Ghost Writers: The Surprising Names Behind 10 Famous Works


Wish someone would give you a little respect? Want to keep the French from colonizing Central America? You know what song and what doctrine to turn to, but do you know who actually wrote them? Here are the surprising, famous names behind 10 creations.

1. "Respect" (Otis Redding)

You have to respect Aretha Franklin's pipes, but she didn't pen her signature song. Crooner Otis Redding wrote the tune as a bluesy plea to a woman for his third record, 1965's soulful Otis Blue. Redding released the song as a single, and it even reached the top five on Billboard's R&B chart and number 35 on the Pop Singles Chart. While Redding's version is pretty great, the song didn't achieve immortality until Franklin recorded her chart-topping 1967 cover. The first time Redding heard Franklin's cover, he simply said, "She done took my song."

Have a listen to Redding's version:

2. "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!" (Barry Manilow)

Before Barry Manilow became a star, he put his Juilliard education to use by writing advertising jingles. In addition to the enduring State Farm jingle, he also cranked out "I'm stuck on Band-Aid, 'cuz Band-Aid's stuck on me!" Here's Manilow doing a medley of some of his jingles:

3. "A Boy Named Sue" (Shel Silverstein)

Johnny Cash's beloved tune came from a surprising source: poet Shel Silverstein. Although Silverstein is best remembered for his children's poetry, he also penned songs for stars like Loretta Lynn, wrote plays, and was a mainstay at the Playboy Mansion. Here's the poet and the Man in Black horsing around and playing part of the song as a duet on Cash's show:

4. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (Peter Sagal)

Did you watch Dirty Dancing's futile attempts at putting Baby in a corner and think, "This film feels incomplete. What we need is a prequel. Not just any prequel, though. One set in Havana!"? Apparently someone did.

When producers decided to film a sequel for a 2004 release, they didn't just crank out a fresh story, though. Instead, they reworked a screenplay that NPR's Peter Sagal, the host of Wait, Wait"¦Don't Tell Me had written in the early 1990s. Sagal's original screenplay dealt with the true story of a young American girl who witnessed the Cuban revolution, but the version that made it to the screen sucked out all of the politics and replaced them with dancing.

As you might have guessed, the film was a flop, but even though not a single line of Sagal's dialogue made it to the screen, he got a story credit. Read more about Sagal's experience in our 2008 interview with him.

5. The Monroe Doctrine (John Quincy Adams)

Think Redding got robbed of his credit? John Quincy Adams got an even worse deal. Adams wrote the Monroe Doctrine while working as Secretary of State under James Monroe in 1823. Adams' concept that any further acts of colonization or meddling by European powers in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as acts of aggression against the U.S. helped shape American foreign policy through the Cold War, but few people remember his contribution. Since Monroe introduced the doctrine during one of his State of the Union addresses, it bears his name, not Adams'.

6. "It's Raining Men" (Paul Shaffer)

Believe it or not, the Weather Girls didn't write their own material. Stalwart songwriter Paul Jabara and David Letterman's bandleader, Paul Shaffer, actually co-wrote the number-one dance hit. In a 2009 interview with USA Today, Shaffer quipped, "You've got to be a really straight man to write a song like "˜It's Raining Men.'"

7. "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" (Nas)

It's a good thing Nas has hip-hop street cred to burn, because he co-wrote Will Smith's 1998 dance single "Gettin' Jiggy wit It." Smith's track may not make anyone forget Nas' Illmatic album, but it did spend two weeks atop the Billboard charts.

8. "Never Learn Not to Love" (Charles Manson)

This Beach Boys track, a cut from their 1969 album 20/20, would probably have been doomed to obscurity if not for its backstory. In 1968 Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson was pals with an eccentric struggling singer-songwriter named Charles Manson. Yep, that Charles Manson. Manson gave Wilson a song called "Cease to Exist," and Wilson retooled the lyrics and the melody to create "Never Learn Not to Love."

What does a song by one history's most infamous lunatics sound like? Surprisingly bland! Have a listen:

9. "Me and Bobby McGee" (Kris Kristofferson)

Janis Joplin's signature song was actually the result of another great songwriter's struggles. In the mid-1960s Kris Kristofferson was desperately trying to make it as a songwriter, but he was stuck working as a helicopter pilot for oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. He banged out a tune about how liberating it felt to have nothing left to lose, and his star began to rise.

Country singer Roger Miller and folk rocker Gordon Lightfoot both scored minor hits with the song, but it didn't become a smash until Joplin recorded her own cover, which was part of her posthumously released Pearl (1971). Here's the man singing his own country version tune:

10. "Islands in the Stream" (The Bee Gees)

This chart-topping duet for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton came from the minds of disco icons. The Bee Gees originally wrote the song as an R&B track "“ various rumors postulate that it was written with either Marvin Gaye or Diana Ross in mind "“ but handed it over to Rogers instead. Smart move: the song topped the country and pop charts, went double platinum, and was the best-selling single of 1983. The Bee Gees still occasionally play their tune when they perform live, though: