In the same way that action stars don't do their own stunts and surrogate mothers don't raise their own babies, singers often rely on other songwriters to provide the lyrics to their biggest hits. It's never widely publicized who did the actual writing, and as we have mentioned before, sometimes it's for good reason.
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The Simpsons has been on the air so long that some of you aren't old enough to remember that at one time it was an absolute merchandising juggernaut. There was a span of a few years when you couldn't leave the house without seeing Bart Simpson dolls, T-shirts, lunch boxes, video games, and, at the apex, a music video for a single called "Do the Bartman":
So what songwriting hack was available in 1990 to slap together that sad, transparent cash grab?
Here's something cool you probably didn't know about the late Michael Jackson: He loved The Simpsons. If you remember the third season debut, "Stark Raving Dad," you'll probably remember it as that episode where Michael Jackson provides the voice of a huge white mental patient who thinks he's Michael Jackson.
It was probably the most ingenious bit of stunt casting ever, and a pretty bold move for the young show to have the King of Pop on as a guest star. Few knew at the time that Jackson had always been a fan, and longtime Simpsons producer James L. Brooks explained in a DVD commentary how he fielded a call in his office one day from Jackson himself, who proclaimed that he was a huge fan of Bart and wanted to write a No. 1 single for him, which is a little pretentious, but whatever. It's Michael Jackson. "Do the Bartman" is what he came up with.
Looking back, the whole thing is a little weird. It's a rap song, featuring Bart Simpson rapping words written by Michael Jackson, who is not someone necessarily known for his ill rhymes. But who are we to argue? The video was directed by Brad Bird (!), got heavy rotation on MTV, and topped the charts in five other countries. None of whom could have known that the show would still be on the air 23 years later.
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Or that Michael Jackson wouldn't.
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If you've ever suffered from a gut-wrenching breakup so devastating that your heart actually bled out through your eyeballs during intense crying sessions, then you probably enjoyed CeeLo Green's 2010 viral hit "Fuck You." And if you haven't, guess what? You're the gold digger CeeLo is talking about in the song. Good job.
Even though most of us will never experience the catharsis of using a soaring tenor to give our ex a "fuck you," we appreciated the sentiment. Relive the summer of 2010 in all its glory by watching the video again.
And where else could such a track come from but the goofy head of stout little soul singer CeeLo Green?
Actually, it started in the mind of an even shorter R&B singer, and for once we're not talking about Prince. It just so happened that while CeeLo Green was recording his album The Lady Killer, Motown-influenced Bruno Mars was recording his debut album in the same studio. You know Bruno Mars, right? He's the pop singer whose pompadour is rivaled only by Little Richard's in audacity.
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Even Conan O'Brien feels threatened.
Not that Bruno Mars was a total rookie. He already had a few songwriting credits under his belt by that point, including the third most popular '80s hook that was turned into an ode to oral sex: "Right Round."
So Bruno Mars, a guy who looks like the love child of Elvis and the Rock, presented CeeLo with a half-finished version of the song that eventually became "Fuck You." Two hours later, the song was finished and recorded. Approximately 15 minutes after that, the Internet found it and had a collective orgasm. You should expect your grandma to send you a parody version of the song any day now, by the way.
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No music fan makes it out of childhood without realizing that lots of their favorite artists' deep, meaningful lyrics were in fact written by somebody else. A teenage girl didn't write "Baby One More Time" -- that would be creepy. No, an adult male wrote it for a teenage girl to sing.
But then there are the deeply personal songs that could only have been written by the artist -- Alanis Morissette did in fact write "You Oughta Know" about the time she blew a dude in a theater (history doesn't remember what movie was playing, but for some reason we're sure it was Predator). Dr. Dre's track "The Message" would definitely have to fall into that category. It's a heartfelt tribute to his brother Tyree, who had been killed in a fight during N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton tour in 1989.
Even for one so averse to coming up with lyrics, you'd expect Dre to buckle down and actually write such a personal song. He did not. From the style of rapping, one would be forgiven for assuming that the writing of this one fell to Eminem -- but it wasn't him, either. So who wrote the very personal and touching words, "This one is for my brother, Tyree, R.I.P." and "I miss you, sometimes I wish I just died wit you"?
A guy named Royce da 5'9".
We'd tell you his Internet name, but it's just silly.
And if you're thinking that maybe Dre jotted down some personal thoughts about his brother and just had Royce da 5'9" make it rhyme, sorry. In fact, Royce da 5'9" didn't even intend the lyrics for Dre's brother: He wrote them for an altogether different fellow who was shot in the neck. It just so happened that Dre heard the words and thought "Oh, that fits Tyree" and used them.
But by then, Royce was used to shit like that. And when he had the nerve to speak up about writing lyrics for prominent rappers, Dre and Eminem cut ties with him for a while. But the good news? The rift didn't last, and 10 years later, Royce hooked up with Eminem for a new album, one that featured a song with another ghostwriter on this list, Bruno Mars.
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Seriously, look at that thing.
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If you were alive in 1983, you were aware of two things: Pac-Man and Dolly Parton's boobs. Actually, if you've been alive at any point since the late 1960s, you've been aware of Dolly Parton's boobs, but that was especially true in 1983, when Dolly was singing the biggest song of the year with her future partner in face surgery crime Kenny Rogers.
