While it is a bit presumptuous to try and pick the top ten living songwriters, when a friend's blog post challenged (that is, Tony Shore, at Obvious Pop), I had to try. We were helped in this by Paste Magazine, which currently has a songwriter poll on their website where you can pick the top 20 songwriters. I prefer a smaller number.
In thinking about this, I am keenly aware of my ignorance of many great songwriters as well as my personal preferences. I also felt the tyranny of the immediate, that is, that songwriter who I am enamored with right now seems so great, and yet I have to exercise a bit of perspective. I tried to have some perspective, and I tried not to let personal preference govern. At least consider it a list of folks you might like to listen carefully to.
Here's my Top 10 Living Songwriters, in no particular order:
- Bob Dylan If you're not a fan, hate the voice, or just don't dig folk, put all that aside for a minute and consider the songs -- Blowing in the Wind, Like a Rolling Stone, Gotta Serve Somebody. He was the voice of a generation, always ahead of his fans, prolific, and enigmatic. He is unique.
- Brian Wilson There's not a place you can go to escape Beach Boys songs. I Get Around, Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, and more -- these are a part of Americana and will endure as long as we do. He is a harmonic genius and with his songs tapped into all that Southern California was imagined to be (sun, surf, cars, girls) and exported it to the whole world. And he's still doing it.
- Joni Mitchell Absolutely unique. Where would we be without Both Sides Now, Chelsea Morning, The Circle Song, and those weird, strange tunings? She's influenced so many other songwriters and has earned a place in the canon of popular music.
- Jimmy Webb He may not be a household name, but his songs are -- Galveston, Wichita Lineman, MacArthur Park, If These Walls Could Speak, and more, all recorded and made #1 hits by others.
- Rosanne Cash This spot really belongs to her Dad, Johnny, but Rosanne has what it takes -- emotionally searing songs set to country, folk, and pop melodies. She really rocks!
- Paul McCartney Need I say more? The writer of Yesterday, Let It Be, Fool on the Hill, and more keeps on, as his latest release, Chaos and Creation, demonstrates.
- Carole King and Gerry Goffin Before Tapestry and its slew of #1 hits, King wrote with then-husband Goffin in the famous Brill Building, #1 hits like Loco-Motion!
- Terry Scott Taylor Unfortunately consigned to the CCM backwater, Taylor is a world-class songwriter and performer for Daniel Amos, the Lost Dogs, the Swirling Eddies, and more, as well as on his on.
- Hal David and Burt Bacharach Quite a pairing. The writers of Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head, and more for a string of movies.
- Jon Anderson Co-writer of Roundabout, a genius prog-rock song, Anderson is a member of Yes (over 30 years) and employed his skill to write beaucoups of instrumentally and lyrically complex songs.
Well, that's my stab at a list. Looking at it now, it seems so inadequate. I'd like to add some current faves -- like Pierce Pettis, Sufjan Stevens, John Davis, and Jane Kelly Williams, but I think you have to live a while and hone your craft to get the title of Top Ten.
A touch of sadness came over me as I was doing it. I miss Johnny Cash and Mark Heard. May they rest in peace.