Often when we hear one of our favorite smash hits, we simply cannot imagine them as separate from the artist singing them. It’s almost as if the track becomes synonymous with that person’s name. But more often than not, these songs aren’t written by — or for — the musician who made them a hit. Read on to discover which popular songs were surprisingly written for other artists, and what happened.
1. “Call Me” – Blondie
Blondie’s most successful single, the ferocious anthem “Call Me,” was the top-selling song of 1980. It’s practically impossible to hear it without envisioning Debbie Harry snarling its daring lyrics while bopping around on stage. But the song was originally meant to be sung by a different lady rock legend: Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks.
Italian disco producer Giorgio Moroder asked for Stevie’s help writing and performing the song, but their collaboration was prohibited due to contractual issues. That’s when he turned to Blondie, though he told Billboard magazine that the experience made him never want to work with rock bands again because “there were always fights” among the members.
2. “Rock Your Body” – Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake’s career as a solo artist was boosted by a number of songs that were originally intended to be sung by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. JT’s “Rock Your Body” on his first studio album, Justified, was just one of them.
The track was meant to appear on Jackson’s Invincible album back in 2001. It’s not easy to believe anyone could do justice to an MJ song, though fans were never given the chance to hear Jackson’s take on it, so we have nothing to compare it to. And seeing as it stood at number five on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, we think it’s safe to say “Rock Your Body” fared pretty well with Timberlake at the helm.
3. “Toxic” – Britney Spears
It’s the song that won Britney Spears her first and only Grammy award for Best Dance Recording — and it was originally written by songwriter Cathy Dennis to be included in Kylie Minogue’s ninth studio album, titled Body Language. But unfortunately for Minogue, she ended up passing on what could have been a great opportunity.
While the Australian singer clearly missed out on adding a catchy electro-pop banger to her album, she told Capital FM that she wasn’t at all upset when the song eventually brought Spears so much success. She said, “It’s like the fish that got away. You just have to accept it.”
4. “Physical” – Olivia Newton-John
Australian pop princess Olivia Newton-John’s most popular song, “Physical,” sat at the very top of Billboard’s Hot 100 list for a total of ten weeks. Everything about the song is memorable — from its catchy lyrics to its very ’80s, cheesy yet iconic music video.
But the iconic tune wasn’t originally penned for the Grease starlet. The masterminds behind the song, Terry Shaddick and Steven Kipner, actually wrote it with none other than Rod Stewart in mind. When Newton-John sat down with Entertainment Weekly in 2017, she revealed that she didn’t know the song was written for anyone other than her. She added, “I must talk with him about it one day. Like, did he ever hear it?” We’re gonna go ahead and take a wild guess and say: yes!
5. “Let’s Get Loud” – Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud” was written by Cuban-American singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan and Kike Santander. The track was originally meant to be included in the salsa powerhouse Estefan’s 1998 album Gloria!, but after deciding it was too similar to her other songs, she passed it on to Lopez.
Estefan was confident that J.Lo would put “a new spin” on the song and have lots “more fun with it.” And have fun with it, she most certainly did. Lopez got the crowd cheering loudly when she performed the song alongside Shakira and her daughter Emme to wrap up the Super Bowl halftime show in 2020.
NEXT: Some of these popular songs hit number one — but not with the artist the song was intended for!
6. “Holiday” – Madonna
Madonna’s first-ever song on the Billboard Top 100, 1983’s “Holiday,” was written by Lisa Stevens and Curtis Hudson, members of a dance pop group called Pure Energy. The pair first offered the track to Mary Wilson, longstanding former band member of the legendary ’60s R&B trio The Supremes.
The song was then passed to Phyllis Hyman before becoming Madonna’s third single and the track that set the stage for her unrivaled chart domination. It peaked at number 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list and helped her gain momentum as a rising star. Would the song have fared just as well with an R&B twist? It’s hard to say.
