Did you know that many of today’s celebrated musicians actually wrote their most meaningful lyrics and heart touching melodies before they were even allowed to drive? While most of us spent our preteen and teenage years trying to pass mandatory creative writing classes and learning hot cross buns on the recorder, these musical prodigies were busy creating chart-topping hits.
Whether they were born with a passion for music or had simply jotted down a spontaneous poem after a high school breakup, these teens were able to come up with some of history’s most listened to songs. Proving age is just a number, here is a list of artists that you would never have guessed wrote their hit songs before they even reached their 20s.
Kate Bush Wrote About Her First Love
English singer-songwriter Kate Bush wrote her chart-topping song, “The Man With the Child in His Eyes” when she was only 16 years old. Although first released in 1978 when Bush was 19, it was later revealed in 2010 that the song was written about her first boyfriend, Steve Blacknell.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, Blacknell revealed, “By the spring of 1975 she had become my first true love. I’ll never forget. I went round to her house and she led me to the room where the piano was. What I heard made my soul stand on end. I realized there and then that I was in love with a genius.”
Sharon Sheeley Wrote a Breakup Song
Ricky Nelson’s 1950s hit, “Poor Little Fool” was written by a 15-year-old Sharon Sheeley, who wrote the song after a highschool breakup. The song went on to become Nelson’s first U.S. No. 1 single as well as the first-ever No. 1 song on Billboard magazine’s new Hot 100 chart.
This made Sheeley the youngest woman to write an American number-one hit. She later went on to write songs such as “Love Again” and “Cherished Memories” for her longterm boyfriend, Eddie Cochran. After Cochran’s tragic passing, Sheeley went on to collaborate with a range of musicians such as Jackie De Shannon and The Fleetwoods.
Eddie Vedder Wrote Songs Before He Could Drink
Pearl Jam’s frontman, Eddie Vedder might not have realized that he would grow up to be the rockstar that he is today when he wrote the lyrics for “Better Man.” As Vedder put it himself, “I wrote “Better Man” before I could drink—legally—on a four-track in my old apartment.”
In an interview, when the Pearl Jam frontman spoke about writing this future hit he said, “Sometimes I think of how far I’ve come from the teenager sitting on the bed in San Diego writing “Better Man” and wondering if anyone would ever even hear it.” Well wonder no more, the song went on to top the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and spent a whole eight weeks at number one. The world not only heard the words of a teenager Vedder but they could not get enough of them.
Joan Jett Wrote a Song for Cherie Currie
1970’s all-female punk rock group, The Runaways are best known for their hit song “Cherry Bomb.” The song was composed by the band’s manager Kim Fowley and guitarist Joan Jett, who was 17 at the time.
The teen rock anthem was written especially for their new lead singer, Cherie Currie who was only 16 years old when it was released. The song goes along with the group’s rebellious image. The term cherry bomb refers to an underage girl who loves to break the rules and cause trouble.
Buddy Holly Was Inspired by a John Wayne Film
In 1955, when Buddy Holly was only 19 years old, he found major influence from two of the biggest pop icons of his time, Elvis Presley and John Wayne. After seeing Elvis perform, Buddy decided to put together a rockabilly band with two of his friends, Jerry Allison, and Joe B. Maudlin. They called themselves, The Three Tunes.
One day, between practices, Buddy and Jerry went to go see John Wayne’s new movie, The Searchers. In the film, Wayne kept repeating the line “That’ll be the day.” This phrase stuck in Jerry’s mind and eventually ended up inspiring the lyrics to Holly’s first hit, which he later recorded with his new band, The Crickets.
Billie Eilish Writes Songs With Her Brother
15-year-old Billie Eilish made her debut in 2016 with the song “Ocean Eyes,” written by her older brother Finneas O’Connell who was 18 at the time. The song peaked at number 84 on the Billboard Hot 100 and jet-set Eilish on a career of hit song after hit song. Following the success of “Ocean Eyes,” in 2017 Eilish released the song “Bellyache” which she co-wrote with her brother.
