8 Legendary Songwriters of the 1980s

The 1980s bestowed music with a long line of masterful songwriters who knew how to churn out hits and fill in a rock, pop and R&B track list.

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Narada Michael Walden became one of the most in-demand songwriters of the ’80s, writing hits for Aretha Franklin (“Freeway of Love”) and Whitney Houston (“How Will I Know”). Walden would later go on to co-produce The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1993, which included Houston’s mega-hit, the Dolly Parton-penned “I Will Always Love You,” along with Diana Ross‘ 1995 No. 1 “Take Me Higher,” and more.

Mega-producer Bob Ezrin also had a hand in writing a number of songs throughout the decade for KISS (“Detroit Rock City,” “Beth”), along with co-writing more songs for Alice Cooper, Hanoi Rocks, and Jane’s Addiction, and several songs with Pink Floyd, including “The Trial,” “Learning to Fly,” and “Take It Back.”

Though the list of songwriters who produced some of the biggest hits of the ’80s is plenty, here’s a look at eight of them, including one songwriting duo, in no rank or order, who wrote some memorable songs within the decade.

1. Jim Vallance

Canadian songwriter and producer Jim Vallance is best known as the main songwriting partner of Bryan Adams. Together, the two penned Adams’ hits ‘Cuts Like a Knife,” “Run to You,” “Heaven,” and his iconic “Summer of ’69,” along with songs for Neil Diamond, KISS, Ted Nugent, 38 Special, Juice Newton, and former American Idol winner Taylor Hicks.

Vallance also penned Heart’s 1985 hit “What About Love,” along with more songs for everyone from Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Europe, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and Scorpions, among others.

2. Desmond Child

When a rock song hit the top of the charts in the 1980s, it was highly probable that Desmond Child’s name was in its credits. Throughout the decade, Child wrote some of the biggest hits for Bon Jovi and Aerosmith during the heyday (and hair metal) era of rock in the 1980s.

Along with penning Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation hits “Angel” and  “Dude (Looks Like a Lady”), Child also wrote a collection of hits for Bon Jovi, including “Bad Medicine,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Livin’ On a Prayer.” Child also penned songs for Cher, including her Top 10 hit “Just Like Jesse James” and one of Alice Cooper’s biggest hits, “Poison,” in 1989, along with songs for KISS, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Ronnie Spector, Bonnie Tyler, and more.

Throughout the 1990s, Child went on to write for Ricky Martin, Michael Bolton, and Roxette. He’d also pen songs for Kelly Clarkson, Joss Stone, LeAnn Rimes, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry and more into the ‘00s and 2010s.

3. Allee Willis

Songwriter, Broadway lyricist, documentarian, music video director and more, the late Allee Willis (1947-2019) mastered most trades within film, stage and music. Before the 1980s, Willis helped Earth, Wind, and Fire earn a No. 1 with their 1978 hit “September.” By the ’80s, she also penned The Pointer Sisters’ 1983 hit “Neutron Dance,” the Pet Shop Boys‘ “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and went on to write more top 10 hits for Ray Charles, Sister Sledge, Cyndi Lauper, Toni Basil, and Taylor Dayne, among many others.

By the 1990s, Willis was still going strong, penning Patti LaBelle’s “Time Will Tell” and the Friends theme song “I’ll Be There for You,” performed by The Rembrandts. Several years before her death in 2019 at 72, Willis also scored the music for The Color Purple musical on Broadway. 

4. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis

Donned in their black suits and matching fedoras and shaded sunglasses, Jimmy Jam (James Samuel Harris III) and Terry Lewis became one of the biggest R&B and pop production and songwriting duos during the 1980s.

Hitting the top of the Billboard charts and picking up multiple Grammys along the way, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, New Edition, and Usher, among others.

The duo’s lengthiest collaborative partnerships with Janet Jackson produced her 1986 debut Control, which picked up a Grammy for Best R&B Song for her No. 1 “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” They went on the write and produce Jackson’s 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814 and hit “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” and her other Billboard 200 No.1 albums JanetThe Velvet RopeAll For You, and Unbreakable.

