Until Buddy Holly and then The Beach Boys, Beatles, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, performers were less likely to write their own material. Songwriting was lucrative, but in those days, publishers and producers generally got the lion’s share of the profits as artists tended to lose control of their songs through poor publishing and management contracts.
Artists churned out singles and albums at an incredible rate of two or more albums a year, so a dozen new songs or covers were needed each time. The idea was to get songs on the radio and on the charts. If a song didn’t click, on to the next one.
Songwriters were employed by record companies, management firms and music publishers. Demos were made to circulate to producers and record companies. A lot of songwriters worked in teams, sometimes a musician and a lyricist, to find the next three minute hit.
Artists in the 1960s began writing their songs, and then singer-songwriters arrived in the early 1970s, but the hired songwriter never went away. Songwriters for hire still exist today, but in the 1960s it was fun and groovy. Here are some songwriters who mostly supplied other singers and bands with material. Below is hardly an exhaustive list, but these names are an impressive group of composers.
Jimmy Webb. He knocked around L.A. contributing songs for Johnny Rivers, The Supremes and Billy Eckstein, before have a big hit with Vikki Carr (“It Must Be Him”). That led to a string of songs with the 5th Dimension (“Up, Up and Away”, “The Worst That Could Happen”), Glen Campbell (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “Where’s the Playground Susie”), Richard Harris (“MacArthur Park”). Webb would also work with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Waylon Jennings, Nina Simone, B.J. Thomas, Thelma Houston and Nancy Sinatra during the 1960s.
Burt Bacharach/Hal David. Best known for songs recorded by Dionne Warwick (“Alfie”, “What the World Needs Now”, “Walk On By”, “This Guy’s in Love With You” and many more. Other hits were “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, “(They Long To Be) Close to You”, “What the World Needs Now Is Love”, “One Less Bell To Answer” and many others.
Carole King/Gerry Goffin. Before Tapestry, Goffin & King wrote many hits for other artists. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “Take Good Care of My Baby”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Chains”, “The Loco-Motion”, “Up on the Roof”, “Hey Girl”, “One Fine Day”, “I’m into Something Good”, “Oh No Not My Baby”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “Take a Giant Step”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.
Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart. When these guy met up in the 1960s, they wrote for a variety of groups and landed a gig writing and producing songs for the The Monkees television series. “Come a Little Bit Closer” (Jay and the Americans), “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Monkees), and other songs released by the Monkees included “(Theme from) The Monkees” and “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I Wanna Be Free”. Additionally, they wrote songs for television and films like The Ambushers and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.
Cynthia Weil/Barry Mann. Husband and wife team wrote “Kicks” and “Hungry” for Paul Revere & the Raiders; “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place”, “Blame it on the Bossa Nova” and “Johnny Loves Me”, and co-wrote “On Broadway”, “Walkin’ in the Rain” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”.
Nicholas Ashford/Valarie Simpson. After writing for Aretha, Ray Charles and the Drifters, this duo focused on writing for Motown. Their hits were recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrill (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, “You Ain’t Livin’ Till You’re Lovin'” and others), The Supremes, and Gladys Knight & the Pips. In the 1970s they started recording their own material but kept working with Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and Ben E. King.
Graham Gouldman. He would later be part of the group 10cc, but he first gained fame writing songs like “For You Love” (Yardbirds), “Look Through Any Window” and “Bus Stop” for the Hollies, and “No Milk Today”, “Listen People” and “East West” for Herman’s Hermits.
Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller. This duo had many hits in the 1950s with Elvis, The Drifters and The Coasters. In the 1960s, they co-wrote “Stand By Me”, co-wrote “On Broadway”, kept the hits coming for Elvis, The Drifters and The Coasters, and supplied songs recorded by other artists. Their 1950s hits continued to be recorded and placed in films: “Kansas City”, “Love Potion No. 9”, “There Goes My Baby”, “Ruby Baby”, “Charlie Brown”, “Yakety Yak”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Young Blood” and others.
Eddie Holland/Lamont Dozier/Brian Holland. “Heat Wave”, “Can I Get a Witness”, “Quicksand”, “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby I Need Your Loving”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”, “Stop! in the Name of Love”, “Nowhere to Run”, “In and Out of Love”, “Reflections”, “The Happening”, “Jimmy Mack”, “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone”, “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “I Hear a Symphony”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”. Their songs were recorded by Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and The Isley Brothers.
Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. They scored big hits with the Everly Brothers in the late 1950s (“Bye Bye, Love”, “Wake Up, Little Susie”, “All I Have to Do Is Dream”. These songs were covered by other artists going forward in the 1960s like The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Ray Charles.
