A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday's List: Songwriters

Well, we could go all the way back to Mozart and Bach and Beethoven, but that would be silly. So. Best songwriters of the last 50 years. I am defining a songwriter as the person who writes both the lyrics and the music, or a tandem working together to accomplish the same thing. Lyrics without music is poetry, not a song. Music without lyrics is Muzak (well, not always, but you get the idea).

People who wrote as part of a duo/band and as a solo artist get credit for both, but there will only be one entry per person-- there will be no separate entries for John Lennon and The Beatles. My list is inevitably weighted heavily toward rock/pop since I don't listen to much country, motown/r&b, rap, or punk, and it will-- as Troy will no doubt note with disdain and snarkiness-- contain mostly folks over 40. I am not over 40, but I must admit most of the music I listen to is what is now characterized as classic rock. Plus, I think to qualify as a great songwriter, one of the best of a half-century, you need to have produced a pretty substantial body of work-- which is hard to do if you are younger than 40. So, sue me. Or make your own lists.

Blah, blah, blah. Enough prevarication. On with the list:

25) Ray Charles. Maybe should be higher, but his genre is not my genre.
24) Randy Newman. Mostly soundtracks, but the variety of those soundtracks is astonishing.
23) Frank Zappa. Not terribly commercially successful, but constantly creative and he broke songwriting ground in so many areas.
22) Sting. I much prefer the Police days to his later solo stuff, but even sappy ballads have their place, from time to time.
21) Michael Jackson. Freak or not, pedophile or not, you don't get to be the King of Pop without some talent.
20) Michael Stipe/Mike Mills. REM is the ultimate college band making it big. The reason? The music, the lyrics, the feel. Plus they're under 50. So there, Troy.
19) The Ramones. Set the stage for the punk revolution. Stripped it all down to the basics and wrote some of the best rock songs ever.
18) Paul McCartney. A long solo career does not always equate to a good solo career. Still, he writes a great silly love song, and the collaborations with Lennon during The Beatles years were pretty awesome.
17) Elvis Costello. Carved out a nice niche being quirky, irreverant and catchy all at the same time.
16) Tom Petty. Good infusion of folk music into rock, plus a sense of humor.
15) Johnny Cash. There are likely other, more significant, country songwriters, but I don't know them. The Man in Black I know, and his stuff is great.
14) Bob Dylan. Never been a huge fan, but the impact he's had is immense, and his voice aside, the songs stand the test of time.
13) Stevie Wonder. Nearly 500 songs. Set the stage for many who have followed.
12) Roger Waters. Doubtful many others would put him this high, but hey, I'm a Pink Floyd nutbag, so there it is. His solo stuff isn't as good as his Floyd stuff, but it's pretty darn good.
11) Pete Townsend. His stuff set the stage for the punk revolution and he pretty well invented the rock opera. Solo stuff didn't get the same attention, but the lyrics and music are still arresting and compelling.
10) James Hetfield/Lars Ulrich. You don't get to be the biggest, baddest, best-selling rock band of all-time if you suck. These guys don't suck.
9) Chuck Berry. In large measure, he invented rock n' roll. But he could, and did, write blues and r&b as well.
8) Elton John. Okay, having him play at the Harley 100th was a bad idea, but this guy can write songs.
7) Bono/The Edge. I don't like their recent stuff as much as the "classic rock" stuff, but I give everyone else credit for reinventing themselves, so I best do the same for the U2 boys.
6) Jimmy Page/Robert Plant. At their best as a writing duo, no question. But the solo stuff and the other collaborations do add a little to the huge gravitas of the Led Zeppelin catalog.
5) Benny Andersson/Bjorn Ulvaeus. ABBA sold over 150 million (some put the figure at 500 million) albums. Then these Swedes penned two hugely successful musicals. The ultimate pop music songwriters.
4) Mick Jagger/Keith Richards. Their solo stuff isn't horrible, but it isn't great, but the Stones' body of work is monumental.
3) John Lennon. Died too young, but his Beatles' stuff and his solo stuff were superior to Sir Paul's by a substantial margin. Loopy as a loon once he hooked up with Yoko, but even then, the talent was undeniable.
2) David Bowie. Writes an amazing variety of stuff both for himself and others. Constantly reinventing himself and his music.
1) Paul Simon. Okay, let the stoning begin. I drew up a list of about 40 folks and I couldn't find one that I'd put in front of him. Variety in the music, depth of the lyrics, catchiness of the tunes, durability of the music. It's all there. Lennon maybe could have made a run at the top spot, but he was killed too young.

