10 Hit Songs That Were Almost Never Released

BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images
BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

It might be hard to imagine a world where Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" wasn't on your gym playlist, but if the country star-turned-pop princess' label had gotten their way, the song would never have made it to the airwaves. Ever. Swift is hardly alone in the near-miss hits department. From Marvin Gaye to Metallica, here are 10 hit songs that almost never saw the light of day.

1. “KISS” // PRINCE

Prince originally wrote the song “Kiss” for the Minneapolis funk band Mazarati. After he and the band collaborated on the song, Prince ended up releasing it as the lead single from his 1986 album Parade. ("It's too good for you guys," The Purple One told Mazarati’s producer—and Prince’s engineer—David Z. "I’m taking it back.") Prince’s record label didn’t like the song because it was so minimal, but Prince insisted that the song was going to be a hit: “That's the single and you're not getting another one until you put it out,'" David Z recalled Prince saying at the time, according to Sound on Sound. “Kiss” went on to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and would later receive a Grammy Award.

2. “SHAKE IT OFF” // TAYLOR SWIFT

Before 2014, Taylor Swift was primarily a country music star. For her fifth album, 1989, she went in a much different, much poppier direction—one that her label, Big Machine, was not exactly thrilled with. "Everybody was really scared for me to change up the formula," Taylor Swift told MTV in 2014. "From the way people at my label would see it was, 'Why are you messing with that?'" According to MTV, the label even went as far as trying to block 1989—including its catchy first single, "Shake It Off"—from release.

But Swift insisted that pop was the direction she wanted to go in. Still, even after winning that fight (and fights about the cover art and the album name), Big Machine tried to convince Swift to put a few country songs on 1989, so her fans wouldn’t be alienated by her transition from country to pop. Swift refused: "If you throw things on the album that don't belong on this album, people will see right through it because people are not stupid—especially music fans," she said.

“Shake It Off” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for 50 consecutive weeks, which makes it Swift's biggest single to date.

3. “(I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION” // THE ROLLING STONES

In 1965, Keith Richards was recording a guitar track in the middle of the night when he fell asleep. When he listened to the tape later, he heard two minutes of acoustic guitar riffs and "then me snoring for the next forty minutes," he wrote in Keith Richards: In His Own Words. He brought one of the riffs to Mick Jagger, and the pair began to compose a song with it. That riff eventually became "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"—and, if Richards had had his way, it never would have seen the light of day.

Richards hated pretty much everything about "Satisfaction": He thought it sounded too much like a folk song and too closely resembled “Dancing In The Street” by Martha & the Vandellas, which was a big hit at the time. He considered the recording an unfinished demo and didn’t want to release it.

Fortunately, the other members of the Rolling Stones, along with their manager and the sound engineer, felt the song was a hit. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" went on to reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles in 1965.

4. JIMMY MACK // MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS

One of Martha & the Vandellas’ later hits, “Jimmy Mack” should have been released much earlier. Originally recorded in June 1964, this song was about a woman hoping her man returns before she falls in love with another potential suitor. Motown’s Quality Control quashed it, though, and the song spent the next two years gathering dust on some shelf. Why the song was nixed isn't clear, although some have speculated that it was because the song sounded too similar to The Supremes; others believe it was quashed because of concerns that the escalating Vietnam War would give the song an unwanted political dimension.

In 1966, the song was finally released on the album Watchout! and started to get traction on local radio stations. According to legend, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. heard the song and exclaimed, “get this thing ready to go out right away, this is a damn hit record.”

It was released as a single in 1967, and got to #10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Many music historians feel its success could be tied to the same thing that may have stopped its release: the Vietnam War. As Billboard said when they voted it the 82nd best girl group song of all time, “the song took on special resonance [in the late 1960s], as girls across the country were pleading for their own Jimmy Macks to hurry back from overseas, before fates a lot worse than romantic betrayal befell them.”

5. “SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT” // NIRVANA

In 1991, When Kurt Cobain first played the now-iconic opening riff for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, Novoselic thought it was “so ridiculous” and Grohl didn’t like it at all. The band tooled around the riff to make it something everyone liked, but Grohl remained unconvinced. “I really remember thinking, ‘That is such a Pixies rip,’” Grohl said in a BBC documentary in 2011. “It was almost thrown away at one point because it just seemed too much like the Pixies.” After weeks of working on the song, Nirvana recorded and released it as the lead-off track of Nevermind in late 1991. It became an instant hit, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming an anthem of a new generation and music movement during the early '90s.

