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Breakaway Pop Hit

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"On top of that, [An American Tail] introduced the now-often-used idea of using a new soft rock song by a popular artist to boost the attention of the movie. I walk into clothing stores (although not often) and they're STILL playing "Somewhere Out There" on radio stations. And every time they do, I think of Fievel Mouskewitz because I can't help it."

One tactic that has been used in the publicity of movies (and other media, but mostly movies) for decades is to produce a radio-friendly song to go with the film. By having music intrinsically linked, you can effectively extend the advertising for both the musical artist(s) and the movie by crossing over into the two fields. It often works out pretty well, with both the movie and the artist(s) getting a ton of free publicity from each other. For example, The Graduate and the song "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel were both major hits when they first came out, with each giving a ton of publicity to the other. (This was the first time a pop hit was used on the soundtrack of a high-profile Hollywood film, and while the trend didn't catch on right away, it's safe to say it eventually became pretty standard practice.)

However, the nature of the entertainment industry means that you really can't be sure what people will or will not like. Most of the time, both the song and the movie will flop. Also common is that a movie will be popular, but nobody cares about the song that got attached. One example of that is the song "You Could Be Mine" by Guns N' Roses from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. At the time, both were equally huge deals, and it was a major coup for Terminator 2 to land the first new Guns 'n' Roses song in three years for its soundtrack. The movie is still very popular, but the song is pretty much disassociated with it these days (having the Terminator in its video makes the song AND video look extremely dated; having Guns N' Roses suddenly blaring on the soundtrack early on in Terminator 2 sounds odd now).

But in some cases, the song continues to be popular after the movie has gone into obscurity. Sometimes the movie was actually popular at the time, but the song has since become utterly disassociated from its original context. In cases like this, we have what is called a Breakaway Pop Hit. The measure this article will use to gauge is whether or not a song still receives airplay on non-specialized radio stations at least five years after the movie has fallen into obscurity (in other words, people just recently informed of the fact would react with a surprised, "wait, my favorite song is from a movie?") Examples of this should follow these rules:

  1. It has to be a full song, released either as a single or otherwise widely available to radio stations. The song has to continue to receive airplay on the very general radio stations (i.e. an FM oldies station would count, but not a Satellite Radio station specifically dedicated to movie themes from the 1960s). Most FM stations count in this regard, since their entirely free mood means that they have to try to appeal to as wide a group as they can.
  2. It has to have been created alongside a movie (TV show/video game/whatever). One way you can tell if it counts is if the music video heavily advertises the tie-in. It can't just have been tacked on by the studio to try to get more publicity for it (see Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" for a blatant example of that). With this rule, it does count if the music was released well in advance but was specifically intended as an intrinsic part of the movie (/TV show/video game/whatever).
  3. The movie (TV show/video game/whatever) has to fall into obscurity. This is the most subjective part of this entry, but you can tell if it fell into obscurity by the fact that the studio either didn't release a DVD of it (not due only to copyright hell) or they just gave it a "catalog" release (basically a bare bones DVD with just the movie and whatever cheaply available other features such as trailers or music videos are on hand. The price is usually $14.99 or lower). Just having a special edition version does not automatically mean it hasn't fallen into obscurity (for example, see The Criterion Collection for a TON of obscure movies with the red carpet treatment). If the average person is unlikely to know about a movie (/TV show/video game/whatever), it counts.note 

This applies to an insane number of songs from classic Broadway and movie musicals. Far too many songs have escaped their original musicals to give a full list, but ones that have become standards, while the shows they hail from are almost never seen, can stand as notable examples.

See Pop-Cultural Osmosis and Breakaway Advertisement for related phenomenons. See also Award-Bait Song. Naturally, this can be frustrating for fans of the popular song's source. Compare Covered Up and Parody Displacement.


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  • Jim Guthrie's song "Hands In My Pocket" was originally written for a Capital One commercial.
  • The Carpenters song ''We've Only Just Begun" was first used in a 1970 Crocker Bank commercial sung and co-written by Paul Williams. Richard Carpenter saw the commercial on TV one night, called Williams and asked if there was a bridge to the song. Williams lied and said there was and he and his songwriting partner worked quickly to write the rest of the song before giving it to Carpenter.
