11 Pop Songs You’d Never Guess Were Written by Rock Musicians
The main difference between being a pop star and a rock star (aside from the backup dancers and costume changes) is that nobody really expects pop stars to write their own songs.
While it might be nice to believe Miley Cyrus often holes herself up in a darkened room and pours her heart into lyrics like, “Make my tongue just go do-do-do” (actual lyrics from ‘#Getitright’), there’s usually an entire fleet of songwriters wracking their brains to find just what Cyrus would like to say. Other times, pre-existing songs are borrowed and appropriated like a spare hoodie lent to a friend. But, because it’s important to keep the illusion in tact (nobody wants to think about the 48-year-old guy who might’ve written Katy Perry‘s latest single when she’s shimmying onstage), that means being a pop songwriter is often thankless — even if you’re a well-known rock musician.
In the spirit of giving credit where credit’s due (or blame, depending on how you feel about Avril Lavigne), here are 11 pop songs with surprising rock roots:
Adam Lambert, ‘Pick U Up’ (2009)
One of the songs Rivers Cuomo is most proud of writing isn’t even by Weezer. It almost was, though. Cuomo wrote ‘Pick U Up’ – a song he’s called a “wonderful hybrid of all the music I love” – for Weezer’s 2009 album, ‘Raditude.’ But the band didn’t think the fit was right, and it was shelved until Cuomo was asked to sit in on the recording of the debut by former ‘American Idol’ contestant Adam Lambert. The pair tweaked the lyrics and vocal lines and turned the song into a soaring number on Lambert’s ‘For Your Entertainment.’
Avicii, ‘Wake Me Up’ (2013)
After about a decade in the modern rock spotlight, Incubus took a break in April 2008 so the members could turn their attention to other things. In the case of guitarist Mike Einziger, that meant writing music with a wide array of collaborators – the most surprising of which being Swedish DJ Avicii. Einziger said he was a little confused about what he could bring to the table, but jumped at the opportunity. Their one-off recording resulted in the bluegrass club thump of ‘Wake Me Up’ – the lead single on Avicii’s massively successful debut, ‘True.’
Christina Aguilera, ‘Beautiful’ (2002)
There’s a decent chance the name Linda Perry doesn’t mean much to you, but her former band – 4 Non Blondes – probably rings a ’90s nostalgic bell. But in the decades since ‘What’s Up?,’ Perry has become one of the most in-demand ghostwriters in pop, penning tracks for the likes of Gwen Stefani (‘What You Waiting For?) and Adam Lambert (‘A Loaded Smile’). But her biggest hit might be Christina Aguilera’s self-assured ballad, ‘Beautiful,’ which you can watch Perry perform here.
One Direction, ‘Little Things’ (2012)
British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran met One Direction when they were fresh off ‘The X-Factor’ (the U.K. version) in 2011, and he gave them ‘Moments,’ a song he said he’d never do anything with that One Direction put on their debut album. He was back in the studio with the boy band when they were working on 2012’s ‘Take Me Home’ and received an old demo of a song he’d recorded with a friend when he was 17. One Direction heard it, loved it and insisted he let them record it.
Madonna, ‘Bedtime Story’ (1995)
Although Bjork isn’t exactly what you’d call a traditional rock musician, she’s nowhere near as pop as Madonna — and that’s exactly why the Material Lady asked producer Nellee Hooper to do her a solid and ask Bjork to write a song for her. Hooper came back with ‘Let’s Get Unconscious’ – a trippy ditty that Madonna renamed as the (sort of) title track of her 1995 album, ‘Bedtime Stories.’ Bjork later said Madonna messed up the lyrics (which were reportedly meant to be a critique of Madonna’s own aesthetic).
Pink, ‘Feel Good Time’ (2003)
Originally written by Beck with all the glitchy funk of his 1999 album, ‘Midnite Vultures,’ the demo for ‘Feel Good Time’ made its way to Pink. She allegedly asked to cover the song, but Beck gave it to her outright. Although Pink definitely put her own glossy spin on it (it was on both her 2003 full-length, ‘Try This,’ and the soundtrack to ‘Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle’), it’s not all that different from Beck’s version – which you can listen to here.
The Jonas Brothers, ‘I Am What I Am’ (2006)
Fountains of Wayne had already been around seven years when they found their breakthrough in 2003’s ‘Stacy’s Mom,’ and bassist Adam Schlesinger had already found success writing everything from the Oscar-nominated title track from ‘That Thing You Do!’ to the songs ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ sang. So it wasn’t all that shocking to see Columbia Records ask him for a song for the pre-Disney Jonas Brothers‘ 2006 debut, ‘It’s About Time.’ Of course, they only shot to fame after Columbia dropped them.
Avril Lavigne, ‘The Best Damn Thing’ (2007)
When Avril Lavigne was prepping to record her third album, 2007’s ‘The Best Damn Thing,’ she made it clear it would be different from her earlier work. Not only was the sound far more mainstream, but she brought in a whole team of producers including ex-Marvelous 3 frontman Butch Walker. His pop-punk fingerprints are all over the title track, which received mixed reviews due largely to its similarity to her previous single, ‘Girlfriend.’
Enrique Iglesias, ‘The Way You Touch Me’ (2003)
Best known as the voice of ’90s one-hit wonders the New Radicals (hey, remember ‘You Get What You Give‘?), Gregg Alexander has spent much of the time since out of the public eye (possibly because he was afraid Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson might still want to kick his ass). But he’s had a prolific songwriting career, writing for everyone from Santana to Geri Halliwell. ‘The Way You Touch Me’ is one of just four songs he co-wrote for Enrique Iglesias‘ 2003 album, ‘7.’
Shakira, ‘She Wolf” (2009)
Scott Endicott – frontman for New York dance-rock outfit the Bravery – and producer John Hill co-helmed what turned out to be the band’s swan song, 2009’s ‘Stir the Blood,’ and during those sessions, the duo would make other beats on the side for fun. When Shakira reached out to Hill in search of a song for her 2009 album, Hill sent her a track he and Endicott had already put together. Shakira sang over it, added all of the werewolf references and made it the album’s title track.
Adam Lambert, ‘Soaked’ (2009)
Turns out Adam Lambert’s first album was actually a star-studded affair. In addition to a song by Rivers Cuomo, the album features ‘Soaked’ – a track that very nearly could’ve been on Muse‘s 2006 full-length, ‘Black Holes and Revelations.’ But frontman Matt Bellamy said the song he wrote was a little too theatrical even for Muse (although it sounds a lot like Muse), and offered it to Lambert.