6. “NOTHING ELSE MATTERS” // METALLICA

Originally, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” was not intended to be released. It was a very personal song that lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield wrote in the early '90s for his then-girlfriend, and he would play the song for her over the phone while he was on tour. When drummer Lars Ulrich overheard it, he wanted to release it as a Metallica song.

“That was the song that I thought was least Metallica, least likely to ever played by us, the last song anyone would really want to hear. It was a song for myself in my room on tour when I was bumming out about being away from home,” Hetfield told the Village Voice. “I’m grateful that the guys forced me to take it out of my tape player and make it Metallica.”

7. “WHAT’S GOING ON” // MARVIN GAYE

After witnessing police brutality and violence during an anti-war protest in People's Park in Berkeley, California, songwriters Al Cleveland and Renaldo "Obie" Benson wrote the protest song "What’s Going On." Though it was originally intended for Benson’s group the Four Tops, they turned it down because of its subject matter.

The pair later offered "What's Going On" to Marvin Gaye, who jumped at the chance to record the song, despite Berry Gordy Jr.’s protests. Gordy famously said, "Marvin, don't be ridiculous. That's taking things too far." Undeterred, Gaye re-worked and recorded "What's Going On" and presented it to Gordy, who said it was "the worst thing I ever heard in my life." He didn’t want to release it. Gaye threatened to never record another song for Motown unless they released the song; the record label eventually released it under the subsidiary Tamla Records.

"What’s Going On" would go on to be a hit song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100; in 2011, Rolling Stone ranked it #4 on the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time list.

8. “WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME” // U2

According to Rolling Stone, as U2 was working on their album The Joshua Tree, the Edge decided to compose “the ultimate U2 live song,” emerging with the idea of “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Or at least parts of it.

According to bassist Adam Clayton, the Edge “had the beginning and the end but he didn’t really have the bit in the middle, so we would spend interminable hours figuring out chord changes to get the two bits to join up.” And those hours started to weigh heavily on producer Brian Eno.

Eno decided that everyone would be best served if an “accident” was arranged that erased the tapes of the song, although relevant parties have suggested different motivations for the action. Rolling Stone quotes fellow producer Daniel Lanois as saying that “Brian thought if he could just erase it from the tapes we could stop working on it ... I'm sure they would have just come up with another song.”

Meanwhile, Eno has said that he felt fixing up the song would go much faster if they could restart work with a completely blank slate. Either way, he wasn’t successful in erasing the tapes (some witnesses claimed that Eno “almost had to be restrained, forcibly, by the tape op”), and the eventual music video would go on to win a Grammy and the song became a live performance classic.

9. “LIKE A ROLLING STONE” // BOB DYLAN

In 2011, Rolling Stone named Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” the greatest song of all time, and it is one of the most influential parts of a legendary opus that garnered Dylan a Nobel Prize in Literature. But writing in the The New York Times, Shaun Considine, then-coordinator of new releases at Columbia, said it was almost shelved.

According to Considine, the song was a hit among the artists and repertoire department and promotion department, but the sales and marketing department had a different view. On one level they objected to rock ’n’ roll, although the stated problem was with the six-minute runtime, so the executives wanted to cut the song in half.

This was a period of upheaval at Columbia, so Considine explains that “the single was to be moved from an ‘immediate special’ to an ‘unassigned release.’ Translated, it was in limbo, soon to be dropped, no doubt, into the dark graveyard of canceled releases.”

Considine then takes credit for saving it, saying he took the studio cut acetate to a trendy Manhattan club where everyone immediately loved it. At the club were two of the most powerful radio figures in New York, who demanded the record. Columbia obliged—splitting it in two, three minutes on one side of the 45, three minutes on the other. DJs responded by splicing the two sides together, and the complete song was broadcast to the world. When the single was released soon after it was the full version, and a music revolution had begun.

10. “SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW” // GOTYE FEATURING KIMBRA

According to Australian singer/songwriter Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know” was a tough song to write and record. He hit a roadblock when he was penning it—he couldn’t figure out how to finish the story about a bad breakup he was trying to tell in the song. “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,'” Gotye—whose real name is Wouter De Backer—told the Herald Sun. “It felt weak.”

But he powered through—only to run into another roadblock during recording. The original “high-profile” female vocalist he booked for the recording session backed out at the last minute and he couldn’t find a suitable replacement. He even tried his girlfriend for the second vocal, but they couldn’t capture the bitterness the song required. “I was so close to putting [the song] in the too hard basket," he said. "I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be, that the album was pretty good without it."

On his producer’s recommendation, Gotye brought on New Zealand singer Kimbra to record the song, which went on to be a massive worldwide hit for Gotye: It sold more than 7.9 million copies in the United States alone.

12 Facts About Revenge of the Nerds For Its 35th Anniversary

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In the summer of 1984, nerds were mainly perceived as guys who wore pocket protectors and had tape on their glasses. But in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was inventing the type of nerd culture we’re familiar with today. Decades later, nerds rule the world.

Revenge of the Nerds starred then-unknowns Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, James Cromwell, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, and Timothy Busfield. In the movie, the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity bullies the geeks on the campus of Adams College, so to fight back, they form a frat chapter under black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs), and take down the jocks. The movie’s plot and title come from a magazine article published around that time about Silicon Valley innovators—who just happened to be nerds.

The film, which was budgeted at $6 million, only opened on 364 screens (it eventually expanded to 877). Somehow the movie had legs and grossed $40,874,452 at the box office and ranked as the 16th highest-grossing film of 1984. It was successful enough to spawn three sequels, none of which were as popular as the original. To celebrate Revenge of the Nerds' 35th anniversary, here are some geeky facts about the underdog comedy.

1. Greek officials at the University of Arizona objected to the movie being filmed on their campus.

The movie filmed at the University of Arizona, and involved the college’s Greek system. The Greek officials didn’t want the movie to be another Animal House, so they threatened to halt production. “We meet with the sororities, and we’re worried we’re about to deal with a bunch of feminists who are pissed because this is a fairly sexist movie,” the film’s director, Jeff Kanew, told the Arizona Daily Star. “I just say to them, ‘Look, I have kids, and I’ll tell you now, I’d let them see this movie. It’s about the triumph of the underdog, not judging a book by its cover. This is a good movie.’” The filmmakers won, and the Greeks allowed them to film there.

2. The set was one big party.

Ted McGinley—who played Alpha Beta honcho Stan Gable—told The A.V. Club: “I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds.” Kanew cast him because he saw him on the cover of a Men of USC calendar, sold at the University of Arizona bookstore. His good looks attracted “hot girls” from the UofA campus to watch the dailies with the cast and crew. “They had beer and pizza and sandwiches,” McGinley said. “I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. It was just so much fun, and I thought, ‘It can’t be better than this!’”

3. Curtis Armstrong knew it would be a good movie, even though his character wasn't fully fleshed out.

Curtis Armstrong filmed Risky Business but then was unemployed for a year before he got Revenge of the Nerds. “You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “What was there was just, ‘We’ve got b*sh!’ and ‘Mother’s little d**chebag’—those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?’”

With its strong cast, writers, and director, Armstrong said, “It has to be a good movie. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.”

4. The scenes between Booger and Takashi were improvised.

The actors would bring ideas to the director and vice versa, creating a lot of improvisation in the movie. In one scene, Booger and Takashi (Brian Tochi) engage in a friendly game of cards. But unbeknownst to Takashi, Booger tricks him. “We ran and got our cots, and Brian and I were next to each other,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way.”

The production asked the guys to “come up with something” for them to film. “We had nothing at all!” Armstrong said. “We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger’s whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else.”

5. Lambda Lambda Lambda exists in real life.

On January 15, 2006, the University of Connecticut founded the co-ed social fraternity. It’s “unaffiliated with Greek Life” and is “dedicated to the enjoyment and enrichment of pop culture and to the brotherhood of its members. Tri-Lambs does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, class, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

6. Booger's belch came from a camel.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Booger and Ogre compete in a belching contest. Booger takes a swig of beer and lets out a robust seven-second belch and wins the contest. But the effects were added in post-production. “I can’t even belch on command,” Armstrong told USA Today. “If you said to me, ‘Can you belch now?' I couldn’t do it.”

