5 Songwriting Partnerships that Helped Shape Music History

You sit down with another person and start throwing out ideas. Something they say sends you in a different direction. It might not even be how they meant it, but it turns into something else entirely. Now, you are expanding the adapted idea and putting together a song. When a songwriter finds the right partner, it makes both collaborators better. Sometimes, one writer handles the melody while the other supplies the lyrics. Other times, the pair work on both elements together. In these cases, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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Ashford & Simpson

Starting as a trio, Jo Armstead, Nickolas Ashford, and Valerie Simpson had their first success as songwriters with “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” which was recorded by The Coasters, Ronnie Milsap, and Ray Charles. The success of Charles’ version got the attention of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Armstead moved to New York, and the husband and wife duo of Ashford & Simpson became staff writers for Motown Records in Detroit. They penned tunes for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and had the most success with “Your Precious Love.” They succeeded with Diana Ross, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Teddy Pendergrass, and Rufus.

Leiber & Stoller

Los Angeles was where Jerry Leiber met Mike Stoller. The two started writing for R&B artists, and their first hit was “Hard Times” by Charles Brown. They went on to get “Kansas City” cut by Little Willie Littlefield. It would go to No. 1 seven years later by Wilbert Harrison. Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” in 1953. That would also go on to bigger success in the hands of Elvis Presley. The real string of success came with The Coasters. “Charlie Brown,” “Searchin’,” “Poison Ivy,” and “Yakety Yak.” They also had hits with The Drifters, Jay and the Americans, The Exciters, and The Clovers. Leiber and Stoller wrote or co-wrote more than 70 chart hits. The pair were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985.

Goffin & King

Gerry Goffin wrote with a few other writers before meeting Carole King. The couple married and started a string of hits by many artists. The Shirelles recorded “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” Little Eva did “The Loco-Motion.” Steve Lawrence (and later, Donny Osmond) did “Go Away Little Girl.” Bobby Vee did “Take Good Care of My Baby.” The Chiffons did “One Fine Day.” The Animals did “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Herman’s Hermits did “I’m Into Something Good.” The Drifters did “Up on the Roof.” Aretha Franklin did “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The Monkees did “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” The couple were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987.

John & Taupin

Liberty Records A&R man Ray Williams placed an ad for talent in the New Musical Express in 1967. Among the many responses were from a poet from Lincolnshire, England, named Bernie Taupin, and a London piano player/singer named Reginald “Reggie” Dwight. Williams passed an envelope of poems to Dwight, and he went on to add music to them. It was shortly after that Dwight took on the name Elton John. The newly teamed songwriters became staff writers for Dick James, writing songs for other artists such as Plastic Penny, Roger Cook, and Lulu. The pair’s breakthrough was on John’s first solo album. “Your Song” went to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Rocket Man,” “Honky Cat,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Daniel,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “The Bitch is Back,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Island Girl,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” and “Candle in the Wind” all hit the Top 10. The pair were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992.

Lennon & McCartney

With more than 800 million records sold worldwide, John Lennon and Paul McCartney are the most successful songwriting duo. Most of their catalog was performed by The Beatles, but not all. They did have success with songs recorded by Billy J. Kramer, The Fourmost, Cilla Black, The Applejacks, Mary Hopkin, and Peter & Gordon. The Beatles reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Love Me Do,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Feel Fine,” “Eight Days a Week,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Help!,” “Yesterday,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Paperback Writer,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Hey June,” “Get Back,” “Something,” “Come Together,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long and Winding Road.” The pair were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987.

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