Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if a song is going to be a hit, especially in an industry where songs are regularly written in the hopes that a major musician will want to sing them. It can be a real gamble. Songs intended for other artists are often passed up and taken to the next willing singer. For a few of these singers who passed up hit songs, it's sad to consider just how very different their careers would have been if they'd had those mega hits on their resumes.
Some of these popular songs written for different singers were penned by other popular artists. Ed Sheeran has done this, as has Prince, though sometimes a songwriter realizes they have a hit on their hands and keeps it for themselves instead. A few times a song was passed on to singers in an entirely different genre of music, which may account for why it ended up working so well.
Some of these hit songs intended musicians just sound like a crazy mismatch. Imagine Celine Dion singing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing" or Shawnna singing Kayne West’s “Gold Digger.” Here are even more hit songs originally written for other artists that are guaranteed to boggle your mind.
David Bowie was a huge Elvis Presley fan. The Thin White Duke reportedly wrote the song "Golden Years" for Elvis. One story is that Bowie asked his then-wife Angie to ask the King of Rock n' Roll if he wanted to record the song, but she was too nervous to deliver the request. There is also a story that Bowie did, in fact, ask Elvis to record the song, but the King turned him down and then died two years later.
It worked out for Bowie in the end. He recorded the song himself and put the tune on his 1975 album Station to Station. "Golden Years" reached Top 10 status in both the United States and around the world. It remains one of Bowie's most iconic songs.
In the late 1990s, Aerosmith was supposed to write a power ballad for the Armageddon soundtrack, a film starring Steven Tyler's daughter Liv. However, the band had just been out promoting their Nine Lives album and were pretty burnt out. Label executives brought in a few drafts of songs written by other songwriters, one of them was from power ballad writing queen Diane Warren called "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." The song had been originally marked for someone else (no one was saying whom) as a female piano ballad, but Aerosmith made a demo, and the label loved it.
Even if music executives were not willing to share who the song was originally written for, Diane Warren did rather spill the beans in a 2016 interview. Warren got the idea for the song after hearing a story from an interview with Barbra Streisand's husband, who said that he did not like to go to sleep because he missed his wife. Warren originally had a female voice in mind but loved Tyler's take on her song:
"...when I wrote it I thought it would end up being like Celine Dion or somebody like that, you know, back in the day...but it's so much cooler to hear someone like Steven Tyler - this gruff, macho rock star, this amazing tough guy - for him to say that lyric, it just brought a whole other dimension to it. I don't think it would have been the same hit, or the same standard, if it wasn't for someone like Steven Tyler doing that song."
Songwriters Steven Kipner and Terry Shaddick originally had Rod Stewart in mind to sing their song "Physical." However, Olivia Newton-John was eventually pegged, and she put the song on her twelfth studio album Physical in 1981. When Entertainment Weekly asked the Australian-born singer if she knew that Stewart was originally asked to perform the song, she said she had no idea.
"Roger Davies was my manager at the time; he played it for me and I knew it was a very catchy song! Jon Farrar, my producer, and I stuck pretty close to the demo, although he added his amazing guitars. I wasn’t actually aware at the time that it was written for [Rod Stewart]. I must talk with him about it one day. Like, did he ever hear it?"
Not only did "Physical" produce quite an unforgettable and very 1980s music video, it sold over 2 million copies in the United States. It also spent 10 straight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became Newton-John's most popular song.
On paper, it seems that a song originally written for Rihanna would not work for a singer-songwriter type like Ed Sheeran. But an odd thing happened while Sheeran was writing "Shape of You." Half-way through the writing process, he knew that the song would not suit Rihanna, but would fit his own musical style.
Sheeran explained how the turn came about during an interview with BBC Radio1 Breakfast:
"...we were writing this song and I was like, 'this would really work for Rihanna.' And then I started singing lyrics like 'putting Van The Man on the jukebox' and I was like, 'well she’s not really going to sing that, is she?' And then we sort of decided halfway through that we were just going to make it for me."