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.

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Black Friday is finally here, and Amazon is offering great deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40)

- Keurig K-Cafe Special Edition; $190 (save $30)

- Ninja OS301 Foodi 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer; $125 (save $75)

- Nespresso Vertuo Next Coffee and Espresso Machine by Breville; $120 (save $60)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75)

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $80 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10)

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $16 (save $11)

- HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

- Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31)

- TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

- Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

- Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30)

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening; $40 (save $20)

- Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity; $50 (save $10)

- Marvel's Avengers; $25 (save $33)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

- The Sims 4; $24 (save $20)

- God of Warfor PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

- Days Gonefor PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

- Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250)

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $335 (save $64)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $120 (save $79)

- Seneo Wireless Charger, 3 in 1 Wireless Charging Station; $16 (save $10)

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

- DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones; $120 (Save $80)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $175 (save $75)

- JBL Boombox; $280 (save $120)

Movies and TV

HBO/Amazon

- Game of Thrones: The Complete Series; $115 (save $89)

- Jurassic World 5-Movie Set; $23 (save $37)

- Deadwood: The Complete Series; $42 (save $28)

- Back to the Future Trilogy; $15 (save $21)

Toys and Games

Amazon

- Awkward Family Photos Greatest Hits; $15 (save $10)

- Exploding Kittens Card Game; $10 (save $10)

- Cards Against Humanity: Hidden Gems Bundle; $14 (save $5)

- LOL Surprise OMG Remix Pop B.B. Fashion Doll; $29 (save $6)

- LEGO Ideas Ship in a Bottle 92177 Expert Building Kit; $56 (save $14)

Furniture

Casper/Amazon

- Casper Sleep Element Queen Mattress; $476 (save $119)

- ZINUS Alexis Deluxe Wood Platform Bed Frame; $135 (save $24)

- ROMOON Dresser Organizer with 5 Drawers; $59 (save $11) 

- AmazonBasics Room Darkening Blackout Window Curtains; $26 (save $5)

- Writing Desk by Caffoz; $119 (save $21)

- SPACE Seating Office Support Managers Chair; $112 (save $116)

- Rivet Globe Stick Table Lamp; $53 (save $17)

- Christopher Knight Home Merel Mid-Century Modern Club Chair; $188 (save $10)

- Walker Edison Furniture Industrial Rectangular Coffee Table; $121 (save $48)

Beauty

Haus/Amazon

- MySmile Teeth Whitening Kit with LED Light; $21 (save $12) 

- Cliganic USDA Organic Lip Balms Set of Six; $6 (save $4)

- HAUS LABORATORIES By Lady Gaga: LE RIOT LIP GLOSS; $7 (save $11)

- Native Deodorant for Men and Women Set of Three; $25 (save $11) 

- BAIMEI Rose Quartz Jade Roller & Gua Sha; $14 (save $3)

- Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Pure Retinol and Salicylic Acid; $20 (save $8)

- WOW Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and Hair Conditioner Set; $30 (save $5) 

- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser; $15 (save $5)

- wet n wild Bretman Rock Shadow Palette; $9 (save $6)

- EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Face Sunscreen Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid; $25 (save $6)

Clothes

Ganni/Amazon

- Ganni Women's Crispy Jacquard Dress; $200 (save $86) 

- The Drop Women's Maya Silky Slip Skirt; $36 (save $9)

- Steve Madden Women's Editor Boot; $80 (save $30)

- adidas Women's Roguera Cross Trainer; $40 (save $25)

- Line & Dot Women's Elizabeth Sweater; $74 (save $18)

- Levi's Men's Sherpa Trucker Jacket; $57 (save $41)

- Adidas Men's Essentials 3-Stripes Tapered Training Joggers Sweatpants; $28 (save $12)

- Timex Men's Weekender XL 43mm Watch; $32 (save $20)

- Ray-Ban Unisex-Adult Hexagonal Flat Lenses Sunglasses; $108 (save $46) 

- Reebok Men's Flashfilm Train Cross Trainer; $64 (save $16)

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12 Spirited Facts About How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Each year, millions of Americans welcome the holiday season by tuning into their favorite TV specials. For most people, this includes at least one viewing of the 1966 animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Adapted from Dr. Seuss’s equally famous children’s book by legendary animator Chuck Jones, How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired more than 50 years ago, on December 18, 1966. Here are 12 facts about the TV special that will surely make your heart grow three sizes this holiday season.

1. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel And Chuck Jones previously worked together on Army training videos.

During World War II, Geisel joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as commander of the Animation Department for the First Motion Picture Unit, a unit tasked with creating various training and pro-war propaganda films. It was here that Geisel soon found himself working closely with Chuck Jones on an instructional cartoon called Private Snafu. Originally classified as for-military-personnel-only, Private Snafu featured a bumbling protagonist who helped illustrate the dos and don’ts of Army safety and security protocols.

