Great Songwriters

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Great Songwriters

Postby KestrelLowing » Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:59 pm UTC

I didn't see this on the forum, so hopefully there isn't a thread already going.

Basically, who do you think are great songwriters? By that, I mean the whole deal - lyrics and music - not just one or the other. I've found some people can make wonderful sounding music, but when you listen to the lyrics, it's crap. Other people have great lyrics, but they don't fit the melody, or the melody is just really boring. Also, I would say great songwriters don't just have one good song.

For my vote, I'm going to throw in Switchfoot - Jon Foreman specifically. Every song they write has lyrics that make you think, and the tune goes wonderfully along with them. Also, they tend to use interesting chords, opposed to the infamous 4 chord song. Also, they're songs are consistently good.

(Yes, they're sometimes billed as a Christian band, but they are nearly never overtly religious in their songs. They sing more about the human condition. Check them out - they're a really good band.)

Past, present, whatever - what songwriters do you like?
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby SirMustapha » Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:53 pm UTC

David Byrne, Wayne Coyne, Kate Bush, Andy Partridge and Björk come to mind, in this particular moment. Also Peter Gabriel before he got into that "World Music" bullshit.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Midnight » Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:21 pm UTC

dylan. lennon.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby sje46 » Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:59 am UTC

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison (all three of which Beatles), Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend (The Who), Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), John Fogerty (Credence Clearwater Revival), Donovan, Ray Davies (The Kinks), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Lou Reed (Velvet Underground), Jagger/Richards (Rolling Stones) (not sure who writes which songs, or if they contributed equally to each one).

If we're going with my top five, I'd say John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Jagger/Richards. I guess.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby dubsola » Sat Jul 17, 2010 10:02 am UTC

Paul Simon, Nick Drake, David Bowie, and everyone mentioned in all the previous posts except for the OP. My favourites:
sje46 wrote:John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison (all three of which Beatles) ... Brian Wilson (Beach Boys)

and
SirMustapha wrote:Björk come to mind, in this particular moment. Also Peter Gabriel

I'd be curious to know how Björk's music comes about. I suspect it changes from album to album (she works with different producers for the most part), but I'm especially wondering how much she writes before she starts collaborating.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Dream » Sat Jul 17, 2010 11:00 am UTC

dubsola wrote:I'd be curious to know how Björk's music comes about. I suspect it changes from album to album (she works with different producers for the most part), but I'm especially wondering how much she writes before she starts collaborating.

For Vespertine she did almost all of the writing and recording, followed by her own version of the production before asking Matmos et al to come in and redo the production in their own way. She referred to it as being like hiring a virtuoso to do session work, in that you could easily do it yourself, but you want the absolute best for your album and that means hiring people more talented than yourself even if you happen to be very talented indeed. I got that from interviews with Bjork and Matmos. On the other hand, for the likes of Medulla, with its extensive use of vocal artists, I think it was a lot more collaborative and simultaneous. Same goes for the harp work on Vespertine, and I think, but I'm not sure, Mark Bell's production on Homogenic.

I'm surprised that some of the usually named great songwriters haven't shown up yet. Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Neil Young and Nick Cave should all be on this list, along with Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush.* I'd like to add a couple of people who might be overlooked, particularly Prince, Michael Jackson, Robert Johnson and Jack White. In fact, I think Jack White is the most underrated songwriter I know of, even given the critical praise he seems to attract.

*Wait, Kate Bush was there.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby tin » Sat Jul 17, 2010 3:52 pm UTC

I came here to mention most of the people who've already been mentioned. Wayne Coyne, PJ Harvey, Bjork, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, David Bowie, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. Brian Wilson, Prince and MJ are pretty flippin' special too, if only for their ability to craft the perfect singalong pop song.

I would add Frank Black, E of the Eels, Murray Lightburn, Morrissey (even if he is a dick), Elliott Smith and Cat Power to the list.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby cypherspace » Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:18 pm UTC

Tom Lehrer.

Oh alright, most have been mentioned but Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Dave Gilmour & Roger Waters. Brian Wilson, definitely. Stevie Wonder! Thom Yorke. Echoing Tin's love of Mr. Mark "E" Everett, but my personal "out there" choice would be Damon Albarn.

I am a massive Bjork fan but I don't see her as a songwriter. She doesn't write songs, she writes beautiful, wonderful music. Dylan and Cohen weren't so big on the music, but their songs are incredible.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Dream » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:14 pm UTC

cypherspace wrote:I am a massive Bjork fan but I don't see her as a songwriter. She doesn't write songs, she writes beautiful, wonderful music. Dylan and Cohen weren't so big on the music, but their songs are incredible.

