I’ve expressed my admiration for the craft of songwriting before, so it should come as no surprise that I’m enthralled with the feature in the latest Paste Magazine. They decided to chronicle the 100 greatest living songwriters. Some surprises, some obvious choices. Though 100 is a big number there are still some brilliant songwriters who haven’t cracked that list yet. Unfortunately in the nature of life, this list is organic in that there will constantly be people leaving it, opening up spots for new artists. I’ve read a lot about songwriting. Songwriting and music production are two things that fascinate me to no end. I think it’s the writer in me that finds song crafting so interesting. To some people the first thing they think of when they hear the term songwriting is lyrics. Others don’t even hear the lyrics until the composition of the music sets in. I see both sides. In some of the articles I’ve read, I’ve been amazed at how some legendary songwriters say it’s all about the lyrics. I saw his point at the time, after all, putting G, C, F and B flat together has been done for years, and how many melodies can there be? Perhaps it really is the lyric that keeps your attention beyond saying, “This sounds just like ______.” Yeah, yeah, I know the music goes deeper than the chord progression and the vocal melody. There are layers, there’s the rhythm section’s contribution…there’s a lot to it. That is why I’m so fascinated. That being said, here’s a tidbit from Paste’s list…the top 15.

1. Bob Dylan
2. Neil Young
3. Bruce Springsteen
4. Tom Waits
5. Paul McCartney
6. Leonard Cohen
7. Brian Wilson
8. Elvis Costello
9. Joni Mitchell
11.Randy Newman
12.The Rolling Stones
13.Paul Simon
14.Stevie Wonder
15.Willie Nelson

Personally, though I might agree with the list of 100 in it’s entirety, I don’t agree with the order. Bob Dylan is at the top of my list, but I’d put Springsteen at 2 and McCartney at 3. Paul Simon would jump up.

I know you’re all wondering about others on the list so here’s a few highlights.

U2 is 18
Van Morrison is 20
David Bowie is 16
Jeff Tweedy is 24
REM is 26
Radiohead 27
Tom Petty 29
Beck 36
Kristofferson 38
Ryan Adams 43
Jackson Browne 45
Sufjan 47
Sting 62
Bill Mallonee 65
Michael Jackson 72
Pink Floyd 80
They Might Be Giants 84
Drive-By Truckers 91
Joseph Arthur 93
Josh Ritter 97
T Bone Burnett 100

As I read through the magazine, a phrase keeps coming out of my head…”You can’t get much better than ______.” When you think about songwriting and what some of these people have put together, it’s pretty unbelievable.

So here’s MKinMotion’s top 20 with all my biases and personal feelings infused.

20. Kris Kristofferson
19. They Might Be Giants
18. Roger Waters
17. Vedder/Gossard
16. Coldplay
15. Radiohead
14. David Bowie
13. Jackson Browne
12. Tom Waits
11. R.E.M.
10. Adam Duritz
9. Jeff Tweedy
8. Ryan Adams
7. Van Morrison
6. Neil Young
5. U2
4. Paul Simon
3. Paul McCartney
2. Bruce Springsteen
1. Bob Dylan

Send in your own list if you want to MKinMotion[at]gmail[dot]com. I’ll be putting together a Wednesday Q&A for tomorrow, so if you want to be included, get your questions in today.

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  1. What ever happened to the post that was supposedly inspired by Chuck Norris’s mustache? I’ve been waiting and watching

  2. Matt,

    You might be interested in Paul Zollo’s Songwriters on Songwriting. I loved it. Full of interviews with many you mention in your list.


  3. Poopy,
    First off, Chuck Norris has a beard and would knock your head off with a roundhouse for only giving him credit for a mustache. Secondly, I lost some stuff I had for the post when my hard drive died…it’s still in the works.

  4. Matt,
    Chuck’s mustache and beard must be looked at as separate entities. I would think that since each of them could hold you down and wait for Chuck to arrive, that each would be it’s own. It’s not they would need to hold you down anyways. If Chuck Norris was after you to the point that he needed you on the ground, you would just collapse in fear.

  5. I would also suggest Ray Lamontagne. He has some great lyrics and songs. Check him out on Austin City Limits, as well as Jack Johnson.

  6. KREX,
    I did say it was based on my biases. I think there are a couple of women who have written some great songs. Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, Lisa Loeb, maybe that’s a good topic for a Top Ten Thursday…female songwriters. So many women musicians get overlooked for a number of reasons, I’ll do some research on who writes their songs and who doesn’t.

  7. Poopy, I think rap music focuses much more on the lyric, but I don’t think I’m there yet to put Kanye West or even Chuck D in the same company as Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. I think they’re coming along in quality, but for merely songwriting, I don’t put them in the same company.

  8. Jason, I think Ray LaMontagne’s stuff is brilliant, I think with a few more albums of stuff like his trouble CD, he could easily have a catalog to be recognized. Jack Johnson has some catchy songs, but I’m not sure the depth is there yet…but “Flake” is on a list of songs I wish I’d written.

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