The 25 Greatest Songwriters of All Time
Have you ever stopped and wondered: who are the greatest songwriters of all time? That's exactly what we'll be doing today. There's no denying the power of a good song. It can evoke emotion, make you laugh, and even change your outlook on life. But behind all great songs are brilliant songwriters who put their entire heart and soul into crafting an audible masterpiece. For decades, these songwriters have created timeless classics that still hold up today—from hard rock anthems to delicate folk ballads. In this blog post, we'll look at some of the greatest songwriters in history who have left indelible marks on music for generations to come. Let's get started!
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Remember: our list is in no particular order. While it's hard enough to find the best 25, nitpicking between those 25 would end up becoming somewhat subjective.
25. Michael Jackson
Top Songs: "Billie Jean," "Thriller," "Beat It"
Few musical artists have had as much influence and success as Michael Jackson. From the iconic moonwalk to mesmerizing hits like "Thriller" and "Billie Jean," he proved himself over and over again as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His passion for music consistently shone through in his work, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible from a songwriter.
24. Al Green
Hi Records / Fat Possum Records
Top Songs: "Let's Stay Together," "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?," "Tired Of Being Alone"
Al Green is widely recognized as a legendary soul singer and one of the most successful musicians in history, but it’s his skill as a songwriter that truly sets him apart. His songs are beloved for their intricate melodies, thoughtful lyrics and emotional depth.
23. James Brown
Top Songs: "The Boss," "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "Get Up Offa That Thing"
If you’ve been anywhere near a radio, television, or the internet in the last fifty years, then you’ve no doubt heard of James Brown. He is known for his unique blend of funk and soul that has earned him many admirers around the world. But there is more to this musical legend than simply singing and performing: he was also an incredibly talented songwriter who penned some classic tunes that have become ingrained in popular culture.
22. Randy Newman
Walt Disney Music Company
Top Songs: "You've Got A Friend In Me," "Short People," "Monsters, Inc."
If you are a fan of music, there is no doubt you have heard the name Randy Newman. He has been a staple in popular music since 1968 when his debut album was released - and since then he has become an incredibly successful songwriter and composer. From composing scores for major Pixar films to winning numerous awards for his work, Newman's impressive resume speaks for itself.
21. Elvis Costello
Top Songs: "She," "Alison," "Watching The Detectives"
It's no exaggeration to say that Elvis Costello is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music. From his early days in England's late '70s punk movement and new wave revolution, he has pushed boundaries, reinvented himself and consistently delivered brilliant lyrics with a unique delivery and style. His impact on the musical landscape of today can be heard in songs written for artists from all walks of life, spanning all genres; rock, pop, folk, country, reggae and even classical – just as groundbreaking now as it was then.
20. Van Morrison
Columbia Records / Sony Music Entertainment
Top Songs: "Brown Eyed Girl," "Into The Mystic," "Moondance"
Van Morrison is widely recognized as one of the greatest songwriters in history. With an illustrious career spanning nearly 60 years and with more than 200 unforgettable songs, it's hard to deny that he has had a significant impact on music. Many artists have cited him as an influence, acknowledging his indelible contributions to the world of music. Whether you're familiar with the back catalogue or only know some of his biggest hits like "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Moondance," there's no denying that Van Morrison is one of the greats when it comes to writing top-notch melodies for listeners to enjoy for generations.
NPG Records / Warner Records
Top Songs: "Purple Rain," "Kiss," "When Doves Cry"
The late musician Prince was a masterful songwriter, and he is hailed today for some of the best hits in music history. From 'Little Red Corvette' to 'Purple Rain,' his songs span a wide range of styles, making him beloved by both mainstream audiences and critical experts alike. His legacy lives on through his unparalleled composition skills, which have inspired generations of artists exploring their own musical expression.
