June 6, 2006

Top 100 Living Songwriters

Paste Magazine has an article this week trying to pin down the top 100 living songwriters. Now, I am a list gal myself, but would not wish upon myself the task of quantifying the best living songwriters.

But, being the ever-emboldened music writers that they are, they rose to the challenge:

100 T-Bone Burnett
99 Outkast
98 Jay Farrar
97 Josh Ritter
96 Jimmy Cliff
95 Patti Smith
94 Sam Phillips
93 Joseph Arthur
92 Alejandro Escovedo
91 Drive-By Truckers
90 Nick Cave
89 Victoria Williams
88 Parliament
87 Lyle Lovett
86 Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)
85 David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones)
84 They Might Be Giants
83 Fleetwood Mac (Buckingham, Nicks, McVie)
82 John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)
81 The Flaming Lips
80 Pink Floyd
79 Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Silver Jews)
78 Robert Pollard (Guided by Voices)
77 Bruce Cockburn
76 Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy
75 Ron Sexsmith
74 Over the Rhine
73 Julie Miller
72 Michael Jackson
71 Vic Chestnutt
70 Alex Chilton (Big Star, The Box Tops)
69 Merle Haggard
68 Allen Toussaint
67 Conor Oberst
66 Charles Thompson (aka Frank Black/Black Francis) (Pixies, The Catholics)
65 Bill Mallonee (Vigilantes of Love)
64 Andy Partridge (XTC)
63 Richard Thompson
62 Sting
61 John Hiatt
60 Jimmy Webb
59 Jack White
58 Sly Stone
57 Morrissey
56 James Brown
55 Dolly Parton
54 Aimee Mann
53 James Taylor
52 Paul Westerberg
51 Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham
50 Public Enemy
49 Cat Stevens
48 Gillian Welch / David Rawlings
47 Sufjan Stevens
46 David Byrne
45 Jackson Browne
44 Al Green
43 Ryan Adams
42 Loretta Lynn
41 Ray Davies
40 Burt Bacharach & Hal David
39 Led Zeppelin
38 Kris Kristofferson
37 Smokey Robinson
36 Beck
35 Steve Earle
34 John Fogerty
33 Pete Townshend
32 Leiber & Stoller
31 Carole King
30 John Prine
29 Tom Petty
28 Robbie Robertson
27 Radiohead
26 REM
25 Chuck Berry
24 Jeff Tweedy
23 Elton John / Bernie Taupin
22 Lucinda Williams
21 Lou Reed
20 Van Morrison
19 Patty Griffin
18 U2
17 Holland – Dozier- Holland
16 David Bowie
15 Willie Nelson
14 Stevie Wonder
13 Paul Simon
12 The Rolling Stones (Jagger/Richards)
11 Randy Newman
10 Prince
9 Joni Mitchell
8 Elvis Costello
7 Brian Wilson
6 Leonard Cohen
5 Paul McCartney
4 Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan
3 Bruce Springsteen
2 Neil Young
1 Bob Dylan

Thoughts? Objections? Grievous omissions?


  • Billy Bragg would easily replace Conor Oberst.
    This list is heavily Boomer-ized, therefore you see very little finesse regarding newer writers.

    Anonymous — June 7, 2006 @ 9:03 am

  • I’d add Rhett Miller, Billy Bragg and possibly even Josh Rouse. The Pearl Jam folks make sense too. I’d lose (or at least severely lower) Robbie Robertson. And c’mon, Paul Westerberg deserves higher than #52!

    Brendan H. — June 7, 2006 @ 9:54 am

  • It’s stoopid making these kinds of lists!

    Tim Young — June 7, 2006 @ 10:00 am

  • These lists are crazy tuff. I agree that there may be some inclusions here that aren’t yet deserved. I really enjoy Josh Ritter, but I’m not sure he has been around long enough to know if he can remain consistently this good.

    The glaring omission for me is James McMurtry.

    Cool Hand Luke — June 7, 2006 @ 10:48 am

  • I’m glad to see Dave Bazan and Sam Beam. However, No Pearl Jam= bad list, you could even just throw Eddie on there and I would be fine. Also, I would put Joseph Arthur much, much higher on this list, top 25 at least. My other additions would be Peter Gabriel, Ian “Jethro Tull” Anderson and Ray LaMontagne in favor of some of the other indie darlings.

    Ian — June 7, 2006 @ 8:45 pm

  • I agree with 90% of those included on the list, but some of them have just not paid their dues yet. And the order is a little out of whack. And by song, do they mean in its state at the end of the production, or the stripped down, raw song itself? Kris Kristofferson should definitely be higher on the list, along with Jagger/Richards. Neil Young is incredible, of course, but number 2 is a bit much for a self-admitted simple man. I believe Garcia/Hunter were not included . . . and of those newer artists included, I am pleased to see Ryan Adams on there. When I first saw the topic of this entry, I looked away and scrolled down to make sure number one would be who I hoped it would be . . . yes sir, Bob Dylan. As long as they have number one right, I can overlook the rest, I guess.

