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Every hit song begins with a writer or group of writers sitting in a room staring at a keyboard, holding a guitar, staring at a blank computer screen or a pad of paper.
The story of how a song comes together, much less becomes an enduring hit heard by millions, always seems like some kind of magical miracle. Earlier this week, the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles held its annual Songwriters in the Round evening in conjunction with the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Top songwriters told the stories behind some of the biggest hits. This week’s writers included Dan Wilson (Semisonic, Dixie Chicks, Adele), Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Pink), Evan Bogart (Beyonce, Rihanna) and Rodney Jerkins (Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Beyonce).
Below are five secrets they reveals about some of your favorite songs.
Beyonce initially hated Destiny Child’s mega-hit “Say My Name”
Producer/songwriter Rodney Jerkins was in London in the late ‘90s, clubbing with the Spice Girls. It was in a club that he first heard 2-step, a jittery electronic dance style. “I wanted to bring 2-step to the States,” Jerkins said and his first session back just happened to be with Destiny’s Child. He played them “Say My Name,” which featured a prominent 2-step. “Beyonce said, ‘What is this garbage?’ I said, ‘Trust me.’ They sang it, but they weren’t happy.” When it came time to do the final mix, Jerkins “humbled” himself and stripped out all the music and built the song from the ground up again from an a capella vocal track with the trio rapping the beat that was taken out.
Adele obsessed over Wanda Jackson before writing “Someone Like You”
At Dan Wilson’s first writing session with Adele after they were “blind dated” by produced Rick Rubin, “she had four lines for two songs. Two lines turned into ‘Rumour Has It’ and two into ‘Someone Like You’,” he recalls. “But for the first hour, she played me Wanda Jackson videos on YouTube.” He admits the move was brilliant in that it broke the ice and helped them “wipe the etch-a-sketch clean” in terms of their expectations.
Pink originally wrote “Throw In the towel” instead of “Blow me one last kiss”
Greg Kurstin wrote and recorded “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” in one day. Kurstin brought some tracks he’d created into the session. Pink quickly wrote the melody for the verse and Kurstin wrote the melody for the chorus. “She’s so fast. She’s an amazing lyric writer,” he says. But something wasn’t quite sitting right with them on the lyrics. Pink originally had penned “Let’s throw in the towel” and Kurstin felt it didn’t work. Next thing he knew, she’d switched it to “Blow me one last kiss” and a top 10 song was born.
Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock My World’ started as a dream
When Rodney Jerkins was 19 and coming off having worked with Mary J. Blige and Brandy and Monica, he had a very vivid dream that he would work with Michael Jackson as he slept on his mother’s couch in New Jersey. He dreamed of walking up to a structure with lots of glass and seeing Jackson in a red shirt waving to him. He woke up the next morning, the phone rang and it was legendary songwriter Carole Bayer Sager “asking if I wanted to write for Michael Jackson,” Jerkins said. “She said, I don’t don’t know when it will be.’ I said, ‘I’m going to come [to L.A.] tomorrow so when it’s time, I’m ready’.” As he approached their meeting point, he looked up and there was Jackson, looking out a window in a red shirt, exactly as he had appeared in Jerkins’ dream.
Beyonce’s “Halo” was inspired by Ray LaMontagne’s “Shelter”
Evan Bogart, who was still working as a booking agent at the time, was writing with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who was home nursing a ruptured Achilles tendon which has caused him to cancel his band's tour. Bogart was enamored with Ray LaMontage’s song “Shelter” and wanted to write a song that conveyed that same feeling. “Three hours later, we had the song done and four hours later, we had the word that she was going to cut it,” Bogart says. The song they submitted had no bridge, to even though Beyonce has agreed to cut it, they went back later and added a bridge that was Bogart’s tribute to LaMontagne. Don’t recognize it in the final version of “Halo?” For good reason: “When Beyonce recorded it, she ripped it out and replaced it,” Bogart said with a laugh.