8 Singers Who Never Write Their Own Songs
Pop music is responsible for thousands of legitimately great songs, even if the industry isn’t always (or even usually) based on honor or talent. The music industry often bases success on image, branding and labeling artists with a certain style of music and wardrobe to appeal easily to the masses, regardless of the artist’s actual style or abilities.
It may be easy to condemn modern music for such blatant repackaging when so many so-called artists don’t even write their own songs. But this game dates as far back as modern pop music itself, one that resulted in some of pop music’s greatest songs and artists — and, of course, some of the worst.
Let’s look at both ends of the spectrum by counting down eight of the biggest singers who never wrote their own songs.
1. Elvis Presley
It seems like the King relied on his subjects when it came to songwriting. Elvis Presley, whose boogie-worthy hits and sexualized public image heralded the dawn of the rock era, built his career singing hits he didn’t write, helped by his image-conscious manager Colonel Tom Parker. What makes matters worse is that those who were responsible for penning songs like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” were forced to accept reduced royalty payments due to Presley’s enormous star power.
2. Elton John
We were shocked to learn that Reginald Dwight, better known by his stage name Elton John, didn’t write his own songs. The piano-playing pop icon seems to be the definition of a successful singer-songwriter, but the words behind his songs come primarily from his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin. For most of his albums, Elton has provided the music while Taupin has been in charge of the moving lyrics that make so many of Elton’s songs instant classics.
3. Frank Sinatra
There was an entire rotating team of songwriters behind many of Sinatra’s beloved studio albums, with a slew of semi-recognizable names behind many of his hits. Bart Howard wrote “Fly Me to the Moon”; Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder wrote “Strangers in the Night”; and even Paul Anka wrote the seemingly personal retrospective that is “My Way.”
4. Diana Ross
Diana Ross became an icon of American music first during her time as lead singer of The Supremes, the most popular Motown act of the 1960s, and then as an equally accomplished solo artist. But the beloved singer rarely took charge of the music and lyrics that made it onto her records, relying on songwriters throughout her long career — notably including the songwriting team of Holland–Dozier–Holland, who penned The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” and many other Motown classics.
5. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston’s greatest asset was her larger-than-life voice — so much so that she didn’t need to write her own songs in order to convey intense emotion with every high note she hit. Her legendary voice helped her land a whopping 39 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 throughout her career, but Houston only received credit as a co-writer for two of those songs, “Count on Me” and “Whatchulookinat.”
6. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was another founder of the Motown sound. B ut unlike many of his contemporaries, he continued to thrive into the ’70s by expanding his creative control of the record company that helped build his career. Gaye rose to fame covering other songs and recording songs written and chosen specifically for him, including hits like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
Gaye only started writing more of his own material with his landmark release What’s Going On, wherein he cowrote about half the songs, eventually penning nearly all the tracks alone on subsequent releases like Midnight Love and Trouble Man.
7. Nina Simone
Nina Simone built a career around her incomparably soulful voice and a thrilling blend of jazz, blues, and R&B, but she wasn’t as gifted a songwriter as she was a performer. Simone wrote next to none of the songs in her enormous discography. Instead, she relied on tracks written for her, as well as covers of every artist from Randy Newman to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Robyn Rihanna Fenty is only occasionally credited as a songwriter on her songs. Even then, she’s only one name among many. Most of her biggest hits, from “Umbrella” to “S&M,” were penned by other people without her involvement, though her name has become more common as a songwriter on recent releases like this year’s Anti.
Still, most of her infectious R&B anthems are the result of collaborations with unsung songwriters and recognizable pop stars like Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, Timbaland, and Chris Brown.