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

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.

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The 25 Best Movies to Stream Right Now
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in The Lobster (2015).
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in The Lobster (2015).
A24

An incredible amount of entertainment is at our fingertips now, which causes an unfortunate conundrum: water everywhere and not a drop to drink. There’s so much on offer that we end up scrolling endlessly through vast online libraries of enticing movies, plagued by the burden of choice until we give up and wash the dishes.

Instead of resorting to household chores, here’s a tidy list of excellent films worth considering before you’re blinded by the infinite streaming options on the main Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime screens. Pick one from this concise list, and fear option paralysis no longer.

1. 13TH (2016)

Ava DuVernay’s primal scream in documentary form chronicles the American prison system through the lens of historical racial inequality. It’s as informative as it is enraging.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. AIRPLANE! (1980)

A classic parody of disaster movies that places Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen into the cockpit. Surely, you can’t pass up streaming this one.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)

Hilarious, heartfelt, epic, and intimate, this story of an all-female baseball team during World War II is one of the best movies of the modern era. It also taught us that there’s no crying in baseball.

Where to watch it: Hulu

4. THE BIG SICK (2017)

The breakout romantic comedy of 2017, Kumail Nanjiani stars as a wannabe stand-up comic who falls for a PhD student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) despite his parents wanting him to have a traditional Pakistani arranged marriage. It’s a fantastic (and partly autobiographical) film that was written by Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. But there’s no shame in watching it solely for Holly Hunter.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

5. A GHOST STORY (2017)

Another hit from last year’s Sundance Film Festival, this meditation on grief will either completely entrance you or leave you ice cold. Starring Rooney Mara (eating pie for the first time in her life) and Casey Affleck (who spends most of the movie under a sheet), it’s a divisive but profoundly rewarding experience.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

6. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

Inventive and incendiary, this novel adaptation breathes new life into the stumbling zombie genre. In a post-apocalyptic Britain, a group of hybrid children who salivate for human flesh but also have the ability to learn is held captive so that the military can workshop a cure and study their behavior. The brightest among them, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), plots her escape.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

7. THE GODFATHER (1972) AND THE GODFATHER II (1974)

Don’t think of it as a double feature of two of the best movies of all time. Think of it as a singular, six-and-a-half-hour experience with a brief intermission. And if you’ve got an entire day to kill, let The Godfather III pull you back in.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE INDIANA JONES QUADRILOGY (1981 - 2008)

All four Indy movies—from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—are available on Amazon, which means you can spend an entire day trying to retrieve mythic treasures before Gestapo officers get their mitts on them. Just watch out for snakes …

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

9. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Speaking of treks into the past, Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-hunting, scalp-retrieving mission is available to stream without the danger of highly flammable nitrate film reels. Our introduction to Christoph Waltz as a charming villain, who faces off against Brad Pitt’s American GI and Mélanie Laurent’s French Jewish cinema owner as everyone tries to kill Hitler.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. THE LOBSTER (2015)

In the world of Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2016 film, being single is illegal, which is why Colin Farrell’s David must find a life mate in 45 days or be turned into an animal of his choosing. The comedy is as dry as a salt lick in the Sahara, and the dystopian vision is absurd, which allows this story to prove just how strange love can be.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

11. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (2017)

Noah Baumbach has earned a reputation for digging 10 feet deep into his characters and leaving their hearts exposed for us. In his latest, Adam Sandler stars as an unemployed divorcee who moves in with his father (Dustin Hoffman) and navigates relationships with his sister, half-brother, and daughter, while juggling a difficult diagnosis.

Where to watch it: Netflix

12. MOONLIGHT (2016)

A trailblazer and last year’s Best Picture winner, Barry Jenkins’s film chronicles the life of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) as he grows up under the burden of his own and others’ responses to his homosexuality. It’s a stirring portrait anchored by phenomenal performances (including an Oscar-earning turn from Mahershala Ali).

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

13. MUDBOUND (2017)

It’s amazing that we can watch a few awards season favorites from our couch, but with Netflix and Amazon pushing for more original content, you can expect that to become the norm. One of the very best of 2017 (and certainly the best ensemble), Dee Rees’s exceptional film weaves together the lives of one white family and one black family in WWII-era Mississippi to both joyous and tragic effect.

