This is the second in a series of playlists called “Songwriters I Love”, where I will be making playlists of multiple songs written or co-written by the same songwriter. The ultimate goal of these playlists is to feature outstanding songwriters while also pointing out how great songwriters can maintain their personal writing voice while simultaneously writing songs that fit a variety of artists.
This playlist surrounds lyricist Billy Steinberg, who has had a decades-long prolific career writing some of pop music’s biggest hits. He initially wrote with composer Tom Kelly, but after Kelly retired he found a new writing partner in Josh Alexander and began writing for some of today’s biggest stars. Lyrically, Steinberg writes with a sort of simple universality, where everything he writes kind of sounds like a saying your grandma used to tell you when you were little. Even when he writes something new, it sounds like tried and true wisdom for the ages. Here are just a few gems in his discography.
Like A Virgin
Every songwriter dreams of writing a song that will live as long as this song. Though this song is perhaps more well-known for its association with Madonna’s infamous MTV VMA performance where she writhed around on the floor in a wedding dress, the song itself is not slacking at all. I would love to be able to hear the song on its own merits without the images and pretenses we already associate with it. I wonder if my first thought would have been of a woman on the floor in a wedding dress. Probably not.
Give Your Heart A Break
Steinberg’s writing partner Tom Kelly retired from the music business and Steinberg found a new songwriting partner in Josh Alexander, and the pair co-wrote this radio hit for Demi Lovato.
Don’t Let It Go To Your Head
You can really tell that you’ve written a great song when many artists can cover the song in so many different styles and tell the story differently. While only two artists have sung this song, it’s truly a great one and allows for many different interpretations. Fefe Dobson co-wrote the song with Steinberg and Alexander and was the original artist, singing it in a more of a rock style. This was made more interesting when Jordin Sparks covered the song for her second album Battlefield and sang it in a more urban, contemporary R&B style. Both of them communicated the same feelings and the song itself did not change that drastically between the two versions. I included both of them, but I personally like the Fefe Dobson version better because I feel like it is more direct.
I Drove All Night
This is another song with many versions. Roy Orbison was the first to sing it, but Cyndi Lauper and Celine Dion would go on to record the song as well. I included Orbison’s original as well as Dion’s more contemporary interpretation. I love the more ‘80s rock style of Orbison’s original but I also feel like Dion’s version has more of a desperate rush to it, which seems in step with what the song is about. This is another great song to sing in your car (ironically enough).
I included the Glee version of the song because it’s so different from the original and has a much more desperate, rushing energy to it that the song totally merits. However, Whitney’s original cannot be beat. If you ever needed a reminder of how good Whitney was, this song is one of many great reminders.
Remember that song that the Bellas sing in Pitch Perfect where everyone falls asleep? Someone had to write that. This guy did for the Bangles. It wasn’t considered that sleepy when it came out. It’s a nice song but it’s certainly not anything like EDM. It’s a solid song though.
The number of past, present and future reality singing show contestants who owe Billy Steinberg for co-writing this song is almost endless. This also includes Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart as well as Celine Dion, who prove themselves as absurdly good vocalists and deliverers of the simultaneous tenderness and intensity that this song requires.
I’ll Stand By You
I love when rockers get raw and vulnerable, and this song is truly one of the greatest of those. Chrissie Hynde’s voice is gorgeous and sensitive and suits this song perfectly. This is one of those moments when a great song meets the perfect singer for the song and delivers it exactly the way it was meant to be delivered.
For a laugh, you can find an interview with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane on the Graham Norton Show singing this song in Peter Griffin’s voice in front of Cyndi Lauper. For a cry, though, listen to the original. If you need someone to sing to you that things will be OK, look no further than this song. Cyndi Lauper might be known for being a little bit unusual and as the girl who just wants to have fun, but her capacity for sensitivity in her voice is on full display on this song.
Enjoy the Ride
This is a really interesting collaboration. Steinberg is a lyricist, so the members of Krewella likely were the ones to push the song in a more EDM direction. It is really cool to see how great wordsmiths can continue to be prolific even as the musical soundscape changes over time.