7. “Shape of You” – Ed Sheeran
In January of 2017, Ed Sheeran sat down with Nick Grimshaw at R1 Breakfast and gave the inside scoop about his hugely-popular song, “Shape of You.” The Grammy Award-winner revealed that he had gone into the studio with Johnny McDaid and Steve Mac to write songs for other artists when they came up with this smash hit.
Sheeran originally had Rihanna in mind to sing the tune. It covered all the bases to fit in line with the rest of her bangers, thanks to its tropical beat and a storyline about lovers meeting at a bar and boogieing the night away. However, Sheeran ultimately decided to keep it for himself because he couldn’t envision her singing certain lyrics like “put Van the Man on the jukebox.”
8. “Party In The USA” – Miley Cyrus
“Party in the USA,” sung by Disney channel star turned pop tour de force Miley Cyrus, peaked at number two on the Hot 100 list, where it stayed for a total of 28 weeks. The smash hit was written by a diva from across The Pond, British songstress Jessie J, before she catapulted to fame as a solo artist.
In a 2014 interview with Glamour UK, the “Price Tag” singer discussed her experience writing the track, saying she initially planned to record it herself. She wrote it with the help of songwriters Claude Kelly and Dr. Luke, and after it was handed over to Cyrus and became a smash hit, the royalties Jessie J received from it paid her rent for three years!
9. “Don’t Cha” – The Pussycat Dolls
The Pussycat Dolls’ naughty breakthrough single “Don’t Cha” could have sounded a lot different if it had been recorded by the artist it was initially offered to: Paris Hilton. Before Nicole Scherzinger and her girls were handed the track that catapulted them to fame, the hotel heiress was presented with it but gave it a pass.
In Hilton’s defense, however, she had no idea the song would amount to so much success. The socialite told Digital Spy in 2006 that the version she had originally heard was “not in the format that we all came to know and love.” She added, “If I’d heard that, of course I’d have jumped at the chance.”
10. “Lay Lady Lay” – Bob Dylan
Rumor has it that Bob Dylan’s country-infused gently wistful 1969 hit song “Lay Lady Lay” was originally turned down by crooners the Everly Brothers. The reason? For a long time, it was said to be because they believed it to be too suggestive and thought it was written about lesbians. But in a 1986 interview with Rolling Stone, Don Everly put the rumors to rest.
Everly said that once while playing at New York’s oldest rock club, The Bitter End, the brothers met Bob Dylan. They were looking for new material at the time and Dylan was writing “Lay Lady Lay”. Everly added, “[Dylan] sang parts of it, and we weren’t quite sure whether he was offering it to us or not. It was one of those awestruck moments. We wound up cutting the song about fifteen years later.”
NEXT: We were shocked to hear the story behind this song and its original client.
11. “Whataya Want From Me” – Adam Lambert
American Idol runner-up and recent Queen frontman Adam Lambert released his biggest hit to date, “Whataya Want From Me,” in 2009 while on the Idols Live Arena tour. The ballad was originally penned by the uproarious, rebellious rockstar P!nk, with help from famed songwriters Max Martin and Shellback.
According to Lambert, “Whataya Want From Me” was initially supposed to be included in P!nk’s Funhouse album, but she decided “she didn’t want to go into the sentiment of the song.” The “Raise Your Glass” singer did eventually tweak some of the lyrics, and recorded her own version of the track to include in her 2010 album Greatest Hits…So Far!!!
12. “Black Widow” – Iggy Azalea
Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s collaborative track “Black Widow,” which appeared on Azalea’s debut album The New Classic, was originally a Katy Perry song. That’s right: the “California Girls” singer wrote it for herself right after her fourth studio album Prism dropped in 2013.
Speaking to Ryan Seacrest about how the song eventually fell into her own lap, Australian rapper Azalea said she saw Perry had just released her album and decided to use that to her advantage and snag the song for herself. She told Perry she had an album that was about to drop and would love the song to “come out for the world to hear ASAP.” Perry graciously agreed and, well, the rest is history.
13. “Gold Digger” – Kanye West
Back in 2005, Kanye West produced the beat for his smash hit single “Gold Digger” while at fellow hip-hop legend Ludacris’ house in Atlanta, Georgia. But the song he came up with then sounded completely different from the party rocker we all know and love today.
