Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Best Songwriters in Rock n' Roll Heaven

A few caveats about this category: 1) we are going to include folk-rockers, country-rockers, and pop-rockers in this list because we aren't doing another one. This is not a list of the best rock and roll bands (that's for a later post), but of the best writers of songs sung by various kinds of rockers; 2)priority should be given to those who have had sustained excellence over a long period of time. Writers of One hit wonders (e.g. Sugarloaf's 'Green Eyed Lady'; Rod Argent's 'Hold Your Head Up'; Jay Ferguson's 'Thunder Island', Shocking Blue's 'Venus') do not consistute great songwriters worthy of Rock n' Roll Heaven; 3) Music and lyrics matter, not just one or the other. In general the folkies do better and try harder on the lyrics, the rockers on the tunes, but this is not always the case. Bearing all this in mind, I propose the following starter kit in no particular order, to which you are welcome to add on---

1) Lennon and McCartney (of course)
2) Jagger and Richards (also of course)
3) Plant and Page (ditto that)
4) Hayward and Lodge (of the Moody Blues)
5) Townsend with occasional help (the Who)
6) Wilson and Wilson (the Beach Boys)
7) Carlos Santana
8) Steve Winwood
9) Billy Joel
10) Elton John
11) Bruce Springsteen (Give the Boss his due)
12) Eric Clapton
13) Bono, the Edge
14) Michael Jackson
15) Prince
16) Buckingham/Nicks/ McVie (Fleetwood Mac)
17) the Pink Floyd folks (after Syd)
18) Neil Diamond
19) Gaudio and company who wrote for the Four Seasons
20)Lamm/Kath/ Pankow. Cetera etc. (the Chicago folks)
21) Maurice White/Phillip Bailey etc (Earth, Wind and Fire folks)
22) Bon Jovi and co.
23) Greg Lake (of ELP)
24) All those Little River Band writers
25) Bryan Adams
26) Rod Stewart
27) Jimi Hendrix
28) Sting and co.
29) Simon le Bon etc. of Duran Duran
30) Lukather the Porcaros etc. of Toto

1) Bob Dylan (did you think I would leave him out?)
2) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
3) Various of the Eagles (especially Frey, Henley and Walsh, but also Schmidt)
4) Joni Mitchell
5) Rickie Lee Jones
6) Roger McGuinn
7) Richie Furay
8) Kenny Loggins
9) Dan Fogelberg
10) Leonard Cohen
11) Carole King
12) James Taylor
13) Bruce Hornsby
14) Simon and Garfunkel

1) Dave Matthews
2) Michael Stipe of REM
3) The team at Counting Crows
4)Neil Finn of Crowded House (just fantastic and under appreciated)
5) The Coldplay dudes
6) The Oasis dudes
7) The Train dudes
8) John Mayer

Recent Honorable mentions-- Richard Page of Mr. Mister and several other bands;
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.


Dan Turis said...

Johnny Cash???
Not even an honorable mention?
Rob Thomas?
Kenny Logins?
No Cash?
I call this list into question.

Unknown said...

Come on, Ben, Bob Dylan only a "folk" rocker? Like a Rolling Stone, Desolation Row and Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues are three of the greatest "hard" rock songs ever written and smoke anything the Rolling Stones ever wrote. Dylan stands so far above all the rest, he deserves his own category.

MWT said...

Robert Hunter / Jerry Garcia should be in the #2 spot behind Dylan.

Jared said...

Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood & Company of Radiohead! To put John Mayer on the list of great rock song writers and not mention Radiohead is a travesty!

I'm only kidding, but Radiohead is the band stylistically pushing songwriting right now. Any of the mentions on your modern era list would give out some mad props for the boys from Jericho Tavern.

brad said...

I think you missed a few really big ones:
1. Elvis Costello
2. Strummer and Jones (Clash) - huge favorite and Joe Strummer with the Mescaleroes was as good as with the clsh.
3. Peter Gabrielle
4. Paul Simon by himself is #2 behind Dylan
5. #1 all time Bob Marley (hello). If you include Prince and Michael Jackson in rock then you need to put Motown types like Marley and
6. Stevie Wonder


Marc Axelrod said...

