Did you know some of the biggest hits in rock and metal featured outside songwriters?
Way back in the formative years of rock 'n' roll, when Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard were ripping up the rulebook and laying down the foundations of modern popular music, professional song-writers provided many of the hits for the stars. Even Berry, a prolific writer himself, made use of the rich back-catalogue of material by blues and country artists. Presley, of course, could pick and choose from the top composers of the day. In the late '50s and early '60s, both Motown and Stax employed crack in-house writing teams, and the famous Brill Building churned out songs by the hundreds.
Then along came Bob Dylan and The Beatles, ushering in the golden age of the singer-songwriter. From that time onward, the business of composing has shifted dramatically, especially in the rock world. In the pop sphere, the number of artists who do not write their own material is high. In fact, an increasingly small number of writers provide the songs for a growing number of stars.
In the rock realm, the overwhelming majority of bands are responsible for their own material. This is not always the case, however. Even the very best make use of a fresh injection of outside talent from time to time, and you may be surprised to learn that some of rock's biggest hits were penned in collaboration with outside writers.
10 Massive Rock Hits That Feature Outside Songwriters
Ghost, “Cirice” (Klas Ahlund)
Swedish rockers Ghost scored big with a somewhat unlikely hit in the form of “Cirice” ("church" in English) – a six-minute song with lengthy instrumental passages. “Cirice” hit No. 4 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Chart and scooped a well-earned Grammy for Best Metal Performance (2016). Loudwire even ranked the track at No. 2 in our list of Best Metal Songs of 2015.
That video, inspired by cult 1976 horror film, Carrie, is well worth seeking out, as is footage of the band's performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which featured in our list of 10 Heaviest Bands to Play Live on Late Night TV. Ghost's primary singer and songwriter, Tobias Forge takes equal credit for the song, but many might not know that it was co-written by Klas Frans Ahlund, who also produced the piece.
Ahlund himself is a founding member of Swedish rock group, Teddybears. The guitarist, producer and songwriter has collaborated with a diverse and impressive roster of acts, including Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Madonna. His brother, Joakim, contributes guitar and vocals to the band Caesars.
Ozzy Osbourne, “I Don’t Want to Change the World” (Lemmy Kilmister)
A hit song from a hit album, “I Don't Want To Change The World” remains one of legendary singer Ozzy Osbourne's most enduring hits. Taken from his sixth solo outing, 1991s No More Tears, the track was, incredibly, never released as a commercial single in Ozzy's home country of England.
The song did well in the U.S., however, and two years later a version that appeared on Osbourne's live album, the appropriately-titled Live & Loud, earned a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.
No More Tears itself reached the Top 20 in both the U.S. and the U.K., spawning three other hits, and rivals 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz as the artist's best-selling solo effort, being certified platinum by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). The album is also notable for being the last to feature long-time Ozzy stalwarts Randy Castillo and Bob Daisley.
Drummer Castillo shares writing credits for “I Don't Want To Change The World,” alongside Osbourne and bandmate Zakk Wylde. An important outside co-credit comes in the form of one Ian Fraser Kilmister, better-known of course as Motörhead founder and bassist Lemmy. From the same album, Lemmy also co-wrote “Desire,” “Hellraiser” and “Mama, I'm Coming Home,” the latter of which hit No. 2 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Charts.
Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On a Prayer” (Desmond Child)
There can't be many rock fans raised in the ‘80s who aren't familiar with Bon Jovi's signature song. With YouTube views and physical sales in the hundreds of millions, plus a triple platinum certification for downloads, “Livin' On A Prayer” — with it's driving riff and cathartic, sing-a-long chorus — is arguably the biggest hit on this list. Certainly in terms of longevity and instant recognition. On initial release, it hit No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock and Hot 100 lists.
The song stems from the band's third album, 1986’s Slippery When Wet, with writing credits shared between bandmates Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and songwriter and producer Desmond Child. Child has a well-earned three entries on this list and, as has been rightly observed, could easily have supplied a Top-10 or even 20 list of big hits written or co-written by himself.
