Who are your favorite pop songwriters that don't perform their own songs?
November 7, 2011 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Who are the greatest behind-the-scenes songwriters/producers? Give me your favorites!

Ideally, I'm looking for two things:

1) Just a list of the great pop/r&b/etc. songwriters and producers - people who write and produce songs that other artists record and perform. I want the people who you'd only find if you took the time to look at the credits in the liner notes of Top 40 type songs, and ideally I'd like the really good ones. I know of some of the really big ones - Diane Warren as a songwriter, Nigel Godrich or Quincy Jones as producers. Who are the others?

2) Is there a way I can, without just researching and buying all the songs separately, listen to compiled playlists of 'songs by x' that are not one lesser-known artist doing a retrospective but actually include the original recordings of the songs? I.e. a Diane Warren playlist that had Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, Beyonce, Areosmith, etc. I'd like to get a sense of the writing styles of good songwriters across the disparity of the differences in performers who record them. What would be the best way to do this? Do any of the internet radio stations do this?

Thanks AskMe!
posted by Lutoslawski to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: One of my faves is the team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. I wish there were a compilation CD of their best songs.
posted by dfan at 11:32 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Holland-Dozier-Holland too, who incidentally get a nice shoutout from the Magnetic Fields.
posted by dfan at 11:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Max Martin - seriously I think Baby One More Time is one of the best pop songs ever.
The-Dream
Johan Schuster (often credited with Martin)
posted by radioamy at 11:40 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Stargate
posted by empath at 11:43 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Dr Luke
posted by empath at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Phil Spector may have shot a lady in the face, but he's still the best and most influential pop music producer and songwriter who ever lived, and much of his most important work is collected in the wonderful and relatively affordable Back to Mono.
posted by eugenen at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: In the realm of UK pop, definitely look at Brian Higgins/Miranda Cooper aka Xenomania.
posted by bcwinters at 11:45 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Leiber and Stoller wrote pretty much everything in early rock and roll.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:51 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Best answer: Glen Ballard (who I didn't realize until recently once one of the writers on the Thriller album)

Rodney Jerkins

There are lots of others (e.g. the various songwriting teams who write Lady GaGa's songs), who get credited as a single songwriter or a songwriting duo but who are actually backed by teams of songwriters who all work together. Songwriting credits on pop songs are rarely, if ever, accurately indicative of who actually wrote the songs or in what proportion. And there is an extremely small community of artists in L.A., including songwriters, producers, and studio singers, who produce the vast majority of American pop hits credited to big artists. If you dig, you can find the credits with various names on them, so it's actually not a strict "secret." But the publicity machine that implies credit to the big names is so powerful that fans often refuse to believe that their favorite pop star genius did not actually come up with the song late one night while suffering alone over a piano.

I've been a fly on the wall in studio sessions that blew my mind.
posted by The World Famous at 11:53 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
posted by The World Famous at 11:55 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:55 AM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Joe Henry is a pretty spectacular producer, in addition to a fine body of work of his own.
posted by jbickers at 11:55 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Stock, Aitken, Waterman
posted by empath at 12:08 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: This may be not quite what you had in mind, but you should really look into The Funk Brothers, the session musicians behind a list of #1 hits as long as your arm but who were very rarely credited for their contributions.

The added bonus here is that they're the subject of a ridiculously fun documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which features something of a reunion concert with vocals by contemporary vocalists interspersed with interviews and historical materials.
posted by valkyryn at 12:10 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Also (as just a sort of side note), from what I've heard from people in the process, there are several artists known for contacting lots of people and asking them to spend time writing and producing songs to submit for a new in-progress album, gathering way more fully-produced songs than they'll ever need for the album and then picking and choosing from those and, often, keeping what they don't use just in case. That process can result in, um, hurt feelings of the people who spend lots of time and energy writing songs for which they don't get paid.

BTW, did you catch in that article that Rob Fusari "settled a legal disagreement over song credits and royalties last year" with GaGa, that he came up with her stage name, and that he co-wrote much of her first album, including Paparazzi? You don't see Rob Fusari mentioned a whole lot by GaGa fans eager to call her a great songwriter, do you?
posted by The World Famous at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: This is exactly the what I'm looking for. Thanks guys, and keep 'em coming!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:13 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: L.A. Reid
posted by yawper at 12:16 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham
posted by neroli at 12:16 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Also:
Robert "Mutt" Lange
Richard Marx, surprisingly
Linda Perry
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds
posted by yawper at 12:25 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Best answer: The Matrix did a lot of good work last decade. They are also a great one for comparing across artists, as they did top-notch work for at least 4 or 5 different acts (despite only ever selling tons with Avril Lavigne).

And he's kind of a one hit wonder in this discussion, but I have always had a soft spot for Glen Ballard due to his role in Jagged Little Pill. I'm not sure he ever wrote much else, but what an accomplishment that one was.
posted by pinespree at 12:25 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: And Ryan Tedder
posted by yawper at 12:25 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Sorry, this is getting ridiculous. But how could I forget David Foster? I'll stop now.
posted by yawper at 12:27 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Jules Shear

Vic Chestnutt

Tin Pan Alley

Brill Building
posted by oneironaut at 12:41 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Also here is a spotify playlist of Dr. Luke tracks that I did not make. It's a bit out of date, lacking entries from Teenage Dream and Femme Fatale that are some of his best work, but it's a start. You may be able to find similar lists for other producers, if you use spotify.