Throughout their career, the duo have penned 31 top 10 hits, and in 2022, they were even inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

5. Holly Knight

Tina Turner’s “The Best,” Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield,” Patty Smyth and Scandal’s “The Warrior,” and a countless collection of songs by Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, KISS, and dozens of other artists—Holly Knight has written some of the most memorable songs throughout her 40-year career. 

Knight wrote three Grammy Award-winning songs and earned 13 ASCAP Awards. She also has her place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, after penning songs for Wynonna Judd, Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, Bon Jovi, Chaka Khan, Cheap Trick, Hall and Oates, John Waite, Lou Gramm, Aaron Neville, CeeLo Green, Kim Wilde, Shawn Colvin, Dusty Springfield, and more.

Read our full Writer’s Block interview with Holly Knight HERE.

6. Nile Rodgers

Working in the 1970s through early ’80s with co-writer and fellow Chic co-founding member and bassist, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers co-wrote and co-produced Chic’s nine albums, along with several Sister Sledge albums—including the group’s 1979 disco hit “We Are Family.” What followed were back-to-back classics for Diana Ross with “Upside Down” and “I”m Coming Out” in 1980 and more consecutive hits.

By the 1980s, Rodgers also went on to produce a number of film soundtracks, along with co-producing David Bowie’s Let’s Dance in 1983, Madonna’s breakout 1984 album and hit title track, “Like a Virgin,” and several albums by Duran Duran (Arena, Astronaut, Notorious, Paper Gods) over the years. Rodgers has collaborated with everyone from Jeff Beck, Grace Jones, INXS, the B52s, Blondie, late Swedish DJ and producer Avicii, Daft Punk, and others throughout his career.

Chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rodgers has won multiple Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Check out 7 Songs You Didn’t Know Nile Rodgers Wrote for Other Artists HERE.

7. Diane Warren

Everything kicked off for Diane Warren with DeBarge’s 1985 No. 1 hit “Rhythm of the Night,” which she wrote for the R&B group. Then, she closed out the’80s with Cher‘s No. 1 “If I Could Turn Back Time” in 1989.

As one of the most celebrated songwriters in music, Diane Warren’s songs have been featured in more than 100 films and have received 13 Oscar nominations for Best Original Song beginning in 1987 — with Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from the romantic comedy Mannequin — and every decade since.

Throughout the ’90s, Warren’s Oscar noms continued with Celine Dion‘s 1998 hit “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close & Personal, “How Do I Live,” performed by LeAnn Rimes for Con Air, and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” from Armageddon. Her most recent Academy Award nod arrived in 2022 for “Somehow You Do,” performed by Reba McEntire in the movie Four Good Days.

Throughout her career, Warren has collaborated with everyone from Cher, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Carlos Santana, John Legend, and many more.

In 2021, Warren released her debut album, Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions Vol. 1, featuring more songs she wrote, and performed by Celine Dion, Darius Rucker, Maren Morris, Ty Dolla $ign, Luis Fonsi, Jon Batiste, Pentatonix, and more.

Warren has written nine No. 1 songs and 32 Top 10 hits. She’s the recipient of Grammy, Emmy, and Golden Globe awards, along with an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Read our full Writer’s Block interview with Diane Warren HERE.

8. Giorgio Moroder

Coming out of the 1970s writing disco hits for Donna Summer, composer, producer, and songwriter Giorgio Moroder kicked off the 1980s by co-writing the 1980 Blondie hit “Call Me” with Debbie Harry and continued with Kenny Loggins’ 1986 Top Gun hit “Danger Zone,” and more iconic hits.

Throughout the’80s, Moroder was behind Limahl‘s 1984 hit “The Neverending Story,” from the fantasy film of the same name, Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” a duet with Philip Oakey on “Together in Electric Dreams,” and his biggest opus, the “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” co-written with Irene Cara and his longtime collaborator Keith Forsey.

Though Moroder took a long hiatus from music in 1993, he returned in 2012 and worked on Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories

Most recently, Moroder released his solo studio album, Déjà Vu, featuring collaborations with Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Sia, and more. In 2021, he co-wrote and produced two tracks, “Tonight United” and “Beautiful Lies” for Duran Duran’s 2021 album Future Past.

Photo: Matt Beard / Courtesy of Primary Wave

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