What sucks about the entertainment industry is that usually a very small group of very pretty people get all of the credit for work done by an army of talented folks behind the scenes. For instance, the odds are overwhelming that you know who Nicki Minaj is, but don't know who writes her songs -- even though she'd be nothing without them. So occasionally we like to take a moment to shine the spotlight on where it really belongs ...
5Ester Dean Wrote Half of Your Favorite Pop Songs
At this very moment, some starstruck young fan is probably telling Katy Perry how inspirational her lyrics are to her and how she changed her life, etc. And Katy is probably saying something to the effect of, "The pleasure was all mine, peasant!" before rolling off in her motorcade. Neither Katy nor the fan are acknowledging that the person who provided those inspirational words wasn't the singer, but the songwriter -- a person whose name is completely unknown to virtually all of us. Well, for probably half of the huge songs you can remember from the last eight years, that person has been Ester Dean. Oh, and this is the job she pretty much got right out of high school.
J. Everette Perry
McDonald's wasn't hiring, so she settled on changing the face of millennial pop instead.
Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass"? Not only did Dean write it, she's featured in the chorus. Selena Gomez's "Come and Get It"? Also Dean. Usher, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Sean Kingston, Kelly Rowland, Gucci Mane, Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears, Ludacris, and Cradle of Filth (probably) -- all of these artists have at least one Ester Dean-penned hit in their repertoire.
"We'll have you poppin' and lockin' right before we lock you in a coffin."
Her specialty, being a pop songwriter, is the "hook," the catchy-as-hell musical phrase that burrows into the listeners' skulls instantaneously and requires a lobotomy to remove. Katy Perry's "Firework," perhaps the most famous song by one of the most famous women on the planet? Dean hooked the shit out of that track, which made its rapid rise to the top of the charts almost a mere formality.
At around the same time, a more R-rated Dean concocted the Rihanna smash "S&M" -- a moving ode to bondage. Dean's demo of the song, by the way, makes us think Rihanna owes more to her than a quick thank-you note for introducing her to the finer points of whips and chains.
She's been at this since 2006, when she was just 20 years old. So how in the hell did she wind up writing everything on your radio while most of us were still drinking our way through college? Is she secretly Prince's niece or some shit? Nope -- she was living in freaking Omaha, Nebraska, sang for her mother's gospel choir, then made some friends in the local rap scene. We repeat: the Omaha, Nebraska, rap scene. Within a few years, she was living in LA and writing songs for freaking Rihanna and Chris Brown.
4Carol Kaye Played Most of the World's Bass
If you are any kind of fan of music made in the last 50 years or so, there is one musician you've heard more than any other, and we're going to bet you've never heard her name.
To explain, well, first let's pause this article for a motherfucking funk break. We don't care where you are -- turn up your speakers and let's all listen to the goddamned theme from Shaft (if not, take a moment to imagine it in your head):
Now we want you to imagine what the recording of that song looked like. It's 1971, you're making a track for a movie about a black detective, and it's being sung by Isaac Hayes:
National Archives and Records Administration
This was before he let himself go by sampling too much cafeteria food.
Were you imagining that the person playing the funktastic bass on that song was a 36-year-old mother of three? Yeah, meet Carol Kaye:
She was there, because she was the bassist of her era. And when we say "the bassist," we mean she was apparently the only one -- she turns up on almost every album. She is literally one of the most recorded musicians of all time.
Starting as a teenage jazz guitarist, she was asked to pound out some bass after the intended pluckmeister didn't show up at a recording session. From then on, she was the go-to name whenever a cool-ass bassline was needed. For example, The Doors had no bassist unless you count Kaye, who's all over "Light My Fire" and probably anywhere else they could stick her. You can hear her on Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers. She's also worked with Simon & Garfunkel, played for the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson was too busy being Brian Wilson to do it himself, gave Nancy Sinatra's boots something to walk to -- honestly, it's easier to list the names she hasn't worked with.
Get some scientists to compile it, since you'd probably need their microscope afterwards just to see it.
That's because from the 1960s on, Kaye played with just about everybody over an estimated 10,000 recording sessions. Since a session typically covers multiple tracks, her total musical tally could easily be six digits. When she wasn't dominating radio stations and record stores, she was busy laying basslines into the soundtracks of every movie and TV show ever. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, Hawaii Five-O, Wonder Woman, M*A*S*H, The Love Boat, Hogan's Heroes, Mission: Impossible ... even the freaking Cosby Show, all boast her bass in one song or another.
And she did it while looking like June Cleaver the whole time.
So ... how in the hell did she wind up as the world's go-to bassist, to the point that she got the call for freaking Shaft? Well, she came along at the right time, for one: when she got her start, the electric bass was still a fairly new instrument, and she was simply one of the first to really master it. She had three kids at home (their drunken father having run off) and paid the bills by doing nonstop session work, sometimes with three or four bands in a day.
She's still around, by the way -- Kaye retired to become an instructor. She has a website where you can Skype with her, and she'll teach you how to play. Or you can visit her and learn face-to-face, unless she's busy teaching Gene fucking Simmons how his instrument actually works: