It’s tempting, when assessing great creative works, to funnel all credit to a lone genius — a writer, a singer, a director, an artist, or a name that sits atop a marquee. It’s so much easier to be spared the task of teasing out greatness from an interconnected web of contributors, partners, helpers, teachers and organizers. We can accept a songwriting credit that reads “Lennon-McCartney,” but our icons — our geniuses, our auteurs — more often stand alone, lest their stars seem diminished.
Adam Schlesinger, who died Wednesday from complications due to COVID-19, wasn’t an icon, nor was he a lead singer. He was occasionally given solo billing — as he was when he wrote a masterful, Oscar-nominated piece of vintage pop songcraft called “That Thing You Do” in 1996. Far more often, he wrote with a shared voice.
In Fountains of Wayne, every song was co-billed to Schlesinger and singer Chris Collingwood; the two had separate sensibilities, and wrote individually, but they also knew that their immensely hooky pop songs improved with each other’s ideas thrown in. On the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — for which Schlesinger wrote or co-wrote an astounding 157 songs — he teamed up with brilliant collaborators in star Rachel Bloom and music supervisor Jack Dolgen, as well as a handful of others.