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.