Child's other credits include Bon Jovi's “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Aerosmith's “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” Joan Jett & The Blackheart's “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and Ricky Martin's “Livin' La Vida Loca.” Plus, highly successful collaborations with KISS and Alice Cooper (see below).
Linkin Park ft. Kiara, “Heavy” (Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter)
Since their astonishing debut, 2000’s Hybrid Theory (certified diamond by the RIAA), Californian rockers Linkin Park have explored sonic territory veering from heavy rock and hip-hop to electronic sounds and lighter styles. In terms of critical reception, the group have arguably failed to recapture the heights of their debut. Critics aside, they remain an enormously popular act.
“Heavy” comes from the band's seventh and most recent album, 2017’s One More Light, which reached No. 1 on Billboard 200 and No.4 in the U.K., despite the aforementioned antipathy in the music press. It is, of course, the last to feature lead vocalist Chester Bennington, who sadly passed that same year.
Bennington co-wrote “Heavy” with fellow bandmates Brad Delson and Mike Shinoda, in collaboration with outside writers Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. Both of the latter possess impressive CVs. Michaels has received three Grammy nominations, and has written for Selena Gomez, Justin Beiber, Gwen Stefani and others. Tranter, with whom Michaels frequently partners, has credits including work with Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Fall Out Boy. Singer Kiiara Saulters contributes vocals to the song.
Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Diane Warren)
This 1998 entry from Boston greats Aerosmith was initially planned as a radio-only release before Columbia Records changed tack and issued the song commercially. “I Don't Want To Miss A Thing” shot straight in at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains the band's only single to do so in the U.S. In the U.K., the song reached No.4. It also topped the charts across Europe.
This track is one of four that the band recorded for that same year's epic disaster movie, Armageddon. Directed by Michael Bay and starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler (daughter of Aerosmith's lead singer, Steven Tyler), the film featured three other Aerosmith tunes: “What Kind Of Love Are You On,” “Sweet Emotion” and “Come Together.”
“I Don't Want To Miss A Thing” was written by one of the all-time greats, Diane Warren. Warren's songwriting career began in 1985 with the hit single “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge, since then she provided chart-toppers for Cher, LeAnn Rimes, Celine Dion and a host of others. To date, Warren holds Grammy and Emmy awards, as well as two Golden Globes and 13 Academy Award nominations, plus a prestigious Ivor Novello.
Alice Cooper, “Poison” (Desmond Child, John McCurry)
“Poison” first appeared on Alice Cooper's 18th album, 1989’s Trash, and remains one of the singer's biggest sellers, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 2 on the U.K. singles chart. “Poison” is also the second out of our 10 to feature prominently in video games, in this case Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
Celebrated guitarist John McCurry contributed the guitar riff to this classic. With an astonishing 119 compositional credits, including work with David Bowie, Julian Lennon, Joss Stone, Billy Joel, Chicago, Anita Baker and Cyndi Lauper, McCurry is a musician who rarely gets the attention he deserves.
We've already mentioned Child's remarkable CV (see Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On a Prayer” above), and with good reason. It could well be argued that no other single individual has had as great of an impact on rock music behind the scenes, certainly over the last 40 years. Child himself achieved a Billboard Top 40 hit as a solo artist with “Love On A Rooftop,” a song he co-wrote with the great Diane Warren.
Guns N’ Roses, “It’s So Easy” (West Arkeen)
Los Angeles’ Guns N' Roses unleashed something special with their debut album, Appetite For Destruction.
That record built from a slow start to become a commercial and critical success, hitting the Top 10 in numerous countries, No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and 4 on the U.K. chart. Since then we've had highs and lows, not least of which being the tortuous 15-year wait for 2008’s Chinese Democracy.
One of the band's best songs, “It's So Easy,” dates back to their aforementioned debut, and was released as the group's first ever single as a double-A-side with “Mr. Brownstone.”