2. It was because of their previous working relationship that Ted Geisel agreed to hand over the rights to The Grinch to Chuck Jones.

After several unpleasant encounters in relation to his previous film work—including the removal of his name from credits and instances of pirated redistribution—Geisel became notoriously “anti-Hollywood.” Because of this, he was reluctant to sell the rights to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. However, when Jones personally approached him about making an adaptation, Geisel relented, knowing he could trust Jones and his vision.

3. Even with Ted Geisel’s approval, the special almost didn’t happen.

By Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Whereas today’s studios and production companies provide funding for projects of interest, television specials of the past, like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, had to rely on company sponsorship in order to get made. While A Charlie Brown Christmas found its financier in the form of Coca-Cola, How the Grinch Stole Christmas struggled to find a benefactor. With storyboards in hand, Jones pitched the story to more than two dozen potential sponsors—breakfast foods, candy companies, and the like—all without any luck. Down to the wire, Jones finally found his sponsor in an unlikely source: the Foundation for Commercial Banks. “I thought that was very odd, because one of the great lines in there is that the Grinch says, ‘Perhaps Christmas doesn’t come from a store,’” Jones said of the surprise endorsement. “I never thought of a banker endorsing that kind of a line. But they overlooked it, so we went ahead and made the picture.”

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas had a massive budget.

Coming in at over $300,000, or $2.2 million in today’s dollars, the special’s budget was unheard of at the time for a 26-minute cartoon adaptation. For comparison’s sake, A Charlie Brown Christmas’s budget was reported as $96,000, or roughly $722,000 today (and this was after production had gone $20,000 over the original budget).

5. Ted Geisel wrote the song lyrics for the special.

No one had a way with words quite like Dr. Seuss, so Jones felt that Geisel should provide the lyrics to the songs featured in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

6. Fans requested translations of the “Fahoo Foraze” song.

True to his persona’s tongue-twisting trickery, Geisel mimicked sounds of classical Latin in his nonsensical lyrics. After the special aired, viewers wrote to the network requesting translations of the song as they were convinced that the lyrics were, in fact, real Latin phrases.

7. Thurl Ravenscroft didn’t receive credit for his singing of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The famous voice actor and singer, best known for providing the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, wasn’t recognized for his work in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Because of this, most viewers wrongly assumed that the narrator of the special, Boris Karloff, also sang the piece in question. Upset by this oversight, Geisel personally apologized to Ravenscroft and vowed to make amends. Geisel went on to pen a letter, urging all the major columnists that he knew to help him rectify the mistake by issuing a notice of correction in their publications.

8. Chuck Jones had to find ways to fill out the 26-minute time slot.

Because reading the book out loud only takes about 12 minutes, Jones was faced with the challenge of extending the story. For this, he turned to Max the dog. “That whole center section where Max is tied up to the sleigh, and goes down through the mountainside, and has all those problems getting down there, was good comic business as it turns out,” Jones explained in TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas special, which is a special feature on the movie’s DVD. “But it was all added; it was not part of the book.” Jones would go on to name Max as his favorite character from the special, as he felt that he directly represented the audience.

9. The Grinch’s green coloring was inspired by a rental car.

Warner Home Video

In the original book, the Grinch is illustrated as black and white, with hints of pink and red. Rumor has it that Jones was inspired to give the Grinch his iconic coloring after he rented a car that was painted an ugly shade of green.

10. Ted Geisel thought the Grinch looked like Chuck Jones.

When Geisel first saw Jones’s drawings of the Grinch, he exclaimed, “That doesn’t look like the Grinch, that looks like you!” Jones’s response, according to TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas Special: “Well, it happens.”

11. At one point, the special received a “censored” edit.

Over the years, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been edited in order to shorten its running time (in order to allow for more commercials). However, one edit—which ran for several years—censored the line “You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch” from the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Additionally, the shot in which the Grinch smiles creepily just before approaching the bed filled with young Whos was deemed inappropriate for certain networks and was removed.

12. The special’s success led to both a prequel and a crossover special.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Given the popularity of the Christmas special, two more Grinch tales were produced: Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat. Airing on October 29, 1977, Halloween is Grinch Night tells the story of the Grinch making his way down to Whoville to scare all the Whos on Halloween. In The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat, which aired on May 20, 1982, the Grinch finds himself wanting to renew his mean spirit by picking on the Cat in the Hat. Unlike the original, neither special was deemed a classic. But this is not to say they weren’t well-received; in fact, both went on to win Emmy Awards.