  • Political advertising, but still - Boston mayoral candidate Walter A. O'Brien commissioned a pair of songwriters to write a song supporting his candidacy and protesting a fare hike on the subway system. While O'Brien lost, the song, "Charlie On The M.T.A." was later covered by the Kingston Trio, becoming a hit for the band that was widely remembered to this day. In fact, the fare cards and tickets for the transit authority (now called the MBTA) are called CharlieTickets/CharlieCards, after the song. A plaque in the popular hub Park Street Station explains the story behind the name of the ticket and the song.
  • An Alka-Seltzer commercial from 1964 had a vignette of different peoples' stomachs with a jaunty guitar-led instrumental tune, later becoming a radio hit "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's On)" by the T-Bones.
  • The Ur-Example of this is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was originally written as a Montgomery Ward advertising jingle. However, the song was a musical version of the original 1939 story of the same name.
  • Timothy Leary asked John Lennon to write him a song when was running for political office, that song turning out to be The Beatles' hit "Come Together". Subverted, in that John ended up keeping the song instead of letting Leary use it.
  • Coca-Cola has proved to be the undisputed master of this trope in advertising:
    • Their 1970 jingle "I'd Like To Buy the World a Coke" had radio callers requesting the commercial, so a longer version was released that was a Billboard Top 10 hit, which was re-written as "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)".
    • "Country Sunshine" by Dottie West was also a Coca-Cola jingle first, and released as a single in 1973 based on the popularity of the commercial, becoming her signature song.
    • Train's "Shake Up Christmastime" was also recorded for a Coke commercial and the full version has gotten a fair amount of radio airplay every Christmas since then.
    • In a similar spirit, Melanie Thornton of La Bouche fame had a Christmas song called "Wonderful Dream", which was based on Coke's "Holidays Are Coming" song from The '90s.
  • A 1973 commercial for Old Home Bread introduced the world to C. W. McCall, a truck driver whose flirty adventures with a truck-stop waitress named Mavis were told through a talk-singing Country Rap. The commercials proved so popular that the soundtrack was turned into a single about the "Old Home Fill'er Up and Keep On Truckin' Cafe," which was a hit in the markets where the bread was sold. It was so successful, in fact, that the advertising executive who sang in the commercials, Bill Fries, assumed the C.W. McCall persona and (with the help of Chip Davis, who wrote the music and later formed Mannheim Steamroller) had a real-life musical career capped by the smash hit "Convoy."
  • "Osakana Tengoku" was originally written as a theme song for a National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations' Seafood Center campaign. When of mouth spread about the song in the early 2000's, it became a children's music standard.
  • The original version of the song "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" was originally performed on Eddie Cantor's radio show in 1934 as a Public Service Announcement that persuaded the public to help out less fortunate people at Christmas, being that it was around the time of The Great Depression.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Futari wa Pretty Cure: Crossing this trope over with Germans Love David Hasselhoff, Twins' Translated Cover Version of "DANZEN! Futari Wa Pretty Cure" became a Taiwanese pop hit in 2006.
  • "Himawari no Yakusoku" by Hata Motohiro, which was written for Stand by Me Doraemon, has been a top 10 karaoke song in Japan for 5 years as of August 2019.
  • Cat's Eye from the anime adaptation of the manga of the same name. The anime is best described as a Cult Classic in Japan as due to obscurity from its age, it's only known to a very scattered congregation of fans and is barely remembered by the mainstream. The theme song to the anime however somehow became a staple at various karaoke venues in the country, with reports claiming that it is often requested at least once a night at any given karaoke venue all over Japan, and there are generations who have not seen the anime but yet are familiar with the song.

    Films — Animation 
  • Quest for Camelot
    • The main pop culture contribution of this imitation-Disney film was "The Prayer", a ballad sung by Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli (Bocelli doesn't actually sing it in the film itself; he only appears on the end credits reprise) that has since become a standard, covered by, among others, Charlotte Church and Josh Groban. Most people are stunned to learn that (a) the song is from a movie and (b) exactly what movie the song is from.
    • LeAnn Rimes' "Looking Through Your Eyes", which reached #4 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart, was also written for the film and was the song that got the big radio push at the time, making "The Prayer"'s success that much more impressive.
  • Remember "Who Let the Dogs Out?" The Baha Men recording was made for Rugrats in Paris. The song itself was Covered Up from Fatt Jakk and his Pack of Pets.
    • A lesser-known example, from the first film, is No Doubt's "I Throw My Toys Around", one of the end credits songs, which has become popular among fans of said band.
