The 4 Secret People Behind Famous Rockers
When it comes to modern music, it’s generally safe to assume that no single musician did everything all by themselves. Pop singers have a cadre of writers and producers that come up with their signature hits so frequently that it becomes more noteworthy when someone like Britney Spears decides to take a personal swing at it.
Early rock acts did not have these accusations, but many of rock’s more-legendary artists have gotten credit for things they didn’t do. This is my shoutout to the men and women behind the scenes that secretly brought us some of the best music that rock has to offer.
#1 Bernie Taupin Penned Elton John’s Lyrics
If you see an artist at a piano, like Alicia Keys & Billy Joel, it’s generally safe to assume they write all of their own songs. Elton John is an exception. While Sir Elton is easily one of my favorite musical minds in rock music, he rarely wrote a lyric for any of his hit songs. The man behind most of Elton’s signature lyrics is Bernie Taupin.
According to a documentary, Taupin’s lyrics were essentially the springboard for John’s music. First, Taupin would write the lyrics; then John would adapt the lyrics to his music almost entirely independently of one another. This is made all the more impressive when you consider how much their songs jump around thematically.
“Your Song” is a standard but wholly memorable piano ballad, mostly because of the lyrics. “But then again….no” is a stand out. Cut then to “Crocodile Rock”: a silly upbeat rock. Just for contrast’s sake, jam out to “The Bitch Is Back“. Taupin’s lyrics easily guided John to his multi-genre sound.
#2 Jim Steinman Gave You Meat Loaf’s Hits (And One Killer Celine Dion Cut)
Meat Loaf songs, never mind his albums, are a roller coaster ride of rock n’ roll. “Bat of Out Hell” begins with an opening that could easily fit into a metal tune, dives into a piano-styled ballad, grooves into a good ol’ fashioned rock song, and then lands with blistering guitar work. “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” offers bluesy rock with a funk breakdown, transforms into a call-and-response, and finishes a morose tragic ending of teen love. No one else in rock puts out songs quite like this because there’s almost no format; the path is story driven instead of being predetermined by pattern. Meat Loaf might bring the chorus back twice, once more, or not at all.
And Jim Steinman wrote every note and lyric to those songs. Though they don’t always collaborate nowadays, Meat Loaf’s more recognized songs are all Steinman’s handy work. Oh, and if you thought they were “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vidaesque” now, just imagine if they were at their original length. From VH1 Storytellers, Meat Loaf confided that the original cut of “Paradise” was 27 minutes long. ”Jim is an encyclopedia of rock n’ roll,” praised Mr. Loaf. He definitely looks the part.
With that in mind, Steinman has also written for a number of other artists including Celine Dion. Guess which one is his.
Steinman provided the sprawling power ballad “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” from 1998. I generally gag when I hear Celine Dion, but damn it if I don’t love that song.
#3 Pete Townshend is The Who
Okay, calling Pete Townshend unappreciated or hidden is a bit of a stretch considering how everybody seems to like The Who. Well, that, and Townhsend himself has already been immortalized as a guitar/rock god.
That being said, very few people realize how much of The Who’s music is written by Townshend. In a standard band, there’s a general sense of collaboration. The Beatles may not have given Ringo the spotlight, but Lennon and McCartney went song-for-song, and George Harrison always got his day. The Rolling Stones have their tag team of Jagger and Richards, Led Zeppelin traded writing credits on a regular basis, and every member of Queen has written a top 20 hit. For The Who, it’s only noteworthy when Townshend doesn’t write the song.
There are only four tracks on the 24 track rock opera Tommy that Townshend didn’t write. Guess what? You probably can’t name them. All of the signature songs- including “Pinball Wizard”, “Acid Queen”, “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”, “Sensation”, and “I’m Free” all came from Townshend’s brain.
#4 Dave Grohl: Session Musician?
The lead singer and guitarist for the band Foo Fighters is mostly known for being like this all day, everyday.
Not a bad thing, but that certainly doesn’t give credit to the breadth of Grohl’s rock experience. First and foremost, many people seem to forget that he was the drummer for Nirvana. The band may have been Kurt Cobain’s brainchild, but try to imagine “Smells Like Teen Spirit” without the rattling drums after the opening riff.
Secondly, Foo Fighters wasn’t a band at first; it was just Grohl. After taking a very short hiatus from rock music after Cobain’s death, Grohl put out the Foo Fighters self-titled album by himself. Once the album became a moderate success, he had to find a band to actually tour.
Finally, the amount of side work Grohl does is impressive, and it’s all gold. Songs for the Deaf, arguably Queens of the Stone Age’s greatest album, features drums by- you guessed it- Dave Grohl. Tenacious D’s studio drummer? Dave Grohl, hence why they had him play the devil in the “Tribute” music video and let him reprise the role in the movie.
Grohl got John Paul Jones (of Led Zepplin) to make an album with him and Josh Homme (the lead singer/guitarist of Queens of the Stone Age). He’s done drums for Garbage, Nine Inch Nails, Cat Power, Killing Joke, and Slash. He even filled in for Cage the Elephant when their drummer’s appendix burst. Dave Grohl is a rock machine that cannot be stopped.
Think of your favorite artist. Got it? Think of your favorite song by them. Made a decision? Good.
Now find out if they wrote the music and lyrics. Are they the figurehead for rock geniuses like Taupin and Steinman, or are they the real deal akin to Townshend and Grohl?
You might be surprised.