According to Eilish, the song was inspired by Tyler, the Creator’s song “Garbage.” The singer also spoke about the meaning of the song saying that they wrote the lyrics about an entirely fictional character but that the song “is about the concept of guilt, when you do things in the moment because you feel so strongly about them. In the end, you’re left with the decision you made. It’s about a psychopath who regrets being a psychopath but doesn’t really care.”
Billy Joe Armstrong Recorded a Song When He Was Five
Billy Joe Armstrong was drawn to music since his early childhood. He formed his first band with his childhood friend Mike Dirnt at the young age of 14. Together with the eventual formation of Green Day, Armstrong and Dirnt succeeded in making their punk rocker dreams come true. But did you know that Armstrong began pursuing these dreams way before Green Days 1990 debut?
Billy Joe recorded his first song way before reaching Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status. With the support of a local music shop owner, Armstrong recorded his first-ever song, “Look for Love” when he was only five years old. If you don’t believe us then have a listen for your selves. The song has already made its way around the internet along with an adorable interview where a five-year-old Armstrong proudly states, “It makes people happy when I sing. I love it.”
Lorde Titled Her Song After a Photo in National Geographic
“Royals” acted as the debut single for New Zealand singer, Lorde, which then skyrocketed her to pop-culture recognition and worldwide fame. Lorde, or Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor began songwriting when she was 13 years old. She wrote the lyrics for “Royals” in her home when she was 15-years-old. This only took her half an hour.
The singer was inspired to write the song about the luxury of the rich and famous after seeing a 1976 edition of National Geographic showing George Brett of the Kansas City Royals signing baseballs. Afterward, during a school break, the singer and her producer, Joel Little recorded the song and within a week it was ready for its initial SoundCloud debut.
Here Comes Your Man Was Written Years Before Its Release
Charles Thompson IV, known popularly as Black Francis says he wrote “Here Comes Your Man” years before becoming the lead singer of the Pixies. And when he says many years, he means it. Francis was only around 14 years old when he wrote the poetic tune.
It wasn’t until he was 21 years old that he formed the Pixies. The song was included on their demo when they first began pursuing a record deal. However, it wasn’t until their third album, Doolittle that they finally released it for the world to hear. And the world loved it, peaking at number three on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Booker T. Jones Thought His Song Was a Throw-Away
Booker T. Jones was only 18 years old when a studio jam session led to the creation of “one of the most popular instrumental rock and soul songs ever.” Jones was the keyboard player for the house band of Stax Records at the time and the song came together on a whim while waiting for Billy Lee Riley to show up for his recording session. Jones was playing around on a Hammond organ in the studio and the song just came together by accident.
The group was in the process of putting out a record for their song titled “Behave Yourself” and needed something to record as a B-side. They decided to use the accidental song that Jones put together. They titled the song “Green Onions” because, as Booker put it, “That is the nastiest thing I can think of and it’s something you throw away.” The “throw-away” song turned out to be a hit and it was moved to the A-side of the single instead of “Behave Yourself.”
Stevie Wonder’s First Song Earned Him Two Grammy Award Nominations
As one of his most popular singles from his early years under the spotlight, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” was also the first hit single which Stevie Wonder co-wrote. Living up to his namesake, this young wonder was only 15 years old when he wrote the hit single that earned him his first two Grammy Award nominations.
The song peaked at #3 in the US and from then on, Wonder maintained a regular spot at the top of the charts. And he did not stop at writing his own tunes. In 1969, the young musician also became one of the first artists to write, produce, arrange and perform his own songs. He really does prove that with the right amount of passion and dedication, anything is possible.
Carole King Made History at 18 Years Old
When Carole King was 17 years old, she married Gerry Goffin and the couple went on to be one of the most successful husband and wife songwriting teams. The duo wrote their most notable chart-topping hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” when King was only 18.