According to a 1988 interview with bassist Duff McKagan, the track references a time when “we didn't have money, but we had a lot of hangers on and girls we could basically live off of...Things were just too easy.” The song was co-written by the band and Aaron West Arkeen, who collaborated with the group on several other numbers, including “The Garden,” “Bad Obsession” and “Crash Diet.”
Arkeen, who tragically died in 1997, also wrote for the bands Brother Cane and Phantom Blue, and realized his own project under the group name The Outpatience, who released their debut, Anxious Disease, in 1996. That record also featured Axl Rose, Slash and McKagan as guests.
Good Charlotte, “The Anthem” (John Feldmann)
This entry from Maryland outfit, Good Charlotte, was a surprise hit for songwriting brothers Joel and Benji Madden, who form the core of the band. Its genesis dates back to a time when a 19-year-old Joel, on his first trip to Los Angeles, met producer John Feldmann. Through Feldmann, an opportunity arose for the band to provide a track for a forthcoming movie, and the producer collaborated with the brothers in writing a suitable number.
Ultimately the movie passed on the track, but the song gained valuable exposure thanks to its inclusion in the video game Madden 2003 and went on to perform well on both the U.K. and U.S. charts, receiving gold certifications in those respective countries. Following a live performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards, host Chris Rock (no stranger to controversy) infamously commented, "Good Charlotte? More like mediocre Green Day."
Feldmann, aside from songwriting and producing, also serves as lead singer and guitarist of Californian punk/ska band, Goldfinger, considered a notable force in the mid-’90s resurgence of ska. Referencing “The Anthem,” Joel notes, “...in America, to be successful you gotta go to college, get a job, a house, two cars, a wife and some kids. Well, I could never go to college. We didn't have the most opportunities growing up."
KISS, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” (Desmond Child, Vini Poncia)
The third, but by no means least in our trilogy of Desmond Child co-writes, “I Was Made For Lovin' You” originally featured on KISS’ seventh album, 1979s Dynasty, and was the first single released from that record.
The song reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, and charted highly in numerous other countries. The song's parent album is notable for its fragmented recording process, with drummer Peter Criss largely sidelined through injury and addiction.
KISS co-founder, guitarist and vocalist Paul Stanley, who wrote many of the group's numbers, shares credits for this one with Desmond Child and producer Vini Poncia. Unsurprisingly, Child was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008. Two pieces of Child trivia: his own band, Desmond Child & Rouge, provided a song featured in cult movie, The Warriors. He also penned “Believe In Me,” which Bonnie Tyler sang as the U.K. entry to 2013’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Vini Poncia has been in the music business since the 1960s. Aside from his work with KISS, Poncia is notable for a long-running collaboration with Ringo Starr and has provided songs and production for Martha Reeves, The Ronettes, Lynda Carter and Jackie DeShannon.
David Bowie, “Fame” (John Lennon, Carlos Alomari)
We finish this list, appropriately enough, with one of the most famous and successful popular music artists of the last 60 years and one of his best-known songs.
Bowie, of course, himself wrote or co-wrote plenty of numbers specifically for other artists, most notably “All the Young Dudes” (Mott the Hoople, 1972) and “Lust For Life” (Iggy Pop, 1977).
“Fame” first appeared on Bowie's 1975 album, Young Americans, and was released as the second single from that record. Recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York, “Fame” is full of Bowie's trademark playfulness and sonic invention. It took the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 (the singer's first) but, incredibly, stalled at No. 17 in the U.K.
Celebrated in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, Bowie co-wrote the song with Carlos Alomari and John Lennon, both of whom joined Bowie to jam in the studio. By all accounts, guitarist and composer Alomari originally came up with the guitar riff for a proposed cover of Flairs' classic, “Footstompin'.”
Exactly how much of a lyrical contribution Lennon supplied is unclear, though Bowie himself, in Nicholas Pegg's book, The Complete David Bowie, is quoted as stating that Lennon provided the inspiration and energy for the track.