Cathy Dennis – the most successful songwriter you’ve never heard of

Bill Murray says, “I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’. See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”

In other words, if you get rich without being all that famous, you’ve pretty much scored the lottery.

One occupation that would seem to offer a pathway to that is writing songs for popstars that go on to become top 10 hits.

And the owner of a co-write on several hit singles of the last couple of decades, including Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, Britney Spears’s Toxic and Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl, is songwriter Cathy Dennis.  She is credited with 8 US top 10 hits and 17 UK top 10 hits (  For better or worse, she has had a considerable influence in shaping pop music through the noughties.  Somebody like me who is totally NOT on the pop beat knew about the above three songs, for instance.

Cathy Dennis is not from LA or London but Norfolk, UK.  Born to musical parents, she was already putting together songs in her teens.  She was pretty much destined for a musical career.  Initially, she was quite successful as a solo pop artist.  Yup, releasing albums in her name.  Her single Just Another Dream hit no.9 in the US. Here she is, performing that song on the Rick Dees Show. Notice how something she had to say there about Milli Vanilli went by with just a whoo from the host.

If such incidents had something to do with her moving out of a career as a performing artist, she doesn’t say so.  If anything, in the article I gave a link to above, she professes reluctance to get into songwriting because she would have to tailor her songwriting for somebody else’s requirements rather than writing for herself.  But, “I felt that I had been given a talent and that it would be abusing that gift if I were to just ignore it or throw it away. I also looked upon it, at the time, as [making] a living. ”

And so it is that an inventive songwriter with good keyboard playing facility, a sweet singing voice and great dance moves chose anonymity instead. Yet another reason to blame her then, if you don’t like today’s pop.  Jokes apart, so anonymous is she now that it was the magic of YouTube algorithms that brought her to my attention.  This Toxic demo with Dennis singing on it popped up in my feed and led me down a rabbit hole.

The rawness of the demo (ok, not like it’s No Life Til’ Leather, admittedly) focused my attention more on some of the quirkiness lurking underneath this earworm.  Note the chord choice at 1:04.  When I am reunited with my keyboard, I will analyse this thing but for now, suffice it to say that more conservative choices were available.  As she is the co-writer, I cannot tell if that quirk was put in there by her or her co-writer.  She mentions that the process of writing songs together often led to her focusing on the vocal melody and lyrics.  But she also adds, “. People who write with me regularly know that I do have a tendency to be quirky, and I’ve kind of had to tone that down over the years – sadly.” (

And we can see evidence of the quirkiness in some of her other songs too:

Note at 0:36 and 0:45 here, setting up the chorus:

Starts off with a very Swing Out Sister-like verse before the Disney-ish pre-chorus steers it back into more acceptable pop territory:

As she mentions above, she has had to tone down the weirdness by and by.  Perhaps, that mirrors the evolution of pop music into an increasingly risk averse machine rolling out hits that would safely, predictably find their way to the top of the charts but lack the element of risk or adventure that makes you do a double take as opposed to just nodding along absently as it plays on your car stereo. But in the meantime, she’s been laughing all the way to the bank, her net worth estimated at $14 million.

Wrapping up, I am leaving here an article that lists down some of the hits that you never knew had their songwriter in common.

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