5 Massive Hit Songs That Almost Didn't Get Released
We like to think we all know a hit song when we hear one. If we don't, we like to at least think that guys like Quincy Jones and Keith Richards know a hit song when they hear one (it's sort of their job).
Apparently, it's not as easy as we thought, as a lot of classic songs almost never made it out of the studio.
"I Can't Get No Satisfaction" - Rolling Stones
Like most awesome things, this song originated in the middle of the night. Unlike most awesome things, this song originated in Florida. During the Rolling Stones 1965 US tour, Keith Richards woke up suddenly for reasons that shockingly had nothing to do with heroin. He had a riff in his head that was harder to shake than his heroin habit. Keith Richards. Heroin. Get it? Anybody?
Anyway, the story goes that Richards got up and recorded the riff and the phrase "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" before dozing off. The next day, Keith and Mick fleshed out the track, and immediately Keith began to hate the shit out of his late night inspiration. At first his complaint was that the song was too "folksy." And we all know that the last thing the music buying public of 1965 wanted was "folksy" sounding rock music.
It didn't stop there. Keith later admitted that he considered the title "...just a working title. It could have been 'Aunt Millie's Caught Her Left Tit 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." He expressed concerns that the riff sounded too similar to Martha And The Vandella's "Dancing In The Street," and would've been happier if the riff was just quietly tucked away somewhere, never to be talked about again.
Eventually the rest of the band had to drag Richards into the studio and force him to record the song that he wrote and showed them in the first place. Even then, he considered his guitar part a scratch track and the recording an unfinished demo. Keith just wasn't satisfied.
Fortunately, all the other band members, their manager, the sound engineer and we assume several wandering passersby all outvoted Richards by a landslide to release the single. The song spent two weeks at #1, and Richards's throwaway scratch track become one of the Rolling Stone's most recognizable anthems, and boosted sales of the Gibson fuzzbox he used on the recording to the point where supplies ran out by the end of the year.
As a sidebar, in light of the fact that Richards never went back to claim it, some of us in the Cracked writers pool have decided to use the song title "Aunt Millie's Caught Her Left Tit In The Mangle" for our in-house garage metal band DIKCHOKE. Expect an exclusive release on our Myspace page later this year.
"Kiss" - Prince
Love him or hate him, we can't deny that Prince conquered pop music in the mid-80s, slapped its ass, pulled its hair and convinced it to do more than a few things it would regret later.
In 1986, Prince was at the top of his game and had started taking other bands under his dainty, bedazzled wing, like Morris Day's band The Time and the "chick who's humping Prince" project Appolynia 6. Also this band Mazarati but, as you'll soon see, no one really gives a damn about Mazarati.
Prince was diverse and talented enough to realize when he was writing a song that wasn't a Prince song. Such was the case, at the time, with "Kiss" which, believe it or not, was composed as a folksy/country song. Unable to finish it, he brought the demo track to his pet project du jour, Mazarati.
Who were obviously waiting for that perfect country/folk track to make it big time.
Unimpressed and kinda pissed, the band spent an entire day in the Paisley Park studio with engineer David Z completely rebuilding the track from the ground up. They retired for the night not believing the track was good enough. Or so they thought.
David Z returned the next morning to find Prince in the studio, tightening up his own freshly-recorded guitar and vocal tracks to the song. Reacting to Z's stunned confusion, Prince retorted that "This song is too good for you guys. I'm taking it back." This decision is likely the reason you had probably never heard of Mazarati before today.
Prince started cutting. He dropped the bass guitar off the track, along with all instruments but voice, guitar, drum machine and backing vocals. The result was shockingly sparse; only nine tracks were included in the mix down (most modern pop songs include roughly that many tracks for the vocals alone).
Prince is crazy!
When the people at Warner heard it, they kind of wondered where, you know, all the instruments and stuff were (they said it sounded like a demo). So if you're keeping score, the song was rejected by Prince, rejected by a shitty almost-Prince funk band and then reimagined as a sparse, bass-less song which was then almost rejected by the label.
Prince, probably after crossing his arms and whimpering in falsetto, told them that was the track they were getting and they better just deal with it. After a massive fight, the label reluctantly released it.
"Kiss" hit #1, and proved a triumph for a musician who was given more artistic freedom than pretty much any since. As for Mazarati, well, Prince later provided them with an outtake song by The Time called "Jerk Out" that made it nowhere until The Time took it back and made another # 1 hit off of it.
Seriously, after doing the research for this, we here at Cracked have been sending Mazarati friend requests on their official Myspace page, possibly one of the saddest official Myspace band pages ever. In-house Cracked band DIKCHOKE has only been around as long as this article, and we've already accumulated twice as many friends.
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" - Eurythmics
Believe it or not, there was a point when no one had ever heard of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart--better known as Eurythmics, even better known as the scary chick in the tuxedo and the guy playing the cello in the cow pasture and even better known as "that 80s band that wrote that Marilyn Manson song." That "song," "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," almost didn't exist because the band, dropped from their label after a lackluster and hitless first album, almost completely dissolved before composing it.
In 1982, the band, which had started in 1980, had yet to make a single that even approached the minor success of their previous band. Their first album was plagued by management troubles, and by the time they were recording "Sweet Dreams," they were reduced to recording in an improvised "home studio" (read: attic of a warehouse) and were in-between labels.
Also, they were really weird.
Their arguments became more severe--which tends to happen when you combine artists with poverty--to the point where Lennox could not take it anymore and threatened to leave. Then, with a cold suaveness more easily expected from James Bond than a pasty synth-pop composer, Stewart replied "Okay, fine, you don't mind if I go ahead and program the drum computer then, do you?" (he's British, so we don't know if "drum computer" is a euphemism for something filthy, but we'd guess that, no, it is not). And there, with Dave Stewart fucking around on a drum machine, and Annie Lennox curled up on the floor sobbing, commenced what is likely the most awkward, creepy and uncomfortable recording session since Phil Spector held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head.
While screwing around, Stewart accidentally reversed a synthesized bass line, and holy shit did it sound badass. Badass enough that Lennox "could not resist" getting on her keyboard and laying down a synth line. The words just came to her and she improvised the lyrics and vocals right there in one take. From the looks of it, they probably made up the "plot" of the music video on the spot right then too.
Pretty much all you need to know about the music video.
Of course, this incident just followed the standard behavioral instinct of "if you're in the middle of an argument that angry sex can't solve, just get on the computer" that most guys possess. Except instead of playing World Of Warcraft until four in the morning, Dave Stewart put together an international hit song, and married one of the chicks from Bananarama. Kind of puts your life in perspective, doesn't it?
"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."
"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.