Just missing the list for a variety of reasons: Bob Marley, Curt Kobain, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley/Glenn Frey, Neil Young, John Fogerty, Freddie Mercury/Brian May, Jeff Lynn, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Leonard Cohen and Muddy Waters.

Okay, there's my old fogey's list of Best Songwriters of the previous half-century. Feel free to snark, suggest, tweak or reinvent as you see fit.


Where's Billy Joel? -Corribus
Billy Joel probably should be on the short list of folks who almost, but not quite, made the top 25. I don't think his stuff has quite the same level of... whatever it is as the others, but he's in the neighborhood.
Where's my Joni Mitchell? (if i missed her- let me cover myself in embarrassement- this is Saturday nite, after a mulled apple cider (frickin great white north- sposed to be almost summer, crikey) and a glass of homemade wine

how bout 'paved paradise, and put up a parking lot"- not to mention
'you dont like weak women, you get bored so quick, and you dont like strong women, cuz you're hip to their tricks.'

If you saw the movie 'love, actually' not so hot for a middle aged woman to dig Joni- but there it is.

Have to say, as a (well) over 40, i agree with most of your list, specilally Paul simon, who i would put at tops of mine- and also support Corrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrribus (dratted alchemist=P
)- i love Billy joel, esp the ballads (thru the long night with you, or whatever it is called, is one of my faves)

the mad canadian, aka AngelA, from nick's checkered past as a TBS medieval fantasy gamer fan (check out his fiction, dudes, is AWEsome)

Well let's not bring up his interest in fantasy gaming, AngelA, shall we? What would his "normal" friends think if we revealed the nature of his alterego? :-)

#1) nick is a fantasy gamer??.... wow what a geek... i will have to reconsider golfing with him as well as attending, watching, or even discussing any sports with him...althought this does go a long way to explaining why these friday lists are so dumb and uninteresting

#2) BILLY JOEL RULES!!!! the stranger may be the best album of all time....you talk about all these other clownboys reinventing themselves??...billy has been writing FREAKIN SYMPHONIES for the past 10 years

#3) nick is a fantasy gamer??... wow what a geek...although this does go a long way towards explaining the dorky way he wears his hats
Nick must be so busy fantasy gaming that he left off many important songwriters. Sheesh, roll that d20 and see if your level 46 Elf Master Wizard can manage to scratch a quill pen across parchment, and try these!

Jim Steinman
Bruce Springsteen
Brian Wilson
Neil Diamond
Neil Young
Bernie Taupin
Jimmy Buffett
Jimi Hendrix
Stevie Nicks
Gordon Lightfoot
Pete Townsend

Not to mention that this list only covers rock and roll. Make a list of the all time best songwriters period, including people like Andrew Lloyd Weber, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins; and the rock and roll writers will drop off like flies in a cloud of Raid.
Snark alert!!!
It is nice to know that some people's musical taste hasn't changed since high school!!!
And where is Desmond Child?
And since Rod hasn't chimed in yet, "Where is Dennis DeYoung?"

Regarding the category of greatest classic rock songwriters, I don't know how you can not put Springsteen in the top 10, much less the top 25. (Personally on this list, he should be #1 with only Bob Dylan coming close.) Like Paul Simon, he could write quality pop songs, "Pink Cadillac" & "Fire" come to mind, but unlike Simon, he could write meaningful rock songs too. That list is too long to mention here.

(Final snarky comment.) Although the point of this list was made when Abba's songwriters made the top 5.

Finally, for someone looking for a good songwriter from your actual generation, might I recommend the late great Elliot Smith, Ben Folds (his earlier work is his best although the writing is still good), and Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel.
OK, here's a list. Just the names that you skipped (or never heard of) in no particular order.

Jeff Tweedy (Wilco & Uncle Tupelo) - Amazing songwriter who changes styles more often than Paul Simon changes underwear.

Joe Strummer / Mick Jones (The Clash) - How these guys didn't make the list, I have no idea. They changed music more than anyone in the last 30 years.

Thom Yorke (Radiohead) - There is a reason that OK Computer is Spin's Best Album of the last 20 years.