I'm listening to this one right now, btw, so thanks for that. :)
posted by pinespree at 12:42 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Daniel Lanois!
posted by mefireader at 12:44 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Frank Farian, although he "commonly inserts himself as a backing or lead vocalist in place or, in tandem with, the male performers in the groups that he produces".
posted by djb at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: T-Bone Burnett
posted by Thorzdad at 12:51 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Jim Steinman: the guy who basically made Meatloaf..... Meatloaf, as well as writing virtually every tacky power ballad in the 1980s and 1990s.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 12:51 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Stephen Hague, Stuart Price and Pascal Gabriel.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 12:51 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Tony Hatch for 60s English pop. (And the 'Neighbours' theme, but let's pass over that.)

Cathy Dennis had a short career as a pop star, but a much longer and more successful one as a writer.

Alan Moulder occupies a similar place to Albini and Vig for British indie music.
posted by holgate at 12:59 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: He's certainly not as big as some of the others listed up here, but I got a happy little surprise when I realized that two of the only country songs that get me to the core (Cowboy Take Me Away and Bless the Broken Road) were written by the same guy: Marcus Hummon.
posted by Madamina at 1:00 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: The Neptunes and Timbaland have been enormously successful in hip hop and have also had some success on the pop charts.
posted by chrchr at 1:12 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Rick Rubin for early Beastie Boys and, well, more than you'd think.

Prince Paul
for 90's hip hop.
posted by cmoj at 1:13 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Ashford and Simpson are gigantic in Motown.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:05 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I would 2nd Brian Eno from above, and add Nile Rodgers, both of whom were instrumental in crafting David Bowie's sounds. It's hard to over-state Nile Rodgers' impact on the sound of the late 70's into the 80's. Just as a sample, we wouldn't have Good Times, Love Shack, or Like a Virgin without him.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:45 PM on November 7, 2011


Response by poster: This is fantastic. Thank you. Best answers all around.

BTW, did you catch in that article that Rob Fusari "settled a legal disagreement over song credits and royalties last year" with GaGa, that he came up with her stage name, and that he co-wrote much of her first album, including Paparazzi? You don't see Rob Fusari mentioned a whole lot by GaGa fans eager to call her a great songwriter, do you?


I did not catch it, and that is fascinating. I actually always wondered about GaGa, because she is esteemed so much as the 'pop star that writes her own stuff and has creative control," and I always sort of didn't buy that completely. Good to know that my hunch wasn't nuts.

Also here is a spotify playlist of Dr. Luke tracks that I did not make.

I signed up for Spotify just for this and it's fantastic - exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I wonder if anyone else has made similar playlists for other writers/producers. I'm sort of surprised that isn't more of a thing people do.

And don't stop - the more the merrier.

Thanks all!
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:49 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Karla Bonoff
posted by Wordwoman at 3:48 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: Your post has inspired me to seek out some other tracks by producers I like on spotify, so thanks! Here are some results:
  • Dr. Luke (now updated by me to include late 2010/2011)
  • The Matrix, a list that I built in the last few hours (I had been meaning to do this since Spotify came around). They did few enough tracks that this list includes some mediocre stuff and some re-used ideas (which I also find interesting). I chose to leave off some Korn, but it's easy to find - they were credited on every track on two albums, I think.
  • A stunner of a Max Martin list that I found. His consistent quality and longevity is amazing.
  • A non-spotify Rick Rubin list (don't be surprised if you see another comment from me in two hours with a spotify link for this one).
  • Kanye West (excludes his own tracks, which include some of his best production – but they made another list for that).
  • Kanye vs. Timbaland.

posted by pinespree at 4:21 PM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Best answer: Don Was
John Hammond
posted by Ideefixe at 8:42 PM on November 7, 2011


Best answer: I have no idea how people are getting those nifty playlists working, but my favourite musician ever,Darren Hayes, has recently been writing songs for other people after a successful career with Savage Garden. He also has a growing solo career, and his recent release was actually sparked from a whole bunch of songs he wrote that were supposed to be for others but that he realised were really about him.

Some of his B-Sides have been performed by other people - Human Nature, Clay Aiken, Backstreet Boys - but I'm not entirely sure of any songs that he's written and others performed that he hasn't also released one way or another.

Does anyone on here know how I can get a list of songs written by someone who mostly does his own material if you're after the songs other people have sang?
posted by divabat at 9:17 PM on November 7, 2011


Owen Bradley was a hugely influential producer in country music. He played a large part in helping Patsy Cline develop her signature style. K.D. Lang had him produce her album Shadowlands, which is subtitled "The Owen Bradley Sessions".

From his wikipedia page:

His production of Cline's legendary hits like "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Walkin' After Midnight" remain, more than forty years on, the standard against which great female country records are measured today.
posted by marsha56 at 1:16 AM on November 9, 2011


"Is there a way I can, without just researching and buying all the songs separately, listen to compiled playlists of 'songs by x' that are not one lesser-known artist doing a retrospective but actually include the original recordings of the songs?"

Todd Rundgren's An Elpee's Worth of Productions has original tracks by Meatloaf, XTC, Patti Smith, New York Dolls, Grand Funk, and more.

Also, totally seconding, thirding, and fourthing Valkyryn's mention of the Funk Brothers.
posted by kristi at 10:16 AM on November 9, 2011


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