  • Although Paul Simon's "Father and Daughter" gained a life of its own as an inspirational tune, it originally began on the soundtrack to The Wild Thornberrys Movie (and received an Oscar nomination for Best Song).
  • Bryan Adams' 2002 hit "Here I Am" reached Top 10 charts across the world when it was released, won a Golden Globe Award, and still continues to be played at major events (an instrumental version was used for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games bid) years after it was released. Still, how many of you remember the DreamWorks film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which opened in fourth place when it debuted in theaters and barely registered a blip in the weeks afterward? This track was the lead single from it; Adams provided a whole song score for the film.
  • "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail, which was released as a single performed by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram. While the film was hugely successful and indirectly led to the Disney Renaissance, the single version was successfully able to shed itself of its origins, and ended up being a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and a Top 40 radio hit, reaching #2 on the charts in March 1987. It also becomes deliciously ironic when played at proms, since it details family separation.
  • Ruth Pointer's "Streets of Gold", from Oliver & Company, was a minor hit back in 1988-89 (and included in a 1998 compilation CD of Disney songs that became pop hits, along with more familiar Disney chestnuts like "Circle of Life" and "A Whole New World").
  • Jack Johnson had a huge adult contemporary crossover hit with "Upside Down", which was written for and originated on the soundtrack for the 2006 Curious George movie.
  • Kate Winslet recorded the song "What If" for 2001's Christmas Carol: The Movie. The film was critically panned and is largely forgotten. Winslet's song is regarded as Awesome Music, shot to number 6 in the charts in its first week and became the Christmas number one in Ireland for 2001. The song is still fondly remembered and most people forget it came from the movie.
  • Justin Timberlake may have invoked this with "Can't Stop the Feeling!", a summer pop hit that also happened to be his contribution to the soundtrack of the DreamWorks film Trolls. It helps the song was released over 7 months before the movie officially came out in 2016. Even though Trolls became quite popular and successful, the song has mostly become distanced from it to the general public.
  • The title Villain Song from "Der Fuehrer's Face" became a popular wartime song as performed by Spike Jones. In fact, it was the song's popularity that helped re-title the cartoon from "Donald Duck in Nutzi Land".
  • The French-Canadian animated film Ballerina was a box office flop in the United States (where it was renamed Leap), but Carly Rae Jepsen's soundtrack contribution "Cut to the Feeling" became one of the most critically acclaimed songs of 2017. It got to the point where many people didn't know it was supposed to be from a movie, which was aided by the fact that it had been released several months in advance of the film's American release, and its promotional rollout barely mentioned Ballerina at all.
  • The Kelly Clarkson song "Broken and Beautiful" was written for the movie Uglydolls, which flopped in North America due to strong competition from the billion-dollar juggernaut Avengers: Endgame. The song would get frequent airplay on radio stations even after the film left most theaters.
  • The Nelly Furtado cover of "Crocodile Rock" was originally recorded for Gnomeo & Juliet, which was a modest success at best. However, the song was a hit on the Radio Disney Top 30, to the point where it beat several Justin Bieber songs, dethroning "Somebody To Love" after a months-long streak at #1. On top of that, the music video got frequent airplay during Disney Channel commercial breaks when the film was released. The song still plays at some of Disney's theme parks and places for kids like Build-A-Bear Workshop.
  • Anastasia had two: Aaliyah's cover of "Journey to the Past", which was successful due to the artist's popularity, and Richard Marx and Donna Lewis' "At The Beginning", which was known for being the song that topped the Adult Contemporary charts before the long reign of "My Heart Will Go On". Both of them still play on some mainstream pop stations, though the Aaliyah version of "Journey" is seen as one of her lesser songs (the in-movie version has often been compared to Frozen's "Let It Go" in that regard). The Deana Carter version of "Once Upon a December" is in the same boat, though its popularity is mostly limited to country radio.
  • "Believe" by Josh Groban was originally written for The Polar Express, but later became a modestly popular Christmas standard that is still being played on the radio and covered by other artists to this day.
  • The song "Prince Charmless" is fairly well-known on the internet and even named a trope. The movie it came from, The Secret of Anastasia, is virtually unheard of in comparison other than being a blatant ripoff of the above-mentioned Anastasia.
