, he was only able to pluck open strings with the other, giving the song it’s arpeggio intro. The sentimental ballad about being “so close, no matter how far” wasn’t meant for anyone other than the loving ears of his girlfriend, but it was overheard by drummer Lars Ulrich. He thought the song was strong enough to be considered for their next album, and the band (minus guitarist Kirk Hammett) took a crack at it.
3. “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (1984)
There’s a whole book and documentary devoted to Cohen’s long road to completing this modern spiritual, one that took him three years and saw him write over 70 verses for the lyrics! “I filled two notebooks with the song,” he claimed in 2008. “And I remember being on the floor, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, ’I can’t finish this song.'” Ooof, we’ve all been there. He finally got the mammoth epic down to four and a half minutes, which he included as an album cut on Various Positions. Although clearly destined to become a classic, it was helped along in the process with a notable cover from John Cale in 1991, Jeff Buckley three years later, and (most famously) Rufus Wainwright in 2001. It went on to become among the most covered songs in music history, with over 360 recordings to date.
2. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones (1965)
Keith Richards wrote the unforgettable guitar hook in his sleep, recording it on a bedside tape recorder and then dozing off! He totally forgot about it until he played the tape back the next day, hearing the famous lick and “then me snoring for the next forty minutes.” He and bandmate Mick Jagger began to flesh to track in the following days, and Keith completely hated the result. He called it “too folksy,” and grew concerned that the riff too closely resembled Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing In The Streets,” which was the charts at the moment. Even the title wasn’t to his…well, satisfaction. He considered it “…just a working title. It could have been ’Aunt Millie’s Caught Her Left T– In The Mangle.’ I thought of it as just a little riff, an album filler. I never thought it was commercial enough to be a single.” The band had to force him to record his song in the studio, be he considered the fuzzed out guitar just a rough demo for a potential brass part. “This was just a little sketch, because, to my mind, the fuzz tone was really there to denote what the horns would be doing,” he admitted years later. Eventually he was outvoted by the rest of the band and their manager Andrew Loog Oldham. He song went out, and it was a hit. And only then was Keith satisfied.
1. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson (1982)
MJ knew he had a hit on his hands when he started composing “Billie Jean” while cruising around L.A. in his Rolls Royce. In fact, he was so absorbed that he didn’t realize the car had actually caught on fire! But master producer Quincy Jones felt that the song was “too weak” to be included on their upcoming Thriller, a record jam-packed with weapons-grade floor-fillers. He feared that the title would make people think it was an ode to tennis great Billie Jean King, he hated the intro, and he especially hated the bass-line. “But that’s the jelly! That’s what makes me want to dance,” Jackson reportedly told him. What could Jones say to that? The King of Pop got his way. In a weird coda to the whole story, Michael was famously burned while singing “Billie Jean” for a Pepsi commercial. Two fires? Now THAT’S a hot song!
[Photo: London/Interscope/Def Jam/Warner Brothers/Epic/Star Trak]