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Hit songs with shocking songwriters

- August 21st, 2013

There are some extremely talented artists out there who have a real knack for writing a great pop song — and in some cases, for other acts.

Heck, Prince could have his own hits collection with the songs he’s dished out to other singers.

However, it’s not just stars writing for other stars. As you’ll see below, there are some bizarre ones — including a notable serial killer who wrote a tune for a legendary surfer group and the King of Pop mysteriously penning a hit for a popular TV cartoon character.

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So next time you have a physical copy of an album, don’t forget to check the fine print in the liner notes — you never know what names will show up beside your favourite track.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable (and some downright creepy) songs written by other famous, and infamous people: (add your own popular ones at the bottom of the page):

Songwriter: Prince

Song: “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Sinead O’Connor), “Manic Monday” (The Bangles), “Stand Back” (Stevie Nicks), “Glamourous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” (Sheila E), “I Feel for You” (Chaka Khan) and “Jungle Love” (The Time).

411: The Purple One had many of his songs turns to gold, but none more than Sinead O’Connor’s version “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Originally written for a 1985 funk side project of his called The Family, Sinead re-did the soulful ballad five years later and made it into one of the the biggest hits of the ’90s.

Songwriter: Michael Jackson

Song: “Do the Bartman” (Bart Simpson)

411: Rumours began to swirl that Michael Jackson, who was a huge fan of the show, had actually produced and written the pop/rap song (performed by Bart’s voice Nancy Cartwright) when it was released in 1990, but “Simpsons” exec James L. Brooks vehemently denied the claims. It wasn’t until eight years later, when creator Matt Groening fessed up and admitted to MJ’s hand in the project. The reason for the secrecy? Jackson couldn’t be given credit for the tune since he was under contract to another music label.

Songwriter: Neil Diamond

Song: “Red, Red Wine” (UB40), “I’m A Believer” (Monkees).

411: UB40 turned Diamond’s acoustic ballad and turned it into a reggae smash hit around the world. Ironically, the band didn;t even realize it was a Diamond song when they recorded it — they thought they were covering a song from Jamaican artist Tony Tribe (who had done a version in 1969).

Songwriter: Jessie J

Song: “Party in the U.S.A.” (Miley Cyrus)

411: Jessie J, who is best known for her hit “Price Tag,” thought the track wasn’t provocative for her, passed it on to Miley Cyrus. We’re sure Miley sends her a Christmas card every year — it has become one of Cyrus’s biggest hits to date.

Songwriter: Bruno Mars

Song: “F**k You” (Cee Lo Green — obvious caution — explicit lyrics)

411: Bruno Mars began singing the No. 1 hit while in the studio with Cee Lo Green, and contemplated whether the expletive-laden cut was even worth recording. Yes, it was Bruno.

Songwriter: Charles Manson

Song: “Never Learn Not to Love” (Beach Boys)

411: Dennis Wilson helped out a struggling musician named Charles Manson in 1968 by recording a track he wrote titled “Cease to Exist.” After getting word that Wilson had altered the lyrics and changed the name of the tune to “Never Learn Not to Love,” Manson threatened him with death. Although he never followed through with his threat, Manson became a household name the following year for the Manson Family murders.

Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen

Song: Because the Night (Patti Smith)

411: The Boss had it originally earmarked for his 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” but wasn’t happy with it. With Patti Smith recording in a studio beside him, he handed the track over to her and it became one of her best-known songs of her career.

Songwriter: Ke$ha

Song: “Till the World Ends” (Britney Spears)

411: The popular party song was co-written by Ke$ha, and a remixed version features her vocals on it.

Songwriter: Dan Hill

Song: “I Promise You (With Everything I Am)” (Backstreet Boys)

411: Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Hill (come on, you know “Sometimes When We Touch” was regularly tapped by other artists for his tunes. This Backstreet Boys track was one of the biggest — their “Black and Blue” album has sold over 24 million copies worldwide. Cha-ching.

Songwriter: Avril Lavigne

Song: “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)

411: After being thought of as unsuitable for Avril Lavigne’s debut 2002 album “Let Go,” it was handed to Kelly Clarkson. She recorded it for the soundtrack for the film “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” and it became such a big hit that she included it on her then upcoming new studio album. The name of the 2004 album? “Breakaway.” Don’t mess with success.