See, I'd say that isn't true of Bjork, but is true of Damon Albarn. Not beautiful, but musical more than song-ish. Strange. But I wouldn't draw a line between writing music and writing songs, really. I don't think for instance that Lou Reed's songwriting is in any way diminished by releasing Metal Machine Music. In the same way Bjork's isn't by Drawing Restraint 9 or Damon Albarn's by Gorillaz. They can all write a fantastic song when they turn their hand to it, and repeatedly demonstrate it throughout their careers.

I'd like to add to the list Neil Hannon and Van Morrison, neither of which should need any explanation. Now let's start citing for all these claims:

Neil Hannon singing A Lady Of A Certain Age.

Van Morrison singing Moondance.

Leonard Cohen singing Dress Rehearsal Rag.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby ChocloManx » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:30 pm UTC

Schumann, Grieg and Hugo Wolf are pretty great. Silvio Rodríguez also, at least some of his stuff.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby charliepanayi » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:34 pm UTC

Bob Dylan
Stipe/Buck/Mills/Berry
Morrissey
Colin Meloy
Conor Oberst
Mark Oliver Everett ('E')
Mark Kozelek
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby tin » Sat Jul 17, 2010 10:13 pm UTC

cypherspace wrote:I am a massive Bjork fan but I don't see her as a songwriter. She doesn't write songs, she writes beautiful, wonderful music. Dylan and Cohen weren't so big on the music, but their songs are incredible.


I agree that she writes beautiful music but would definitely say that her lyrics are beautiful too. Simplistic but powerful. I think the arrangements or whatever around her words enhance their simple, humble, evocative core.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Sandry » Sun Jul 18, 2010 4:18 pm UTC

<broken record>Thea Gilmore and Vienna Teng.</broken record>

Seriously, they are amazing, IMO.

I'm sure there are others I could come up with, but when I think about "singer songwriter whose average song is amazing," that's who I think of.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby cypherspace » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:39 am UTC

Dream wrote:
cypherspace wrote:I am a massive Bjork fan but I don't see her as a songwriter. She doesn't write songs, she writes beautiful, wonderful music. Dylan and Cohen weren't so big on the music, but their songs are incredible.

See, I'd say that isn't true of Bjork, but is true of Damon Albarn. Not beautiful, but musical more than song-ish. Strange. But I wouldn't draw a line between writing music and writing songs, really.
I certainly would. A song must be able to be sung, for example. If that's not the case, it's not a song. I don't value it higher or anything, but I definitely draw a line... somewhere.

I think I don't consider Bjork's songs to be "songs" for several reasons: because of how important the music is; because they are so unconventional and her singing is irregular in terms of usual Western music; but mostly I think because of quite how difficult they are to recreate in another setting. Anyone can sing along to Imagine or Wish You Were Here no matter where you are or who's playing it. Which is in the finest tradition of true songs, folk songs handed down through generations without ever being written down. How many people have ever looked at the sheet music for Like A Rolling Stone, and how many can sing it?

Having said that.... having thought more about Bjork's music tonight, I see how her songs are truly related to Icelandic and Viking traditions. Songs being poems, not influenced by the rhythm or time signature of the music, far freer and less rigid than any of our own folk traditions. She sings like she's reading a story, I guess. Which makes her songs real "songs" in their own right. Just not in a way quite as familiar to me.
Last edited by cypherspace on Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:34 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby wellingtonsteve » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:44 am UTC

No-one mentioned Freddie Mercury yet? :( :wink:
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Felstaff » Mon Jul 19, 2010 8:35 am UTC

I'd say Kurt Cobain. Successfully tapped into lethargy, disillusionment and abandonment that an entire generation felt when they look at Seattle in an era of unbridled wealth and the perceived vision that the youth generation at the time [Generation X] were responsible for the dissolution of social values that conservative media ingrained into the nation's consciousness (oh hey, the 1990s). It was a perfect antidote to the synthesised glam and aesthetic orientation of the 80s music scene. He captured and distilled the sound of apathy into its rawest, most visceral form.

Also The Guy From Modest Mouse likes to delightfully skewer and cram lines into his songs that no other songwriter does. I enjoy its uniqueosity.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby casiguapa » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:27 pm UTC



The guy is an absolute arse but as a musician he is pure genius. Also, Tupelo Honey >>> Moondance :p
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby SirMustapha » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:32 pm UTC

cypherspace wrote:I think I don't consider Bjork's songs to be "songs" for several reasons: because of how important the music is; because they are so unconventional and her singing is irregular in terms of usual Western music; but mostly I think because of quite how difficult they are to recreate in another setting.


