10 Songs Written For One Artist, Ultimately Recorded By Another

Photo: Courtesy of Def Jam/SRP.
There's an old Yiddish expression, beshert, which translates as "meant to be." What the Ashkenazi Jews of the 9th century failed to identify is a term for when it's not meant to be. Such is the case for these 10 hit tracks and the artists for whom they were originally penned, yet, for whatever reason, ended up being recorded by someone else.
The stories behind why are often simple. Singer/songwriter Bonnie McKee gave us a prime example: “I was supposed to be writing a song for Rihanna with my friend Kelly Sheehan called 'How We Do.' They said it sounded too much like Katy [Perry], so it ended up in the hands of Rita Ora. So, Rita cut it, and it ended up being a number-one song.”
Sometimes it’s that cut and dry; other times it’s much more complicated — and often with accompanying fan folklore. After all, McKee notes, “It's fun to imagine a different voice on a song that we know and love." Here are 10 familiar songs that turned out to be beshert for someone else.
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Photo: Courtesy of Capitol Records.
"Teenage Dream"
Written for: Bonnie McKee
Recorded by: Katy Perry
Released: 2010

When it comes to unsung songwriters, Bonnie McKee is second only perhaps to Ester Dean (writer of “Rude Boy” for Rihanna and “Countdown” for Beyoncé). The ruby-haired scribe has written bangers for everyone from The Holy Spearit to Cher.

McKee has penned pretty much all of Katy Perry’s biggest hits — from her current single “Birthday” to the song that never stops playing in your head ("Roar"), to that other song that never stops playing in your head (“California Gurls”). Still, she favors one Perry jam in particular above the rest.

"I think 'Teenage Dream' is probably my best work. It was a really hard title for me to give up. I used a lot of Bonnie-isms in that song lyrically. It was difficult giving up some of those lyrics knowing I could never say ‘teenage’ again in my own lyrics," Bonnie explained. Fortunately, it was a friendly handover. “I'm lucky to have known Katy before she was famous. We were starving artists together. We met in a thrift store in L.A., Wasteland, selling clothes that they weren't buying, and we hit it off. So, it's nice to know that my best ideas are going to someone who deserves them and is going to do them justice.” Justice in this case proved to be a number-one global smash single.

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Photo: Courtesy of Arista.
"How Will I Know"
Written for: Janet Jackson
Recorded by: Whitney Houston
Released: 1985

American pop duo, Boy Meets Girl (George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam) cowrote "How Will I Know" for Janet Jackson. Jackson’s team, however, was not so impressed, feeling it was "too weak" in comparison to her other material like "What Have You Done For Me Lately" and "Nasty."

"We were pretty upset because we thought it was perfect for her at the time. We had written it with her completely in mind," Merrill explained Fred Bronson in his book The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits.

As luck would have it, Gerry Griffith, director for R&B music at Arista Records, heard the song and immediately thought of using it for Clive Davis-protégé Whitney Houston on her debut album. It took nine weeks, but the song made its way up the charts, comfortably landing at number one in February 1986. Here's Houston performing the song at the 1986 VMAs, the same night she walked away with Best Female Video (beating out Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, Grace Jones, and Tina Turner).

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Photo: Courtesy of Jive Records.
"Rock Your Body"
Offered to: Michael Jackson
Recorded by: Justin Timberlake
Released: 2002

Before Pharrell was making “Happy” music, shading a certain song from Frozen, and refusing to leave his fave Vivienne Westwood hat at home, he was one-half of production duo The Neptunes. Starting in 1992 (no, Pharrell does not age), the pair crafted hits for the likes of Prince, Janet Jackson, *NSYNC, Mariah, and Beyoncé.

The Neptunes also cooked up a bunch of material for Michael Jackson’s 2001 effort, Invincible. Unfortunately, Michael (or, more than likely, the record label) passed on these songs. They were eventually scooped up by a newly solo Justin Timberlake, who performed the song live during that infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show with Janet Jackson.

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Photo: Courtesy of Def Jam/SRP.
Written for: Chris Brown
Recorded by: Rihanna
Released: 2007

While some parts of their relationship remain "Nobody’s Business," it was all business (plus some canoodling) back in 2008 when Brown decided to pass on “Disturbia” for the re-release of his album, Exclusive. He thought the song was better suited for a female — specifically, Rihanna. Brown then backpedaled on the decision on his 2009 track, “Famous Girl."

"I might have cheated in the beginning/I was wrong for writing 'Disturbia'/But I meant it in 'Forever'/We were supposed to be together/And I can't let you go," he opined lyrically.

Well, his regret became Rihanna’s rapture when she boldly approached Def Jam CEO L.A. Reid and suggested releasing "Disturbia" as a follow-up single to "Take A Bow" on Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded. Great call, RiRi: The song achieved triple-platinum certification by the RIAA and sold nearly five-million copies worldwide.

