10 Songs You Didn’t Know Shel Silverstein Wrote for Other Artists, Including Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, and More

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Videos by American Songwriter

Did you know Johnny Cash’s famous song, “A Boy Named Sue,” was not written by Cash but by the poet Shel Silverstein? Did you also know Silverstein wrote dozens (hundreds?) of songs for other big-name artists like Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings?

Here, we will dive into some of the best and most interesting songs that Silverstein wrote for some of the world’s most famous musicians. While we won’t cover every song Silverstein penned for others (he also wrote plenty for himself), these are some of the most memorable.

Silverstein, who was born in 1930 and who passed away in 1999, grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He was in the U.S. Army. But the soldier was best known for his children’s books like The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic. Silverstein, who earned two Grammy Awards in his lifetime, was also nominated for the Golden Globe Awards and Oscars.

Here, we will explore some of his best songs.

1. “A Long Time Ago” by Waylon Jennings

Written by Waylon Jennings and Shel Silverstein

Silverstein is credited with writing several songs for Jennings, including the quintessential country song—slide guitar and all—called, “A Long Time Ago,” from Jennings’ 1978 album, I’ve Always Been Crazy. The smooth, forthcoming track was a collaboration between Jennings and Silverstein.

2. “For the Kids” by Waylon Jennings

Written by Shel Silverstein

Another Jennings song that Silverstein wrote is the emotive, even devastating tune, “For The Kids,” from Jennings’ 1969 album, Just to Satisfy You. The track, which is about staying together “for the kids,” is heartfelt and sad, and beautiful, too, just as Silverstein knows how.

3. “The Taker” by Waylon Jennings

Written by Shel Silverstein and Kris Kristofferson

A third song Silverstein wrote for Jennings is the tune, “The Taker,” which he worked on with another great songwriter: Kris Kristofferson. The song is the opening track from Jennings’ 1971 album, The Taker/Tulsa. It’s a country classic.

4. “Hey Nelly Nelly” by Judy Collins

Written by Shel Silverstein and Jim Friedman

The fourth track on Collins’ third album, Judy Collins #3, “Hey Nelly Nelly” came out in the early ’60s. The album, out in 1963, spent 10 weeks on the Billboard pop album charts. The album, which includes renditions of songs by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, also includes a recording of “Hey Nelly Nelly,” which was written by Silverstein. The storytelling song includes a call to Nelly (as the title suggests) and features Collin’s signature bright, warbling voice.

5. “Here I Am Again” by Loretta Lynn

Written by Shel Silverstein

Silverstein wrote several songs for the great country star Loretta Lynn. One such tune was “Here I Am Again,” which was the opening track on Lynn’s album of the same name, released in 1972. The album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard hot country chart. Silverstein’s song is one of love and distance.

6. “Hey Loretta” by Loretta Lynn

Written by Shel Silverstein

Another quintessential country song, “Hey Loretta” is all about leaving town, leaving home, where you aren’t appreciated, for greener pastures. The song, released in October 1973, was the second single from Lynn’s album, Love Is the Foundation. It hit No. 3 on the country singles charts. And it was written by Silverstein.

7. “Ones on the Way” by Loretta Lynn

Written by Shel Silverstein

One of Lynn’s most beloved songs, “One’s on the Way,” was also written by Silverstein. It’s about the grand things happening in big cities, but here at home in the country, the kids are crying, and, well, one more is “on the way.” The song came out on Lynn’s 1971 album of the same name.

8. “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash

Written by Shel Silverstein

One of Cash’s most beloved songs, “A Boy Named Sue,” is about a tough man telling the story about his father naming him Sue. Having a girl’s name made him have to “fight” his whole life. The song is also written by Silverstein, and it’s one of his biggest hits as a songwriter. It’s timeless to this day. Silverstein also wrote the lesser-known follow-up, “The Father of a Boy Named Sue.”

9. “Once More With Feeling” by Jerry Lee Lewis

Written by Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein

Another penned by Kristofferson and Silverstein, this song was originally recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1969. It’s a smooth country ballad with harmonies and Silverstein’s knack and sense of storytelling. The song came out on Lewis’ album She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye. It hit No. 2 on the Billboard country song chart.

10. “The cover of ‘Rolling Stone’” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show

Written by Shel Silverstein

Silverstein wrote many songs for the rollicking rock group Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. But perhaps the most famous was the track “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone.’” Released in 1972, it was the group’s third single, hitting No. 6 on the U.S. pop chart for two weeks in the spring of 1973. It’s all about the glee that comes when you get your picture in the famed rock magazine. The song’s adoration actually led the band to appear on the cover of the magazine, as a caricature.

Photo by Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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