‘80s Hard Rock Songwriters: The Unheralded Heroes Behind the Hits of the MTV Era

I make no apologies for being a liner notes junkie. Since I can remember, I've always pored over the credits included in the inner sleeves of the albums in my music collection. The more I read liner notes as a kid in the '80s, the more I realized that some of my favorite tracks were either written or co-written by people that weren't members of the band.

As the years went by, I noticed a pattern. Some of the same names started appearing with more frequency in the songwriting credit sections of albums by the likes of KISS, Aerosmith, and Alice Cooper. More often than not, the majority of the public didn't know, or for that matter, care, that some of their most cherished songs were written by someone other than the singer or band performing them. Not that it really matters.

As a tribute, in this post, I've decided to take a look at a few of the most gifted songwriting collaborators from the hard rock world of the '80s.

Desmond Child

The son of a Cuban songwriter, Elena Casals, Desmond Child is one of the most successful songwriters of the '80s and '90s. The Cuban American's first big hit was a co-write he did with Vini Poncia and Paul Stanley on the 1979 KISS disco-rock hybrid, "I Was Made for Loving You." The next decade saw Child's work with such artists as Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Joan Jett make him a hot property among A&R executives in Los Angeles and New York City. Billboard chart smashes like Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca" (1999) and Katy Perry's "Waking Up in Vegas" (2008) prove that Child can still have his way with a chorus, even decades from his first hit.

Songs Include:

  • "Livin' on a Prayer" (Bon Jovi)
  • "Dude Looks Like a Lady" (Aerosmith)
  • "Poison" (Alice Cooper)

Bob Halligan, Jr.

Although he released a solo album called Window in the Wall in 1991 on a major label, Bob Halligan, Jr. is best known from his songwriting contributions on records by groups like Judas Priest, Kix, and KISS. "(Take These) Chains" and "Some Heads are Gonna Roll"—two songs he wrote for Priest—feature Halligan, Jr.'s knack for crafting a hard rock tune with both bite and melodic charm. Some of my favorite Halligan, Jr.-related material came on Icon's 1985 hard rock masterpiece, Night of the Crime. These days, he's leading Celli Rain, a group blending pop-rock with a dash of Celtic/Irish flavor.

Songs Include:

  • "Don't Close Your Eyes" (Kix)
  • "Some Heads are Gonna Roll" (Judas Priest)
  • "Rise to It" (KISS)

Holly Knight

A New York City native, Holly Knight has spent time on both sides of the recording booth window. Throughout her colorful career, Knight has been a member of the bands Spider and Device, and also released a major label-backed solo album in 1988. As a songwriter, singles like "The Warrior" (Scandal featuring Patty Smyth), "Rag Doll" (Aerosmith), and "Invincible" (Pat Benatar), not to mention her co-writes for Tina Turner and Rod Stewart, made Knight a millionaire.

Songs Include:

  • "Hide Your Heart" (KISS, Ace Frehley, Molly Hatchet, Bonnie Tyler, Robin Beck)
  • "The Warrior" (Scandal featuring Patty Smyth)
  • "Rag Doll" (Aerosmith)

Jim Vallance

Best known via his fruitful collaborations with Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance is a songsmith of the highest order. Vallance was part of Aerosmith's late '80s comeback, co-writing MTV staples "Rag Doll" (with Holly Knight), "Other Side," and "Eat the Rich," among other hits. Black 'n Blue's 1985 power ballad, "Miss Mystery," is one of my personal favorite Vallance numbers (music industry vet Bob Lefsetz also loves it), and a track that never truly got its day in the sun. Alice Cooper, Europe, Kiss, Arcade, L.A. Guns, and Scorpions are just a few of the other hard rock outfits Vallance worked with throughout the years.

Songs Include:

  • "Miss Mystery" (Black 'n Blue)
  • "What About Love?" (Heart)
  • "War Machine" (KISS)

Honorable mention:

  • Jim Peterik (also of Survivor): "Hold on Loosely" (38 Special), "Heavy Metal" (Sammy Hagar)
  • Diane Warren: "Givin' Yourself Away" (Ratt), "(You Make Me) Rock Hard" (KISS)