That’s because Kanye wrote the chorus from a female’s perspective, as it was originally meant to be included in rapper Shawnna’s debut album, Worth Tha Weight. Shawnna rejected it, however, and ‘Ye decided to take the record for himself. He added the track to his second album, Late Registration, and it went on to break the record for most digital downloads in a week.
14. “Umbrella” – Rihanna
It’s without a doubt one of the most memorable and popular songs of its era. When Rihanna released “Umbrella” — the lead single of her album Good Girl Gone Bad in June 2007 — it held the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and was considered the song of the summer. Even more impressive, however, was that so many fans tried to download the track that iTunes crashed!
With such success, it’s hard to imagine “Umbrella” sung by anyone except for Bad Gal RiRi. But believe it or not, that was almost the case. Songwriters Terius Nash and Christopher Stewart originally approached Britney Spears to record the track as her own, and when she turned them down, they went to Mary J. Blige. Perhaps the third time really is the charm.
15. “How Will I Know” – Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston’s unforgettably iconic track “How Will I Know” rocketed from number 60 to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts back in 1986, though it could have sounded a whole lot different with its original artist, Janet Jackson, on vocals. Songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam originally wrote the song for Jackson’s third studio album, Control.
They were optimistic about the track when they handed over a demo to Jackson’s team, but were left feeling discouraged when the team gave it a pass. Luckily, Gerry Griffith of Arista Records was looking for a song that fused R&B and pop for Whitney Houston. When Merrill and Rubicam played “How Will I Know” for Griffith over the phone, he said he knew “we were on to something special.”
NEXT: We can’t help but wonder whether this popstar wrote any of their popular songs.
16. “Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé
Queen Bey’s hit “Irreplaceable” was nominated for a Record of the Year Grammy and became the best-charting single of her entire career. While Beyoncé’s vocals certainly are irreplaceable in and of themselves, Ne-Yo never envisioned her voice as the lead when he first wrote the track.
Ne-Yo first penned the tune from a male’s perspective, before adding a country flare to it and envisioning Shania Twain or Faith Hill as the singer. Clearly, things did not go as he planned, and when Beyoncé first heard the song, she knew it had to be hers. To help cross genres, she added new drums and her own unique vocal arrangements, sang it in a much higher octave than in the demo, and voilà!
17. “Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears
There’s no denying that “Baby One More Time” is one of Britney Spears’ most famous songs across the globe. Not only did it spur her transition from a Micky Mouse Club Mouseketeer to a popstar sensation, but it brought new life to the pop genre after a decade characterized in large part by house and grunge.
Despite how synonymous the song has become with Spears’ name, the smash hit wasn’t actually written for her to begin with. Songwriters Max Martin and Rami Yacoub originally wrote the tune for TLC. However, the R&B trio turned it down, saying it didn’t properly represent their message of female empowerment. According to MTV News, T-Boz said that while she knew the song would be a hit, she and her bandmates weren’t comfortable saying “hit me baby.” To each their own?
18. “Golden Years” – David Bowie
By the mid-1970s, musical chameleon David Bowie had already gone through several incarnations, hopped from genre to genre, and written and produced for a variety of musical acts. According to The Guardian, David Bowie originally penned his international chart-topping hit “Golden Years” for Elvis Presley. Bowie was said to be the King of Rock and Roll’s biggest fan, with an “encyclopedic knowledge” of all things related to Presley’s career.
Legend has it that Bowie asked his then-wife Angie to approach Presley with the request to play the funky yet velvety “Golden Years.” But nerves ended up getting the best of her, and the song fell into Bowie’s lap instead. Bowie added it to his 1975 album Station to Station, and the record charted for a total of 16 weeks in the United States. You know what they say — everything happens for a reason!
19. “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson rose to fame after being crowned American Idol‘s first-ever winner back in 2002. Things were only looking up for her, as it was her second studio album Breakaway — notably her single “Since U Been Gone” — that really solidified her role as a household name popstar.