Oh, I think I lost my post!
I'll give you the reader's Digest version.
1. Great list!
2. We could add Leiber and Stoller, Holland, Dozier, and Holland (Motown), Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Michael Card, Andre Crouch, John Michael Talbot, Diane Warren (who wrote a ton of hit songs in the 80s and 90s), Smokey Robinson, Bob Marley, Chuck D (Public Enemy), Stevie Wonder, Grant McLennan and Robert Forstner
3. The biggest one MIA is Chuck Berry.

Nate Loucks said...

It saddens me to see the absence of Johnny Cash on this list.

Ben Witherington said...

I love Johnny Cash, but a rock n' roller he was not. He was country and blues as the day is long. I also love Bob Marley, a big favorite, but again a rocker he was not-- can you say reggae! Bob Dylan certainly did some wonderful electrified numbers and still does, but as he himself says-- 'its electrified folk, don't call it ole time rock n' roll'.

And of course I love all those old Mo'Town and Memphis folks, but they did not write rock songs-- they wrote soul and r+b of course!

BW3 said...

Have we forgotten Roger Waters and David Gilmour?

Willie Deuel said...

I agree that Elvis Costello is a huge glaring omission. I also nominate Steve Earle and Gram Parsons in the folk rocker category. Don't forget David Hidalgo, Louie Perez and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos.

Ben Witherington said...

I agree we should add the other Elvis-- Costello. And I did mention the Pink Floyd boys.


Crossroads ABF said...

Lyle Lovett & Steve Earl in the folk-rock group.

Even if it calls for a little lattitude, Johnny Cash belongs. He basically perfected rock-a-billy.

My favorite songwriter of any style is Guy Clark hands down.

Unknown said...

For my money, Barenaked Ladies (can I say that on an evangelical blog?) have/had (What is their status, anyway?) the most imaginative, clever lyrics of any band ever, and some real catchy tunes as well. I would put Blues Traveler in the list too.

Now, I know those guys aren't everyone's cup of tea, and their careers as recording bands were relatively short, but I didn't see the Kansas guys in this post anywhere. How can you leave Kansas out of a list like this????

Jeff said...

Uh..... Bob Seger???

He is an incredible songwriter, but is under-appreciated outside of Michigan.

As one fan said about him: "He wrote about Lucy Blue, Chicago Green, Already Eddie and other characters long before Springsteen created Crazy Janey and her mission man."

He's the one who encouraged Glen Frey and the Eagles to start writing their own songs.

Ben Witherington said...

Bob Seger is very good, I just had a brain lapse on that one--- sorry. He perfected the raspy voice even before Joe Cocker.


Prufrock65 said...

Great list.

Like others who've posted, I see two glaring omissions: Peter Gabriel (both with Genesis and solo) and Thom Yorke of Radiohead--the current shining light in rock for the past 15 years.

Ben Witherington said...

I agree with Peter Gabriel being added. The problem is, he only has one lp that is good from start to finish.

Unknown said...

It's easy to take shots, of course.

But I can't resist: the Stones are the most overrated rock band in history.

There. I said it.

Kyle said...

Aw darn, I'm going with Wilco again! I tend to pay much more attention to music than lyrics, but Frontman Jeff Tweedy is considered by many to be one of the best songwriters in music today, particularly for the album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."

Jeff Buckley wrote beautiful lyrics to match his voice and music, and punk veteran Ted Leo has a knack for writing smart, entertaining songs, even if I don't really agree with his politics.

I like a little bit of Radiohead's stuff but I find them very overrated for the most part. I've always found their music more captivating than the lyrics, anyway.

Nate Loucks said...

Though you're correct that Johnny Cash is very much a country/western artist I'm going to advocate on behalf of him still being included on your list. Considering that he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I believe that to be enough for him to be considered for your list, Ben. If that's not enough, what is the criteria?

I also think Josh Ritter is a great, up-and-coming songwriter. Though, he's likely a bit more folk then rock and roll.

Juice said...

You should check out Bright Eyes, you'll dig 'em (or I should say him).

MGVHoffman said...

TODD RUNDGREN! He's gotta be on the list.
I'll second the nominations for Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, and Radiohead.
I'll also nominate:
Joe Jackson and Tillbrook/Difford (of Squeeze)

Mink said...

Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan!

With over 20 albums in Tom Waits' career, all masterpieces, he MUST be on this list! Tom did all the writing until he met his wife in 1980, since then his wife has been his muse and writing partner.

NPR lists them as #2,Paste magazine lists them as #4. So one would think at LEAST a mention is due to them.

Anonymous said...

Wow Ben!
Great taste in music.