If you've listened to the new expanded reissue of Jason Mraz's We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. - and you've picked up your jaw off the floor over it being 15 years since the album was first released - you may have turned your attention to the demo of "I'm Yours," the album's signature hit, included in the bonus material. It's a bit more sparsely arranged than the version that earned the wry folk-pop troubadour a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year and spent a then-record 76 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. But there's no mistaking it: "I'm Yours" had all the trappings of a hit from the jump.
This makes it even more unbelievable that this very demo was for several years hidden in plain sight in Mraz's discography: released on a 2005 EP to promote Mraz's modestly-received sophomore album Mr. A-Z, a release that featured no Top 40 hits. But this sort of thing is nothing new! The pop music hit parade is rife with can't-miss songs that were overlooked for years, needing a remix or re-recording to bring out the best in the tune. Here are 10 examples of this fascinating phenomenon.
As frontman of The Miracles, Smokey Robinson's angelic voice and natural songwriting gift put Motown Records on the map from the moment their 1960 hit "Shop Around" became the label's first million-seller. By the end of the decade, some two dozen smash hits later, Robinson was ready for a quiet life off the road, caring for his children with bandmate Claudette Robinson. But soul fans around the world demanded more.
Motown's U.K. branch helped solve that conundrum in 1970, digging up "The Tears of a Clown," a three-year-old album cut The Miracles had recorded with writer-producer Hank Cosby and his teenage protegee Stevie Wonder, who came up with the catchy, circus-inspired melody. With a fresh remix, the song first topped the charts in England and crossed back over to America, where the album it came from, 1967's Make It Happen, was reissued under the title of its newfound hit. Robinson ended up delaying his departure from the group until 1972, introducing his successor Billy Griffin at his final concert with The Miracles.
During their six-year tenure, British rock group The Move scored seven Top 10 hits in their native England, including the chart-topping "Blackberry Way" and "California Man" (later a staple of Cheap Trick's live set). But they could scarcely move the needle in their favor across the Atlantic. In fact, the only song of theirs to hit the U.S. charts was "Do Ya," a B-side to "California Man" written by one of the group's later members, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lynne. (It quickly disappeared after a No. 92 peak on the Hot 100.)
Not long after, The Move had moved on, with Lynne and band founders Roy Wood and Bev Bevan forming Electric Light Orchestra, which combined rock with baroque string arrangements. Though Wood would soon depart ELO, Lynne found it the perfect vehicle for his songcraft, and re-recorded "Do Ya" for 1976's A New World Record, the group's first of four Top 10 albums in England and America.
The quintessentially British singer-songwriter was hardly at his wit's end when he released solo debut Jesus of Cool (retitled Pure Pop for Now People in America) in 1978. But American shot-callers found Lowe holding out on a deeply catchy song called "Cruel to Be Kind," inspired in part by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost," from back in his days as a member of pub rock outfit Brinsley Schwarz. That demo was pressed on the flip side of a hard-to-market single titled "Little Hitler," but Lowe's cohorts in the band Rockpile were asked to re-record it that same year. ("They grumbled a bit about it," he later admitted.)
They needn't have worried, though: released as a single in 1979, "Cruel to Be Kind" not only climbed the charts to No. 12 in Lowe's native England, but matched the position in America - far and away his most recognizable song, and covered by acts including Letters to Cleo and Wilco.
Joan Jett first saw U.K. rock group the Arrows perform "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" - itself a B-side that later flipped to a single - while still a member of formative female band The Runaways. (At manager Kim Fowley's suggestion, the group at least learned the song before vocalist Cherie Currie split from the group.) Once The Runways fell apart, Jett started her solo career in earnest, cutting a version of the track for British label Vertigo in 1979 with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, fresh from the Sex Pistols.
While the basic arrangement was there, U.K. audiences slept on it. Returning to America and forming a new band, The Blackhearts, with longtime creative partner Kenny Laguna, Jett re-recorded the track with the tempo upped a hair and the chorus beefed up - a by-product of playing it live consistently. The resultant re-recording spent seven straight weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1982, becoming the year's third-biggest single on the magazine's year-end chart.
Unlike most of the songs on this list, Norwegian synth-pop trio a-ha were pretty convinced that "Take on Me" would be a hit - but it took an incredible amount of trial and error to become one of the most beloved pop singles of the '80s. Early sketches from Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen's teenage band Bridges featured the distinctive keyboard riff, while an a-ha demo called "Lesson One" had everything but that soaring chorus.
Eventually, the trio and producer Tony Mansfield finessed a version together for single release in 1984 that sank without a trace; undeterred, the group returned a year later with producer Alan Tarney to record an even more iconic take; backed by one of the most revolutionary videos of the early MTV era, "Take on Me" soared to the top of the American charts and gave the trio pop immortality.
