There is a wealth of catchy pop, rock and country songs on the radio, sung by some of the most famous people on earth. While most of us can sing along to these songs, and certainly identify the artist performing the song, how many could name the mastermind behind the song itself? While performers sell an image, and undoubtedly add their own stamp to every song they perform, they still need songs to perform in the first place. What many music fans may not realize is that most often someone else writes many of their favorite songs. There’s a host of ‘out of the public eye’ talent who’s sole goal is to make other people reach number 1 on the charts based on the strength of their songwriting and production skills. Just look at the list of artists and songs on this list, and you will also see that the group of writers dictating the popular music landscape is also actually quite small. Here are ten songwriters, a few quite famous but some you may not have heard of, who’ve probably written many of your favorite songs.
10 Paul Anka
Though Paul Anka is a well-known Canadian singer and performer who rose to stardom way back in the 1950s and 1960s with hits like “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” and “Diana,” many are probably unaware that Anka has also written or contributed to some massive hits by other artists. Throughout his career Anka has written songs that he performed first, but became bigger hits for other artists (most notably Donny Osmond’s 1972 Billboard hit “Puppy Love”) and also wrote songs for other people that became the pinnacle of those artists' careers, as in the case of Tom Jones’s “She’s a Lady.” Furthermore, Anka also co-wrote the music to Johnny Carson’s late night talk show, and wrote the lyrics to the late, great Frank Sinatra’s iconic “My Way.”
Everyone knows Prince the pop icon, and everyone knows Prince can write a song. But not everyone is aware of the fact that Prince has spent his career not only writing songs for himself to perform, but for other artists as well. Remember “Jungle Love” by Morris Day & The Time? Prince wrote it. How about the mega hit “Manic Monday” by the Bangles? Again, written by Prince. In fact, Prince has written over 18 top ten R&B hits for other artists during his career. While all of this is impressive, Prince’s biggest contribution to music outside of his own career is the role he played in launching Sinead O’ Connor’s career when she sang the massively successful, and Prince penned, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
8 Hillary Lindsey
This Georgia native has increasingly become one of the most recognized songwriters in Nashville. Writing country songs for a wide array of artists since the late 1990s, it was after Martina McBride took the Lindsey-penned number “Blessed” to number 1 that she became highly sought after. Since her first number 1 hit, Hillary Lindsey has had numerous songs she has written appear in the top 30 on the Billboard Country Charts, working with artists as diverse as Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and even Miley Cyrus. Her success as a songwriter has won her a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 2007 for the song “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” performed by Carrie Underwood. Lindsey has also won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for the song “Coming Home” that was featured in the Gwyneth Paltrow film Country Strong.
7 Gregg Wattenberg
Most recently known for co-writing Phillip Phillips’ chart-topping single “Gone, Gone, Gone,” Gregg Wattenberg has also written and produced some of the most notable songs in the radio rock genre in recent years. Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” and Five for Fighting’s number 1 hits “Superman” and “100 Years” also came from the creativity of Wattenberg who deftly blends radio-friendly pop music with a slightly more rock and roll edge. Currently working for the Wind Up record label as the Senior Vice President of A&R, since 2000 Wattenberg has written and produced songs for artists as diverse as the Backstreet Boys, Rascal Flatts, the Goo Goo Dolls and Finger Eleven.
6 Christopher Stewart
Better known as Tricky, Christopher Stewart has had an illustrious career over the last twenty years, not only writing and producing hits for some of the biggest artists on the planet, but also being responsible for some of the biggest musical phenomenons of the last decade. A five-time Grammy winner, Tricky has worked with T.I., Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Beyonce among others. Though his work on Bieber’s hit “Baby” helped launch the Canadian’s meteoric rise to fame, it was his writing on Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and particularly Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” that catapulted Tricky from uber writer/producer of hit songs to mastermind behind cultural phenomenons. Seriously, who hasn’t witnessed someone dancing wildly to that Beyonce song?
5 Linda Perry
Though there are many who recognize Linda Perry as the former vocalist of the band the 4 Non Blondes, notable for their 1993 single “What’s Up?”, Perry has had a far more successful career writing music for pop singers than she did behind the microphone. Writing for and collaborating with Jewel, Alicia Keys, Celine Dion, Gwen Stefani, and Christina Aguilera, Perry’s most successful tracks to date have been Aguilera’s “Beautiful” for which she garnered a Grammy nomination, and “What Are You Waiting For?” off of Gwen Stefani’s debut solo album. Equally as impressive as her song writing credits is Linda Perry’s ear for new talent. Perry’s record label imprint through Atlantic Records is the label that first introduced James Blunt to North American audiences at Perry’s behest, so even when Perry’s not writing hit songs for others, she’s discovering talented artists capable of writing their own.
