Missed Opportunities: 10 Musicians Who Turned Down Big Hits

Reba McEntire could have been queen of the world in 1998's Titanic.
Reba McEntire could have been queen of the world in 1998's Titanic.
Photo by Marco Torres

Have you ever had one of those moments where you thought to yourself, "Why did I do that?" or "Why did I turn that down?" Those kinds of moments happen to all of us. It's part of life, unfortunately.

This happens all the time in the movie world, but you never seem to hear about it in the music world. It happens all the time here too.

Missed Opportunities: 10 Musicians Who Turned Down Big Hits

Stevie Nicks turns down "These Dreams": Known for her her trademark fairytale-style lyrics, in 1984 rocker Stevie Nicks was seeking to record new material for her next album, 1985's Rock a Little. Songwriters Martin Page and Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin pitched a song they had written for her called "These Dreams." She turned it down.

But the song was pitched to Heart, and they decided to record it for their self-titled 1986 album. The song ended up being Heart's biggest hit with both the song and the record itself hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts, respectively. Furthermore, it heralded a major comeback for Heart, whose sales had been down since the early '80s.

As for Nicks, Rock a Little didn't sell as well as her previous two albums and she checked into rehab to treat a cocaine addiction after the Rock a Little tour was over.

9. Reba passes on the role of the Unsinkable Molly Brown in Titanic: Country music superstar Reba has been known to take forays into acting -- most notably 1990's Tremors, The Little Rascals in 1994, numerous made-for-television movies in the mid and late '90s, and her own self-titled WB sitcom that began in 2001.

However, when asked to play the role of the Unsinkable Molly Brown in the monster box-office hit Titanic, she initially accepted but had to back out of filming due to scheduling conflicts. The role went to Kathy Bates, and Titanic became the highest-grossing film of all time. It was recently re-released in 3D to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking.

8. Mark Wahlberg skips New Kids on the Block: Before he became known as a rapper and, later, an Oscar-nominated actor; Mark Wahlberg was an early member of the '80's boy band New Kids on the Block along with his brother, Donnie. However, Mark quit before the band recorded their first album in 1986.

NKOTB split in 1994 but have since gotten back together. Mark, on the other hand, has shed his rapper persona and nickname "Marky Mark" and has become an A-list actor; starring in such films as The Departed, Boogie Nights and many more.


7. Bob Dylan, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, others turn down Woodstock: This is one of those "you idiot!" moments. Artists like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and even Tommy James and the Shondells, among others all turned down performing at Woodstock in 1969.

Out of the many excuses given for all these artists absence, Mitchell's was the the lamest: Her manager urged her to skip the festival and appear on the The Dick Cavett Show. Mitchell later regretted that.

6. Chevy Chase leaves what would become Steely Dan: Believe it or not, SNL alum Chevy Chase was actually an early member of Steely Dan when they were known as The Leather Canary. Chase left the band, which added Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Jim Hodder and became known as Steely Dan.

After Chase split, he held a series of odd jobs before finally becoming a comedic writer and eventually a member of SNL's original "Not Yet Ready For Prime Time Players." He later achieved greater success with such film classics as theNational Lampoon's Vacation movies, Caddyshack and the hit NBC series Community as Pierce Hawthorne.

Missed Opportunities: 10 Musicians Who Turned Down Big Hits

5. The Top Gun soundtrack that never was, featuring REO Speedwagon, the Motels and Toto: What happens when you get three bands all at the top of their game in the mid-'80s, but back out of what became one of the most memorable soundtracks of all time? You get the folly that is the bands mentioned above.

According to Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun, REO Speedwagon was considered for the song, but declined because they wanted to sing their own material. Toto was also slated to record "Danger Zone" for the film's soundtrack, but backed out due to a legal conflict. Kenny Loggins, who had already wrote and recorded another song for the record called "Playing With the Boys," stepped in and recorded the film's theme song, which became a hit.

For "Take My Breath Away," two singers in female-led bands were up for the song: Martha Davis of the Motels and Terri Nunn of Berlin. Berlin got in touch with one of the main songwriters for the film, Giorgio Moroder, because he produced their hit song "No More Words" for their second album, 1982's Pleasure Victim.

Moroder asked the band if they wanted to record the song. Lead singer Nunn immediately accepted, but the rest of the band wasn't so sanguine: They wanted to do only their own music, but later reluctantly agreed. The song became Berlin's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986. It also won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1987.

As for the Martha Davis version of "Take My Breath Away," the song's demo appears on the Motels' 2001 compilation album, Anthologyland.

4. Oliver Stone casts a real actor, not a rocker, as the Lizard King: In 1991, Val Kilmer was cast as Doors lead singer Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's film The Doors. However, originally the producers originally considered the likes of Bono, late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, and even Ian Astbury of the Cult for the role. But director Oliver Stone was so impressed with Kilmer's personification of Morrison that he decided to cast him instead.


3. A Supreme lets Madonna take a "Holiday": One of the best Madonna songs to ever be recorded almost didn't happen. The band that wrote the song, Pure Energy, had originally pitched "Holiday" to former Supremes member Mary Wilson. However, Wilson turned it down.

Madonna's then-producer (and boyfriend), John "Jellybean" Benitez, decided to give the song a few tweaks, such as adding more synthesizer, and Madonna recorded the song for her self-titled 1983 debut album. It has since become one of her show staples.

2. Britney Spears hangs up on "Telephone": Once upon a time, Lady Gaga wrote a song for pop star Britney Spears. Spears even recorded a demo of the song, but ultimately decided not to use it. So what did the Queen Monster decide to do? Collaborate with Beyonce and record it for her 2009 EP The Fame Monster. The song itself went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1. Whitney Houston can't do What's Love Got To Do With It: The role of '60s and '70s rock icon Tina Turner in 1993's What's Love Got to Do With It almost went to the late Whitney Houston, but she had to back out due to her pregnancy with daughter Bobbi Kristina. Tina went to Angela Bassett, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar; co-star Laurence Fishburne also grabbed a Best Actor nod as Turner's abusive ex-husband Ike.

Honorable Mention: Courtney Love auditioning for the part of Nancy Spungen in 1986 punk rock biopic Sid and Nancy but losing to Chloe Webb. However, she did play Gretchen in the film.

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