The Great Pop Songwriting Teams

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

Lennon-McCartney, Goffin-King and Other Great Songwriting Duos

Although most composers have worked alone, there have been many great songwriting duos in history, from the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan to the lush musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. In the pop era of the last 60 years, many songwriting duos have composed songs that have become standards; indeed, they have provided the soundtracks to our lives. In this article we will review the lives and works of some of the great songwriting duos.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

What many consider to be the greatest songwriting duo of all time was, in fact, hardly a duo at all. Although Lennon and McCartney collaborated frequently on composing in the early days of the Beatles, by the time they had established themselves as a musical force to be reckoned with, they were seldom working together as songwriters. Although they would embellish each other’s work during the process of arranging and recording, the Beatle singing the song was generally the primary songwriter. Although the “Lennon- McCartney” credit was a marriage of convenience and worked for the boys in the beginning, it became a bone of contention in their final days.

Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Undoubtedly the most important husband-and-wife songwriting duo in pop history, Goffin and King had their first big hit with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles in 1961. This set the mold for most of their successes in the early-to-mid-60s, reflecting the joys and sorrows of young love. As Tin Pan Alley songwriters began to lose ground to bands like the Beatles and The Beach Boys, who composed the lion’s share of their own songs, the couple broke up professionally and personally. Carole King would go on to become an acclaimed singer and songwriter in her own right, recording the legendary album TAPESTRY.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David

This songwriting duo was responsible for writing many of the most timeless pop hits of the 1960s and 1970s. “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Walk On By,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” are among the many renowned songs springing from the jazz-inflected tunes of Bacharach and the sophisticated lyrics of David. They were primarily known for writing most of Dionne Warwick’s hits, but also worked with many other singers. They splintered acrimoniously in the early 1970s, but later reconciled. Bacharach eventually worked with and married Carole Baker Sayer, and they composed numerous hits together.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin

In 1967, Bernie Taupin answered an ad in the New Musical Express looking for new talent for the Liberty Records label. Elton John answered the same ad, and although neither of them were hired, they were introduced to each other by the label’s A&R man, who sensed that they would work well together. They have worked together on most of Elton’s recordings since that fateful meeting, racking up an enviable number of hits and creating some of the most acclaimed music in rock history. Although they seldom work in the same room (indeed, they are often on separate continents), Taupin’s lyrics often fit John’s music to the point where it seems to come from one voice.

Conclusion

These are among the most acclaimed songwriting teams in history, and their work goes to show that when two artists work together in harmony, both literally and figuratively, amazing music can be made.

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