Robert Smith (The Cure) - Yes, he's depressing. But he's really good at it.

Ben Folds - I mentioned him earlier, but he deserves more mention. He continues to grow as a songwriter, and he has a cult following most people on your list would admire.

Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) - He was so good, they named a high school after him in Heathers.

Steve Kilby (The Church) - Even though most of you have only heard one song by him, that doesn't mean he isn't really good. (Actually that could by definition mean he's
really good.)

Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) - No one writes a tighter pop song.

And the next great one is Jack White (The White Stripes). He will do anything for a good song and can play anything out there. Just ask Loretta Lynn.
Okay, let's see. Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen should be on the list or close thereto. Joni Mitchell, maybe as well. The combo of Buckingham, Fleetwood, Nicks and McVie (ie, Fleetwood Mac) should also be there or close.

I am a fantasy gamer, please forgive me, I hang my head in shame. This one fact does not completely make it impossible for me to be a productive member of society, nor prevent me from dominating Gym Jim in both golf and fantasy football.

John, please note, Pete Townsend is on my list. I agree Springsteen probably should be, and Nicks as part of Fleetwood Mac. The rest... nah. Good songwriters all, but not top-25. Andrew Lloyd Webber is over-rated. The other non-rock n' roll song writers in your list are too old to qualify.

Troy, never heard of most of those guys. I'm sure they are all very good, but it is rather difficult to evaluate people you are unfamiliar with. Besides, how would you fulfill your daily dietary snark allowance if I didn't provide an old fogey's list for your to mock?
There is interesting music out there. Someone's inability to find it says more about them than it says about the current state of music.

Here's a top for this Friday: name the top 15 bands since 1990. They can be older than that, but you have to judge them just on what they have done since then. (I can have a lot of fun with that list.)
Radiohead is clearly #1. I might put Coldplay on there. Dave Matthews Band (his early stuff, anyway). REM, clearly. Nirvana...Stone Temple Pilots? Who else? -Corribus
Corribus, are you just a shill for adult alternative radio?
How about a couple of bands that rock? (Nirvana, notwithstanding.)
Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Dinosaur Jr. Let's get some guitars in the list and turn 'em up.
Wow, Dinosaur Jr. Haven't heard them in ages - perhaps it's time to dust off some of my old CDs! :) Did you ever by chance hear of Stiltskin? They had one album way back in '96 I think (Mind's Eye), but it was awesome. Wonder what ever happened to them. -Corribus
i vote for cracker..they are the only band troy likes that i have ever thought was any good
Heard of Stilskin but never heard it.
And Gym, Cracker is just a poor man's Camper Van Beethovan.

Where is Russ when I need these things explained?
A topic, maybe, for next Friday?

The AFI top 25 movie quotes:


Here's a rundown of the top 25 most memorable movie quotes as determined by the AFI:

1. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Gone with the Wind, 1939
2. "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." The Godfather, 1972
3. "You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." On the Waterfront, 1954
4. "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." The Wizard of Oz, 1939
5. "Here's looking at you, kid." Casablanca, 1942
6. "Go ahead, make my day." Sudden Impact, 1983
7. "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." Sunset Blvd., 1950
8. "May the Force be with you." Star Wars, 1977
9. "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." All About Eve, 1950
10. "You talking to me?" Taxi Driver, 1976
11. "What we've got here is failure to communicate." Cool Hand Luke, 1967
12. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." Apocalypse Now, 1979
13. "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Love Story, 1970
14. "The stuff that dreams are made of." The Maltese Falcon, 1941
15. "E.T. phone home." E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982
16. "They call me Mister Tibbs!" In the Heat of the Night, 1967
17. "Rosebud." Citizen Kane, 1941
18. "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" White Heat, 1949
19. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Network, 1976
20. "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Casablanca, 1942
21. "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
22. "Bond. James Bond." Dr. No, 1962
23. "There's no place like home." The Wizard of Oz, 1939
24. "I am big! It's the pictures that got small." Sunset Blvd., 1950
25. "Show me the money!" Jerry Maguire, 1996
Not to start an ugly trend, but I agree with John that this would be a great Friday topic.
Personally, I hate how few comic lines are in the list.
That's a pretty bad list of movie quotes. Some belong there, but many don't. For one thing, there's almost none from action movies.

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