Simply Simpson – Why pop songwriting’s not what it used to be. By Kevin Canfield
While I agree that Jessica Simpson probably isn’t much of a songwriter (if she actually wrote anything to speak of) Canfield is far too dismissive of the tradition of pop performer as songwriter. (A trend he, bizarrely, attributes to Madonna, which is like saying that the electric guitar was invented in 1982 by Andy Taylor.) While I don’t see any factual errors, the whole tone of the article is bizarre, a pop-cultural history written by someone who apparently has little knowledge of the popular culture he’s supposedly talking about.
Buddy Holly — who is not mentioned in the article — co-wrote most of his hits in the late fifties. It certainly isn’t true that the “biggest hits of the ’50s and ’60s were written by songwriters like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller…” I have a lot of respect for those songwriters, but that’s not true — the biggest hits of the Fifties may have been written by non-performing songwriters. (And among them, Canfield never mentions Goffin and King, or the Motown writers.)
The biggest hits of the Sixties were mostly — except for Motown — written by performers like the Beatles and Stones. (Both groups are mentioned only in passing, and strangely placed — seemingly chronologically — after Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell.) Lennon & McCartney — with the proverbial help from their friends — created, or promoted, a tradition that has faded but never quite died. Elton John, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, the Police, U2, Springsteen, Prince, REM… These were all hugely successful acts that wrote all, or nearly all, of their own material.
UPDATE: As Haggai points out in comments, Chuck Berry — who more or less invented rock & roll — wrote his own material. Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were songwriters as well. I should also point out that some of the Motown performers, too — notably Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and especially Stevie Wonder — wrote, or write, their own material.
I could probably trace this back even further, to the beginnings of recorded music. I today cataloged an album based upon a player-piano roll made by George Gershwin. (And beyond “pop” music, the great classical composers were also performers and/or conductors. I read just the other day that J.S. Bach, in his own time, was mostly celebrated as a keyboardist.) It’s simply a dumb claim as stated so broadly. In a narrow sense — that poppy, non-instrument-playing, usually female singers of the Jessica Simpson “type” didn’t used to pretend to write their own material — it may have some merit.