  • Grace Potter's "Something That I Want" was originally the ending theme to Tangled. However, it's become one of the most popular songs among her fans despite only having radio airplay on Sirius XM's children's channels and its only other real exposure outside of that and the movie itself being the occasional retail store music mix and the Disney Infinity video games. Granted, it's not as popular as "I See the Light" or "When Will My Life Begin" but those two songs are inseparable from Tangled while "Something That I Want" is rather easy to separate from it.
  • Meet the Robinsons was not as successful or remembered by the general public as Disney's other works were, however, the Rob Thomas song "Little Wonders", which was written for the film, peaked at number 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2007.


    Live-Action TV 
  • "How Do You Talk to an Angel", credited to the fictional band The Heights from the early '90's FOX show of the same name, was nominated for an Emmy and went to #1 in the US, but the show was canceled a week after the song fell from its peak.
  • Celine Dion's "To Love You More" was originally written for the 1995 Japanese drama Koibito Yo (My Dear Lover). Listen to the Japanese version here.
  • While the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, "Once More With Feeling", doesn't contain a Breakaway Pop Hit, the trope is discussed by Anya complaining that the song she and Xander sing is "more of a book number".
    • Obviously, either Tara's song "I'm Under Your Spell" or Spike's "(Let Me) Rest In Peace" is the one that would have been the BPH, and was intended as a play on this trope.
  • The Johnny Rivers song "Secret Agent Man" is better remembered in the US than the show to which it was the theme song, Secret Agent (originally known as Danger Man in the UK). At the very least, people will be more familiar with the show's Spiritual Successor The Prisoner, or its animated parody Danger Mouse.
  • Similar to the Heights example was the theme song to the sitcom Makin' It, which was Garry Marshall's attempted Spiritual Adaptation of Saturday Night Fever. A "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune performed by the show's star David Naughton, the show's producers wisely called on Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, the pair responsible for Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive", to provide the Disco-style song, and it managed to outpace the show in popularity. It peaked at #5 and lasted 17 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, whereas the show only lasted 9 episodes. In fact, it peaked on the charts almost four months after the show was canceled!
  • The theme to The Greatest American Hero is more popular now than the show, which lasted only single season. It peaked at #2 shortly after the show began, but hung around on Billboard's Hot 100 charts for over two years. The show was cancelled some time before the song fell off the chart entirely.
  • The "Peter Gunn Theme" by Henry Mancini. Nobody remembers the original show but everybody recognizes the tune. At least some of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of Spy Hunter and The Blues Brothers.
  • The theme song from Minder, 'I Could Be So Good For You', still ends up being played on the radio sometimes.
  • The obscure cop show The Protectors would be almost entirely forgotten if not for its theme tune, "Avenues and Alleyways" by Tony Christie.
  • "For You I Will (Confidence)" by singer/songwriter Teddy Geiger originated as the theme song for the failed (but critically well received) 2006 CBS dramedy Love Monkey, which Geiger had a small recurring role in. A few months after CBS ditched the show, the song made the Top 30 of the US pop charts.
  • Country Music singers Johnny Lee and Lane Brody co-wrote and recorded "The Yellow Rose", set to the old folk song "The Yellow Rose of Texas", and recorded it as the theme to The Yellow Rose, an NBC Prime Time Soap starring Cybill Shepherd and Sam Elliott. The show itself was part of NBC's infamous "no-hitter" 1983-84 season (every single show they debuted that fall got canceled during the season, though The Yellow Rose managed to air all 22 of its episodes before it was axed). The song hit #1 on the country charts a couple months before the series ended, and it remains a staple of the classic country format.
  • The theme to Hawaii Five-O. If that doesn't sound familiar, this will. It's been used in everything from commercials to Bill Nye the Science Guy, usually accompanying surfing or anything to do with the ocean.
  • Rawhide might not exactly be obscure, but one thing you'll remember about it (other than Clint Eastwood) is its theme. Especially if you're a Blues Brothers fan.
  • Soldier Soldier had a cover of the song "Unchained Melody" (itself a Breakaway Pop Hit - see Film) performed by its stars, Jerome Flynn and Robson Greene. Originally performed within the TV series, this version was so popular it was released as a massive hit single.
  • The song "Best Friend" by Harry Nilsson ("People, let me tell you 'bout my best friend...") used commonly as Stock Music for montages these days, was originally recorded for the 1969-1972 American Sitcom The Courtship of Eddie's Father.
