Nine of the most prolific songwriting duos of all time

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Nine of the most prolific songwriting duos of all time

songwriting duos
Words by Ally Oop & Mixdown Staff

From Lennon & McCartney to Vanda & Young, check out some of the best songwriting duos to combine their talents

Songwriters are respected for their heartfelt lyrics, prose, rocking riffs, catchy memorable sing-a-longs, middle eight crescendo’s, and fusion of multiple genres, while songwriting duos have been iconic as long as music has been written

Musicians especially will definitely empathise songs can’t consistently be put together in 10 minutes lyrically or with anything cool happening with the music if they want to earn the respect of their peers. Songwriting construction can take a day to weeks or even years to completely compose, mix, and produce in their entirety.

The listed songwriting duos are going down in music history as some of the best.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

John Lennon & Paul McCartney

The two crossed paths in 1957 while Lennon was playing in skiffle group, The Quarrymen. The talented Liverpudlian musicians both went on to create one of the most highly successful and respected of songwriting partnerships.

Together they sold over 600 million records and have jointly-credited songs totalling 180 between the years of 1962 and 1970! Legendary status? Yep, we think so.

There are so many Beatles hits you could rattle off that are credited to the pair, while ‘Yesterday’ has been recorded by more artists than any other song. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote lyrics and music, so they agreed that all material written would be jointly credited to both of them from 1962.

A win-win situation, but the legendary Liverpudlians among the best songwriting duos were definitely like polar opposites. A truly competitive collaboration!

Don Henley & Glenn Frey

The pair from one of America’s biggest selling bands the Eagles wrote most of their truly unforgettable rock and country-fused hit songs.

The hedonistic, party animals had a wide variety of hits, not bad for a bunch of musicians that started with humble beginnings playing with legend Linda Ronstadt. ‘Hotel California’ as an album sold over 16 million copies. Other iconic songs include ‘Desperado’ and ‘Tequila Sunrise’ , both written in the same week of their enduring collaboration (1973).

Henley mentioned in order for a song to be memorable in construction, the following will be required to make it work: ‘melody, rhythm, and in what is being said’. Four decades later the Eagles continue to sell out stadiums worldwide, only now without the late great Glenn Frey, one half of one of the greatest songwriting duos ever.

Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Do these two need an introduction? As if we hadn’t dropped big enough bands already, why not go with the Rolling Stones next? The two were the primary songwriters for the band and continue to be heralded as one of the greatest songwriting duos to this day.

‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’ boasts one of the most famous guitar riffs famously made up in a motel room by Keith Richards. ‘Brown Sugar’ (1971) was one lewd, rockin’, and definitely controversial song from one of their best albums, Sticky Fingers (1971), one of the best albums of all time in fact.

‘Start Me Up’  from Tattoo You (1981) was one of their biggest hits of the 1980s in the U.S and is often used as an opening song for Rolling Stones live shows. Many are not aware the song has been used for a highly lucrative Microsoft Windows 95 marketing campaign which is definitely unique!

The Rolling Stones have won numerous accolades including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, and were then inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1993.

Jagger was honoured with an award of Knighthood for services to popular music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2002, and in 2005, Jagger and Richards were awarded yet again for an Ivor Novello Special Award for Songwriting.

Daryl Hall & John Oates

Hall and Oates are arguable one of the most popular pop rock duo who achieved their greatest level of fortune and fame from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s.

A raft of songs catapulted them to international stardom, with several songs peaking at number one including ‘Rich Girl’ (1977), Kiss On My List (1980), two 1981 releases ‘Private Eyes’ and ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’, Maneater (1982), and ‘Out of Touch (1984). Who doesn’t love these songs?

Their 16 U.S top ten achievements also include ‘She’s Gone’, ‘You Make my Dreams’, ‘Say It Isn’t So’, and the very clever and super smooth ‘Method of Modern Love’. Seven of their albums have been RIAA-certified platinum and six of them achieved gold status.

In the UK, they have achieved success with two top ten albums and six top 40 singles, while the duo spent a whopping 120 weeks in the UK Top 75 albums chart and 84 weeks in the UK Top 75 singles chart. A remarkable achievement for a songwriting duo considered the most highly sampled artists of today, and of the more respected songwriting duos ever.

Their influence can be heard within many boy bands, neo-soul, and rap-rock recordings of today.    

Elton John & Bernie Taupin

The fact that this duo has spent 50 years of writing hit songs is truly remarkable – not to mention intense! Bernie had the poetic abilities and Elton had the musical compositor skills.

The highly talented duo met by chance via an advertisement from Liberty records in 1960 and have worked on a whopping 30 albums to date, demonstrating a passionate, persevering ethic. As a legendary duo, they composed classic hits including much loved favourites ‘Candle in the Wind’, ‘Your Song’, ‘Bennie and the Jets’, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, and ‘Tiny Dancer’.