British guitarist Kimberley Rew had first formed a band called The Waves with friend Alex Cooper on drums, but was soon hired to join Robyn Hitchcock in The Soft Boys a few years before their dissolution. Afterward, Rew and Cooper reused the name, assembling a new line-up including enthusiastic vocalist Katrina Leskanich. They self-financed an album of upbeat pop-rock cuts and titled it Walking on Sunshine after the infectious title track. Only Canadian label Attic Records saw any potential in the work, which had little impact outside the country.
After The Bangles covered Walking on Sunshine cut "Going Down to Liverpool" on their self-titled 1984 debut, the group finally secured a major label deal. Despite some of the band's misgivings about the track - "However annoying [it] was at first, it was impossible to get out of your head," Leskanich herself later said - they gave it a second spin, slowing the tempo down a hair and, crucially, adding a ridiculously peppy horn hook against the pogoing guitar chords. The song became an international Top 10 hit and still looms large as one of the most upbeat songs ever to grace a radio wave.
Formed out of the ashes of Deep Purple in 1976, Whitesnake was singer David Coverdale's attempt to fuse the hard rock style of his former band with a more blues-y, soul-oriented sound. But by the time they released fifth album Saints and Sinners in 1982, the group had hit a rough patch: almost none of the band members touring in support of the album had actually played on it. The fussily-produced single "Here I Go Again," awash in layered vocals and featuring the baffling chorus lyric "like a hobo I was born to walk alone," was only a modest hit in England upon release.
While American radio was slow to catch onto Whitesnake, record executive John Kalodner - known for working with bands like Foreigner, Asia and Aerosmith and often credited not with an A&R or executive producer credit but simply his own name twice (as in "John Kalodner: John Kalodner") - saw their potential, and helped Coverdale massage the group into a ballsier, guitar-forward outfit (powered by former Thin Lizzy axe man John Sykes). Five years later, their self-titled album featured two re-recordings of songs from Saints and Sinners. "Here I Go Again '87" - now featuring a soaring synth intro and aided by a music video in which Coverdale's then-girlfriend, model Tawny Kitaen, writhed around on a pair of sports cars - was a home run, earning the group a chart-topper in America.
On 1987's The Joshua Tree, U2's epic guitar rock reached its commercial zenith, giving the Irish rockers two back-to-back chart-toppers in America courtesy of "With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." So ubiquitous were those songs (and a third sweeping single, "Where the Streets Have No Name") that it was easy to overlook one of the group's catchiest B-sides, issued on only some formats of the "Streets" single. With The Edge offering a triple threat of his unique guitar tone, a catchy piano riff and backing vocals singing the titular phrase, "Sweetest Thing" was conceived by lead singer Bono as a sonic apology for forgetting his wife's birthday during the recording of The Joshua Tree.
Eleven years later, to promote The Best of 1980-1990, U2 and producer Steve Lillywhite dusted off the track and added some new overdubs, turning the retitled "The Sweetest Thing (Single Mix)" into another worldwide hit. (In a sign of cross-generational popularity, the tune appeared on the second American volume of the long-running NOW That's What I Call Music! series.) Ali Hewson remains married to her occasionally-forgetful partner, and at her request, proceeds from the single went to a charity in support of those affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
As the trio who brought pop-punk to the masses with 1994's Dookie, Green Day were justifiably unsure of what to do with "Good Riddance," a bittersweet song frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wrote about an ex-girlfriend who ended the relationship by moving to South America. It sounded nothing like "Longview," "Basket Case" or "When I Come Around" - nor did it sound at all like "Brain Stew," a single from 1995's Insomniac that featured a "Good Riddance" demo as a B-side.
Finally, for 1998's Nimrod, Armstrong - backed only by his acoustic guitar and a string section assembled at producer Rob Cavallo's request - gave an earnest crack at the tune. It became their biggest hit since "When I Come Around," and soundtracked everything from senior proms to a clip show of Seinfeld aired before the final episode. The song's popularity gave Green Day the freedom to play with their sound, a strategy that paid off considerably in the next decade.
Travie McCoy and his hip-hop/alt-rock combo only enjoyed modest sales with second album The Papercut Chronicles - which is ironic, since it held the key to their biggest chart success. After growing a fan base on Warped Tour dates with a clutch of witty Web 1.0 slacker songs, Gym Class Heroes hit a bump when guitarist Milo Bonacci left the band before the album was finished. His replacement, Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, found himself meshing well with the others during a jam on, of all songs, Supertramp's "Breakfast in America"; McCoy quickly devised an extremely online love lyric to go with it, and "Cupid's Chokehold" - complete with a cameo from Fall Out Boy vocalist Patrick Stump on the chorus - was added to the album, but never issued as a single.
That's when things got weird. Months before the group was ready to issue a follow-up, As Cruel As School Children, a Milwaukee radio stallion played the year-old "Chokehold" on a whim and was inundated with requests. Release plans shifted, and a slightly remixed version of the track was added at the last minute. Though frustrated at having to promote an old song, the band eventually softened up. "At the end of the day, it's a good song we all believe in, so we're happy it's getting a lot of attention," drummer Matt McGinley told USA Today - and he sure was right: the song became a Top 5 pop hit, earning Gym Class Heroes some considerable extra credit.