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Dynamic Duos: 10 Great Rock and Roll Songwriting Partnerships

04.15.2013

Music history in all genres has seen great work achieved through amazing partnerships. Rock and roll is no exception. In the past 50 years, the songwriting partnerships below have yielded a trove of rock classics.
Sometimes two heads are, indeed, better than one.

Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (The Clash)

The Clash were often called "the only band that matters," and with good reason. Simply put, Jones and Strummer were the Lennon and McCartney of the late '70s punk era. In a 2011 interview with GQ, Jones talked about their creative partnership. "We were opposites in lots of ways. I would play very precisely, and Joe would play very loosely. He sang somewhat gruffly, and I sang sweetly. I think that was what made it so interesting and fruitful. It was one of those great songwriting partnerships. He's such a fantastic lyricist..."



Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (Aerosmith)

Despite their ups and downs, the "Toxic Twins" have always emerged with their songwriting mojo intact. Joe Perry comes up with a stupendously infectious riff, Tyler counters with a strong vocal melody and lyrics rife with double entendres, and a classic song is born. "It's all basically the same thing," Perry told Gibson.com in 2007. "We still just sit in a room and come up with music. Steven and I both like that R&B backbeat. Sometimes it sounds poppier than at other times, and sometimes it sounds bluesy, but it's always kind of wrapped around that feeling."



Johnny Marr and Morrissey (The Smiths)

The Smiths, more than any other British band, helped douse '80s synth-based music and re-establish guitar rock as a prime force in England in the '90s. Marr and Morrissey were the driving forces in the band. "It was a 50/50 thing between Morrissey and me," Marr once told Guitar Player. "We were completely in sync about which way we should go for each record." Marr later added: "Morrissey and I wanted to be a modern-day Leiber and Stoller, writing bubblegum backing tracks with intense lyrics. We weren't minimalistic, but we wanted to sound very home-grown, not like a polished major-label group."



Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)

Page and Plant wrote together from the start, but their chemistry took hold in a special way when they secluded themselves at the Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales to work on Led Zeppelin's third album. In a 2005 interview with Uncut, Page hailed Plant as a superb lyricist. "I was writing lyrics in the early days and encouraging him to write more because I knew he was going to be a much better lyricist than I ever was," Page said. "Then it got to the point where he was writing all the lyrics, and I was very content with that because it allowed me to concentrate totally on the music."



Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (Steely Dan)

Fagen and Becker discovered their special chemistry not long after meeting at Bard College in New York, in 1967. Speaking with Performing Songwriter, Fagen reflected on the magic that produced such hits as "Reelin' in the Years" and "Peg." "When Walter and I wrote together, a collective personality would appear," he said. "It was neither he nor I, but some kind of other entity that was the narrator of the song. The narrator often has a certain personality that isn't the most likable personality in the world, but it's usually an interesting one."



Elton John and Bernie Taupin

The 1991 film documentary Two Rooms described John and Taupin's unusual writing style, which involves Taupin writing lyrics and John then putting the words to music, with no further interaction between the two. "The way we write songs is unusual and probably always will be," said Taupin. "[With most writing], it's the melody that comes first and the lyrics afterwards. We've always been the other way around. From day one, I gave Elton lyrics, and he would work on them. The whole process is separate and in that order."



Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings (The Guess Who)

"No Time," "American Woman," "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature," "Undun" ... the list goes on and on. As hit-makers in the early '70s, The Guess Who were phenomenal, but main songwriters Bachman and Cummings have never gotten their proper due. "Burton and I often brought pieces of songs to one another," Bachman told Gibson.com, in a 2008 interview. "We would write great half-songs, which is what most co-writers do. Or maybe you write a third, and your partner writes a third, and then you work on the last third together."



Alex Chilton and Chris Bell (Big Star)

No band had a bigger impact on the direction of '80s post-punk than Big Star did. Main songwriters Chilton and Bell spiked British Invasion-style pop with infectious riffs that foreshadowed the likes of The Replacements and R.E.M. "I tried to present things that were compatible with the [existing] concept of the group," Chilton told Gibson.com, explaining how his songwriting changed when he joined the band. "And when I say 'they,' I guess I'm really referring to Chris. I just tried to get with Chris's stylistic approach as well as I could."



Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones)

Original Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham deserves credit for encouraging one of rock's all-time great writing partnerships. Richards has often said Oldham locked the pair in a kitchen and told them they couldn't come out until they had written a song. Jagger, however, says the "lockup" wasn't so much literal as figurative. "I think Andrew may have said something along the lines of, 'I should lock you in a room until you've written a song,'" Jagger explained, in the book According to the Rolling Stones. "In that way he did mentally lock us in a room, but he didn't literally lock us in."



John Lennon and Paul McCartney (The Beatles)

One could argue that these colossal legends forged history's most important musical partnership. Between 1962 and 1969, Lennon and McCartney crafted roughly 180 jointly credited songs. Often working "eyeball to eyeball," each was extraordinarily adept at composing both words and music. "[Paul] provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes," Lennon told Playboy, in 1980. "There was a period when I thought I didn't write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock 'n' roll. But, of course, when I think of some of my own songs—'In My Life,' or some of the early stuff, 'This Boy'—I was writing melody with the best of them."

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