Paste magazine published its list of 100 best living songwriters, and Robin Hilton on NPR’s Mixed Signals followed with a rewritten version of the 10 best living songwriters. It seems to me that the Paste list skews a bit older and hippier, whereas the NPR list skews a bit younger and edgier.
Compare Paste’s top 10:
1. Bob Dylan
2. Neil Young (Buffalo Sprinfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
3. Bruce Springsteen
4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
6. Leonard Cohen
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
8. Elvis Costello
9. Joni Mitchell
1. Bob Dylan
2. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
3. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
4. Bruce Springsteen
5. Vic Chestnutt
6. Stephin Merritt
7. Sufjan Stevens
8. Aimee Mann
9. PJ Harvey
10. David Dondero
Personally, there are points on both lists I agree and disagree with: “Joni Mitchell feels like a token pick“? Huh? But the inclusion of Aimee Mann in the top 10 feels right to me, so maybe we’re even on that one.
And it’s unclear what some of the criteria for inclusion on either list are. In the NPR list, the notes on PJ Harvey include “Anyway, I really think if she were a man she’d get a lot more credit than she does. She plays guitar and rocks better than most. And her sound is so distinctive. Listen to the crunch of the opening guitar in ‘One Time Too Many’.” Are we still talking about songwriting? There’s surely a blurry line between songwriting and instrumental performance for singer-songwriters who use their primary instrument to convey melody and message, but a good chunk of that spills over into musicianship, arrangement, and production rather than songwriting, per se.
Anyway, I’m very happy to see some of my absolute favorite songwriters represented in the Paste list, like Bob Dylan (#1), Elvis Costello (#8), Joni Mitchell (#9), Paul Simon (#13), Holland-Dozier-Holland (#17), Lou Reed (#21), Elton John & Bernie Taupin (#23), Tom Petty (#29), Kris Kristofferson (#38), Ryan Adams (#43), David Byrne (#46), James Taylor (#53), Aimee Mann (#54), Morrissey (#57), Conor Oberst (#67), and Lyle Lovett (#87).
Though honestly, I’ve been influenced at some level by almost every single name on that list.
And to that list, I would add at least the following, if not a few more (though I’d have a tough time deciding who would get cut to make room):
Daryl Hall (& John Oates sometimes & Sara Allen sometimes) on the incredible merit of songs like “Dreamtime” and “She’s Gone” alone, if not the entire balance of the H&O catalog.
Tori Amos for the sweet melancholy and plaintive lyrics of “Sleeps With Butterflies,” “Tear In Your Hand,” “1000 Oceans,” and so many others. She’s every bit the songwriter anyone else on this list is.
What about you? Who would you add? Who are you especially glad to see represented?