Six surprising writers of popular songs
18.01.2022

Six surprising writers of popular songs

david bowie john lennon
(Image: Ron Galella/WireImage)
Words by Benjamin Lamb

From John Lennon to Jay-Z, we look at the most surprising names behind great songs

There comes a point in every music fan’s life when they like to peek behind the curtain of some of their favourite songs and check 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 that you probably didn’t know about.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

John Lennon – David Bowie’s ‘Fame’

The Beatles legend co-wrote one of Ziggy Stardust’s biggest songs alongside the man himself and his guitarist, Carlos Alomar.

The track deals with emotions shared by the mammoth frontmen during their quick rises to fame and negative thoughts surrounding managers and industry workers who often didn’t have the best interests of the artists at heart.

Lennon’s helping hand didn’t stop with the songwriting, the artists also sharing backing vocal and his acoustic guitar prowess on the song.

‘Fame’ quickly became one of Bowie’s biggest, receiving a favourable fan reaction during his live shows, and reaching a top spot on many charts around the world.

John Legend – Ye and Estelle’s ‘American Boy’

The R&B crooner known for tracks like ‘All of Me’ and ‘Love Me Now’ wrote one of the hardest moving tracks of 2008. The vocalist wrote it alongside Ye, Estelle, and will.i.am.

Like all good songs out there, it’s been said this song ruminated from the foursome joking around in the studio. Subsequently, Legend mentioned that Estelle should write a song about an “American Boy” she said in an interview at the time.

Legend also appears in the music video, long before his quick rise to fame and becoming a household name. The song became quite popular reaching number three on the ARIA charts, while grabbing a Grammy, a Brit award, and a MTV Australia award.

Dolly Parton – Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’

Dolly Parton has written some of the world’s most popular songs, like ‘9 to 5’, ‘Jolene’, and perhaps most surprisingly, ‘I Will Always Love You’.

There’s an interesting story behind the writing of this, Parton penning it in dedication of her writing partner Porter Wagoner, who she was splitting up after seven years of work together. The track 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 has made a whopping 10 million dollars from royalties behind the song, as it still appears in TV shows, movies, and is covered by a number of performers regularly.

Jay-Z – Dr. Dre’s ‘Still Dre’

The song that defined the rapper was actually written by someone else.

Dr. Dre is most commonly known for his work behind the scenes with the likes of Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar. But he has had a solid career personally, most notably as a member of N.W.A, and releasing a number of popular solo albums which have been lauded for their amazing beats.

‘Still Dre’ came to be in quite an interesting way as the rapper wanted a follow up to his 1992 album The Chronic, which was released to worldwide critical acclaim. Dre had a great deal of trepidation about whether this new album would reach people’s expectations, so he hired the biggest rapper of the time, Jay-Z, to ghostwrite the song’s lyrics.

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 flawless, It was ‘Still D.R.E.’ and it was Jay-Z and he wrote the whole fucking song.”

Carole King – Kylie Minogue’s ‘Locomotion’

Carole King has been behind some of the most-covered tracks like ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, and ‘So Far Away’, and one of our Kylie Minogue’s most popular tracks, ‘Locomotion’. King wrote it with her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin.

Besides Minogue, the track was also covered by Grand Funk Railroad, and disco group Ritz, who each brought something vastly different to the song. The track became one of Minogue’s biggest and her breakout single as it hitting the number one spot on our charts at the time.

Cosmo’s Midnight – BTS’s ‘Fly to My Room’

This is a cool one, arguably the world’s biggest boy band, BTS, have worked with one of Australia’s biggest stars of the indie scene, Cosmo’s Midnight.

The Cosmo’s boys sharing how it came about during an interview with Triple J at the time, with the BTS group reaching out to Cosmo’s manager asking for any demos that fit in with the BTS sound, the K-Pop blend that features a mix of R&B, Pop and Electronica, something that also fits the mould of Cosmo’s.

The track was featured on the group’s 2020 album Be.

For more BTS, check out this article on how they changed K-Pop.