Fun Facts — Songwriter Edition

by M.C. Antil on September 24, 2010

Did you know…

  • That Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees wrote “To Love Somebody” specifically for Otis Redding, but that Redding died before he was able to record it?


  • That when native Hoosier Hoagy Carmichael wrote the music for “Georgia (On My Mind)” it was widely believed to be a song about a woman (his lyricist supposedly had eyes for Hoagy’s sister, Georgia), and that it was not until the song appeared on Ray Charles’ 1960 concept album, “The Genius Hits the Road,” which celebrated different regions of the U.S. , that it became  a song about a state?


Hoagy Carmichael
  • That the guy who sang the high falsetto lead in the Newbeats’ 1964 Top 20 hits “Run Baby Run” and “Bread and Butter,” Larry Henley, also wrote Bette Midler’s smash hit, “Wind Beneath My Wings?


  • That Freddy Cannon’s 1962 hit, “Palisades Park” was written by part-time game show host, part-time TV producer and (perhaps) part-time CIA hit man, Chuck Barris?


  • That the melody to Tommy Edwards’ 1958 hit, “It’s All in the Game” was written in 1911 by a would-be composer named Charles Dawes, who later gave up his career to become Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge?


  • That saxophonist Ray Kennedy, who co-write the Baby’s 1980’s breakout hit, “Isn’t it Time?” also is listed as a co-writer, along with Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, of the Beach Boys’ sublime minor hit “Sail on Sailor?”


  • That “These Days,” a melancholy, deeply reflective song about regrets and roads-not-taken, recorded in 1967 by Andy Warhol’s occasional muse and chanteuse, Nico, was written two years prior by a 16 year kid named Jackson Browne?


  • That Terry Cashman, who made millions from his “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke)” and who for years produced most of Jim Croce’salbums,” also wrote Spanky and Our Gang’s breakout hit “Sunday Will Never Be the Same?”


  • That Joe South wrote not only Lynn Anderson’s “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden,” Billy Joe Royal’s “Down in the Boondocks,” the Osmonds’ “Yo-Yo,” and his own “Games People Play” and “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,” but also Deep Purple’s “Hush?”


  • That in addition to all those incredible Dionne Warwick hits of the 1960’s, Burt Bacharach wrote two hard rock classics, “Baby It’s You” by Smith, which went to #5 in 1969, and Free’s “Little Red Book,” which in 1966 became something of a staple of underground radio?


  • That the classic Band-Aid jingle, “I am stuck on Band-Aids, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me,” was written by 1970’s pop/schmaltz king, Barry Manilow?


  • That Bob Crewe, who wrote a number of the Four Seasons’ hits (“Candy Girl,” “Dawn,” “Walk Like a Man,” etc.) also wrote the fabulous Walker Brothers hit “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” and LaBelle’s Cajun spiced classic “Lady Marmalade?”


  • That Jimmy Webb, in addition to writing “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” for Glen Campbell, “Macarthur Park” for Richard Harris, “Up, Up and Away” for the Fifth Dimension and “Worst that Could Happen” for the Brooklyn Bridge (to name just a few), also wrote the unique four-part country hit, “The Highwaymen” for the outlaw legends, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson?


Jimmy Webb
  • That in writing the Beach Boys’ first #1 hit, “Surfin’ USA,” Brian Wilson “borrowed” Chuck Berry’s melody for “Sweet Little Sixteen” and reworked the lyrics?


  • That as originally conceived by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, “On Broadway” was a dark, bitter lament about shattered dreams, but that hours before the Drifters went into the studio to record it, Mann and Weil sat down with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, completely re-imagined the song’s central character, upped the tempo, and turned it into a anthem of hope and youthful determination?



Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill

  • That Mike Reid, who wrote Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Ronnie Milsap’s “A Stranger in My House” was not only an All Pro defensive tackle for the 1972 and ’73 Cincinnati Bengals, but an accomplished concert pianist?


  • That “Time is On My Side” was written by Jerry Ragovoy, who also wrote Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby” and “Get It While You Can,” and that the original was recorded in 1963, not by the Rolling Stones, or even Irma Thomas, but by trombonist Kai Winding?


  • That the Jacksons’ 1972 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye” was written by actor Clifton Davis?


  • That following the modestly successful “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” the three films that ratcheted the James Bond franchise to the next level and cemented its place in American popular culture — “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice” — all featured unforgettable, hit theme songs written by John Barry?


  • That Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh, who wrote the band’s seminal 80’s hit, “Whip It,” is now one of the most in-demand composers in Hollywood, with well over 100 movies and TV shows to his credit, among them: “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “Happy Gilmore,” “Lords of Dogstown” and “Dumb and Dumber?”

    Mark Mothersbaugh in his Devo days


  • That Chip Taylor, who wrote both “Angel of the Morning” and “Wild Thing,” is the brother of actor Jon Voight (and uncle of Angelina Jolie)?


  • That for all his reputation as the sensual, poet laureate of the Sunset Strip, the Doors’ two most sexually charged songs, “Light My Fire” and “Touch Me,” were written, not by the Lizard King, Jim Morrison, but by guitarist, Robbie Kreiger?


