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6 Famous Musicians Who Swiped Their Biggest Hits from Others

#3. "Margaritaville" Was Supposed to Be a Hit for Elvis

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Without "Margaritaville," Jimmy Buffett is pretty much just the creepy old man at the tiki bar, but that enormous hit made him a professional creepy old man at the tiki bar. He's built an empire on the song, with all kinds of tacky theme restaurants, resorts, and pieces of outdoor furniture sporting the "Margaritaville" name. And it all happened because of one incredibly lucky stroke. Namely, this:

The Los Angeles Times
"Peanut butter, sequin industries file for bankruptcy."

Perhaps we should elaborate. When the King of Rock and Roll keeled over on his throne (perhaps literally), it changed music history in a lot of ways, but this is one of the weirder ones. We'll never know if he would have cleaned up his act or descended ever further into gaudy-jumpsuited madness, but we actually do have an idea where he was immediately headed, and it points pretty decisively to the latter, considering what his next hit was supposed to be. Yep, Buffett wrote "Margaritaville" not for himself, but for Elvis.

If you're thinking that Elvis would have never gone near a Caribbean country ballad, you're clearly not on the same drugs he was, because amazingly, he agreed to record it -- and promptly died on us. Buffett was sad (and just a little bit offended by the implication), but then promptly recorded the song himself.

Tim Mosenfelder/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Jimmy Buffett, looking as sad as he humanly can.

Of course, country ballads were actually not unfamiliar to the King, and we have every reason to believe he would have rocked that shit, but it is undeniably weird to think of Elvis as the "Margaritaville" guy instead of Buffett. For starters, it would have been impossible for late-era Elvis to sing "Watching the sun bake / All of those tourists covered in oil" without sounding just a tiny bit cannibalistic.

Buffett seems to realize that the King's fatal lust for fried peanut butter is the only reason he has a career. Before playing the song in an episode of CMT Crossroads, he comments, "This song was written the same year that Elvis died, and Elvis was supposed to do this song, [but] Elvis went on to the Graceland in the sky and I got to do it, so ... thanks, King." Wait, did he really just thank a legend for dying because it made him a lot of money?

#2. "Physical" Was Almost by Rod Stewart

Spencer Platt/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"Physical" is the official sexiest song of all time, a success that can be chiefly attributed to the unexpected contrast of the raunchy lyrics with Olivia Newton-John's innocent voice and wholesome persona. We guess the video featuring Sandy from Grease gallivanting around in a leotard didn't exactly hurt, either, even though it's so '80s that the lens appears to have been dusted with cocaine. But if songwriter Steve Kipner had gotten his way, we would have gotten something much different -- and yuckier.

How much yuckier? This much:

Ron Galella Collection/WireImage/Getty Images
"Olivia steals my song? I steal her clothes."

According to Kipner, he never considered handing the song over to a woman. He was adamant that the singer be a "macho male rock figure" -- specifically, he'd set his sights on Rod Stewart. Remember, this was back in Stewart's heyday, when he was demanding to know if we want his body and think he's sexy in all his sleazy glory. He looks like he feels and smells exactly like fried chicken. Even so, he was considered a sex symbol in his time -- his song "Tonight's the Night" is right behind "Physical" on that list of sexiest songs, no doubt pressing itself against the other numbers in an inappropriate manner.

However, consider lyrics like "I took you to an intimate restaurant, then to a suggestive movie / There's nothing left to talk about unless it's horizontally" coming from that goddamn creepshow. It would have retconned Stewart's entire catalog irretrievably into Sex Offenderland.

Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty Images
Instead of synthesizers, the background music in his version would have been rape whistles.

Fortunately, Newton-John's manager heard the demo first. Apparently he just happened to be in the neighborhood -- or maybe he sensed something incredibly icky was about to go down and knew he was the only one who could stop it. The details aren't clear, but within an hour, Newton-John swooped in, went nuts for the song, and insisted that she take it. Is Olivia Newton-John actually an angel sent to Earth to save us from a fate of Rod Stewart pleading us greasily to "let me hear your body talk"? We don't know, we're just asking questions. In return, the universe rewarded her with the most successful song of the '80s and a completely revitalized career.

Universal Music Enterprises
Uh, for a while.

#1. "Let It Be" Was Written for Aretha Franklin

Frank Micelotta/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Let It Be was so good that the Beatles decided never to release another album again. (Apparently they weren't getting along so well -- that might have had something to do with it, too.) The title track is particularly noteworthy, a soulful gospel ballad that seems out of place among the mellow rock and roll of late-era Beatles, but that's just another example of the relentless, genre-defying experimentation that characterized the greatest band of the 20th century.

Wait, no. It's actually because Paul McCartney wrote the song thinking an actual soul artist would sing it. The queen of all soul artists, in fact.

Michael Ochs Archives/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Before that, he'd already given her all of the Beatles' wigs, which she wore at the same time.

According to Aretha Franklin's producer, the only reason "Let It Be" became a Beatles song is because Franklin took way too long to release it. When McCartney wrote it in 1968, he knew he wasn't exactly the heart of soul, so he offered the track to someone who was. He sent the demo to Franklin, who recorded it immediately, but then started having second thoughts. She actually postponed the song's release indefinitely because -- get this -- she couldn't figure out what the words meant.

Far be it for us to question the judgment of the reigning queen of soul, but as far as post-acid Beatles songs go, "Let It Be" is about as straightforward as they come -- half the lyrics are just the title repeated over and over -- but apparently Franklin didn't trust those dirty longhairs.

While the unlikely duo of pious minister and hard-edged detective that Franklin had presumably hired to pore over the song's lyrics searched for hidden satanic messages, the Beatles were getting tired of their masterpiece going to waste. They called legal backsies and recorded their own version in 1969, which eventually became one of their best known songs. While Franklin actually did get around to releasing the song first, it was so overshadowed by the massive success of the Beatles' last album that people still think of her version as the cover.

Now, it's likely that McCartney would have recorded the song in the future anyway ... with Wings. Yeah, that was a close one.


Find out which songs didn't make the cut at Mannafesto. Now that you've invested so much time in her word things, you might as well follow Manna on Twitter.

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Related Reading: For a look at some famous musicians with epic on-stage meltdowns, click here. Adam Brown will walk you through Axl Rose's least fine hour. Next, check out the post-fame careers of these famous musicians. The DJ from Public Enemy is an ostrich farmer now. Want some inexplicably hostile interviews with rock stars? We've got those too.

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