  • An obscure case is Patrik Pacard, a Christmas series produced by public broadcaster Second German Television, which centered around a boy inventor. The series had a decent reception and was translated into English several years later, but it never made any impact. However, the title theme (sung by Lady Lily) went on to reach #11 on the German pop charts. It was later released as a single (in both English and extended formats) and had a rerelease in 2004, and gained infamy years later as an internet fad related to Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • "I Believe", a duet between Kermit the Frog and actress Tiffany Thornton, was a minor Radio Disney hit during the 2009 holiday season. Those who only heard the song from there, Disney Channel and/or through buying the single release on iTunes may be unaware of the fact that it was originally written as a Kermit solo for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade the previous year (Thornton and Kermit even performed it there the year their version was released).
  • Wicked City only lasted for all of 3 episodes but in the same vein as "Youngblood", KT Tunstall's version of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" remained fairly popular on iTunes afterward.
  • Loretta Haggers was an aspiring country singer on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Mary Kay Place, who played Loretta, recorded an album in character, Tonite! At the Capri Lounge Loretta Haggers, which hit the top 10 on the country album chart in 1976, and the single "Baby Boy" reached No. 3 on the country chart. Amusingly, the character's unexpected real-world success forced the writers to contrive a scandal for Haggers to explain why she wasn't able to ditch Fernwood for Nashville.
  • Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, an instrumental group who was one of the biggest non-rock acts of the 1960s, recorded the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune "This Guy's in Love with You" for their 1968 TV special The Beat of the Brass. The song was different from the group's usual music because Alpert — famed as a trumpeter, not as a vocalist — sang on the song himself, and the only brass portions of the song were a couple of bridges and a fadeout (also performed by Alpert). The day after the special aired, CBS was inundated with phone calls from listeners inquiring where to buy the song. Alpert's label (A&M, which he also co-owned) rush-released the single, and two months later, it was the number one song in America. The tune remains a popular love song, while the Tijuana Brass special remains completely out of print and obscure.
  • Billy Vera and the Beaters released "At This Moment" as a single in 1981, but it initially just reached #79 on the Billboard Hot 100. A few years later, when the song was featured in an episode of Family Ties, it was re-released and became a number-one hit.
  • The British-French crime drama The Last Panthers received a good critical notice when it aired in late 2015 but has largely faded from memory. At the time, as now, the show's successes were completely dwarfed by those of its theme song: David Bowie's 10-minute swan song "Blackstar", which he had composed for the series and was also the first single from what would be his final album.
  • In 1996, a Direct to Video special put out by Character Counts! was released called Kids For Character. This video featured a song called "Six Simple Words" that is still used by classrooms that follow the Character Counts curriculum and is more well-known today than the actual video itself.
  • The Roots' "Lovely, Love My Family" was originally written for the Yo Gabba Gabba! episode "Family". While the show faded into obscurity over the years, it was so popular on the Sirius XM radio station Kids' Place Live that it topped their music countdown, the 13under13, and stayed on that list for 20 weeks. It is also still in the station's regular rotation to this day despite Yo Gabba Gabba! not airing on TV in the United States anymore.
  • Okaasan to Issho:
    • The top-selling Japanese CD single of all time, "Dango San Kyoudai", was originally from an animated segment aired on this show. This also happened to a lesser extent with "AIUE Ohayo", a song from the show that teaches the Japanese alphabet.
    • "Dokonoko no Kinoko", about a mushroom wanting to leave the forest and go on an adventure (set to traditional Russian folk music), became a hugely popular hit and charted on the regular Japanese music charts. It was even sung live by the hosts on NHK's New Year's Eve special (one of the most watched shows of the year in Japan).
    • Other songs the show featured that became popular children's standards include "Ai Ai" and "Omocha no Cha Cha Cha".
  • Counting CDs, records and tapes, "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun" would be the highest-selling Japanese single. It originated as a song played in a segment aired on the children's TV show Hiirake! Ponkickles.
  • Although it originated in the Taisho era with different lyrics, the common version of the Japanese lullaby "Yurikago no Uta" debuted in a 1967 installment of the NHK series Minna No Uta.
  • "Thank You For Being You" was written for the first season finale of the Canadian-American series The Noddy Shop, which was modestly successful during its PBS Kids run, but has since fallen into relative obscurity and hasn't aired on U.S. TV since 2002. These days you're more likely to be familiar with the reworked version, which appears as the closing track on two Mister Rogers' Neighborhood cover albums.