4 Nadir Khayat
Known professionally as RedOne, Nadir Khayat has brought a successful production and songwriting career across the ocean to become one of the pop world’s hottest writers. Born in Morocco, Khayat honed his craft in his adopted home of Sweden at the legendary Cherion Studios (more on that place later) where RedOne learned the art of pop song writing while working with the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. RedOne finally made the leap across the pond in 2007, and it was in New Jersey where his career really took off. While distributing demos, RedOne was introduced to Lady Gaga via a mutual business acquaintance, and the rest, as they say, is history. The pair went on to co-write virtually every single Gaga hit, from “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” to “Bad Romance,” “Alejandro” and “Judas.” In every way Lady Gaga’s image is responsible for her success, so is the songwriting and production skills of RedOne. Recently, he’s also worked extensively with Nicki Minaj and Jason Derulo among others. Chances are, if you’ve got the satellite or radio on for more than an hour, you’ve already heard a RedOne track.
3 Shane McAnally
The Academy of Country Music’s Songwriter of the Year for 2014, Texas native Shane McAnally has become one of the biggest names in country music songwriting since he burst onto the scene with Lee Ann Womack’s “Last Call” in 2008. He’s penned hits for Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, LeAnn Rimes, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, among plenty of other country stars. McAnally has won numerous Grammy Awards for his writing and production work, most notably for his work on Kacey Musgraves’ album Same Trailer Different Park for which he won best country album, as well as best country song for the single “Merry Go ‘Round.” Shane McAnally also won the Country Music Association's Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow” from the same album. Needless to say, McAnally is one of the most important current tastemakers in country music.
2 Lukasz Gottwald
Arguably the writer with the second most influence on all of pop music, Lukasz Gottwald, known professionally as Dr. Luke, started his career as guitarist in the Saturday Night Live Band, a gig he held for ten years, and as a New York City DJ where he performed regularly. It was while DJing at a house party that a chance encounter with the number one entry on this list changed Gottwald’s life forever. After meeting Swedish producer Max Martin, the two began collaborating and co-wrote some of the biggest pop hits of the past two decades, including “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry and “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. Dr. Luke has written and produced for nearly every pop artist recording right now, with notable credits including Ke$ha, Britney Spears, Pink, Pitbull and One Direction. Turn the radio on and one in five tracks will inevitably have Dr. Luke’s fingerprints all over it.
1 Max Martin
The man who takes the top spot on this lists is astounding. He has written the third most Billboard number 1 singles of all time, behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He’s written 51 top ten singles in the United States and has more Billboard number 1 singles than Michael Jackson and Madonna, combined. Swedish producer Karl Martin Sandberg, known professionally as Max Martin, is probably the greatest modern day pop writer/producer ever. Seriously, whether you love or hate the crop of pop music that has flooded the airwaves over the last twenty years, you have to admit this guy is a genius. Nobody writes hooks as deftly, and apparently as easily as Max Martin.
Starting out at Cherion Studios in Sweden under Dennis Pop’s tutelage, Martin’s rise to ruler of pop music began when he co-wrote and produced the Backstreet Boys’ debut album. Britney Spears and “Hit Me Baby One More Time” soon followed. Martin helped re-invent the boy band, and the young female pop star. Ever since, his songs have either launched, or reinvigorated the career almost every pop artist who's worked with him, from Celine Dion, to Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift and Adam Lambert. A full list of the hits he’s written would take up nearly a full article, but to illustrate how influential this guy is, here’s a list of every one of his number one hit songs.
- 1999 - "...Baby One More Time" (Britney Spears)
- 2000 - "It's Gonna Be Me" ('N Sync)
- 2008 - "I Kissed a Girl" (Katy Perry)
- 2008 - "So What" (Pink)
- 2009 - "My Life Would Suck Without You" (Kelly Clarkson)
- 2009 - "3" (Britney Spears)
- 2010 - "California Gurls" (Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg)
- 2010 - "Teenage Dream" (Katy Perry)
- 2010 - "Raise Your Glass" (Pink)
- 2011 - "Hold It Against Me" (Britney Spears)
- 2011 - "E.T." (Katy Perry featuring Kanye West)
- 2011 - "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" (Katy Perry)
- 2012 - "Part of Me" (Katy Perry)
- 2012 - "One More Night" (Maroon 5)
- 2012 - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (Taylor Swift)
- 2013 - "Roar" (Katy Perry)
- 2014 - "Dark Horse" (Katy Perry feat. Juicy J)