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5 Artists Who Became Songwriters After They Debuted: Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and more

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Jun 15, 2014 09:47 PM EDT

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger(Photo : Getty Images)

Just because someone's an excellent performer doesn't mean they're an excellent songwriter as well. Some artists are talented enough to have debuted as both excellent performers and songwriters, such as the Beatles, but some artists were only comfortable writing their own material after they were established as performers. Here are five artists who eventually became great songwriters after they debuted.

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1. Bob Dylan

On any list of the greatest songwriters of all time, Bob Dylan has got to be somewhere near the top. However, Dylan's initial fame wasn't centered on his songwriting, but rather his interpretation of traditional folk songs. His self-titled debut album consists mostly of traditional songs and covers, with only two of the album's thirteen tracks being original compositions. It would be Dylan's second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, consisting entirely of original songs, that would cement his status as a supremely talented songwriter. Dylan wouldn't release any more cover songs until 1970's Self Portrait.


2. The Rolling Stones

Like most other British bands of its era, the Rolling Stones got their start playing revved up versions of American blues songs, and the band's 1964 debut contains eleven cover songs, with just a single Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition. The band's next two albums would feature three original songs each, but the first Rolling Stones album to consist entirely of original material was 1966's Aftermath, featuring such classics as "Paint It Black" and "Under My Thumb."


3. Nico

It would have been easy to dismiss Nico as a manufactured pop singer early on in her career. She rose to prominence in the '50s as a model and actress, and eventually moved on to singing in 1965, when she released her first single "I'm Not Sayin," written by Gordon Lightfoot. After a brief stint singing for the Velvet Underground, Nico released her incredible debut album Chelsea Girl in 1967, featuring songs written by Jackson Browne and her former bandmates Lou Reed and John Cale. However, 1969 saw the release of The Marble Index, a frighteningly avant-garde album that marked the debut of Nico as a songwriter. She would continue to write nearly all of her own music for the rest of her career.


4. Michael Jackson

Finding pop stars who write their own music is difficult enough, but finding a child pop star who writes their own music is pretty much impossible, and Michael Jackson was no exception. Jackson's earliest solo albums, as well as many of his albums with the Jackson 5, consisted entirely of songs written by other people. However, starting in the mid-'70s, the Jacksons began writing their own material, and in 1979, Michael Jackson made his solo debut as a songwriter with the smash single "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." Jackson would write four songs for Thriller three years later (including "Beat It" and "Billie Jean") and by 1987's Bad, he was writing the majority of his own songs.


5. Björk

Though the title of Björk's classic 1993 album is Debut, it actually wasn't her debut solo album. Before she rose to international prominence as the vocalist for alt-rock band The Sugarcubes, Björk was actually a child star in her native Iceland, releasing her self-titled debut album in 1977 at the age of 11. The album featured covers of English-language songs translated into Icelandic, as well as original songs written specifically for her and even a flute instrumental composed by Björk herself. 1993's Debut, however, would be Björk's true solo debut as a songwriter and music icon.


What other artists flourished into songwriters? Let us know in the comments section!

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