Where to watch it: Netflix

14. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

Invite your friends over and bet them all the money in your pocket that Tim Burton didn’t direct this holiday classic, where Jack Skellington tries to take over Santa’s job. You’ll have a creepy fun sing-a-long, and you’ll win your friends’ money.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. OKJA (2017)

If you didn’t think the adventure of a young girl and her super pig could make you pump your fist in the air, it’s time to check out this quirky firecracker from Bong Joon-ho. Thought-provoking and breathtaking? That’ll do, super pig.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. PADDINGTON (2014)

The sequel to this animated hit is in theaters now, offering fans even more uplifting, good-spirited thrills. The original sees the adorable bear on a slap-stick ride through London. Don’t forget the marmalade!

Where to watch it: Netflix

17. THE PRESTIGE (2006)

Christopher Nolan’s poetic and exciting exploration of the antique world of stage magic and Tesla-fueled wizardry hides its tricks in plain sight and still manages to confound. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman star as dueling conjurers with a deadly serious rivalry. 

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. SCREAM (1996)

Wes Craven riffing on Wes Craven, this is the ultra-rare horror film that manages to mock the genre while getting the blood pumping in terror. Come for the slasher brilliance, stay for the 1990s fashion and lack of cell phones.

Where to watch it: Hulu

19. SICARIO (2015)

In this gripping crime drama, Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent struggling with the abandonment of ethics apparently necessary in taking down a Mexican drug lord. It’s a showcase of intense talent, from Blunt to director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) to cinematographer Roger Deakins (whose career is too long and impressive to condense).

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

20. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Serial killer perfection. Jonathan Demme managed to create a incredible thriller, detective yarn, and horror film all in one. Of course, Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling is a quiet tornado at the dark center of this murder mystery, even if Anthony Hopkins gets to chew more scenery. Did you know it was released on Valentine’s Day?

Where to watch it: Hulu

21. SUNSET BLVD. (1950)

Perhaps the greatest film noir of all time, Billy Wilder’s cinematic stick of dynamite features a formerly famous actress (who’s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille) and a hack screenwriter whose relationship with her ultimately leads to him floating the wrong way up in her swimming pool.

Where to watch it: Netflix

22. SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)

Vibrant, effervescent, and deeply weird, Paul Dano stars in this musical collage as a depressed loner stranded on an island until he finds a talking, farting corpse played by a very post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe. They save one another and, together, attempt to get back to civilization while singing the praises of Jurassic Park.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

23. THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998)

Unmistakably hopeful and humane, Peter Weir’s sci-fi film stars Jim Carrey as a naïve man who has lived since birth as the only person on a reality show who isn’t in on the reality. Blending philosophy and reality TV together is a feat on its own, but the movie is also fantastically entertaining.

Where to watch it: Netflix

24. THE WITCH (2015)

Delicately crafted with an eye toward historical accuracy, this existential horror film focuses on a New England farming family in the wilds of 1630 who believe a witch has cursed them. Anya Taylor-Joy’s standout performance acts as a guide through the possessed-goat-filled insanity.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

25. ZODIAC (2007)

The product of David Fincher’s notorious perfectionism, this deep dive into the unsolved case of a series of brutal crimes in the San Francisco Bay Area explores the depths of humanity’s depravity as well as its capacity for seeking justice. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking with powerful turns from Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

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The Jim Henson Company
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The Dark Crystal Is Coming Back to Theaters
The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

In 1982, Jim Henson and Frank Oz dared to venture into somewhat gloomier territory with the release of The Dark Crystal. Though the film, which centers on two Gelflings (a sort of creepy elf-like creature) attempting to save their species and restore peace to the world, wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, it has developed a large cult following in the more than 35 years since its release—even among those kids it scared the hell out of back in the day. Now, as Netflix preps its prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, for release later this year, Nerdist reports that the original film will make its way back into theaters next month.

As part of Fathom Events’s ongoing effort to breathe big-screen life back into classic films with limited releases across the country, The Dark Crystal will be playing in more than 500 theaters nationwide on February 25 and February 28. In addition to the original film, the screenings will also feature a brand-new introduction courtesy of Lisa Henson, Jim’s daughter and current president/CEO of The Jim Henson Company, who will talk about the making of the film and how it fit within her father's creative legacy.

To find out whether The Dark Crystal will be coming back to a theater near you, log onto Fathom’s web page for the movie and type in your ZIP code; tickets are on sale now.

[h/t: Nerdist]

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