The iconic song was written for the all-girl group, The Shirelles, who made history by becoming the first black female group to peak at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Carole King not only wrote the song but also played timpani on the Shirelles recording.
Avril Lavigne Was 17 When She Redefined a Genre
Pop-punk queen, Avril Lavigne was only 17 years old when she released her debut single “Complicated.” The song reached number one on charts across the globe, making her the youngest female soloist with a number one album in the United Kingdom.
Avril’s lyrics and angsty pop-punk vibes gave young girls a relatable and empowering image for years following her debut. Her songs often speak about female resilience and young love, offering a care-free, and rebellious outlook to typical teenage dramas.
Maurice Williams Wrote a Song for His 15-Year-Old Girlfriend
Maurice Williams of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs wrote the song “Stay” in attempts of persuading his girlfriend to stay over past her curfew. The young couple was only 15 years old at the time so as you can imagine, her parents did not want her staying over past 10:00 at night.
Overcome with puppy love, Williams wrote down the song lyrics to “Stay” as his older brother drove her home. At the time, Maurice had no idea that four years later, after forming his musical group, his impulsive love song would reach #1 in the charts. Initially added to the B-side for a single called “Do You Believe,” “Stay” eventually got the A-side and remained one of their most successful songs.
Snoop Dogg Discovered Bow Wow When He Was Six
Shad Gregory Moss, known to the world as Bow Wow or Lil’ Bow Wow, first began rapping recreationally at the young age of six. It was then that he was recognized by hip hop legend, Snoop Dogg who gave him his stage name. In 1998, at the age of 13, Lil’ Bow Wow released his first album, Beware of Dog and his debut single, “Bounce with Me.”
The album went double platinum, selling over two million copies worldwide. That was just the beginning for Bow Wow as he went on to release hit after hit until he decided to hang up his mic and retire from rapping in 2016. Today, at 32 years old, he is concentrating on his acting career.
Zac Was Only 11 When the Hansons Wrote Their Hit Song
When, Hanson, the pop-rock family trio came out with their hit single “MMMBop,” the youngest of the three, Zac Hanson was only 11 years old. This made him the youngest group member to co-write and perform on a US #1 single. When first writing the song, the Hanson brothers had no idea the song would be such an international hit. At the time of its release in 1996, the three brothers were only 15, 13, and 11.
Zac spoke of this saying, “That song started out as the background part for another song. Over a couple of years, we really crafted the rest of the song – the verses and bridge and so on. It was something we almost stumbled upon.” He goes on to speak about the meaning behind the lyrics saying, “What that song talks about is, you’ve got to hold on to the things that really matter. MMMBop represents a frame of time or the futility of life.” Pretty deep for three teenagers from Oklahoma.
Michael Jackson Wrote Songs at Age Seven
Michael Jackson made his stage debut at the unbelievably young age of five alongside his brothers as the Jackson 5. Surrounded by music, he began writing songs on his own when he was only seven years old and even co-wrote some songs for his family band. In an interview discussing his early years of songwriting, Jackson approximated that the first song ever published that he wrote himself was when he was 15 years old.
Michael released his first solo album, Got to Be There in 1972 when he was 14 years old. Jackson could not actually read or write music so his songwriting strategies were as unique as they were impressive. Sound engineer Rob Hoffman spoke of this saying, “He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part. Had it all in his head, harmony, and everything. Not just little eight bar loop ideas. He would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills.”
Shawn Mendes Wrote His Song on a Bus
Canadian singer Shawn Mendes can thank social media for his widespread fame. He first made his melodic vocals known to the world at the age of 15 when he posted a video on the social video app Vine. After that, his YouTube channel quickly gained millions of likes and followers. As a true Gen Zer, Mendes used this momentum to release his first single, “Life of the Party,” becoming the youngest to debut in the top 25 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
The rising star co-wrote his second official single, “Something Big” from his debut studio album Handwritten, while on a nationwide tour with Austin Mahone. At the time he was only 16 years old. Shawn told MTV News, “The song was written on our tour bus over the summer, and it’s meant to be a very positive song about good things happening to people.”
