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9 Songs That Weren’t Supposed to Be Big Hits

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It’s tough enough for a song to become a worldwide smash, but what about those songs that became hits without industry support? Or that weren’t even supposed to be singles in the first place? These nine songs managed to top the charts despite the odds.

1. "ERUPTION" // VAN HALEN

No song exemplifies Eddie Van Halen’s technical prowess and all-around musical genius like this one-and-a-half-minute instrumental. But the song wasn’t meant for public consumption when it was first recorded. Van Halen was simply warming up early one morning in the studio, and producer Ted Templeman decided to put the exercise on tape. The producer decided to include the recording as-is on the band’s 1978 self-titled debut—to the chagrin of the guitarist, who later said, "To this day, whenever I hear it, I always think, 'Man, I could’ve played it better.'" Fans don’t seem to agree: The track is consistently voted as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.

2. "SWEET CHILD O' MINE" // GUNS N' ROSES

One of Guns n' Roses' most memorable riffs was also the result of a warm-up. While hanging out during preproduction for the band’s 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, Slash started noodling around with a string-skipping exercise. Axl Rose overheard the resulting riff, and the following day during rehearsal, he coaxed his reluctant guitarist into replaying the melody and started singing along. The final product stayed at No. 1 for two weeks in 1988.

3. "APPLAUSE" // LADY GAGA

Gaga wrote somewhere in the vicinity of 100 songs for her 2013 effort, ARTPOP, and claims this song almost missed the cut. It was Interscope Record head Jimmy Iovine who ID’d the track as the album’s first single, after hearing it during a listening session of 40 ARTPOP contenders. As usual for the record-biz veteran, his instincts were right: The song went all the way to No. 4.

4. "ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST" // QUEEN

Queen didn’t originally intend to release this sparse, groove-laden recording as a single. Drummer Roger Taylor even went so far as to say "That will never be a hit," of the cut off 1980’s The Game. It was Michael Jackson, visiting the band backstage after an L.A. show, who convinced the band otherwise. The King of Pop knew what he was talking about: The song went to No. 1 and remains Queen's best-selling single in the States.

5. "THRIFT SHOP" // MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS

By all rights, this Grammy-winning hip-hop gem never should have been a single, let alone a No. 1 hit. The Seattle-based duo self-released their recording in August 2012, as the fourth single off their album The Heist. After six months of building a devoted following through touring and social media (and without any mainstream promotion), the song finally hit the top of the charts in February 2013.

6. "STAY (I MISSED YOU)" // LISA LOEB

Macklemore was the first label-less artist to go to No. 1 since 1994, when Lisa Loeb did the same thing with the lead-off single from the Reality Bites soundtrack. Were it not for the fact that she was friends and neighbors with the film’s star, Ethan Hawke, who pressed for the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack, the singer-songwriter might still be toiling in obscurity.

7. "LOSER" // BECK

When Beck recorded this song in 1991, he never intended it to be a Gen X anthem. Instead, he was merely trying out some raps to impress producer Karl Stephenson, at whose house he was recording at the time. Perhaps influenced by Stephenson’s hip-hop ties, the then-unknown singer, who did occasionally rap during his shows between songs, freestyled some lyrics in the spirit of Public Enemy. The song’s famous chorus—"I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me"—was Beck’s response to hearing his attempt played back to him; as he later said, "When they played it back, I was like, 'I’m the worst rapper!'" Three years later, the song went into heavy rotation on radio and MTV, and those lyrics became the poster song for a new genre called "slacker rock."

8. "YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET" // BACHMAN TURNER OVERDRIVE

The lyrics to BTO’s 1974 No. 1 hit were as much a goof as those in "Loser." Randy Bachman, while producing BTO’s third album, Not Fragile, used the song as an instrumental to test out the equipment in the studio, perfecting the sound for the tracks actually intended for the record. The lyrics were something he’d sung off the cuff, stuttering as a gentle poke at his brother, who was known for having an actual stutter. But when Mercury Records head Charlie Fach heard the song while looking for the band's next single, he knew he’d found a hit and insisted they include it on the album. According to Bachman, the song appears—at Fach’s insistence—exactly as it was when they used it to test the studio, despite the guitars being out of tune!

9. "CHERRY PIE" // WARRANT

This 1990 hit also wouldn’t have existed if not for the label’s insistence—literally. Warrant were all set to hand over their second album to Columbia Records when label president Don Ienner called requesting another track. Ienner was looking for a massive hit—"another 'Love In An Elevator,'" according to Warrant singer Jani Lane—and hadn’t heard one on the record as it stood. Lane responded by writing "Cherry Pie" overnight. The song went to No. 1 and remains one of Warrant’s best-known contributions, but because of its history, it’s never sat well with the band. Lane even went so far as to tell VH1, "I could shoot myself in the f**king head for writing that song."