“Since U Been Gone” was written by Dr. Luke and Max Martin, and was initially penned for P!nk. When she turned it down, the duo approached Hilary Duff. That’s when famed record producer Clive Davis stepped in and convinced them to give the track to Clarkson, though she admittedly wasn’t a big fan of the song in the beginning. However, after adding her unique flavor to it, she came to love it.
20. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds
Back in 1985, acclaimed songwriter Keith Forsey was tasked with writing a song for John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club. Being the Simple Minds fan that he was, Forsey approached the Scottish band and asked them to record “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” which famously ran during the opening and closing credits of the film.
Simple Minds turned him down, saying they didn’t want to be forced to sing someone else’s song. Forsey then approached British sneering punk Billy Idol and new wave crooner Bryan Ferry, who also both gave a resounding “no.” After much convincing, Simple Minds finally came around and their song became more successful than they ever could have imagined.
21. “Boom Clap” – Charli XCX
English singer-songwriter Charli XCX is recognized as the voice behind the song “Boom Clap,” which reached number eight on Billboard’s Hot 100 list and was included in the soundtrack of The Fault in Our Stars in 2014. But while the track’s release helped Charli’s rise to fame, she admitted that she didn’t originally write it for herself.
The artist told V Magazine that she initially penned “Boom Clap” for Hilary Duff — though things didn’t exactly go as she may have hoped. “We sent the song to her people and I don’t think she ever heard it,” Charli admitted. She added that Duff’s team didn’t thing the track was “cool enough,” to which Charli responded, “I’m just going to sing it.” And that she did!
22. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” -Aerosmith
It’s one of the biggest tearjerker ballads ever. Aerosmith’s rock ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was written by songwriter Diane Warren in the late 1990s. The song was inspired by a story Warren heard about Barbra Streisand’s husband, who revealed in an interview that he didn’t like sleeping alone at night because he missed his wife.
When writing the song, Warren told ShortList in 2016 that she envisioned it would be sung by Celine Dion. However, she was pleasantly surprised when Aerosmith was given the ballad to sing for the 1998 disaster film Armageddon. Warren said it was “much cooler” to hear a “gruff, macho rock star” like Steven Tyler connect with such deep lyrics, and that the band’s rendition brought a whole new dimension to the song as a whole.
23. “Telephone” – Lady Gaga
Before Lady Gaga claimed “Telephone” for herself, she was trying to help out another blonde superstar. She wrote the song for her fellow pop princess, Britney Spears. The track was originally meant to be included in Spears’ Circus album, but to the dismay of Gaga, she turned it down last minute.
It turned out being a blessing in disguise for Gaga, who then collaborated with Beyoncé to record the track for her 2009 album, The Fame Monster. The song made it to the tops of charts all over the world and ended up becoming one of Gaga’s most downloaded songs ever. Fans of pop music love to look at this example as proof that everything happens for a reason.
24.”Nothin’ On You” by B.o.B
Most of the time, artists wish well to those who claim the smash hits they initially let slip away. But rapper Lupe Fiasco had a different experience. After Atlantic Records rejected his take on “Nothin’ On You,” they went with the version produced by B.o.B and Bruno Mars.
The song was a major hit and earned B.o.B a total of three Grammy nominations. In an interview with The Guardian after the song’s release, Fiasco revealed that the situation made him “super depressed” and willing to walk away from music completely. He added that it was “less about the bruised ego” but more about it being “mentally destructive.”
25. “Halo” by Beyoncé
While Beyoncé’s “Halo” wasn’t technically offered to anyone else before her, it did almost fall into “Bleeding Love” singer Leona Lewis’ lap. The writer of the song, One Republic’s frontman Ryan Tedder, dished about all the drama surrounding the track on Key 103’s In:Demand in 2009.
He explained that while he originally penned the song for Queen Bey, she made him wait a long time to record it and her lack of communication prompted him to reach out to Leona Lewis’ team. He added that “when you have a song as special as “Halo,” sometimes you have to pull the whole, ‘Well, I’m going to get someone else on it,’ to prove a point.”
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