  • "Wishing Song" is associated with The Muppet Show, but was written by songwriter Paul Tracey for an obscure local New York show he and his wife were appearing on. According to him, it came into existence because there was going to be an episode about wishing, and Executive Meddling vetoed his previous suggestion, a folk song called "The Shepherd's Lamb". He later recorded it on an album that he gave to several friends, one of whom was a friend of Jim Henson, who included it and some of Tracey's other songs on the show.
  • One of the songs on Inai Inai Baa!, "Popopopopose", became this when J-Pop act GReeeeN performed a cover of it, inspiring a dance challenge on YouTube. Said cover is also the first thing that shows up when one searches for the song's name.
  • "The Song That Never Ends" was originally written for Lamb Chop's Play-Along, but became a popular Playground Song outside of the context of the show.
  • The short-lived 1984 sitcom Dreams devoted each episode to a specific song that the fictional band was performing. One of the episodes featured the song "Alone", which had been previously recorded by the songwriting team of Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, but it was years after the show's cancelation that Heart covered it and made it a #1 hit.
  • Van der Valk: The theme tune, "Eye Level", played by the Simon Park orchestra, became a smash hit in its own right. It was also the only time that the Simon Park Orchestra would grace the UK charts.
  • Besides Makin' It as mentioned above, producer Garry Marshall had a nice string of theme songs that became hits. While the source shows for "Happy Days" by Pratt & McClain (which got to #5) and Laverne & Shirley's "Making Our Dreams Come True" (a Top 30 hit for Cyndi Grecco) are still famous, the largely-forgotten Angie produced Maureen McGovern's "Different Worlds" in 1979, which hit #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and also made it into the Top 20 in the Hot 100.
  • The 2003 Korean Drama Punch received criticism at the time of its airing and recorded low viewer ratings. However, KCM’s song "I Know" from the soundtrack received great popularity, and it's especially remembered even to those who haven’t seen Punch as a result of being used as background music for many Cyworld note  pages.
  • "Sing" from Sesame Street boomed in popularity after The Carpenters released their cover of the song, which charted at #3. It's now one of the show's signature songs.

  • The melody known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from J.S. Bach's sacred cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (BWV 147). The former title, by the way, appears nowhere in the translated text of the cantata. In fact, the melody of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is actually from two, almost identical movements of the cantata ("Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe" and "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" respectively). The melody is very famous in both religious and secular circles; in the latter, the melody often appears stripped of its religious lyrics and any hint of its Baroque origin.
  • Bruce Springsteen's recording of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" was first released on the 1982 multi-artist children's album In Harmony 2, a tie-in album for Sesame Street, although the song was recorded seven years earlier in 1975. And while the album itself has yet to be reissued on CD or digitally (even though it won a Grammy), the song has received annual airplay on radio stations for decades.
  • Henry Purcell's incidental music for the play Abdelazer, a Restoration tragedy by Aphra Behn, is much more famous than the play it was originally composed for, which has fallen into obscurity.
  • The Waitresses' new wave holiday classic "Christmas Wrapping" was originally recorded for A Christmas Record, a 1981 collection of new holiday songs from the roster of experimental and post-punk label ZE Records. "Christmas Wrapping" was the most commercial song on the release, which includes some rather offbeat takes on Christmas music from the likes of Suicide and Bill Laswell, and was issued as a single to promote a wider release of the compilation in 1982. While "Christmas Wrapping" didn't initially chart very high (only reaching #45 in the UK and not placing at all in the US), its reputation as an alt-rock Christmas classic grew over the years, and it's now a holiday staple that has been covered dozens of times. A Christmas Record, by contrast, is relatively obscure, to the point where even some Waitresses fans aren't aware of its existence.


  • "You've Got Possibilities", covered by Barbra Streisand and Peggy Lee among others, originally came from It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman (where it was originated by Linda Lavin), a 1966 musical that was one of Broadway's most notorious flops (though it's a bit of a Cult Classic among theatre aficionados).
  • "Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life" from Naughty Marietta. Coming full circle, this one made it back to Broadway in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
  • "One Night In Bangkok" and "I Know Him So Well" from Chess. While the soundtrack was released as a concept album at first, it was always intended to eventually be staged. Both songs were hits in their original versions from that original 1984 album: "One Night in Bangkok", performed by actor Murray Head, made it to #3 in the US, while Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson's version of "I Know Him So Well" was a #1 hit in the UK. As with the rest of the music from the show, both songs were written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from ABBA.