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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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30 Fierce Barbra Streisand Quotes
Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images
Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images

Barbra Streisand is an artist of many talents. In addition to her famed singing and songwriting career, she’s also a celebrated actress and filmmaker with a host of accolades and awards—including two Oscars, nine Golden Globes, 10 Grammys, six Emmys, and one Tony—on her resume (so far). While Streisand, who turns 76 years old today, may be one of the best-selling artists of all time, what truly makes her memorable is her total originality. While her creative talents made her a star, her no-nonsense attitude has made her an icon, as evidenced by the quotes below.

1. ON HER WILD YOUTH.

“I was kind of a wild child. I wasn't taught the niceties of life.”

2. ON PURSUING YOUR DREAMS.

“As a young woman, I wanted nothing more than to see my name in lights.”

3. ON REMAINING TRUE TO ONESELF.

“I arrived in Hollywood without having my nose fixed, my teeth capped, or my name changed. That is very gratifying to me.”

4. ON INSTINCT.

“I go by instinct—I don't worry about experience.”

5. ON BEING CONTRADICTORY.

Barbra Streisand on stage
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

“I was a personality before I became a person—I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.”

6. ON TRUSTING YOURSELF.

“You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”

7. ON THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS.

“Success to me is having 10 honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each slice.”

8. ON APPLAUSE.

“What does it mean when people applaud? Should I give 'em money? Say thank you? Lift my dress? The lack of applause—that I can respond to.”

9. ON BAD REVIEWS.

“I wish I could be like [George Bernard] Shaw, who once read a bad review of one of his plays, called the critic, and said: 'I have your review in front of me and soon it will be behind me.’”

10. ON THE DEFINITION OF “EGO.”

Barbra Streisand addresses her fans
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

“To have ego means to believe in your own strength. And to also be open to other people's views. It is to be open, not closed. So, yes, my ego is big, but it's also very small in some areas. My ego is responsible for my doing what I do—bad or good.”

11. ON DOUBLE STANDARDS.

“Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work.”

12. ON SAYING WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND.

“I knew that with a mouth like mine, I just had to be a star or something.”

13. ON THE LESS GLAMOROUS SIDE OF SHOW BUSINESS.

“I don't enjoy public performances and being up on a stage. I don't enjoy the glamour. Like tonight, I am up on stage and my feet hurt.”

14. ON GETTING IT RIGHT.

“I don't care what you say about me. Just be sure to spell my name wrong.”

15. ON FOLLOWING YOUR HEART.

A photo of Barbra Streisand
Harry Benson, Express/Getty Images

“Nobody on this earth has the right to tell anyone that their love for another human being is morally wrong.”

16. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH.

“I can take any truth; just don't lie to me.”

17. ON KEEPING IT SIMPLE.

“I like simple things. Elastic waists, so I can eat.”

18. ON WHY BEING “DIFFICULT” CAN BE A GOOD THING.

“I've been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.”

19. ON LIMITATIONS.

“I just don't want to be hampered by my own limitations.”

20. ON THE TRUTHFULNESS OF AN AUDIENCE.

"The audience is the best judge of anything. They cannot be lied to. Truth brings them closer. A moment that lags—they're gonna cough.”

21. ON FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH.

Barbra Streisand and James Brolin
Sonia Moskowitz, Getty Images

“What is exciting is not for one person to be stronger than the other ... but for two people to have met their match and yet they are equally as stubborn, as obstinate, as passionate, as crazy as the other.”

22. ON THE FUTILITY OF MYTHS.

“Myths are a waste of time. They prevent progression.”

23. ON THE NATURE OF PERFORMING.

“Performing, for me, has always been a very inner process.”

24. ON THE DOWNSIDE OF STARDOM.

“I think when I was younger, I wanted to be a star, until I became a star, and then it's a lot of work. It's work to be a star. I don't enjoy the stardom part. I only enjoy the creative process.”

25. ON THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE.

“Sometimes you resent the people you love and need the most. Love is so fascinating in all its forms, and I think everyone who has ever been a mother will relate to this.”

26. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOUBTING YOURSELF.

Barbra Streisand poses for the press
Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

"Doubt can motivate you, so don't be afraid of it. Confidence and doubt are at two ends of the scale, and you need both. They balance each other out."

27. ON AMBITION.

"I've always liked working really hard and then doing nothing in particular. So, consequently, I didn't overexpose myself; I guess I maintained a kind of mystery. I wasn't ambitious."

28. ON CONSTANTLY EVOLVING.

“I'm a work in progress.”

29. ON HER FAMOUS NOSE.

“I've considered having my nose fixed. But I didn't trust anyone enough. If I could do it myself with a mirror.”

30. ON BEING AN ORIGINAL.

Barbra Streisand with Barack Obama
Alex Wong, Getty Images

“I guess if you have an original take on life, or something about you is original, you don't have to study people who came before you. You don't have to mimic anybody. You just have a gut feeling inside, an instinct that tells you what's right for you, and you can't do it in any other way.”

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