Greatest Songwriter of all time

I was reading the Dylan post and it got me thinking. There are many great songwriters that come to mind, my expertise/knowledge is primarily with rock music. If you could only pick three, what would they be? My vote for best lyrics goes to:

Jim Morrison
Bruce Springsteen
Elvis Costello

Best music goes to:

Mark Knopfler
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Frank Zappa
Jacques Brel, Cole Porter, Tom Waits.
All time: D. Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, T. Monk, Gershwins, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, A.C. Jobim.

Pop: Dylan, Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson, Hendrix
LAURIE ANDERSON has best lyrics I've ever heard.

There is no best music at all -- there is the only music.
Good post I might add that 3 of the guys you mention whom I love also(Springsteen,Costello and Knopfler) are so influenced by Dylan it is incredible.:-)
I'm also not sure it's the best way to split the genre but I follow your example.....and yes it's virtually impossible to leave such greats out as Hendrix,The Dooors,Paul Simon,The Smiths,on and on the list would go.....

Best lyrics

Bob Dylan
Bruce Springsteen
Mark Eitzel

Best Music
Led Zeppelin
Pink Floyd
Bob Dylan
Best songwriter EVER of all time, words and music: Dylan
Second best: Townes Van Zandt
Third best: Guy Clark
There is a long drop between these fellas and number 4.
Glad to see Johnny Mercer's name mentioned. His impact on Capitol in the 40's and 50's were huge on so many artists that are seen as the elite of that time period.

Led Zeppelin
Pink Floyd

Joni Mitchell
John Prin
For their lyrics.

Brian Wilson
For their music.
Dylan, without question. I continue to be shocked by the sheer number of great songs he has penned, many of which were made "hits" by other artists (hell, some artists built their careers largely on the back of Bob tunes).

Garcia-Hunter deserve mention, I'd say. And back to Dylan, look for a release of Dead do Dylan in the not-too-distant. The boyz covered about a dozen of his songs independent of their joint tour.

Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, maybe Bacharach-David, Jimmy Webb (too schmaltzy for many, but I love it). Springsteen, definitely. Thunder Road gets my vote for greatest rock song.
Greatest songwriter of all time? Well, it seems that most are caught-up in their own time. Kinda like weather,..geez "winter's aren't what they use to be" has cycles beyond one's own life-span memory ,..100 year cycles, 1000 year ages..etc.

Perhaps I read the question wrong, but it seems that the
"greatest songwriter of all time", is a different question than "the greatest songwriter of your lifetime".

That said, Dylan, Lennon, Fats Waller, Joplin, Jimmy Rodges, and many others have great merit..but one of the great gifts of poetry, is to reach beyond the narcisism of the narrow perspective of ones own 80(or so)year life span.'s is all good, like is said above..there is only music. And your choices are valid..very valid. But music was not invented....or perfected in the 20th century.

Sorry, this will likely just piss people off.
Buddy Holly of course.
of course bob and bruce rule. i'm surprised,tho, that no one's put any female singer/songwriters on their lists (but for joni mitchell). how about: carole king, ani defranco, shawn colvin, iris dement? and on the male side, how can pete seeger, jackson browne, james taylor, warren zevon, loudon wainwrigth III and greg brown be left off all the lists thus far? -cfb
1. Greg Brown 2.Guy Clark 3.John Prine
Desmond Child
Lou Reed, Bob Seger, Steve Winwood, Bill Quateman, Richard Thompson, Susan Vega, Bonnie Raitt, Joni, Grace, 'n on 'n on... God I love this hobby...
Leonard cohen. (Nobody else is even in the same building. )
Townes Van Zandt.

Miles Davis. (" " " " planet)
Neil Young

Guy Clark Huh ? Any recommendations for must listens ?
Love to read everybody's favorites. Janis ever write anything?--Hoggy's real claim is just Stardust.--Kris Kristopherson,& Willie as well as Hank Williams are right up there; with so many others doing their songs.--I think the mark of a great writer is having so many record their works.John & Paul sure fit this bill.--(even tho I like Georgie's tunes better--Just about all of them).As much as I love Zep & Floyd; You never hear anybody else doing their stuff.Lenard Cohen has a style I love;but as a writer? Jimmy Webb helped make Glen a bunch of bucks & vice versa. This can go on and on --Next up??
Scott,..not Janis.
john_l: for a great intro to guy clark, i'd suggest one of his latest, "cold dog soup." wonderful stuff.-cfb
Irving Berlin. Wrote more good songs than the rest combined. (If they live to 101 also, they may catch up).

Dolly Parton should be on the list also. A lot of her songs have been performed by others and not her, so there are a lot more great songs out there than most of us realize.