18. Lou Reed
RCA Records / Sony Music Entertainment
Top Songs: "Walk on the Wild Side," "Satellite of Love," "Perfect Day"
As a pioneering force in the rock music genre, Grammy-winning artist Lou Reed has largely shaped our understanding of what it means to write great songs. With poetic lyrics, powerful story lines and experimental structuring coupled with an aggressive approach to instrumentation, few writers can match Reed’s creative mastery and ability to draw emotion from his listeners. From classics like “Walk on the Wild Side” to timeless hits such as “Satellite of Love,”Lou Reed is undoubtedly one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
17. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
ABKCO Music & Records
Top Songs: "Paint It, Black," "Gimme Shelter," "Start Me Up"
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been the iconic songwriting duo behind The Rolling Stones since merging their writing talents in pursuit of musical genius back in 1962. After more than 50 years, they continue to craft unforgettable hits that involve a combination of dynamic lyrics, catchy melodies, and a quintessential rock 'n' roll vibe. Their music has spanned generations and continues to inspire musicians around the world with its emotion-charged energy and raw passion.
16. Bob Marley
Top Songs: "Could You Be Loved," "Three Little Birds," "Is This Love"
Bob Marley is undeniably one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His influence on not just reggae music, but popular culture as a whole, has been immense and lasting – from his pioneering work in creating classic hits that remain radio staples to this day, to spreading a unique message of peace and love across generations. Whether you are a casual music fan or an experienced listener, it’s hard to deny Marley's impact on the world's musical landscape.
15. Neil Young
Top Songs: "My Back Pages," "The Needle And The Damage Done," "Travel Through The Past"
Neil Young is one of the most prolific songwriters of all time. His enormous catalogue spans more than fifty years and includes classics such as "Heart Of Gold," "Like A Hurricane" and "Old Man." Not only has his work become part of the soundtrack to many lives, but also he's been an influence on generations of musicians continually since his initial rise to fame.
14. Stevie Wonder
Top Songs: "Superstition," "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," "Isn't She Lovely?"
Have you ever felt moved by the power of music? Then you know what it feels like to experience a song crafted with skill and finesse. One legend that excels at such craftsmanship is Stevie Wonder - one of the most iconic figures in music history, who so seamlessly blends genres like soul, R&B and funk into beautiful songs with clever lyrics and uplifting melodies. While many artists have copied his style or borrowed from his influence, there remains something truly unique about a Stevie Wonder song; no one writes them quite the same way he does.
13. Bob Dylan
Columbia Records / Sony Music Entertainment
Top Songs: "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," "Blowin' In The Wind," "Like A Rolling Stone"
Bob Dylan is widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters in music history, with his impressive catalogue of timeless classics and innovative approach to writing. His influence on popular culture has been immense and he continues to captivate listeners around the world with his unique musical style and lyricism. From folk ballads to electric blues songs, Dylan has achieved a level of greatness that few other musicians even come close to matching.
12. Chuck Berry
Top Songs: "Run Rudolph Run," "Johnny B. Goode," "You Can Never Tell"
From hits like "Johnny B. Goode" to "Maybellene," Chuck Berry is one of the most iconic musicians in music history — and has been described as a legend, revolutionary, genius and leader when it comes to rock 'n' roll. Ask any guitarist, they'll tell you: Chuck Berry is surely one of the most legendary acts of all time.
11. Paul McCartney (The Beatles)
Top Songs: "Wonderful Christmastime," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Say Say Say"
It's hard to overstate the influence Paul McCartney has had on music since the 1960s. From The Beatles' iconic sound to his solo work and beyond, Macca has been integral to some of the most popular and groundbreaking music of all time - influencing more and more musicians by the day, with his artistry and creativity. With such a powerful impact felt in many genres across multiple decades, it's little surprise that he is now one of the most respected names in show business.
10. Paul Simon
Paul Simon / Sony Music Entertainment
Top Songs: "You Can Call Me Al," "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard," "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover"
Over his decades-long career in popular music, this prolific singer-songwriter has created some of the most iconic songs to ever hit radio airwaves across the globe. Paul Simon is one of the most highly regarded songwriters of all time, and for good reason.