That's because you didn't hear her singing Human Behaviour and Venus as a Boy on solo harpsichord.

I dunno, I think there's a "traditionally" singable melody in almost every song she writes, or at least a very clear hook. It's just her style that is pretty unconventional, but when I think of it, singing "behind the beat" is very common in Brazilian popular music, for example. I guess it's just that most european/north-american music is very "square".
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Phill » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:33 pm UTC

How about Matt Bellamy (Muse)?

Also I have a weakness for Keane songs - Tim Rice-Oxley I think is the main songwriter.

Thinking of Annie Lennox reminded me of Chrissie Hynde, not sure whether she wrote all the words and music though.

Agree with many of the names already mentioned.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby bosonicyouth » Mon Jul 19, 2010 2:03 pm UTC

Joni Mitchell is the ultimate, untouchable songwriter for me
Nick Drake
Leonard Cohen
Will Oldham, most of the time
Billy Bragg
Neil Young
Elliott Smith - I often believe he could be regarded the songwriter of my generation, but perhaps his appeal isn't wide-ranging enough. I suppose it's early days for those kinds of judgments, though.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby folkhero » Tue Jul 20, 2010 6:14 am UTC

They've all been mentioned here, but topping my list are Neil Young, Paul Simon, Ray Davies and Pete Townshend. Of those not mentioned, I think Joe Strummer of the Clash would be my favorite.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Bingo Little » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:54 pm UTC

Paul Simon definitely deserved a mention, as does Damien Rice. More "out there" choices are Dave King of Flogging Molly, who's brilliant with both melody and words, and Frank Turner, who manages to cram being incredibly lyrically witty into a catchy tune.

Also, I saw the latter live yesterday and it sort of hasn't worn off yet.

Guy Garvey from Elbow's also an absolute genius, but I'm not sure how much of the work is his and how much is the band's as a whole.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby kazmerzakb » Wed Jul 21, 2010 11:11 pm UTC

How about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, James Taylor, Jackson Browne. These groups have been around for the last 30 years and are still cranking out hits. Well maybe not Jackson so much any more. But think about how much talent that takes. How deep that well of creativity runs. Bands these days are nothing more than products of whats the "new and up and coming" next thing. To bad. I'll bet there are still a handful of great artists out there and I just hope we get to hear them some day.

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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby 1337geek » Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:13 am UTC

Jim Steinman deserves a mention, as do Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Felstaff » Thu Jul 22, 2010 10:38 am UTC

Rod funkin' Temperton. And Linda Perry.

Behind-the-scenes songwriters deserve a mention.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Hurt » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:51 pm UTC

Quite a surprise that Roger Waters hasn't been mentioned yet. His lyrics is one of the things I enjoy the most about Pink Floyd.
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Also Robbie Robertson, who wrote most of the songs for The Band.

Above those, I really enjoy Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon.

But no one I have ever heard, comes close the Bob Dylan, I love listening to his songs and figuring out what he means. From his early protest and anti-war songs, to his amphetamine driven imagery in Blonde on Blonde, to the broken love on Blood On The Tracks. I am in love with his songs... :oops:
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby sje46 » Sat Jul 24, 2010 11:40 pm UTC

I mentioned Roger Waters.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby LeagueOfMorons » Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:39 am UTC

Dustin Kensrue/Thrice. Love the guy's lyrics. Of course, the band's music is widely varied, but there's always a great cadence to his words that fits the song in such a unique way, whether it's a song like The Whaler or The Messenger. This one isn't as extreme (in either direction) as the first two, and it's one of my favorite songs by the band and a prime example of Dustin's lyrical skills.

Glen Hansard. He's behind the majority of The Swell Season's material, and although I do enjoy Marketa Irglova's contributions, I think he's clearly the stronger songwriter. The earnestness in his material strikes a great vibe that I haven't been able to find in anyone else yet. Plus, the guy wrote Falling Slowly, for God's sake.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Dirk » Fri Jul 30, 2010 3:35 pm UTC

Roger Hodgson! The guy who wrote most hits of Supertramp.
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Re: Great Songwriters

Postby Dasboard » Fri Jul 30, 2010 3:53 pm UTC

Lots has been mentioned before but deserve to be mentioned again, David Byrne, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Nick Drake, Roger Waters.

But, also some personal favourites:

The guys from Modest Mouse, Eminem, Billy Corgan, Sparks, Arctic Monkeys, Jerry Garcia, The Cure ( / Robert Smith )
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