To make up for Armstrong’s dearth of gas, “They wound up finding a recording of a camel having an orgasm,” Armstrong said. “They took this sound and blended it in with a human belch.”

7. Curtis Armstrong wrote a bio for Booger, but it turned out to be about himself.

Because his character wasn’t fully developed, Armstrong wrote a one-page bio for Booger. Years later he re-read the bio and realized he and Booger had similarities. “I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “[One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he’s] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.”

8. A Dallas test screening almost killed Revenge of the Nerds.

The film tested well in Las Vegas—an 85—but when the Fox executives took the movie to Dallas, the number dipped. “You’re gonna send us to Dallas to screen a movie that celebrates nerds and in which the black guys intimidate the white football players?!” director Kanew told the Arizona Daily Star. The movie scored in the 60s, which caused Fox to cut marketing for the film and only release it on 364 screens. “I don’t really understand what happened, but it hung around and grew and grew and grew,” Kanew said.

9. Poindexter was originally named after a prop guy.

When Timothy Busfield auditioned for the movie, his character didn’t have many lines, so he had to read Lamar’s lines. At the time, the character was named Lipschultz, after the prop guy. All that was written for the character description was “a violin-playing Henry Kissinger.”

“There was one line Lipschultz had in the original, but our prop guy was named Lipschultz, and he didn’t like the fact that there was a nerd named Lipschultz, so they changed it to Poindexter,” Busfield said during a San Francisco Sketchfest Nerds reunion. Busfield found Poindexter’s costume at a thrift store and showed up to the audition with his hair parted, and danced to “Beat It.”

10. The sequel to Revenge of the Nerds afforded Anythony Edwards a pool.

Anthony Edwards told The A.V. Club that he didn’t want to appear in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, but acquiesced because the producers talked him into it. He’s hardly in the film, but the money he earned afforded him a simple luxury. “I ended up with a pool in my backyard that I called the Revenge of the Nerds II pool,” Edwards said. “Not that I’m complaining, but they seriously overpaid me for my weeks of work on the film, so I used it to put in a pool.”

11. A remake (thankfully) got shut down.

After two weeks of filming in the fall of 2006, a Revenge of the Nerds remake stopped production. Emory University in Atlanta pulled out of filming, but according to Variety, the real reason was because a Fox Atomic executive “was not completely satisfied with the dailies.” The cast included Adam Brody and Jenna Dewan.

12. Revenge of the Nerds pushed nerdom into the mainstream.

“I’m not going to say Revenge of the Nerds was responsible for everything in nerd culture, but I do think you could make an argument that that attitude began with the last scene in Revenge,” Armstrong told HuffPost. “The last scene—the scene I probably love above all in that movie—we’re at the pep rally and come out in front of everybody as nerds, and encourage these people of different generations to join them in their nerdness. I get teary thinking about it, and you could certainly make an argument that that was the beginning of embracing nerd culture by everybody.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

The Office Star Ellie Kemper Wants to Do a Reunion Episode

NBC - NBCUniversal Media
NBC - NBCUniversal Media

While rumors of The Office getting a reboot have been swirling around for years, the outlook on that happening any time soon doesn't look good. But a reunion episode might just be possible.

Ellie Kemper, who played Erin Hannon in the beloved series, recently stopped by Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen to dish about the sitcom and her thoughts on whether it might be making a return to the small screen: "I would love there to be a reboot, but I don't think there will be. So, that's a sad answer," Kemper admitted. "But maybe like a reunion episode? That would be fun."

E! News reports that Kemper isn’t the only cast member that wants to get the band back together. Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly, also thinks a reunion episode would be a hit. “I think it's a great idea," Fischer said in 2018. "I would be honored to come back in any way that I'm able to.”

A key player in the series' success, however, is not so enthusiastic about the idea. Steve Carell, who played the infamous Michael Scott, doesn’t think a revival would be well-received. "The climate's different," Carell told Esquire back in 2018. "I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he's certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That's the point, you know? But I just don't know how that would fly now.”

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