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Here they are, playing Dueling Strokes.
Their duet "Islands in the Stream" was the perfect example of middle-aged sexual chemistry between the two biggest country stars of the day. See for yourself in the performance below: Rogers and Parton are practically reaching for the clean-up sex towel when the whole song is over.
"Islands in the Stream" was so huge that it hopped from the country charts to the pop charts, where it reigned until the other king of pop, Lionel Richie, knocked it out with "All Night Long (All Night)," which is a stupid fucking name for a song. But back to "Islands in the Stream." Parton is a celebrated songwriter, as you probably know, so you'd think that she was the one who penned this steaming celebration of doin' it with a professional Santa impersonator.
"We ride it together, ah-ah. Makin love with each other, ah-ah." -actual lyrics
But "Islands in the Stream" didn't come from the loins of Gramps and Granny Horny up there, it came from someone altogether more disturbing: the Bee Gees.
By 1983, the Bee Gees were six years past the insanely successful soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, and by then disco was so passe that Congress practically gave it a state funeral. But the brothers Gibb weren't ones to let something so small as being intensely hated and completely out of favor stop them from working. They just wrote and produced hit songs for other people, including "Islands in the Stream," which was actually meant for Marvin Gaye.
Fortunately for them, 20 years later, the Gibb backlash subsided enough for the team to perform their own songs once more. Their version of "Islands in the Stream" below isn't bad, considering it's three brothers using tight harmonies to sing about making love to each other.
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If you've ever been to a wedding, prom, bar, or Jamaican winery, you've heard UB40's "Red Red Wine." UB40 is a mostly white British reggae band featuring a redheaded lead singer. Your gut reaction upon seeing them is probably a mix of laughter and outrage. But look again, because this band has had over 50 songs chart in the U.K., sold over 70 million albums, and kept touring after 30 years together. They're like the Rolling Stones of reggae music, if the Rolling Stones were bankrupt.
The point is, when Americans finally found out about UB40 and "Red Red Wine" in 1988, we went apeshit. Watch this song and try not to be happy.
The song is so iconic that dummies the world over assume it was once performed by Bob Marley, which not only never happened but is a huge compliment to its original author, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn. If reggae were the Milky Way, the original writer of "Red Red Wine" would be the remnants of the Big Bang, that's how far away from the reggae genre he is.
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Neil goddamn Diamond. Not only did Diamond write the song that eventually became a reggae hallmark, but his original version made it all the way to No. 62 on the Billboard chart in 1968. And believe it or not, his version of the song is as somber as a baby's funeral. Without the jaunty beat and fun rap lyric, you have to actually pay attention to the fact that this is a song about a man drinking himself to death. It's the Leaving Las Vegas of pop songs. Try to get 10 seconds into the song without killing yourself.
But here's the best part: Diamond released his sad sack version in 1968. Two other bands covered it before UB40 got their mitts on it in the '80s. But that version became so well known that once it went reggae, it never went back. Eventually Diamond started performing the reggae version himself, with his own rap breakdown, to the horror of EVERYONE.
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When you think "Bond song," the first things that probably comes to mind are a driving guitar riff, a gun barrel sequence, and an urge to make a pistol with your hands and sneak across the room all stealthy-like. Once you get that out of your system, the next thing that comes to mind is a brassy, seductive title song, usually sung by a diva wearing shiny clothes and thick eyeliner. The Bond people have never strayed from the formula, even when Duran Duran sang "A View to a Kill" in 1985.
The soundtrack to 1995's GoldenEye is no exception. Only this time it was Tina Turner singing the title song. Or Tina Turner's soul and 50-something-year-old voice singing through a stolen husk of a supermodel's body. Watch the video and try not to remember that the woman singing was already a quarter of a century old when the Beatles landed in America.
Usually the theme songs from Bond movies are written by composer veterans with tons of movie soundtracks under their belts -- guys like Oscar winner John Barry and the guy who wrote the theme to Rocky, Bill Conti. But 1995 was no ordinary year: Val Kilmer was Batman, Coolio had the biggest song of the year, and O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murder. It was a topsy-turvy world. So of course when mega-group U2 wanted a shot at writing the theme to the new Bond movie, they got it.
Bono and the Edge were Turner's neighbors in the south of France at the time, and upon hearing that she'd been offered the theme song, they dashed off "GoldenEye" for her. The song is all Bondian horn flourishes and Turner's smoky, soulful vocal. What is not clear is whether or not the band was actually able to watch the film beforehand. "GoldenEye" is the name of a weaponized satellite that Bond must destroy, a sequence of events that U2 described as follows:
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Photo included so you can picture them singing this while rolling around on the ground.
GoldenEye not lace or leather
Golden chains take him to the spot
GoldenEye I'll show him forever
You'll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child
You'll never know how it feels to be so close and be denied
It's a gold and honey trap
I've got for you tonight
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"Thank you, Clevel- wait, where'd they all go?"
Yeah, they pretty clearly thought "GoldenEye" was Bond's nickname for his dick.
For more unexpected sources of entertainment, check out 7 Shockingly Dark Origins of Lovable Children's Characters and The 6 Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (From the Bible).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Features of the New Xbox That Are About to Ruin Everything.
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