  • That for all the credit Holland/Dozier/Holland, Smokey Robinson, and (to a lesser extent) Norman Whitfield and Ashford & Simpson have always gotten as the words and music behind the Motown sound, it was a talented but largely unknown songwriter named Mickey Stevensonwho was responsible for the most identifiable two and a half minutes in the storied label’s history: Martha & the Vandella’s “Dancin’ in the Streets” — not to mention Stevie Wonder’s“Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” The Four Tops’ “Ask the Lonely” and Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two?”


  • That in 1978 Barry Gibb had one week in which four of the top five songs in the Billboard 100 were his compositions and another week in which five of the top ten were his, or that he holds the Billboard 100 record for having  once penned six consecutive #1 hits which sat at the top of the charts for 27 straight weeks [“How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water,” “Night Fever,” “If I Can’t Have You,” “Shadow Dancing” and “Grease?”]


  • That while writing the Crystals’ smash hit “Da Doo Ron Ron,” Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich originally jotted down the syllables as placeholders until they could come up with actual words to fit the melody?


  • That the old Tin Pan Alley standard “You Are My Sunshine” was written by two-time Governor of Louisiana, Jimmy Davis?


  • That the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” and Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou” were both written by Gene Pitney?


  • That Johnny Cash’s signature song, “Ring of Fire,” was written by June Carter, who at the time was deeply in love with the singer, despite his being married to another woman — and that Cash’s original version included both his future wife and her mother, the legendary Mother Maybelle Carter, as background singers?


June Carter & Johnny Cash
  • That Tom Dawes, a founding member of the 60’s pop band the Cyrkle, and the guy playing the sitar on the group’s second Top 20 hit, “Turn Down Day,” wrote the Alka-Seltzer jingle, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh what a relief it is?”


  • That one of the signature songs in the Beach Boys’ cannon, “I Can Hear Music,” was written, not by Brian Wilson, but by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich?


  • That Shel Silverstein, who authored two of the best-selling children’s books of all time (“The Giving Tree” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends”) also wrote “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” and “Sylvia’s Mother” for Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, and “The Unicorn” for the Irish Rovers?


  • That Van Dyke Parks, who co-wrote a number of Beach Boys tunes with Brian Wilson, began his career as an actor, playing Little Tommy Manacotti, the Kramdens’ upstairs neighbor in “The Honeymooners?”


  • That, other than Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the songwriter with the most #1 hits to her credit is Mariah Carey?


  • That just three years before writing and recording his blistering Viet Nam-era protest song, “War,” Edwin Starr, who was raised in Detroit’s inner city, wrote the breezy, feel-good “Oh How Happy” for the Shades of Blue, a squeaky clean, blue-eyed, suburban doo wop group from nearby Livonia?


  • That, despite the brilliance and/or longevity of people like Bob Dylan, Lennon/McCartney, Jagger and Richard, Holland/Dozier/Holland, Burt Bacharach, Tony Hatch, Barry Gibb, Thom Bell, Paul Simon, Gamble & Huff, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Carole King, to name just a few, the songwriter who has penned the most Top Ten hits in the history of the Billboard Top 100 is the prolific (and to some, gag-inducing) Diane Warren?


  • That Steve Cropper, while being known primarily as a guitarist, actually co-wrote three of the seminal songs in the Stax catalogue, “In the Midnight Hour,” “Knock on Wood” and “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay?”


  • That of all the classic “Songbook” albums Ella Fitzgerald recorded for Norman Granz and Verve in the 1950’s and 60’s, the only one featuring the songs of a composer who was almost exclusively a lyricist was “The Johnny Mercer Songbook?” — and that Mercer wrote two of his greatest songs, “One For My Baby” and “I Remember You,” after Judy Garland broke his heart by abruptly ending their brief but torrid love affair?

    Johnny Mercer


  • That Rogers and Hammerstein’s “No Way to Stop It” from their 1959 Broadway smash, “The Sound of Music,” was dropped from the 1965 movie version since the producers felt that Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics, which reflected a sentiment commonly held throughout much of Europe during World War II — namely, to try to reach some sort of accommodation with the Nazis — would not sit well with American movie audiences?

  • That the 60’s and 70’s power-pop band, the Grass Roots, were originally not a band at all, but merely a pseudonym that songwriters P.F. Sloane and Steve Barri adopted one day when they took a bunch of sidemen into the studio to cut two demos — and that once the record label heard the two songs and offered Sloane and Barri a contract for more of the same, the songwriters had to then scramble to find a full-time band willing to record and tour under the name the “Grass Roots?”


  • That Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary wrote “The Wedding Song (There is Love)” for his friend and band-mate Peter Yarrow’swedding, after which Stookey established The Public Domain Foundation to ensure that all the royalties of the song went to charity — a royalty figure that in the 30 years since has grown to nearly $2 million?


  • That every one of Lou Christie’s hits in the 1960’s, including “The Gypsy Cried,” “Two Faces Have I,” “Rhapsody in the Rain,” and “Lightnin’ Strikes,” were co-written with Twyla Herbert, and that the two met when he was 15 and she was a 35-year old fortune teller who predicted that the two  would start writing together and that many of their songs would become huge hits?


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