• Sisqo in 'The Story Of' (SBS VICELAND)Source: SBS VICELAND
From Rihanna to Kylie Minogue, can you guess which big hits these stars turned down?
James Jennings

27 Jul 2021 - 10:51 AM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2021 - 10:59 AM

In honour of the startling revelation in The Story Of  that Sisqo’s booty-popping 1999 hit “Thong Song” was originally written for Michael Jackson, we present a guide to other well-known hit songs that were originally written for completely different artists.

No “Golden Years” for Elvis

Fun fact: David Bowie was a huge Elvis Presley fan, and the Capricorn pair shared a birthday on January 8. They also shared a record label while they were both signed to RCA Records in the ’70s, which is how Presley came to hear some of Bowie’s demos and express interest in working with the Thin White Duke. Bowie allegedly wrote “Golden Years” with the King in mind, and despite discussions between both camps, sadly no collaboration ever eventuated. Bowie did manage to score one amazing keepsake from the period, though: a treasured note from Elvis that said, “All the best, and have a great tour.”

Kylie Minogue’s “Toxic” shocker

Pop songwriter Cathy Dennis teamed up with Henrik Jonback and production duo Bloodshy & Avant in the early naughts to write songs for Janet Jackson. One of the fruits of their labour was a little ditty called “Toxic”. Jackson passing on the song is understandable as it’s not really her vibe, but a huge “WTF?!” goes to the next person who passed on the track: Kylie Minogue. “Stupidity” was Minogue’s defence during a 2012 TV interview for rejecting “Toxic”, which was followed by the gracious, “Hey, Britney did a fantastic job. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the same with me.”

“…Baby One More Time” gets no TLC

Speaking of Britney Spears, 1998’s “…Baby One More Time” may have been the song that catapulted the then 16-year-old to pop superstardom, but the Max Martin-penned track was initially given the cold shoulder by both the Backstreet Boys and, amazingly, largely forgotten UK boy-band Five. Popular R&B group TLC also didn’t want anything to do with the song, with group member T-Boz offering the explanation, “I’m not saying ‘hit me baby’. No disrespect to Britney. It’s good for her. But was I going to say ‘hit me baby one more time’? Hell no!”

Stevie Nicks says (don’t) “Call Me”

There’s an alternate universe where Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks was the one who sang the disco-tinged 1980 hit “Call Me” rather than Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and we want to go there. Legendary electronic composer and producer Giorgio Moroder originally came up with the song (then called “Man Machine”) with Nicks in mind, but record label politics kept her from singing on the track. Instead, Blondie were recruited, with Harry shaping the lyrics to be sung from the perspective of a male prostitute since the song had been commissioned for the Richard Gere film American Gigolo.

Springsteen leaves the Ramones without a “Hungry Heart”

Bruce Springsteen was no stranger to writing songs for others in the late ’70s – he gave “Fire” to the Pointer Sisters and the bones of “Because the Night” to Patti Smith – so Joey Ramone wasn’t out of line when he asked the Boss to pen the Ramones a song after bumping into him on the streets of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Clearly with nothing better to do, Springsteen went off and wrote “Hungry Heart” that very night, deciding to keep the song not long after it was written after being urged to by his manager Jon Landau. Wise move: it became Springsteen’s first big hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.

No “Happy” ending for CeeLo Green

Not only did  write his inescapable 2013 hit “Happy” for singer CeeLo Green, he got Green to actually record a version of it. Why that version never saw the light of day comes down to record label politics: “He [Green] burns my version!” Williams enthused to Howard Stern during a 2014 interview. “But… how do I say this diplomatically? The powers that be, at the time, did not see it fit for him… they elected not to do that song.” Not a bad result for Williams since the song wound up going to number one in 23 countries and became the biggest – and most impossible to avoid – song of 2014. 

Rihanna not into “Cheap Thrills”

Poor Sia: the bewigged Australian singer-songwriter has had not one, but two songs rejected by pop megastar Rihanna. “They’ll entice me into a session by saying, ‘Rihanna will definitely be there’ or ‘Kanye will definitely be there’, but it’s hilarious because I turn up and, almost always, they never come,” Sia told Rolling Stone in 2015. Still, the story has a happy ending: Rih-Rih reject “Cheap Thrills” was absolutely huge, going on to become Sia’s first number one song on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Sisqo's "Thong Song"

Can you imagine Michael Jackson singing Sisqo's smash hit about a particular style of underwear? "The Thong Song" had a colourful evolution, taking in Jackson, the Beatles and Sisqo's own enthusiasm for the thong. ("I was young" he's since said of what prompted him to sing an ode to underwear). 


The Story Of Sisqo's Thong Song airs Wednesday 28 July at 11.25pm on SBS VICELAND. You can also catch up with episodes in the series at SBS On Demand.

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