18 Hugely Popular Songs That Were Originally Written For Someone Else

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Vote up the songs with the most surprising originally intended singers.

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.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • I Don't Want to Miss a Thing - Celine Dion
    Video: YouTube

    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."

    632 votes
  • Physical - Rod Stewart
    Video: YouTube

    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.

    393 votes
  • Golden Years - Elvis Presley
    Video: YouTube

    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.

    409 votes
  • ...Baby One More Time - TLC
    Video: YouTube

    Britney Spears quickly catapulted from sweet innocent Mouseketeer to sexy popstar with the 1998 smash hit "...Baby One More Time." However, songwriters Max Martin and Rami Yocoub originally wrote the song for the musical trio TLC. They both thought the tune would gel with the whole 1990s TLC vibe.

    Turns out the songwriters were wrong. But even though, "...Baby One More Time" went on to be a massive hit for Spears, T-Boz of TLC doesn't regret passing on the song.

    "I was like, I like the song but do I think it's a hit? Do I think it's TLC? I'm not saying 'hit me baby.' No disrespect to Britney," T-Boz said. "It's good for her. But was I going to say 'hit me baby one more time'? Hell no!"

    "That's not even my subject of conversation, so you know, it worked for her, I'm happy for her, I like Britney," T-Boz explained. "Every song isn't good for each artist, and when you're a real artist you know what you believe in and what you really want to sing. So, I'm clear that it was a hit, but I'm also clear that it wasn't for TLC."

    538 votes
  • 5
    374 VOTES

    Shape Of You - Rihanna

    Shape Of You - Rihanna
    Video: YouTube

    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."

    374 votes
  • Don't You (Forget About Me) - Billy Idol And Bryan Ferry
    Video: YouTube

    In 1985, songwriter Keith Forsey wrote a track for a John Hughes movie called The Breakfast Club. Forsey, a fan of Simple Minds, approached the band to see if they wanted to record "Don't You (Forget About Me)." The band turned him down, as did both Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry.

    Forsey later went back to Simple Minds and the band finally agreed to record the song. They rearranged it, recorded it, and then sort of forgot about it. That is until The Breakfast Club soundtrack exploded and the song became synonymous with the iconic teen movie. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" became an 80s anthem and reached No. 1 on the US Charts. Unfortunately for Simple Minds, they sort of hated the song that made them famous because it was such as big departure from the rest of their music.

    310 votes