9. Smokey Robinson
Top Songs: "Cruisin'," "Just To See Her," "Being With You"
Are you a music fan looking to add some classic R&B into your life? Look no further than the legendary Smokey Robinson. Not only does his soulful voice send chills down your spine, but Smokey's songwriting prowess is undoubtedly some of the best in history. With over 4,000 compositions and multiple Billboard chart-topping singles to his name, there's no denying that he’s one of the most influential figures in modern music.
8. Joni Mitchell
Top Songs: "Our House," "The Magdalene Laundries," "Coyote"
For fans of folk and rock music, there is no denying the legacy of Joni Mitchell and her incredible contributions to both genres. Known for her unique songwriting style, thoughtful and provocative lyrics, as well as an influential vocal delivery that could soothe or serenade in equal measure, she has left a lasting mark in music.
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
Top Songs: "Little Saint Nick," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Kokomo"
Brian Wilson's songwriting has been captivating audiences ever since he first broke onto the scene as a founding member of The Beach Boys back in 1961. His prolific and unique lyrical genius saw an American classic rock sound emerge, full of sweeping instrumentation and heartfelt harmonies. Today his timeless music continues to resonant with fans all over the world, embodying both an air of nostalgia while still being progressive and inventive.
6. Pete Townshend (The Who)
Top Songs: "Baba O'Riley," "Pinball Wizard," "Behind Blue Eyes"
Pete Townshend is one of the most iconic songwriters in music history. A key member of The Who since their inception, his place among the world's greatest musical minds has been unchallenged for decades. His influence on rock and pop music across myriad genres—from progressive rock to punk—is undeniable, and it all began with Pete’s songwriting style that melded originality with classic techniques.
5. Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead)
Top Songs: "Friend of the Devil," "Casey Jones," "Althea"
Are you a fan of The Grateful Dead's music? If so, you may not know it, but the band wouldn't have been nearly as successful without its two legendary songwriters: Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Through their immensely creative collaboration, they produced some of the most iconic songs in rock n' roll history—including “Uncle John's Band”, “Touch of Grey”, “Casey Jones”, and others. This dynamic duo pushed each other to experiment with unique soundscapes and create pieces that were musically innovative for their time, to say the least.
4. Johnny Cash
American Recording Company
Top Songs: "Hurt," "Ring of Fire," "Highwayman"
Country music fans around the world still marvel at the timeless songs created by Johnny Cash. An American icon, he is remembered for his coarse yet smooth baritone voice and meaningful lyrics that wrote about life's struggles. From love ballads to haunting tales of prison to lighthearted country tunes - he was a master of them all. His songwriting shaped not just country music, but modern music as a whole.
3. Jackson Browne
Top Songs: "Running On Empty," "Doctor My Eyes," "Stay"
When it comes to songwriting, few can rival the creativity and musical genius of Jackson Browne. He's been regarded as one of the most iconic singer-songwriters since his start in the mid-'70s, crafting meaningful lyrics and heartfelt melodies that have resonated with generations ever since. From the tender sorrow of "The Pretender" to celebratory energy behind "Running On Empty," Jackson Browne has composed some of music's most memorable tunes – a feat truly worthy of admiration.
2. John Lennon (The Beatles)
Top Songs: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," "Imagine," "Woman"
John Lennon was an iconic figure in the music world, with his incredible songwriting ability and unique sound. His influence can still be heard and felt today among those who listen to modern music. Through his songwriting, he touched on timeless themes that have been ultimately shaped by his raw creativity and emotionality.
1. Neil Diamond
Top Songs: "Sweet Caroline," "Cracklin' Rose," "Forever In Blue Jeans"
In a career that spans nearly five decades and countless adoring fans, Neil Diamond is one of the most acclaimed songwriters of all time. His songs have touched decades worth of music lovers across different musical genres, from classic rock to pop hits like "Sweet Caroline". His unique blend of melodic pop tunes with thoughtful lyricism has helped define him as an influential artist.
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