Six Surprising Popular Songwriters
Lyrics by Benjamin Lamb
From John Lennon to Jay-Z, we take a look at the most surprising names behind great songs
There comes a time in every music fan’s life when they like to peek behind the curtain at some of their favorite songs and find out who was really behind it.
Sure, we all know the classic stories like Prince and “Manic Monday,” The Bee Gees and “Islands in The Stream,” and Katy Perry and “I Do Not Hook Up,” but today we’re diving into some of the names behind songs you probably didn’t know.
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John Lennon – “Fame” by David Bowie
The Beatles legend co-wrote one of Ziggy Stardust’s greatest songs alongside the man himself and his guitarist, Carlos Alomar.
The track deals with the emotions shared by the gigantic leaders during their rapid rise to fame and the negative thoughts surrounding managers and workers in the industry who often did not have the artists best interests at heart.
Lennon’s helping hand didn’t stop with songwriting, with the artists also sharing backing vocals and his acoustic guitar prowess on the song.
“Fame” quickly became one of Bowie’s greatest, receiving favorable fan reaction at his concerts and reaching top positions on many charts around the world.
John Legend – “American Boy” by Ye and Estelle
The R&B crooner known for tracks like “All of Me” and “Love Me Now” penned one of the most emotional tracks of 2008. The singer wrote it alongside Ye, Estelle and will.i.am .
Like all good songs, this song has been said to be the result of the foursome joking around in the studio. Afterwards, Legend mentioned that Estelle should write a song about an “American Boy” which she said in an interview at the time.
The legend also appears in the music video, long before his rapid rise to fame and becoming a household name. The song became hugely popular, reaching number three on the ARIA charts, while also winning a Grammy, a Brit Award and an MTV Australia Award.
Dolly Parton – “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Dolly Parton has written some of the most popular songs in the world, like “9 to 5”, “Jolene” and perhaps most surprisingly, “I Will Always Love You”.
There’s an interesting story behind the writing of this, with Parton writing it as a dedication to her writing partner Porter Wagoner, whom she was breaking up after seven years of working together. The tune then took on a different meaning and became universally popular in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, where it was sung by Whitney Houston.
Late last year, it was noted that Parton had earned $10 million from royalties behind the song, as it still appears in TV shows, movies and is regularly covered by a number of artists.
Jay-Z – ‘Still Dre’ by Dr Dre
The song that defined the rapper was actually written by someone else.
Dr. Dre is best known for his behind-the-scenes work with Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar. But he personally had a strong career, including as a member of NWA, and released a number of popular solo albums that were hailed for their incredible beats.
‘Still Dre’ got quite interesting as the rapper wanted a sequel to his 1992 album The Chronicle, which received worldwide critical acclaim. Dre was very apprehensive about whether this new album would live up to people’s expectations, so he hired the biggest rapper of the day, Jay-Z, to write the lyrics for the song.
The song also features Snoop Dogg, who told The Breakfast Club at the time; “He wrote Dre’s shit and my shit and it was perfect, it was ‘Still DRE’ and it was Jay-Z and he wrote the whole fucking song.”
Carole King in Kylie Minogue’s “Locomotion”
Carole King was responsible for some of the most covered tracks like “I Feel the Earth Move”, “You’ve Got A Friend” and “So Far Away”, and one of Kylie’s most popular tracks Minogue, “Locomotion”. King wrote it with her then-husband, Gerry Goffin.
Besides Minogue, the track was also covered by Grand Funk Railroad and disco band Ritz, who each brought something very different to the song. The track became one of Minogue’s biggest singles and her breakout single, as it reached No. 1 on our charts at the time.
Cosmo’s Midnight – BTS’s “Fly to My Room”
It’s cool, arguably the biggest boy band in the world, BTS, have worked with one of Australia’s biggest stars on the indie scene, Cosmo’s Midnight.
The Cosmo boys talk about how it went during an interview with Triple J at the time, with the BTS group speaking to Cosmo’s manager asking for any demos that match the BTS sound, the K-Pop mix that features a mix of R&B, Pop and Electronica, something that also fits into Cosmo’s mold.
The track was featured on the band’s 2020 album To be.
For more from BTS, check out this article on how they changed K-Pop.