The Greatest Rock Songwriters Ever
Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1964 - Bob Dylan / Youtube
Today’s standards for songwriting has admittedly gone down the drain, with nonsensical lyrics and cheap, reused chords that are just masked by reinvented vocal melodies. However, there was also a time where musical creativity flourished like crazed rabbits in heat. Rock n’ roll has been graced with the most prolific songwriters of musical history, and for good reason: the era demanded growth out of artists in the midst of bustling competition. It was a go big or go home situation, and has been productive in doing so, giving birth to the greatest rock anthems of all time. Let us remember the greatest compositional geniuses of rock n’ roll.
The Canadian singer-songwriter’s career spanned a number of groups and a solo stint that became the influence of budding country and folk rock artists. Known for his participation in his time with Buffalo Springfields, and then later in the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and his solo act with the backing band Crazy Horse, Neil Young has created hits like “Southern Man“, “Like A Hurricane “, and “Rockin’ The Free World” that allowed the genre to be widely accepted among rock purists. Young is also credited to be the Godfather of Grunge, primarily due to his employment of highly distorted guitar work. Young has been active ever since 1960, and is planning on a reunion album with Crazy Horse.
Another Canadian talent was realized with Joni Mitchell, who started her musical career with small clubs and street busking in Canada before moving to the US. Mitchell is probably one of the most influential women in rock and the music industry in general, with her work and material taking inspiration from folk and jazz, and exploring themes of romance, disillusionment, jubilation, while also remaining socially relevant with her commentaries of society and the environment. She is known for hits like “Chelsea Morning”, “Help Me”, and “Free Man in Paris”, with her signature wide vocal range that allowed her to tap into fitting vocal motifs for her songs.
Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards
This dynamic duo from the original bad boys became the Stones’ creative force after a falling out with original founder and vocalist Brian Jones, partly due to Jones’ and manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s deteriorating relationship. Jagger and Richards were prompted by Oldham because the band had run out of popular songs to cover. Mick tells the tale of their first collaboration, “Keith likes to tell the story about the kitchen, God bless him. I think Andrew may have said something at some point along the lines of ‘I should lock you in a room until you’ve written a song’ and in that way he did mentally lock us in a room, but he didn’t literally lock us in. One of the first songs we came out with was that tune for George Bean, the very memorable ‘It Should Be You’.” The iconic partnership brought to the world hits such as “Sympathy for the Devil“, “Brown Sugar“,and “Happy“.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin
The extravagant rock star has been with his trusty creative partner Bernie Taupin since 1967, and has been churning out most of his material since then, amounting to almost 30 albums. Elton had been a piano prodigy ever since childhood, and has been a scholar of the Royal Academy of Music, and met Taupin in a songwriter ad which both responded to. John has also been a session musician in his early years for groups like the Hollies and the Scaffold, which improved his musical abilities even further. His massively successful career is proven by a 300 million record sales benchmark, including more than fifty Top 40 rankers, are just a speck of his artistic contributions to the music and film industry. Elton John is known for his works such as “Your Song“, “Rocket Man“, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road“.
Queen’s iconic frontman was more than just a powerful vocalist, he was also behind the band’s most famous hits, “Bohemian Rhapsody“, “Killer Queen“, and “Somebody to Love“. Born as Farrokh Bulsara of Parsi descent, Mercury has been enthralled with rock n’ roll, and established a band during his teen years, called the Hectics. He was also known to have excellent playing by ear skills on the piano. When his family migrated to Middlesex, England, Mercury became an arts student, and encountered Brian May and Roger Taylor of the band Smile. They had recently lost their frontman Tim Staffell, who quit to join another band. The newly-refreshed trio then hooked electrical engineering student John Deacon who played bass. The rest they say, is history.
Paul Simon is best known for his work on the musical duo Simon and Garfunkel, with Art Garfunkel, who has been a childhood friend and has been with Simon since their earlier iteration, called Tom and Jerry. The duo split up in the boom of their career however, and Simon went on to a solo stint that became successful, which is represented with his work on Graceland. Simon has had quite an experience with multiple styles, ranging from sentimental folk ballads, to that of African pop, which showed his cards, an expertise in making everything a poignant piece of poetry. Simon is known for his work on “The Sound of Silence“, “Mrs. Robinson“, and “Bridge over Troubled Water“.
The Boss has been influence by Elvis Presley and The Beatles, after witnessing both acts on the Ed Sullivan show. Like every other aspiring rockstar, Springsteen worked nights in bars and clubs with the juvenile configuration of what became the E Street Band. Springsteen is known for his contributions to the Jersey shore sound, a variety of roots rock with the sentimentality of the daily struggles of life. Springsteen’s Italian-American heritage provided the inspiration of accordion music being infused with his sound, which lent its signature upbeat rhythms and danceable quality. He is most known for the songs “Born In The USA” and “Incident on 57th Street“.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon
The McCartney-Lennon tandem has been credited for most of The Beatles’ compositions, spanning 13 studio albums that established the whole career of the band. Although individually, both were just as potent songwriters as well. From the band’s clean, good boy rock of their debut, to more experimental trips that eventually wrought the members apart. Lennon’s inherently bizarre artistic maturity and McCartney’s stubbornness eventually led to disarray. Nonetheless, the duo represented an unbreakable force in pioneering rock n’ roll. The duo is known for their works in almost all the tracks of the 13 albums, while Lennon has “Imagine“, and McCartney’s “Yesterday” to their names.
Ever the illustrious artist, David Bowie not only penned iconic glam rock songs, but also delved into character creation, donning personas that would represent his current leanings and ambitions in life. The androgynous icon became known for his eclectic musical repertoire, with experimentation bringing on new and bizarre takes on rock as people knew it. While the UK market regarded Bowie as a top artist in his field, the American counterparts just couldn’t grasp what he offered, which prompted him to adapt to the more pop-oriented culture. Bowie is known for his work on “Space Oddity“, “Starman“, and “Fame“.
Considered as the best songwriter of rock n’ roll history, Bob Dylan paved the way not only for himself, but for other artists as well, by writing music for them. Dylan started writing rock songs in his teenage days, and carried over this genius over his professional career, penning hits such as “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, and “Forever Young” that would forever be imprinted in musical history. But Dylan didn’t dream of representing rock like the pretty faces of the Fab Four or Elvis, but little did he know how he changed the course of music. Dylan has been active in the industry for almost 7 decades now, and hasn’t showed signs of ceasing.