NEW YORK – Writing a song that touches the hearts of millions is hard enough.
Writing a warm and fuzzy ballad about one of nature's most despised animals -- the rat -- seemed to be an impossible task, even for Oscar-winning composer Don Black.
Black, whose credits include many of the themes for the James Bond movies and his Academy Award-winning "Born Free," about a lion, was asked to write the title song for the 1972 horror movie "Ben," about a lonely boy whose only friend is a rodent named Ben.
"When it came to writing about a rat, I said, `You can't write about a rat.' I mean, I'm not going to use words like `cheese,"' laughed Black. "I thought the best thing to do is write about friendship."
Black's approach worked -- and the song "Ben," sung by a teenaged Michael Jackson, became one of pop music's most enduring and oddest classics. The song is one of the reasons why Black is being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Other inductees include singer-songwriter Jackson Browne; Caribbean songwriter Irving Burgie, best known for Harry Belafonte's "Day-O"; Michael Masser, whose hits include "Touch Me in the Morning" and "The Greatest Love of All"; and the songwriting team of Bobby Weinstein and the late Teddy Randazzo, which wrote songs such as "Gonna Take a Miracle." Previous inductee Dolly Parton will receive the Johnny Mercer award for her career achievements, while relative newcomer and Grammy-winner John Legend will receive the Hal David Starlight Award.
Black's most famous songs also include "Diamonds are Forever" by Shirley Bassey, which Kanye West remade into the rap hit "Diamonds." The reinvention of his song was "great fun," Black said.
"That's the way you keep a song going. I thought he did a fantastic job. Obviously it isn't my world but it made me very trendy with my son. I started wearing bling," he joked.
Black, who is also a Tony Award-winner, told The Associated Press that receiving the Songwriters Hall honor "means more to me than you can imagine.
"When I was growing up in the east of London as a little boy, all my heroes were the people who are on this invitation," he said.
Parton, who was inducted into the hall in 2001, said songwriting is the most important part of her career as an entertainer.
"I would always give up everything before I give up the writing, because it's really my way of expressing myself, and it's just a natural thing and the song just took me everywhere I've been so far," she told the AP. "So it's very important. ... To be honored for it and recognized for it is a great great compliment."
Parton's credits include "9 to 5," "I Will Always Love You," and the autobiographical "Coat of Many Colors." Parton estimates she has written over 3,000 songs and says she writes something every day.
Still, she acknowledges that her songwriting talent is sometimes overshadowed by her colorful persona.
"I've had people tell me ... `People would take you so much more serious as a singer and writer if you didn't look like a whore,"' she says, laughing. "I say, it's looking like the whore that's the fun part, and I can't give that up, because it's all part of a package!"