5 Songs You Didn’t Know John Hiatt Wrote for Other Artists

Coming out of a turbulent childhood, John Hiatt, born Aug. 20, 1952, gravitated to the more brooding lyrics and works of his musical heroes like Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan. At just 11, Hiatt started playing guitar and performing in bands. By the time he was 19, Hiatt moved to Nashville and started working as a songwriter for $25 a week.

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As a songwriter, Hiatt penned tracks for a number of artists before landing his own record deal and releasing his debut, Hangin’ Around the Observatory, in 1974. The album featured the track “Sure As I’m Sitting Here,” which would become a hit after it was covered by Three Dog Night.

Hiatt finally found some success by the late ’80s with his ninth album, Bring the Family, and his first song to reach the rock chart, “Thank You Girl,” along with his biggest hit to date, “Have a Little Faith in Me,” which has been covered by Joe Cocker, Jon Bon Jovi, Chaka Khan, and Jewel. Another Bring the Family track, “Thing Called Love,” later became a hit for Bonnie Raitt.

Later releases like Slow Turning and Perfectly Good Guitar saw Hiatt navigating more into R&B and roots, and over the decades his songs were covered by everyone from Dylan, Buddy Guy, and Emmylou Harris. He has written songs for Willie Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Nick Lowe, and The Jeff Healey Band, among many more artists.

Throughout a nearly 50-year career, Hiatt has released more than 20 albums, including Leftover Feelings in 2021, and has crossed over into blues, country, folk, bluegrass, and other genres along the way.

Looking outside his own catalog, here are five songs Hiatt wrote for other artists since the 1970s.

1. “Washable Ink,” The Neville Brothers (1978)
Written by John Hiatt

Just two years after The Neville Brothers formed with siblings Art (1937–2019), Charles (1938–2018), Cyril, and Aaron, the foursome released their eponymous debut. Charles Neville wrote several tracks on the album along with a track written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Carole King’s longtime collaborator Gerald Goffin. The Bayou-country-tilted “Washable Ink” was Hiatt’s sole contribution to the album.

Washable ink, if you think it stinks you can cry it away
They don’t want to hear your sad story today
Everybody’s busy whoever they are
Washable ink, put it in the sink if you’ve had enough
But if you’re on the brink of the usual stuff
Wait ’til it rains and give it away

2. “Any Single Solitary Heart,” The Everly Brothers (1988)
Written by John Hiatt and Mike Porter

In 1989, Phil and Don Everly released their final album together. Some Hearts was a collection of songs, written by The Everly Brothers, in addition to a cover of The Beach Boys‘ 1964 hit, “Don’t Worry Baby.” Closing the album, Hiatt penned the more pop ballad “Any Single Solitary Heart” for the brothers’ last release.

You’ve lost at love before
You never closed that door
This time it hurt you
For the last time
Only the lonely know
The pain of letting go
Before you say “No more”
Take my advice

3. “One Step Over the Line,” The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, featuring Rosanne Cash and John Hiatt (1989)
Written by John Hiatt

Much like The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which featured performances by varied country music stars, their 19th album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two, had a collection of very notable guests, including Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, John Denver, and Ricky Skaggs among many others featured on the 20 tracks.

For the Hiatt-penned “One Step Over the Line,” he takes on the lead vocals and guitar with Rosanne Cash joining on vocals.

When I look into your eyes
See the world cut down to size
Baby don’t apologize
Takin’ me one step over the line

When I touch your secret skin
Babe I know it ain’t no sin
I feel you startin’ to give in
Now let’s go one step over the line

4. “Something Wild,” Iggy Pop (1990)
Written by John Hiatt

When Iggy Pop was working on his ninth album, Brick by Brick, he pulled in old Stooges producer Don Was and crafted a collection of addictive tracks like the dark-and-pop-y “Candy,” featuring Kate Pierson of The B-52s and other contributions by Guns N’ Roses‘ Slash and Duff McKagan.

On the album, Hiatt also penned the punk-pulsing “Something Wild” for Pop. In 1993, Hiatt later covered the song on his 1993 album, Perfectly Good Guitar.

Sometimes I don’t even move a muscle
Baby, while you lie awake all night
I think I’ve got nine lives in these corpuscles
Girl, you know sometimes I don’t think right

I hear voices in the hall
I wake up and it’s nothing at all
A hungry wolf-an angry child or

Something wild

5. “(The) Most Unoriginal Sin,” Willie Nelson (1993)
Written by John Hiatt, Jim Dickinson, and Ry Cooder

Paul Simon, Don Was—who worked on Iggy Pop’s Brick by Brick (see above)—and Simon & Garfunkel collaborator Roy Halee all co-produced Willie Nelson‘s 40th album, Across the Borderline. Mostly a collection of covers of songs by Simon, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, and Wilie Dixon. Featured performers also included Dylan, Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Sinéad O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, and David Crosby.

For the album, Hiatt co-wrote the title track with Jim Dickinson and Ry Cooder, along with another original track, “(The) Most Unoriginal Sin,” for Nelson. Hiatt and his backing band also The Goners covered “(The) Most Unoriginal Sin” a decade after its original release by Nelson on his 17th album Beneath This Gruff Exterior.

What there was left of us
Was all covered in dust and thick skin
A half-eaten apple or the whole Sistine Chapel
Painted on the head of a pin

A lifelong love’s work gone up in a smirk
And you didn’t even see her waltz in
Now this love is a ghost
Having played host to the most unoriginal sin

Photos: David McClister / New West Records

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