Allen Toussaint. He wrote for artists like Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, Otis Redding, Glen Campbell, Patti Labelle, Three Dog Night, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. “Whipped Cream” (the Herb Alpert hit also used as the theme for The Dating Game), “Java” by Al Hirt, “Pain in My Heart” by Otis Redding, “I Like it Like That” by the Dave Clark Five, “Working in the Coal Mine” by Lee Dorsey, and “Lip Stick Traces (on a Cigarette)” by the O’Jays were among the hits.
Isaac Hayes/David Porter. Writer/producers for Stax Records of Memphis. The duo also wrote with other writers and solo. Together they wrote for Sam & Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Mable John, Rufus Thomas, The Soul Children, The Emotions and other Stax artists. Hits included: “Soul Man”, “I Thank You”, “I Take What I Want”, “Hold On! I’m Comin’” and “When Something is Wrong With My Baby”.
Kenny Gamble/Leon A. Huff. Big contributors to the “Philly Sound”. The duo also wrote with other writers and solo. Together they wrote for Archie Bell and the Drells, Betty Everett, The Sweet Inspirations, The O’Jay, The Intruders, The Soul Survivors, Jerry Butler. Hits included: “Only the Strong Survive”, “One Night Affair”, “Slowdown”, “I Can’t Stop Dancing”, “Cowboys to Girls”, “Expressway to Your Heart”. They would have even greater success in the 1970s.
Bert Berns. Don’t know the name? How about “Twist and Shout”, “Piece of My Heart”, “Here Comes the Night”, “Hang on Sloopy”, “I Want Candy”, “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”? He wrote or co-wrote those tunes. He formed BANG Records where Neil Diamond and Rick Derringer started out.
Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman. “Viva Las Vegas”, “Suspicion”, “Surrender” and “Little Sister” were recorded by Elvis. “Save the Last Dance For Me” was a number one hit for The Drifters and has been covered my many other artists. “This Magic Moment” was also a big hit by The Drifters. “”Can’t Get Used to Losing You” was a huge hit for Andy Williams. Separately, Pomus and Shuman co-wrote with others, songs like “Young Blood”, “Girl Happy”, and “Here I Go Again.”
Willie Dixon. A prolific blues writer and performer, his songs have been recorded, and ripped off by, many major artists. In the 1960s he wrote: “You Need Love”, “You Shook Me”, “Whole Lotta Love” (listed a co-writer because parts of the song are based on his work), “Spoonful”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “Bring It On Home”, and “Back Door Man”.
Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong. This duo wrote separately and together. Together they wrote: “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, “Runaway Child, Running Wild”, “Cloud Nine”, “I Wish It Would Rain”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “You’re My Everything”, “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got”. Their songs were recorded by Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips and the Four Tops.
Ellie Greenwich/Jeff Barry. “Hanky-Panky”, “Do-Wah-Diddy” and “People Say”. Co-written with Phil Spector: “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Then He Kissed Me”, “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You”, “Chapel of Love”, “I Can Hear Music”, “River Deep – Mountain High”. Co-written with Shadow Morton: “Leader of the Pack”. Their songs were recorded by The Ronettes, The Dixie Cups, Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, The Crystals, Darlene Love, The Raindrops and Ike & Tina Turner.
Smokey Robinson. He wrote mainly for his group, The Miracles. but also for other Motown artists like Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, The Temptations, The Marvelettes and The Supremes. His songs included: “Who’s Loving You”, “My Baby Must Be a Magician”, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”, “Take This Heart of Mine”, “Get Ready”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “I’ll Be Doggone” and “My Girl”.
Paul Anka. The cute teen idol from the 1950s, he went on to pen a number of songs for Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra (“My Way”), the “Theme to The Tonight Show”, but is best known for his own adult-contemporary songs.
Alan and Marilyn Bergman. They began writing in the late 1950s and broke through in the 1960s with pop songs and stage work. Their first Academy Award was for “Windmills of Your Mind” (1968) from The Thomas Crown Affair (with Michel Legrand). The Bergmans were the prominent lyricists for the 1970s and beyond.
Robert and Richard Sherman. Often associated with Walt Disney in the 1960s, although they wrote film and television scores, stage plays and songs for others. Disney films included: Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book (except “The Bare Necessities,” which Terry Gilkyson wrote), Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Happiest Millionaire, Charlotte’s Web, and The Aristocats. Non Disney films included Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They also wrote the song, “It’s a Small World (After All)”.
Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn. Successful songwriters separately and together. They had a long history writing for Frank Sinatra (“Come Fly With Me”, “The September of My Years”, “My Kind of Town”, “Love and Marriage”). Their collaborations included stage musicals Skyscraper (1965) and Walking Happy (1966). Films included: High Time, Ocean’s 11, Pocketful of Miracles, Where Love Has Gone, Robin and the 7 Hoods, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Star!, Poppa’s Delicate Condition. Best known songs from the 1960’s: “The Second Time Around”, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”, “Pocketful of Miracles”, “Call Me Irresponsible”, “My Kind of Town”.
Henry Mancini. Famous for his television and film themes (“Peter Gunn”, “The Pink Panther”, “Romeo and Juliet”), but also scored hits recorded by Andy Williams and others. “Moon River” (with Johnny Mercer), “Days of Wine and Roses”, “Dear Heart”.
John Kander/Fred Ebb. Know for their stage writing. Musicals: Flora, The Red Menace (1965), Cabaret (1966), The Happy Time (1968), Zorba (1968). “My Coloring Book” and “I Don’t Care Much”, were recorded by Barbra Streisand. In the 1970s, they would achieve even greater success.
Leslie Bricusse/John Barry. Bricusse and Barry each had successful solo film careers, and Bricusse wrote Broadway plays. Barry was responsible for most of the early Bond films, but also penned the music for many lush, studio films. They wrote the theme from “You Only Live Twice”. The pair teamed with Anthony Newley to write the theme from “Goldfinger”.
Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley. Their collaboration included “What Kind of Fool Am I?”, “Who Can I Turn To?” Newley was an acclaimed actor, songwriter, singer and raconteur, who as also a husband of Joan Collins (but then, who wasn’t?).
Quincy Jones. He wrote the scores for many television shows and films, in addition to producing other artists, and releasing his own albums.
Bobby Russell. “Honey” (Bobby Goldsboro), “Little Green Apples” (Roger Miller), “Do You Know Who I Am” (Elvis).
Snuff Garrett. Writer/arranger/producer in L.A. and Nashville. Wrote songs for Bobby Vee, The Lennon Sisters, Dean Martin, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Mel Tillis, Lefty Frizzell. He would enjoy even more success in the 1970s, 1980s.
Chip Taylor. “Wild Thing” was one of the most played songs of the decade. “Angel of the Morning” was an often recorded song. “I Can’t Let Go”, “Any Way You Want Me”, and “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” was a big hit for Janis Joplin.
Ben Weisman. Wrote 57 songs recorded by Elvis including “Wooden Heart”, “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears”, “Rock-a-Hula Baby” and “Follow That Dream”. Other hits included “Love ln The Afternoon,” the Beatles’ “Lend Me Your Comb,” “Johnny Mathis’ “When I Am With You,” Gladys Knight’s “Love Gives You The Power,” Cher’s “I Love Making Love To You,” “Nat “King” Cole’s “Mother Nature And Father Time,” June Pointer’s “You Can Do It,” Jim Reeves’ “My Ups Are Sealed,” “Dusty Springfield’s “All I See Is You.”
P. F. Sloan. “Eve of Destruction” was a number one hit by Barry McGuire. He wrote or co-wrote charting songs for Herman’s Hermits (“A Must to Avoid”), The Turtles (“Let Me Be”, “You Baby”), The Grass Roots (“Where Were You When I Needed You”, “Things I Should Have Said”), Johnny River (“Secret Agent Man”).
Gordon Mills. Managed Tom Jones and co-wrote some of his songs including “It’s Not Unusual”. Also wrote for Engelbert Humperdinck, The Searchers, Cliff Richard, Peter & Gordon, Freddie and the Dreamers.
Wally Gold. In the early 1960s, he scored several hits. “It’s Now or Never”, “Good Luck Charm”, “It’s My Party”, “Because They’re Young”.
Neil Sedaka. He often wrote with Howard Greenfield. Connie Francis recorded his “Stupid Cupid”, and then the theme song for the 1960 MGM film, Where the Boys Are. Known as much for singing his own songs as for providing hits for others. Frank Sinatra (“The Hungry Years”), Elvis Presley (“Solitaire”), Tom Jones (“Puppet Man”), The Monkees (“When Love Comes Knocking At Your Door”), and The Fifth Dimension (“Workin’ on a Groovy Thing”).
Neil Diamond. Before he became a huge international star, he was a songwriter for hire. He started in 1965 with “Sunday and Me”, a hit for Jay and the Americans, “I’m a Believer”, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”, “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)”, and “Love to Love”, for the Monkees, “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” by Elvis Presley, to name a few.