  • The endlessly covered song "All The Things You Are" was originally written for a poorly-received Broadway musical called Very Warm For May. This was a bit of a surprise for the composer, Jerome Kern, who worried that the tricky modulations (which make a full turn around the circle of fifths) would put most musicians off. It was also not featured in the show's Medley Overture.
  • "I've Gotta Be Me" from the largely forgotten Broadway musical Golden Rainbow became a massive hit when it was covered by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1968.
  • "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday. Didn't know it was from a musical? Neither did the girl from the play The Seven Year Itch.
  • Right This Way, an extremely obscure Broadway flop of 1938, produced the hit "I'll Be Seeing You (In All The Old Familiar Places)." The same songwriters wrote the near-standard "I Can Dream, Can't I?" for the same show.
  • "If I Ruled The World" from Pickwick.
  • "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" from Promises, Promises. This also applies to "Turkey Lurkey Time" to some extent.
  • Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and "Just One of Those Things" originally came from the musical Jubilee (1935), a show which was largely forgotten after it sunk under its exorbitant production costs. Interestingly, though the songs became two of Cole Porter's biggest hits, this was not the case until years after the show closed.
  • Another Cole Porter example: "It's De-Lovely" from Red, Hot and Blue. (You're more likely to hear it in revivals of its spiritual predecessor Anything Goes since it's become Ret-Canon there.)
  • The political-satire musical I'd Rather Be Right was a success in 1937, but has rarely been revived since due to its reliance on topical humor about the F.D.R. administration. The show's enduring legacy is the song "Have You Met Miss Jones?"
  • "I Wanna Be Loved By You" was originally from Good Boy, a 1928 Broadway musical remembered for little else.
  • "Feeling Good" from The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd.
    • From the same show, "On a Wonderful Day Like Today."
  • "Too Close For Comfort" from Mr. Wonderful.
  • "Mack the Knife" is a crooner classic, but who remembers it's from a musical that brutally criticizes the frivolities of capitalism? Easily the best-remembered song from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera; double points for being translated from the original German.
  • "Once Upon A Time (Never Comes Again)" from All American.
  • "Comes Love" from Yokel Boy.
  • "Here's That Rainy Day" from Carnival in Flanders, a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation which bombed horribly in 1953.
  • "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from Roberta.
  • "Hey, Look Me Over" from Wildcat, a Lucille Ball vehicle on which Desilu Studios lost a good chunk of money.
  • A number of Stephen Foster songs that most Americans think are "folk songs" (such as "Oh Susannah", "Camptown Races", etc.) were originally performed in 19th-century minstrel shows.
  • "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" from Oh, Look!. (Of course, its principal motif was lifted from the even older Fantaisie-Impromptu by Frederic Chopin.)
  • Most of George M. Cohan's famous songs, with the exception of his World War I song "Over There," hailed originally from the stage musicals he created in the earlier part of his career:
    • "The Yankee Doodle Boy" and "Give My Regards To Broadway" from Little Johnny Jones (1904).
    • "Mary's a Grand Old Name" from Forty-five Minutes from Broadway (1905).
    • "You're a Grand Old Rag" (not a typo ... that was the original name before Cohan changed it to the more PC "Flag") from George Washington, Jr. (1906).
    • "Harrigan" from Fifty Miles from Boston (1908).
  • "Rule, Britannia" was originally composed for the 18th-century masque Alfred.
  • "Makin' Whoopee" and "Love Me Or Leave Me" from Whoopee!. ("Love Me Or Leave Me" was a Set Switch Song irrelevant to the plot and didn't even appear in the film version.)
  • Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" was almost certainly not written especially for Betsy (1926), but the show's producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, could get away with pretending that it was. It was far more popular than either the show (which was a flop) or the songs Rodgers and Hart wrote for it.
  • Broadway musical revues practically deserve their own category. They were plotless Sketch Comedy shows and ephemeral to the point that many of them put the production year in the title, and were not meant to be revived. They also were more likely than ordinary musical comedies to throw in songs that were already popular to sell tickets. On top of all that, they often kept their Sketch Comedy routines entirely separate from their potential hit tunes. Nevertheless, they produced some enduring tunes:
    • "Shine On, Harvest Moon" from Follies of 1908.
    • "Poor Butterfly" from The Big Show (1916), one of a series of circus-style revues produced at the enormous Hippodrome Theatre.
