6 of the Most Solid Songwriting Duos of All Time

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

There’s truth to the adage “It Takes Two,” drawn from the 1965 Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston hit, coincidentally penned by two songwriters—William “Mickey” Stevenson and Sylvia Moy of Motown. Throughout music history, songwriters have come in all configurations, including those that paired up and made beautiful music together.

Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, The Clash’s Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson (Ashford & Simpson)—the list goes on when it comes to songwriting duos that have churned out hit after hit.

Here’s a look at six songwriting partnerships—many still going strong—that were true matches made in music heaven.

1. Paul McCartney and John Lennon

The songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney stretched well beyond the songs they wrote for The Beatles. Between 1962 and 1969, the pair published 180 jointly credited songs with many credited McCartney-Lennon.

Throughout their careers, the duo wrote songs for other artists, together and individually, spreading hits out to the likes of the pop duo Peter & Gordon, and even their old bandmate Ringo Starr. Throughout their peak songwriting years, the duo wrote five hits for pop singer Billy J. Kramer, then with The Dakotas—“From a Window,” “I’ll Be on My Way,” “Bad to Me,” “I Call Your Name,” and “I’ll Keep You Satisfied”—and other British acts like Cilla Black, The Fourmost. They even gave the Stones an early hit with “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

“He provided a lightness, an optimism,” said Lennon of McCartney’s writing style, “while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes.” 

2. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Still figuring out their sound by the mid-1960s, and leaning mostly on covers of R&B standards for their first two albums, by 1965, The Rolling Stones finally released an original track on their third release Out of Our Hands with the Mick Jagger- and Keith Richards-penned ‘The Last Time.” Inspired by The Beatles to write their own songs, The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ended up writing for other artists as well as their own Stones hits like “Wild Horses,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Gimme Shelter.”

By the time December’s Children (And Everybody’s) came around at the end of 1965, Jagger and Richards had written more than half of the tracks on the album and continued to do so for nearly every other Stones album since through their 24th album A Bigger Bang in 2005.

“There’s a guy called Mick Jagger that I love to write with, but it’s hard to get my hands on him,” joked Richards. “I wait for him to come to me, that’s why sometimes it takes a while, but so far so good. We’re working on it.”

3. Carole King and Gerry Goffin

As a teenager, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, by the time she was in high school Carole King was already selling songs to publishing companies around the city while writing songs for her band Co-Sines and making demo albums with her schoolmate Paul Simon. King later met her soon-to-be husband and co-writing partner Gerry Goffin at Queens College and went on to write some of the biggest hits throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Together, King and Goffin wrote back-to-back hits, including The Shirelles’ 1960 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which earned the writers their first No. 1 hit. King later composed Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” along with Goffin and producer Jerry Wexler.

Throughout the 1960s, the couple crossed genres from doo-wop and pop, R&B, soul, and rock—and even a few songs The Beatles wanted to cover (“Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Chains”) and the 1962 Little Eva hit “The Loco-Motion,” which later became a hit (and an entire album inspired by the song) for pop star Kylie Minogue.

4. Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Though both will admit they’ve never been a couple, Bernie Taupin once said that he and long-time songwriting partner Elton John have had a ‘non-sexual love affair.” The two artists first met in 1967 when they responded to the same advertisement from Liberty Records in the U.K. paper New Musical Express and worked with John on his 1969 debut Empty Sky. By 1970, John had his first Top 10 hit with “Your Song,” off his self-titled second album.

Throughout their five decades together, Taupin has written the lyrics for most of John’s songs. Taupin writes the words, and Elton interprets them with music and melody. “It was very much a sort of stream-of-consciousness,” said Taupin. “I would write whatever I felt, and he [John] would jerry-rig it into a song.” Elton once said that “without Bernie Taupin, there would be no Elton John.”

In a songwriting partnership that has lasted nearly five decades, John and Taupin have written dozens of John’s recorded hits, including “Candle in the Wind,” “Tiny Dancer” and Rocket Man,” and are still going strong. Together, Taupin and John have produced more than 35 gold and 25 platinum albums, 30 consecutive U.S. Top 40 hits, and have sold more than 255 million records worldwide. The duo also holds the record for the biggest-selling single of all time with the 1997 hit Candle In the Wind, which sold more than 33 million copies. 

In 1992, the pair were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

5. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Their songs were recorded and covered by musical legends like The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, Barbra Streisand, and more, including Presley’s hits “Hound Dog,” and “Jailhouse Rock” and Ben E. King’s classic ballad “Stand By Me.”

Both born to Jewish families and on the East Coast—Leiber from Baltimore and Stoller from Staten Island, New York—the songwriting duo would eventually meet in Los Angeles in 1950 when both were still in school (Stoller a college freshman and Leiber a high school senior) and shared a love of R&B. That same year, blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon recorded and performed their first commercial song “Real Ugly Woman,” and from there on their songwriting partnership continued with a focus on blues artists like Charles Brown with his 1952 hit “Hard Times,” and “Kansas City,” first recorded by Little Willie Littlefield before becoming a No. 1 hit for Wilbert Harrison in 1959. In 1952, they also wrote “Hound Dog” for blues singer Big Mama Thornton, which became an even bigger hit when Presley later covered it in 1956.

Throughout their songwriting trip together, the late Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, now 89, wrote and co-wrote more than 70 hit songs together. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

6. Billie Eilish and Finneas

Inside the DIY studio built in their family’s two-bedroom home in Los Angeles—their parents sleeping on a futon downstairs—is where Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell co-wrote her first 2019 debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

“There’s a crazy intimacy to what we’re doing,” says O’Connell. “There’s such a private feeling… because we’re not at a recording studio where different people are there every day. It’s our house and it’s where we live. It’s where we’ve experienced everything. That allows us to make [music] that is wholeheartedly exposed as far as who we really are as people, as siblings, and as children of our parents. It’s really honest.”

The siblings’ musical magic started when they were 12 and attended a songwriting class taught by their mother Maggie Baird and later released a song Finneas had written, “Ocean Eyes,” in 2015. By 2020, the pair shared several Grammy Award wins around Eilish’s debut, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album, along with Eilish’s Best New Artist win. Finneas also grabbed the award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.

Eilish released her second album Happier Than Ever in 2021, co-written with and produced by Finneas, and the siblings also won their first Academy Award, for their theme song to the 2021 James Bond film, No Time to Die, which also features former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.

Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images

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