I was tearing my hair out over this one as I read the above posts, then I saw it. I agree with Paulwp. For me, it's gotta' be Buddy Holly. But I'd also add Chuck Berry, Leonard Cohen, and I really like much of Melissa Etheridge' lyrics and music. Also Townes Van Zandt, especially for his influence on Cowboy Junkies music. But Whatjd and Marakanetz have it right, IMO, there are only "favorites". Great thread Jeff. Craig
lot of people have been covered. possibly not THEE top three but worthy of mention...van morrison, harry chapin, dave mason, joe mcdonald
Yeah Craig, Chuck Berry is up there too. I almost mentioned him above. VanZandt of course. Dylan, naturally. My living favorite who hasnt been mentioned is John Hiatt. Among the women, Iris Dement is one of a kind, but I would have to give my vote to Barbara Keith. On her eponymous lp ca 1972, she wrote all the songs but one, Dylan's All Along the Watchtower, which was the weakest song on the record.

For those who think we are stuck in the present, how about Stephen Foster, and Henry Clay Work, Civil War era. "Who Shall Rule This American Nation" is one of my all time favorites.

Of course the list is long but Jeff's original question was three.... no mention so far of Pete Townshend,Bob Marley,Peter Gabriel,Kate Bush,Nick Drake,Ray Davies,Don Henley,Elton John,Woody Guthrie,Robert Johnson and good grief Stevie Wonder
John Hiatt indeed. And Joe McDonald--holy cow....Bass Strings
If this was a test question my answers would be:
1. Woody Gutherie 2. George M. Cohan 3. Hank Williams
but I haven't got a recording by any of them :^)
pretty narrow bandwidth for the most part.

Sincerely, I remain
I thought Dylan was excluded since he had his own thread and, obviously, his own special place in songwriting. So I have four. Put me down for Dylan. This is a fun party game, but, again, I find myself wondering why have such lists. Are music writing and music making a competitive sport? What is this American propensity towards having "Best of..." lists? Are artists like eggs and need to be graded? My reaction is to expand the list, forcing me to sudivide into categories, along the well known and worn lines of standards, folk, country, blues, rock etc. Is the best songwriter the most prolific? The one who year in year out produced the highest quality tunes? The one who produced the best selling tunes? The one who produced a body of work that so influenced others he/she can be put at the head of a list with a series of other people following? How about lyricists who partenered with different composers for the music? I may sound like someone who is no fun and is trying to intellectualize this thing to death, but, trust me, that is not my intention. I just think three choices is really confining and see that a number of posters go well beyond the limit of three. I therefore wish to add, in no particular order: Van Morrison, Lennon & McCartney, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Ralph McTell, Bruce Springsteen, Hank Williams Sr, Georges Brassens, Jimmy Reed, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie and for being able to make them up on the spot, Sam "Lightin'" Hopkins.
the fab 4 beatles, bernie taupin who writes for all elton john songs, and the king elvis.
Warren Zevon
Van Morrison
Greg Brown
Arguably not the best, but my favorites.Agree with cfb, G. Clarks Cold Dog Soup is great and a nice tribute to the late, great Townes Van Zandt.
Elvis composed songs?
Oh, you wanted 3? Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Bob Wills.
Comsider the following:
Patti Smith - Horses
Leonard Cohen - Any and all of it
Richard Thompson - Shoot Out The Lights
John Hiatt - Bring The Family
Laurie Anderson
Lou Reed
mes: thanks for your second on guy clark's "cold dog soup" but townes van zandt didn't write any of the songs on that cd. sure you're not thinkin' of "poet-a tribute to TVZ." guy's on that one, too. -cfb
Leonard Cohen
David Byrne
Bob Marley
cfb-Yes, I have "Poet" also, quite good. I know TVZ didn't write any of the songs on "Cold Dog", but I thought some of the songs GC wrote on it were about, and a tribute to, TVZ. I also recall an article ( S'phile?) about CDS about a year or so ago re same. But then again, the neurons aren't synapsing like they once used to. Age? Possibly. Posited smack dab in the midst of divorce? Naaahhh :-)
Oh yeah! I forgot to mention 2 other best rock-poets:
David Byrne, Pete Sienfield.
Cole Porter
I can't resist these parlor games. For the sake of simplicity, I've ruled out the twin tower tandems of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards.

Hard to narrow it down to three, so how about these groupings?


All-time, men's division

Bob Dylan
Neil Young
John Fogerty

All time, women's division

Joni Mitchell
Lucinda Williams
Iris Dement


Elvis Costello
Marshall Crenshaw
PJ Harvey


Walter Salas-Humara
Freedy Johnston
Liz Phair

"Cult Heroes"

Townes Van Zandt
Gram Parsons
Alex Chilton

Best Singers

Billie Holiday
Al Green
George Jones

Best Guitar

Richard Thompson

Best Growl

Iggy Pop

Best Hair

Flock of Seagulls

OK, somebody want to start a "most depressing bands" thread?

