There are those songs that you know the lyrics to, but you might not know who was behind the lyrics. Many women have worked behind the scenes for decades, writing hits for everyone from Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder and beyond.
Here are five women who have written big hits, mostly behind the scenes, over the past five decades or more.
Harlan Howard, who wrote over 4,000 songs in his career, once called Cindy Walker “the greatest country songwriter he’s ever heard.” Beginning as a singer and dancer, Walker’s real strength was in her words. Throughout her career, Walker has written songs like “You Don’t Know Me”, “In The Misty Moonlight”, “Not That I Care”, and “It’s All Your Fault”. In 1944, Walker hit the top of the charts with his song “When Your Blue Moon Turns to Gold” and went on to write more hits, including Gene Autry’s “Blue Canadian Rockies”, Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” and ” Take Me” by Jim Reeves. in your arms and hold me”, among others. Walker was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997 and has won over 20 BMI awards throughout her career. His songs have been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs and Merle Haggard. The songwriter died in 2006, seven days after Willie Nelson’s exit You Don’t Know Me: Cindy Walker Songs, a collection of his greatest hits. “If you can get a really good title, you’ve got something,” Walker said. “I always write from the title. I have never written a song without a title. Words and music come together, it kind of comes to you. The songs are sung just for me. They sort of write themselves. I just stand back and listen.
“Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)”, recorded by Roy Orbison, Glen Campbell
“You Don’t Know Me”, recorded by Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles
“I Don’t Care”, recorded by Ricky Skaggs
“Distant Drums”, Jim Reeves
Stevie Wonder was nearly kicked out of Motown Records, the mega-label founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in Detroit, Michigan in 1959, but he had a songwriting angel by his side: Sylvia Moy. The singer and songwriter believed in young Wonder, whose voice changed as he grew older. “I don’t think it’s over for him,” Moy told a Motown executive. “Let me have Stevie.” Moy wrote “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” for the young singer, and the single peaked at No. 3 in 1966 and spent 14 weeks in the Billboard Top 100. Wonder remained on the label, which spawned the careers of Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, Diana Ross and many more. Moy continued to work with Wonder throughout his career, writing numerous singles for him including “My Cherie Amour” and “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” during his tenure at Motown. Moy, who died in 2017 aged 78, also co-wrote the Isley Brothers hit ‘This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)’, continued to write for film and TV and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. in 2006.
Overview of songs:
“This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)”, The Isley Brothers
“Tense (It’s Alright)”, Stevie Wonder
“It Takes Two”, Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
“Honey Chile”, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
A collection of songs by Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, Kiss and dozens of other artists in her songwriting catalog, Holly Knight has written iconic songs over the past 40 years. Born in New York, Knight studied classical piano and got his start in two bands: Device, which reached the Top 40 in 1986 with the song “Hangin’ On A Heart Attack”, and Spider, which released two albums on the longtime collaborator Mike Chapman. Dreamland Records. Originally writing “Better Be Good To Me” for Spider, the song then made its way onto Tina Turner’s 1984 album. private dancer-one of 10 songs Knight wrote for Turner. Knight then reworked “The Best” – originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler – for Turner, who turned it into a hit. Throughout her career, Knight has won three Grammy-winning songs, won 13 ASCAP awards, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She has written for Bon Jovi, Chaka Khan, Cheap Trick, Hall and Oates, John Waite, Lou Gramm, Wynonna Judd, Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, Aaron Neville, CeeLo Green, Kim Wilde, Shawn Colvin, Dusty Springfield, Will Hoge, Leigh Nash and more. Knight’s songs have been featured on TV and in movies, including Thelma & Louise, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Presenter II, Thirteen to thirty years old, and Dallas Buyers Club, as well as TV shows American Idol, The Voice, The Simpsons, South Park, The Suite, and Schitt’s Creek.
“The Best”, Tina Turner
“The Warrior”, Scandal, with Patty Smyth
“Love is a battlefield”, Pat Benatar
“Rag Doll”, Aerosmith
If you’ve ever wondered who wrote the theme song for the hit show Friends, Allee Willis is your wife. The songwriter, who has written for film and TV, has worked as a documentary filmmaker, writer, lyricist on Broadway and beyond, has penned countless hits for artists like Pet Shop Boys, the Pointer Sisters, Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Holliday, Cyndi Lauper, Debby Boone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Taylor Dayne, Rita Coolidge, Justin Timberlake and many more throughout her career. Detroit-born Motown music was ingrained in Willis, who began her career as a junior copywriter at Columbia and sparked her run for success. Willis also wrote “September” for Earth, Wind, and Fire and continued to work with the band, co-writing six more tracks for their double-platinum album, I Am (1979), including “In the Stone”, co-written with David Foster. Willis, who died in 2019, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.
“I’ll be there for you” (Friends theme song), The Rembrandts
“What did I do to deserve this?” Pet Shop Boys (with Dusty Springfield)
“September”, Earth, Wind and Fire
“The Neutron Dance”, The Pointer Sisters
Working as a screenwriter for the producer of the late singer Laura Branigan, Warren penned his first hit when he was asked to write English lyrics based on Martine Clémenceau’s 1981 French song of the same name. Within 24 hours, Warren wrote “Solitaire”, which became a Top 10 hit for Branigan in 1983. In 1985, she gave Debarge another hit with “Rhythm of the Night”, which reached No. Adult Contemporary ranking. Throughout her career, Warren was the first person to have seven hits by seven different artists on the charts at once, and she has written for dozens of artists, including Roberta Flack, Roy Orbison, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Roy Orbison, Cher, Patti LaBelle, Reba McEntire, ‘N Sync, Gloria Estefan, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Enrique Iglesias, LeAnn Rimes, Aerosmith, Ricky Martin, Faith Hill, Celine Dion, etc. Warren’s songs have been featured on the soundtracks of over 60 films. Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” featured in the 1998 film Armageddon, received an Oscar nomination and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 and Contemporary charts, and again on the country charts with a rendition by Mark Chestnut, while “How Do I Live”, which was recorded for the first time by a then 14- year old LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood. Both versions were released on the same day in 1997, Yearwood’s was featured in the film Air conditioning, reached No. 1 on the country chart and won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. In 2001, Warren received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was named ASCAP Songwriter of the Year six times.
Overview of hits:
“Nothing Will Stop Us Now”, Starship
“Love Will Bring You Back”, Taylor Dayne
“Don’t Look Back”, Ace of Base
“When I See You Smile”, Bad English
Pictured: Diane Warren (Rochelle Brodin); Sylvia Moy (Songwriters Hall of Fame)