Nine Famous Singers Who Wrote Hits for Other People

Willie Nelson, around the time he wrote “Crazy”

Years ago I posted a rundown of all the pop songs written by Bruce Springsteen or Prince that were made famous by other artists. This list is an expansion of the same idea. Maybe you knew about some of these. Maybe you didn't. In any event, I know the Internet is filled with similar lists, but this one's mine.

  1. MAC DAVIS: "In the Ghetto". Curly-haired Bert Convy lookalike Davis used to be a thing – a big thing. With his '70s hits "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me" and "I Believe in Music", and his starring roles in North Dallas Forty and The Sting II, Mac Davis was a genuine heartthrob for a while. But before he was famous, he was a songwriter. "In the Ghetto", Elvis Presley's maudlin 1969 ballad, is Davis's most famous contribution here in the States, though he also cowrote "A Little Less Conversation" for Presley, which was remixed into an unlikely dance club hit in 2002.

  2. PAUL ANKA: "My Way". Anka was the Justin Bieber of his day, a teen idol with hits like "Put Your Head on My Shoulder", "Puppy Love", and "Lonely Boy" – all of which he wrote before his 20th birthday. A few years later, he wrote the English lyrics for "My Way", adapted from a French chanson. It quickly became Frank Sinatra's signature song. Anka also wrote the Tom Jones classic "She's a Lady" and the Carson-era Tonight Show theme.

  3. WILLIE NELSON: "Crazy". Long before superstardom and marijuana, when he was a short-haired square who went by "Hugh", Nelson penned this early ballad, which was soon covered by Patsy Cline. The rest is history.

  4. KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: "Me and Bobby McGee". Janis Joplin's most enduring single, the "Bobby" in the title was originally a woman, as written by future star Kristofferson (along with Fred Foster). Roger Miller was the first to record the song, in 1969, but most folks know only Joplin's version, a posthumous chart-topper in 1971.

  5. THE BEE GEES: "Islands in the Stream". I could write a whole separate list of hits penned by one or more of the Gibb brothers: Dionne Warwick's "Heartbreaker", Barbra Streisand's "Woman in Love", Diana Ross's "Chain Reaction", and of course the theme song from Grease. But this 1983 Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton duet stands out because you'd never expect the Bee Gees to write a country hit – indeed, it was initially meant for Marvin Gaye!

  6. NEIL DIAMOND: "I'm a Believer". I've never known what to make of Neil Diamond and his music. Cheeseball? Genuinely great? Both? In any event, in 1965, a year before "Solitary Man" became his solo breakout, "I'm a Believer" was covered by The Monkees. It remains one of their best-known songs.

  7. BOB DYLAN: "Mighty Quinn". Several Dylan compositions were covered by others, from "Mr. Tambourine Man" (The Byrds) to "All Along the Watchtower" (Jimi Hendrix) to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (Guns N' Roses). But this one's an outlier for its poppy cheer. It was a Top 10 hit for Manfred Mann, somewhere between "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Blinded by the Light" (the latter an early tune by Dylan pal Bruce Springsteen).

  8. OTIS REDDING: "Respect". If you're as tired as I am of Aretha Franklin's signature song – which may be a great recording, but it's become so overplayed that I can't even bear it anymore – then give a listen to Redding's grittier original, released in 1965. You may gain some newfound appreciation for the work.

  9. LIONEL RICHIE: "Lady". Before his wildly successful solo career in the early '80s, and after parting with his old band The Commodores (and writing their songs "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady"), Richie wrote "Lady" for Kenny Rogers. He even produced the recording, which shot to #1 in 1980.