Songwriter: The Dream and Milian

Song: “Baby” (Justin Bieber)

411: Don’t pretend you don’t know the song. The annoying little ditty that put the Biebs on the map was — you guessed it — NOT written by the pride of Stratford, Ontario. It was penned by R&B singer Christina Milian and then husband/producer The Dream. When they split, a “Baby” battle ensued — the pair fought each other in court over the royalties to the song. Here’s a hint as to why: As of July 2013, it is the best-selling song in U.S. history, as it is the only song ever to have been certified 12x platinum.

Songwriter: Kris Kristofferson

Song: “Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin)

411: The Kris Kristofferson song was originally performed by Roger Miller and also covered by Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot, but it was the famous version recorded by Janis Joplin that skyrocketed to No. 1. Kristofferson wasn’t even aware that she recorded the track until after she died.

Songwriter: Bjork

Song: “Bedtime Story” (Madonna)

411: The Icelandic singer was given the opportunity to write a song for Madge, and she made it count. Madonna used the song, which was originally titled “Let’s Get Unconscious,” on her sixth studio disc, “Bedtime Stories.”

Songwriter: Lenny Kravitz

Song: “Justify My Love” (Madonna)

411: Lenny Kravitz wrote the trip-hop inspired song for Madonna based on a poem written by his friend Ingrid Chavez. Here’s where it gets dramatic: Chavez was never credited on the track, so she ended up suing Kravitz. She received an out-of-court settlement, and gained a co-writing credit.

Songwriter: Paul Shaffer

Song: “It’s Raining Men” (Weather Girls)

411: Before he was David Letterman’s musical guru, he wrote a song that become an international smash. After being rejected by the likes of Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Cher, and Barbra Streisand, the Weather Girls turned it into an instant disco hit in 1982. It was then later covered by RuPaul and Spice Girls star Geri Halliwell.

Songwriter: Nas

Song: “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” (Will Smith)

411: If you look up the songwriting credits, rapper Nas is nowhere to be found. Trust us, though, he helped (ghost) write it.

Songwriter: Dolly Parton

Song: “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston)

411: Unless you live on the moon, you already know that country legend Dolly Parton wrote this 1974 track originally.

Songwriter: Cat Stevens

Song: “First Cut Is the Deepest” (Rod Stewart)

411: The song, written in 1969 by folk singer Cat Stevens, became a massive hit for Rod Stewart in 1976, after it was released as a single from his album “A Night on the Town.”

Songwriter: David Bowie

Song: “All the Young Dudes” (Mott the Hoople)

411: After finding out the glam-rock band Mott the Hoople were about to split due to a lack of success, David Bowie quickly penned the track for them in 1972 (they first rejected “Suffragette City”). It became one of their signature songs in their catalogue.

Songwriter: Lennon-McCartney

Song: “I Wanna Be Your Man” (The Rolling Stones)

411: Share and share alike, they say. The song, which was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was recorded by both the Stones and the Beatles, and released by both, two weeks apart in 1963.

Songwriter: Neil Young

Song: “Lotta Love” (Nicolette Larson)

411: This cheesy easy-listening hit from 1978 was written by Neil Young, and given to Nicolette Larson after she did vocal work on Young’s 1977 album, “American Stars ‘n Bars.”

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5 comments

  1. TheMurf | August 23, 2013 at 12:03 am

    There’s a difference between an artist giving/writing a song to another artist to record and artists who have more success covering a song previously recorded by the songwriter. The most successful version of the Cat Stevens song in Canada was by Keith Hampshire. A more interesting category would be: songs so successful that they are perceived to be the original version like – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”.

  2. EH | August 23, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
    Song: Because the Night (Patti Smith)
    411: The Boss had it originally earmarked for his 1778 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” but wasn’t happy with it. With Patti Smith recording in a studio beside him, he handed the track over to her and it became one of her best-known songs of her career.

    1778???? Well done Mr.Springsteen

  3. John Williams | August 23, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Yes, a big difference — but the original person still wrote the song. Thanks for the feedback!

  4. John Williams | August 23, 2013 at 8:49 am

    That would be incredible, wouldn’t it? ;)

    The typo has been fixed (1978).

    Cheers,
    John

  5. BBGUY11 | August 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Not a lot of people know that “Every Time You Go Away” – which was an ’80s smash for Paul Young – was actually written by Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates fame). Or how about “Angel Eyes” – a top 10 hit by Jeff Healey that was written by John Hiatt?

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