    • "Pretty Baby" from The Passing Show of 1916.
    • "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" from Ziegfeld Follies of 1919.
    • "Say It With Music" from Music Box Revue of 1921.
    • "Somebody Loves Me" from George White's Scandals of 1924.
    • "Manhattan" from The Garrick Gaieties (1925).
    • "The Birth of the Blues," "Black Bottom" and "Lucky Day" from George White's Scandals of 1926.
    • "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" from Blackbirds of 1928.
    • "Get Happy" from The 9:15 Revue (1930), a particularly short-lived show.
    • "Memories Of You" from Blackbirds of 1930.
    • "On the Sunny Side of the Street" from Lew Leslie's International Revue (1930).
    • "I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cent Store" from Crazy Quilt (1931).
    • "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries" from George White's Scandals of 1931.
    • "Alone Together" from Flying Colors (1932).
    • "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" from New Americana (1932). This song even came to define The Great Depression era.
    • "Autumn In New York" from Thumbs Up! (1934).
    • "I Can't Get Started" from Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.
    • "How High the Moon" from Two for the Show (1940).
    • "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" from Seven Lively Arts (1945).
  • "I Enjoy Being a Girl" is popular with drag queens everywhere. Flower Drum Song, with its offensive (more or less) depictions of Asians, is not so.
  • "Lazy Afternoon" from the Acclaimed Flop musical The Golden Apple.
  • Cole Porter's timeless song "Night and Day" originated in 1932's musical Gay Divorce, a show that reputedly became a hit mostly on the popularity of that song. It was the only song retained in the film version, The Gay Divorcée.
  • "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" from Leave It to Me!.
  • "Bilbao Song" from Happy End.
  • "Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi.
  • The work of Stephen Sondheim is suspiciously absent of these for the most part, mostly due to his difficult rhythms and specificity of lyrics...with one notable exception: "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music.
  • "It’s Only a Paper Moon" did this twice. Originally titled "If You Believed in Me", it was written for the otherwise non-musical 1933 play The Great Magoo. (The play was produced by Billy Rose, who as usual demanded and got joint credit for the lyrics.) This flopped badly, but by the time it closed, Hollywood had come calling in a big way for composer Harold Arlen, and he was able to sell the song on. It soon reappeared, under its now-familiar title, as a new number in the film version of the stage musical Take a Chance. This was a hit on release, remained well known through the rest of the 30s and 40s, and then slowly sank out of sight.
  • "My Funny Valentine" and "The Lady Is A Tramp" from Babes In Arms. (Neither of these songs was featured in the well-known MGM movie version of Babes in Arms, but both did appear in the movie version of Pal Joey.)
  • Cat Stevens attempted a musical that he called Revolussia but eventually abandoned it. From it he recorded one of his most famous songs, "Father and Son."
  • "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," most famous in its Translated Cover Version, originally came from Men ken lebn nor men lost nisht, a musical written for the Yiddish theatre in 1932.
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" is one of the most famous pieces in the classical repertoire, easily eclipsing the 1900 adaptation of Alexander Pushkin's The Tale of Tsar Saltan from which it comes.
  • Another Oscar Hammerstein song, "Ol' Man River" from Show Boat, has been assumed to be an African-American spiritual.
  • Hair was a big source of these, with the title song covered by The Cowsills, "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" covered by The Fifth Dimension, and "Good Morning Starshine" covered by Oliver.
  • Several songs from musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber were released as singles, such as "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar. The most notable examples of "remembered song, forgotten show" by ALW, however, are "Love Changes Everything" from the otherwise-forgotten Aspects of Love and "Unexpected Song" from the likewise-forgotten Song and Dance.
  • "Consider Yourself" was originally from the musical Oliver!, but was able to break away from its origins and become a musical standard, especially as a children's song.
  • Brigadoon is mostly remembered for popularising the Vanishing Village trope, with the songs and specific plot really only known by die-hard theater fans. But one song, "It's Almost Like Being In Love", was insanely popular, and has been covered by literally everybody — most famously Frank Sinatra.
  • "Step to the Rear" from the 1967 Broadway flop How, Now, Dow Jones became a minor hit and is now best-known as the melody of the University of South Carolina's Football Fight Song.
  • "We Need a Little Christmas" originated in the musical Mame, but it's since become a standard Christmas Song that is often played in contexts that have nothing to do with the musical.

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Alternative Title(s): Breakout Pop Hit