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Photo: Courtesy of Interscope Records.
Written for: Britney Spears
Recorded by: Lady Gaga, featuring Beyoncé
Released: 2009

Before Gaga was all sick and tired of her phone r-ring-ing, and Bey was left feeling like she was stuck living in Grand Central Station, "Telephone" had another life. In August 2008, the song was offered to Britney Spears' management, who intended to release it as a bonus track on Blackout. It was ultimately left out because the album already had a song related to phones: the closer "Phonography."

Spears' leaked demo hit the web in May 2010, receiving immediate acclaim — after the “Is that really Britney?” chatter flatlined. Rolling Stone even weighed in on the demo: "Since Britney is the perfect pop star, and songs about telephones are always excellent, it's a just plain mathematical fact that Britney's 'Telephone' is a perfect pop song, and the world is an infinitely better place because it exists."

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Photo: Courtesy of Polydor Records/Chrysalis Records/Salsoul Records.
"Call Me"
Written for: Stevie Nicks
Recorded by: Blondie
Released: 1980

Legendary producer Giorgio Moroder knew he had a hit for the American Gigolo soundtrack on his hands with a rough instrumental demo titled "Man Machine." It just needed a vocalist. Stevie Nicks was forced to decline Moroder's offer to record the track because of a clause in her record contract prevented her from working with him, so Blondie swooped in.

It took just a few hours for Debbie Harry to add a melody and lyrics to the instrumental, and she retitled the song "Call Me." It spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and still has staying power as a karaoke staple. It's also been covered by everyone from Orange Is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria to Diana Ross’ soon-to-be daughter-in-law Ashlee Simpson.

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Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Records.
"Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Written for: Meat Loaf
Recorded by: Bonnie Tyler
Released: 1983

Long before Meat Loaf’s epic freak out on Celebrity Apprentice (“I bought those motherf***king sponges!”), he was a much gentler lug of a rocker. Coming off of the wild success of his collaborative album with composer John Steinman, Meat Loaf was set to record the Steinman-penned “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for his fourth album, Midnight at the Lost and Found. There was just one problem: Meat Loaf’s record company refused to pay Steinman for the contribution, wanting M.L. to pen all of his own songs to save money. So, the song was given to Bonnie Tyler, who had actually sought out Steinman to produce her album months earlier, after seeing Meat Loaf perform "Bat Out of Hell" on television. The song was a breakaway success, as was the video, which was filmed at Holloway Asylum in London, and then forever immortalized by this “literal interpretation."

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Photo: Courtesy of EMI.
Written for: Alicia Keys
Passed on to: Mary J. Blige
Recorded by: Sia
Released: 2011

Everyone's go-to songwriter/pop-star-who-doesn't-want-to-be-a-pop-star (and the reason why Lena Dunham gamely played with toilet paper on live television) Sia originally wrote the hook to the wailer "Titanium" for Alicia Keys. The song was then offered to Katy Perry, who passed because she thought it was too similar to her hit "Firework." Mary J. Blige then recorded a version that leaked online, only to have David Guetta remove Blige's vocal and replace it with Sia's original demo.

"I found out on Twitter that I was on the album," Sia recently explained to Howard Stern. She’s not a fan of EDM, and was initially bummed. But, Sia eventually came around to the fact that the album "had already been pressed," and that Guetta intended it as a compliment. Good call: The song spent a luxurious 36 weeks on the charts.

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Photo: Courtesy of RCA.
"Miss Independent"
Written for: Destiny's Child
Passed on to: Christina Aguilera
Recorded by: Kelly Clarkson
Released: 2003

Rhett Lawrence (producer of Mariah Carey's "Vision Of Love") wrote a song called "Miss Independence" for Destiny’s Child. But, destined to be it was not: The ladies turned down the song. After they passed, Lawrence brought it to Christina Aguilera and songwriter Matt Morris for her flaw-free sophomore album, Stripped. Aguilera partially recorded the song — omitting the bridge — before ultimately deciding to skip the track altogether.

The song was then sent to Kelly Clarkson, who reworked the lyrics and recorded it for her debut album, Thankful. In the process, she changed the song's title to “Miss Independent." Aguilera was less than pleased that the song had being taken from her without permission, but was quick to praise Clarkson on TRL: "If the song was to go to anyone I'm glad that it went to you because you gave it justice."

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Photo: Courtesy of Capitol Records.
"What's Love Got To Do With It"
Written for: Cliff Richard
Passed on to: Donna Summer
Recorded by: Tina Turner
Released: 1984

This song became Tina Turner’s most successful single to date, but "What’s Love Got To Do With It" had a lot "to do" before finding its way to her. Originally written for Sir Cliff Richard, who turned it down, the song then made its way to Donna Summer, who claims to have “sat on it for a few years." Summer never recorded the song, so she eventually gave up the rights. The tune was then passed over to Turner, who had to race British pop group Bucks Fizz (they recorded a demo that was eventually released in 2000) to get it out. Turner, of course won (hello, those legs!), and the song became an international sensation. It entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012, and — of perhaps equal merit — was immortalized in the Sex and the City episode, “What’s Sex Got To Do With It?"


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