Demi Lovato Wrote Her First Album With Her Disney Co-Stars
Former Disney star, Demi Lovato had her eyes set on fame since she was a young girl. She began playing the piano when she was seven and guitar at age ten. After beginning her career as a child star on Barney and Friends and later on the Disney Channel, Lovato began focusing her sights on music.
She released her debut studio album Don’t Forget when she was 16 years old. Lovato co-wrote most of the songs on the album with her Disney co-stars and fellow music enthusiasts, the Jonas Brothers, who also produced the album and the oldest of which was no older than 21 years old.
Van Morrison Toured in Europe at 17
Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison and lead singer of the band Them says he wrote the song “Gloria” in the summer of 1963 right around the time he turned 18 years old. At the time he was touring Europe win the Monarchs, playing saxophone, guitar, harp, as well as back up bass and drums. The song was later released on the B-side of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” It became somewhat of a staple for Them with Morrison regularly returning to it through the years.
However, Morrison wrote his first-ever song “Some Sunny Day” one year prior to “Gloria.” He recalls this saying, “I wrote some poetry before that but that was the first song I remember. It was pretty good. A country type thing. I was always messing around with it at rehearsals and one day the trumpet player said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘it’s a song I’m working on,’ and he said, ‘We should do that.’ That’s how it started.” Unfortunately, this song never made its official debut.
Leanne Rimes Was the Youngest Person to Win a Grammy
Many know that country-pop superstar, Leann Rimes began her career at a very young age. Her debut album “Blue,” released when she was only 13 years old. With the album’s success, Rimes became the youngest person to win a Grammy and the first Country music artist to win the Best New Artist category.
What many don’t know about the star is that later in her career she also began co-writing some of her most successful songs. When speaking about herself as a writer, Rimes says, “It is a totally different thing singing your lyrics as opposed to someone else’s. It’s much more gratifying. I get so much more out of it. And I see people’s reactions. I realized the power of my own words.”
Hound Dog Was Written by Two 19-Year-Olds
As one of Elvis Presley’s most recognizable songs, you might be surprised to hear that “Hound Dog” was actually written by two 19-year olds. In fact, songwriters, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller wrote the song in only 15 minutes while driving to Stoller’s apartment. The song was originally written for a female blues singer named Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton who, according to Stoller, “was a wonderful blues singer, with a great moaning style.”
The writers said it was Big Mama’s blues style and her overwhelming appearance that inspired the song. Leiber recalled meeting her saying, “We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see.” The song became Thornton’s biggest hit and in 1956, three years after the original, it was re-released by Elvis, raising it up to the iconic status where it still sits today.
Eddie Cochran’s Hit Made him a Teen Idol
Cochran was only 19 when he recorded his breakthrough hit, “Summer Time Blues” and was even younger when he first began writing songs and pursuing his career as a professional musician. He saw so much potential in himself that he even dropped out during his first year of high school to form his first musical group, The Cochran Brothers.
In 1956, when he was 17 years old, he released his first single as a solo artist, “Skinny Jim.” He soon after gained worldwide success with his breakthrough classic, “Summertime Blues.” His rebellious image quickly led Cochran to iconic status as an international teen idol, which he maintained even after his fatal car crash in April of 1960.
Alex Turner’s Mom Had to Drive Him to Practice
Lead singer and songwriter of the Arctic Monkeys, Alex Turner was only 19 when he wrote their debut single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” The band was formed in mid-2002 when Turner was 16 and his mom still needed to drive him to and from rehearsals.
Proving age is just a number, Turner had a way with words from the start and although it took a while, he gradually began to share his lyrics with his bandmates. By 2005, their debut single had earned its spot at number one on the UK singles chart and later made its way to number seven on NME’s list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”