Well it ain't a band, but my vote for most depressing singer ever has to go to Rufus Wainright son of Louden Wainright and of one of them McGarrigle girls. Whenever my 18 year old daughter plays one of his, I swear I want to listen to some Blind Lemon Jefferson.
most depressing band? easy. fred and patti smith. try "it takes time" from the sountrack of "until the end of the world." an excellent disc and better lp, BTW (gotta get the german lp). -cfb
Agree with Guy Clark being up there - but Cold Dog Soup didn't do it for me. I reckon Dublin Blues, Boats To Build and his live album Keepers are his best. But the "experts" argue his best song writing is on Old No. 1. Eric Taylor, Tom Russell and Townes are worth a mention each. How about Tim Hardin, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe....
I'm in trouble I don't find Rufus Wainwright depressing at all.................................
The greatest Songwriters are the ones that write the songs that everyone wishes they wrote or the great singers all want to sing. Favorites are another matter.

Dynamic duos
The Gershwin brothers
Rogers & Hart
Rogers & Hammerstein
Lennon & McCartney

Individual- Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, George M. Cohan (some may debate this but he wrote some memorable songs), Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Hoagy Carmichael (just because he wrote Stardust) and THE DUKE
Tubegroover - I Second your nominations Tubegroover. I find it almost impossible to believe that with over 40 posts 2 mentions of Ellington and the Gershwins. And Hoagy too, don't forget he wrote Georgia too, and lots of other wonderful stuff. Stevie Wonder and Lou Reed??? I guess we have to disagree somewhere. Makes me want to look up their catalogue and double check

Well, it's the week-end, take a walk on the wildside.

Tubes Rule!

Sincerely, I remain
Clueless - They are just among my favorites, had to add a few of those.

Sincerely I remain,

It's always good to hear other peoples musical choices. You may not always agree, but that's not really the point. For instance, as much as I love Bob Dylan - just look at my name - I've never thought of him as a "song" writer. He's rock n' roll's greatest lyricist, but his name doesn't come to mind when I think of someone who wrote great tunes. Something with a melody. Go play the melody of one of his songs on an instrument and see.

My vote for the all-time #1 best songwriter in popular music is William "Smokey" Robinson. Honorable mentions to (in no particular order) Ray Davies, Monk, Willie Dixon, Gershwins, Robbie Robertson, Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell, Ellington/Strayhorn, Robert Johnson, Rodgers/Hart, Chuck Berry, Kurt Weill, Carol King and the Beatles.
My nominations for the three best composers of popular songs are:
1. Antonio Carlos Jobim. (Chega de Saudade, Dindi, Samba de Uma Nota So, Insensatez, Desafinado, Corcovado, Favela, Agua de Beber, Vivo Sohando, Chovendo na Roseira, Aguas de Marco, Amor en Paz/Once I Loved, O Grande Amor, So Danco Samba, Doralice, Meditation, The Girl from Ipanema, etc.)
2. Duke Ellington
3. George Gershwin
After these three, there are many notables: Jerome Kern (All the Things You Are, Yesterdays, A Fine Romance, Dearly Beloved); Irving Berlin (Always, Isn't This a Lovely Day, Blue Skys, Cheek to Cheek); Richard Rogers (Blue Moon, Thou Swell, Bewitched); Cole Porter (Easy to Love, Just One of Those Things, What Is This Thing Called Love, Begin the Beguine); Burt Bacharach; Paul McCartney
Allright! We are bringing in another world of music w/ the last few posts and far more representative of 20th century American music if you ask me. (Don't get me wrong, I love Greg Brown et al...) And Onhwy61 you get an award for mentioning Strayhorn w/ the Duke. He deserves it.

Sincerely, I remain
Onhwy61-I cannot believe you are serious with that Dylan/tune argument but there's probably been enough Dylan discussion recently...the thread has deviated slightly we were given limited boundaries but on tunes how about Brian Wilson,Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout),Jimmy Webb, latter Fleetwood Mac (Nicks/C.McVie/Buckingham),Carole King etc..the list is nearly endless and on more obscure levels Nick Drake,Scott Walker,Todd Rundgren,Suzanne Vega,Rickie Lee many......
Oh stuff it,,,Back to Dylan and tunes..Knockin'On Heaven's Door,Mr Tambourine Man,Every Grain Of Sand,Sugar Baby,Jokerman,One More Cup Of Coffee,Lay Lady Lay surely the greatest song ever written about a chicken,can't think of a single Dylan song without a tune.
In fact occassionally one tune would be so good he'd use on about 6 or 7 different songs.....