In Honor of Leiber & Ashord, 10 Great Behind-The-Scenes Songwriters You May Not Know
Nick Ashford was 70 years old. Jerry Leiber was 78.
This past week saw the passing of two of rock music's greatest unsung heroes, Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber. Although maybe not household names, the songs written by Ashford, one half of husband-and-wife songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, and Lieber, one half of Leiber & Stoller, are instantly recognizable.
Ashford & Simpson are responsible for megahits such as "Ain't No mountain High Enough" (first made famous Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell) and "I'm Every Woman" (made famous by Whitney Houston). Meanwhile, Lieber & Stoller wrote the eternal Elvis hits "Jailhouse Rock" and "Hound Dog," as well as the classic "Stand By Me."
So why aren't these names as famous as those who performed the hits they penned? Partially because songwriting is only one-half of the magic hitmaking formula; putting a performance, and a face, along with a great tune is often as important as the song itself.
Would "Hound Dog" be as great if it were performed by the nerdy, balding Leiber? Tough to say. The legendary Carole King, a mousy young woman who had spent years behind the scenes penning hits at the legendary Brill Building production studio (where Leiber also worked) before attaining solo success in 1971, was able to make it work. Kanye West, the wind beneath Jay-Z's wings for many years, is another example of a great songwriter exploding from behind the scenes.
However, many songwriters, among them Ashford and Leiber, just remain behind the curtain, churning out amazing hits over the course of careers that often last decades longer than the artists they've written for. Their legacies are not in their names, but in their art.
To that end, we've collected a list of 10 more great songwriters you might not have heard of, but whose hits you can probably sing along to without thinking twice. Click on the jump and prepare to be surprised. Turns out the guy who wrote "Livin' On A Prayer" also wrote "Thong Song." Bet you didn't see that one coming.
10. Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman. This virtuosic Brill Building duo was highly influenced by the blues; they collaborated with Phil Spector and Lieber & Stoller on some truly high profile hits in the 1950s and '60s. Independent of one another, they wrote hits. But their biggest hits, such as "This Magic Moment" by the Drifters and Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas," were written together.
9. Desmond Child. After a failed attempt to make it as a singer in his own right, Child went behind the scenes -- and suddenly began cranking out the hits at an astounding pace. Child wrote many of the most recognizable hits of the '80s and '90s, including Aerosmith's "Crazy" and "Dude Looks Like a Lady," Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca," Sisqo's "Thong Song", Alice Cooper's "Poison," and many of Bon Jovi's most famous tunes (including "Livin' On a Prayer," "You Give Love a Bad Name," and "Bad Medicine").
8. Barry & Greenwich. Another husband-and-wife duo that sprang from the Brill Building, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich co-wrote an astonishing number of hits, including "Be My Baby" (The Ronettes), "Da Doo Ron Ron" (The Crystals), and "Do Wah Diddy" (Manfred Mann). Barry & Greenwich later partnered with a young songwriter they discovered during his own years in the Brill Building -- some a guy named Neil Diamond. Together, Greenwich, Barry and Diamond composed hits like "Kentucky Woman" that spurred on Diamond's burgeoning career.
7. Stargate. That flawless production and catchy hook on Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" comes courtesy of this Swedish duo (government names Mikkel Storleer Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen). In the five years since "Irreplaceable" topped the charts, Stargate have written and produced a bunch of hits for Rihanna, including "Rude Boy," "Take A Bow," "Only Girl In the World," and "What's My Name," as well as taking over production duties on Katy Perry's "Firework."
6. Boyce & Hart. This Don Kirshner-backed duo tried to make it as performers,. But they weren't young enough, cute enough and charismatic enough for people to pay attention. Instead, these brilliant songwriters moved behind the scenes, penning, most notably songs for a quartet of young, cute, and charismatic boys called The Monkees.
5. Max Martin. This Swedish songwriter and producer, born Martin Sandberg, has cranked out a phenomenal number of No. 1 hits since breaking huge with the Backstreet Boys hits "Quit Playin' Games With My Heart" and "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" in the late '90s. As well as penning lots more Backstreet tunes, Martin wrote Britney Spears' behemoth "...Baby One More Time" and "Oops! I Did It Again" and gets co-writing credits, often collaborating with fellow Swede Dr. Luke, on such monster hits as Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and "My Life Would Suck Without You," Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream" and "ET," and Pink's "Raise Your Glass."
4. Gamble & Huff. Founders of Motown rivals Philadelphia International Records, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were responsible for the Philadelphia soul sound of the 1970s. Gamble & Huff wrote and produced some truly monstrous hits, such as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now," the O'Jays' "Love Train" and "Now That We Found Love," and Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones."
3. Mann & Weil. The husband-and-wife songwriting duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil started out working at Don Kirshner's publishing company, whose offices were right around the corner from the Brill Building. Perhaps there was something in the water in that neighborhood, as Mann & Weil wrote some of the 20th century's most recognizable hits, including "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers, "Here You Come Again" by Dolly Parton, and the 1987 movie hit "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail, which netted them an Academy Award.
2. Dr. Luke. If it seems like the Swedes have written every pop hit of the last decade, well, they kind of have. Dr. Luke, meanwhile, is perhaps the country's most prolific export. This dude's resume is completely unreal: After spending a decade with the Saturday Night Live band, Dr. Luke, born Lukasz Gottwald, went on to co-write hits for Ke$ha ("Tik Tok", "Your Love Is My Drug"), Taio Cruz ("Dynamite") and Miley Cyrus ("Party in the USA"). He also partnered with fellow songwriter Max Martin on hits for Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Flo Rida, as well as working with such diverse artists as Pitbull and Weezer.
1. Diane Warren. Her extraordinary career has given Warren more name recognition than many on this list, but nevertheless, her music remains more famous than Warren herself. Unlike many artists on this list, Warren is the sole songwriter for most of her hits. She broke into the industry in the mid-'80s, when her song "Rhythm of the Night" became a hit for the group DeBarge. She later went on to help shape the sound of '80s pop like no other artist. A few more from the endless list of Warren-penned hits include Taylor Dayne's "Love Will Lead You Back," Milli Vanilli's tragicomic yet undeniably catchy "Blame It on the Rain," Leann Rimes' "How Do I Live," Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" and the Bad English monster ballad "When I See You Smile."
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