Together they have won Grammys, an Oscar, and Bernie has even won a Golden Globe for work aside of his lyrical contributions with Elton John. Pretty impressive CV! They were also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame together in 1992 which is most definitely well deserved for one of the most prolific songwriting duos ever!

Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Leiber and Stoller can attest to collaborating on over 70 songs in their musical catalogue during their early career days in the 1950s for many popular music genres, creating musical classics in rhythm and blues, jazz, and cabaret – not to mention rock and roll.

The legendary duo wrote a successful line of Presley hits which included ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Love Me’, ‘Loving You’, ‘Don’t’, and ‘Jailhouse Rock’, among a swathe others for the King. Following the triumph of ‘Hound Dog’, Elvis Presley continued to record more than 20 Leiber and Stoller songs.Notable Songs included  ‘Loving You’, ‘Bossa Nova Baby’, ‘She’s Not You’, and ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’.

Other successful artists have recorded their songs including The Beach Boys, B.B King, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bill Haley and The Comets, and Tom Jones to name a few! More classic hits keep rolling such as ‘Stand by Me’, ‘Spanish Harlem’, and ‘Fools Fall in Love’ – truly unforgettable songs.

Leiber and Stoller were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of fame (1985), Record Producers Hall of Fame (1986), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), In the year of 2000 they celebrated their 50th anniversary as a team!

Robert Plant & Jimmy Page

Possibly the progressive hard rocking songwriting team of Led Zeppelin fame who are considered one of the highest selling music artists of all time. Not only successful, but musically innovative and influential.

Their music is deeply rooted in the blues genre, with ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (1969) being their first smash hit and was certified gold, a great start for the band! The track was credited to Page, but as time went on, Plant’s activity in the songwriting department grew

‘Stairway to Heaven’ (1971) is still widely regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, and ‘Kashmir’ (1975) is one remarkably progressive song for its time, an absolute masterpiece in composition featuring string and horn sections. All band members of Led Zeppelin agreed the song is one of their best musical achievements.

Their songs have influenced legendary English rock bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Queen, also American grunge rockers Nirvana and Pearl Jam, not to mention post punk band The Ramones.

Harry Vanda & George Young

To put it frankly, without Vanda and Young, it’s arguable as to whether Australian music would even be what it is today. First bursting into mainstream consciousness as the mop-top guitarists for The Easybeats in the mid ’60s, Harry Vanda and George Young would later go on to become one of the most formidable songwriting duos in history.

Their penchant for songwriting was simply unparalleled, and the duo’s drive to stay on top saw them hone their craft behind the boards in a manner the Australian industry had never seen before.

From romper stomper rock ‘n roll and raw hard rock through to disco, new-wave and even proto-house, Vanda & Young possessed a Midas touch workflow that surpassed all of their contemporaries, and the fact that they were gun musicians didn’t hinder the cause either.

Their biggest hits include ‘She’s So Fine’ and ‘Friday On My Mind’ with the Easybeats, as well as ‘Good Times’ which was famously covered by INXS & Jimmy Barnes. They then bunkered down in the studio with Stevie Wright to forge what many consider the trio’s crowning triumph: the three-part, eleven-minute rock epic ‘Evie’.

Vanda and Young would once again reunite with John Paul Young to pen one of the most greatest Aussie disco singles of all time: ‘Love Is In The Air’.

Everything about this song sounds like a romance in full bloom; the tender piano chords and subtle strings of the verse arise like butterflies before culminating in one great euphoric chorus crescendo, with John Paul Young belting out the refrain with all the gusto in the world to put the icing on the cake.


Donald Fagen & Walter Becker

Fagen and Becker were originally hired by Gary Katz as staff songwriters at ABC records and the rest, as they say, is history as the jazz loving duo went on to form Steely Dan.  

Steely Dan’s application of jazz harmony within a rock-songwriting blueprint was unrivalled in its intricacy and audacity. Their innovative use of the μ (Mu) chord became their signature; Becker described how it seeks to enrich the sound of your major chord “without turning it into a jazz chord”. The Mu chord is basically like your typical sus2 chord, but with the major third always paired next to it. For example, the chorus in ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ relies on a back and forth between G μ (5th fret on guitar) and A μ:

Steely Dan’s genius lay within their ability to envelop some of the most conceivably messed up lyrical themes inside of a sleek, meticulously-produced finished product. The A-Grade session musicians employed by perfectionists Becker and Fagen provided the veneer for their observations of society’s grotesque imperfections. It is the ironical wit, songwriting mastery and toil for perfection that’ll ensure Steely Dan’s output stands the test of time.

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