    Anonymous — June 7, 2006 @ 10:08 pm

  • Neil Diamond??

    Anonymous — June 7, 2006 @ 11:14 pm

  • eddie vedder?

    Anonymous — June 8, 2006 @ 5:14 am

  • The Good= Seeing Brian Wilson in the Top 10

    The Bad= the living half of the Lennon/McCartney team only comes in at #5? No way.

    Prince better than John Fogerty or Ray davies? Doubtful…

    Side3 — June 9, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

  • without Van Morrison in the top 3 this list is a total waste of time – lost all credibility. move on.

    Anonymous — June 10, 2006 @ 5:23 pm

  • I was pleased to see Ryan Adams on there and surprised he was so high. The man doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he pushes a lot people’s buttons – people just don’t seem to care for him as a person and discredit his music at the same time.

    How about Patty Griffin? Lesser known than many of the people on the list, but amazing never the less. We could have this discussion forever.

    Anonymous — June 11, 2006 @ 9:37 am

  • never mind, i’m an idiot. patty griffin is on there. now i feel better.

    Anonymous — June 11, 2006 @ 10:16 am

  • Joseph Arthur no where on the list…now THAT is a tradgedy.

    Wallaaaaa — June 12, 2006 @ 1:31 am

  • #43 my ass, especially with U2 so high. No complaints with #1 though.

    lism. — June 12, 2006 @ 4:51 am

  • Simply put, a better list could have been developed by a group of three year olds. Maybe its just me, but do people consider word play and punning undesirable? Maybe it shows a lack of intelligence on the part of the audience. Honestly, no dave matthews? Pink Floyd taking up the rear? Dont get me wrong, there are some great acts on this list, but really the order, especailly top ten seems as though they had names on the wall and threw darts to decide who went where. Call me crazy, but I guess intelligent rock is a bad thing???

    Anonymous — June 13, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

  • how about canada’s Gordon Lightfoot and Detroit’s own Bob Segar?

    tundrahoop — June 13, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

  • Josh Rouse, Sam Beam, Vedder, LaMontagne? I’d even consider Brian Weil.

    Anonymous — June 21, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

  • It’s good to see Andy Partridge on there, but Ray Davies at only 41?
    Come on, is there a more perfect pop song that “Waterloo Sunset”?
    Not to mention “Days”, “Lola”, “You Really Got Me”, “A Well-Respected Man” and I could go on and on.
    He should be in the top ten, if not the top five, at least.
    It just proves my theory that the Kinks are the most criminally ignored great band from the British Invasion.

    Larry F. — June 22, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

  • I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the blatant omition of possibly THE greatest lyricist out there today: Dave Mathews. I know what you’re thinking: “hell no!” but come on, listen to the albums “Everyday” and “Busted Stuff” and you’ll know why. Lyrics don’t have to rhyme and/or make sense to be absolutly mind-blowing.
    Oh yeah, John Mayer too. He’s vastly underrated as far as I’m concerned. Just because he started out sort of popish. Listen to “Split Screen Sadness” or “Come Back to Bed” if you please.

    Anonymous — June 22, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  • to make a list like this is fucking absurd but whatever catches our attention i suppose. I was stoked to see ryan adams and patty griffin so high, but would have loved to have seen jrouse,evedder, and jim james of mmjacket. I am a tad indifferent to Beck (possibly due to his ego bullshit and his recent concert i saw in which he fell to pieces). But ooooo well…Jeff Tweedy: deserved top 10.

    Anonymous — June 27, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

  • A list of the 100 greatest living songwriters is so difficult as to broader on the adsurd. This is particularly true when your list notes only english speaking songwriters; thus it’s inappropriately named and connotes arrogance.

    That said, it is interesting that no Black female songwriters are listed. What about Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman. I also feel that Gil-Scott Heron, David Gray and Dave Matthews has earned a place on any top 100 living (english speaking) songwriters!

    Glenn — July 13, 2006 @ 2:07 pm

  • Does this list try to tell us that Adam Duritz is dead?

    Anonymous — July 17, 2006 @ 7:58 pm

  • Where the heck is James MErcer (Shins), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and Colin Meloy (The Decemberists)?

    M.Clem — August 16, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

  • I don’t think springsteen and mccartney should be in top 10.
    Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are the best of all

    Anonymous — May 19, 2007 @ 2:53 am

  • cmon man outkast?? really?
    man, what happened to OASIS?
    what happened to sid vicious?
    pearl jam?
    cmon and paul mccartney at #5??
    he deserves more

    Anonymous — May 24, 2008 @ 1:18 am

Comments RSS

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →