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5 Massive Hit Songs That Almost Didn't Get Released

#2.
"What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye is responsible for more unstoppable sex than prison. We owe so much to "Let's Get it On," and the fact that at one time Marvin Gaye wasn't given his way is downright terrifying, but it's true. About a decade into his career, Gaye had already established himself as an extraordinarily singular Motown talent, despite frequently bristling against the regimented structure of the Detroit label. But in 1970, after a crumbling marriage and the death of close friend/duet partner Tammi Terrell, Gaye became suddenly reflective and nearly ready to quit music altogether, even going so far as to try out for that year's draft of the Detroit Lions.


We like to think that this is how he showed up at tryouts.

The main thing Marvin had resented about the Motown system was its separation of songwriter, performer and producer as individual cogs of a hit-making machine whose responsibilities and talents were not to be mixed. With some production credit under his belt--with Motown session-band The Originals--and new songwriting partners Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson of Four Tops fame, Marvin Gaye was ready to break out of his previous station in the machine and take control of all aspects of his destiny; his decision to buck the system influenced countless other talented artists--from peers like Stevie Wonder to later artists like Michael Jackson and Prince--to also take production and songwriting control of their product. He was about to completely shake up the music industry, but first he had to get released.

"What's Going On" pleads for understanding. In the background of the master track, you can hear a party going on from which Gaye's voice is markedly detached; a lonely, but passionate, voice in the crowd. The result of Gaye's complex songwriting, mixed with his abilities as a producer and an arranger was startlingly different from anything previously released by Motown. When the final master 45 was presented for release, The CEO of Motown called it "the worst record he had ever heard." Oh, did we mention that the CEO of Motown, Barry Gordy Jr., was Marvin Gaye's brother-in-law?

Gordy apparently believed that the music-buying public at the time would not be able to identify with a heartfelt cry of confusion and despair over social unrest and injustice. We here at Cracked are guessing he hadn't picked up a newspaper since early November of 1963.

Marvin stood his ground, however, threatening to walk away from music forever and, after a short stand-off, "What's Going On" was released, and critical and commercial response was almost instant. It became Motown's fastest selling single, the biggest hit of 1971, became Gaye's signature song--even topping out all the other massive hit songs he was already known for--and paved the way for the even more massive hit album "Let's Get It On."

#1.
"Billie Jean" - Michael Jackson

Off The Wall was Michael Jackson's first album outside of the Jackson 5 franchise and his initial departure from Motown. He regarded it as his finest work, and it actually did well both critically and commercially, but it wasn't enough. He felt cheated that Off The Wall didn't win Album Of The Year, and he wasn't going to be happy until he was at the helm of something too big to ignore. In his first step, he did something every 21-year-old has dreamed of doing and fired the shit out of his dad.

With producer Quincy Jones, the two collaborated on a monolithic pop masterpiece. It's estimated that 300 original songs were penned for the project and condensed down to nine.


"I'm gonna burn this record and I don't even know why. Fuck it, you know?"

While composing "Billie Jean," Jackson knew he had a hit. He frequently relates a story about leaving the studio so focused on the song that he didn't even notice that the car he was in was on fire. Strangely enough, a few years later during the recording of a Pepsi commercial featuring a revamped version of the track, he caught the fuck on fire again. Once is a weird coincidence, twice is just damn spooky.

Jacko may have thought he had a hit, but Quincy Jones sure as hell didn't think so. Quincy thought the track, inspired by a homicidal-suicidal stalker and that apparently made its singer burst into flames, was "too weak" for the album. He hated the demo, especially the bass-line, and he wanted to change the title. Eventually he relented, insisting amongst his studio musicians that this track needed to have a "unique sonic personality" to be worthwhile. Vocal overdubs were sung through giant cardboard tubes and the drum pattern was overlayed with sounds of cinder blocks and chunks of wood. They even brought in a guy to play something called a lyricon, an instrument that looks like it should have been played by a member of the Mos Eisley pub band.

So the track made the album, but its problems didn't end there: MTV refused to air the video. MTV's policy at the time was that black performers were not "rock" enough; a view that's shocking not only because it's racist as all hell, but also laughably ignorant of music history. It took Walter Yetnikoff, president of CBS, the record label Jackson was on, threatening to both pull all CBS artist's videos off of MTV and publicly exposing them as the racist fucksticks they were to get the "Billie Jean" video on rotation. Rotation that quickly became heavy rotation as the song rocketed up the charts.

"Billie Jean," as you know, became a massive hit, Jackson got his Album Of The Year, and Thriller went on to become, by all accounts, the best-selling album of all time. Having achieved everything he had set out to do and significantly more, Michael Jackson moved to his dream home at Neverland Ranch and lived happily ever after... oh wait.




Ralf Bakr has many strange obsessions and compulsions that drive his existence. Rather than seek treatment, he chronicles them all at his personal blog "(Maybe) The Dorkiest Thing You'll See All Day." Ralf would also like to thank fellow Cracked writer Nick, without whose suggestions this article might not have happened. He'd also like to pat himself on the back for managing to write over 700 words about Michael Jackson without once using the words "child" or "plastic surgery."

Now check out some albums and songs that probably shouldn't have happened, in The 12 Most God Awful Tribute Albums Ever Recorded and 6 Musicians Who Predicted Their Own Death in Song.

Or, visit Cracked.com's Top Picks because their might something music related in there. Or boob related. Either way it's win-win.

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