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Top 10 Classic Songwriters

VO: Matt Campbell
Script Written by Q.V. Hough. From the page to performance. Join as we count down our picks for the Top Classic Songwriters. For this list, we’re focusing on singer-songwriters that have seen critical and commercial success over the years and are known primarily for writing their own music. Special thanks to our users RGCHarlequin, Mike Wendlandt, Lucius Left-Foot, Matthew Counts, Gabllegos, Gabriel H Cooper, Alysia Victoria Parker, radon548, jsuntmoon, Benjamin Williams Cerda San Martin and daughtryfan497 for submitting the idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Classic Songwriters

From the page to performance. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top Classic Songwriters.

For this list, we’re focusing on singer-songwriters that have seen critical and commercial success over the years and are known primarily for writing their own music. As much as we love Elton John’s powerful piano ballads, he will not be making the list as most of his song’s are written with the help of Bernie Taupin.

#10: Freddie Mercury

Originally born as Farrokh Bulsara, this singer-songwriter spent the first 17 years of his life in Zanzibar and India before moving to England for safety reasons. By 1970, however, the shy graphic artist transformed into the front man of “Queen” and went by the name Freddie Mercury. With already a lifetime of material to write about, along with new personal inspirations, Mercury composed perhaps one of the most popular rock songs of all time, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Utilizing his impressive vocals to his advantage, Mercury has crafted some of the biggest stadium pleasing hits of all time.

#9: Van Morrison

While “The Doors” were tearing up the psychedelic scene in the late 60s, this Northern Irish musician was releasing some of the most acclaimed albums of all time. And unless you’re a die-hard fan, you probably don’t know that Van Morrison was responsible for writing the 1964 British Invasion classic “Gloria” as a member of the band Them. George Ivan Morrison, more commonly known as Van Morrison, left the group Them and went on to become one of the most prolific singer-songwriters the world has ever seen, and he’s showing no sign of slowing down.

#8: David Bowie

Like any enduring rock star, this poetic performer has continuously reinvented himself over the decades, and his musical emergence can be directly connected to a true space oddity. In the summer of 1969, the first humans reached the moon, and just a few days before, the career of David Bowie was launched with his composition entitled “Space Oddity’. With the dawn of a new decade, Ziggy Stardust was introduced to the world, and the singer wrote a collection of songs that would not only inspire future musicians, but also offer a new approach to the art of songwriting.

#7: Elvis Costello

After taking on a moniker in honor of Elvis Presley and his own father, Declan Patrick MacManus became a leading figure of the 70s British New Wave through an eclectic sound and intellectual wordplay. His first few albums are filled with pub rock classics and highly regarded for their lyrical depth, as Costello took a layered approach to an evolving genre known for repetitive phrases. The average music fan may not be able to name five Elvis Costello songs off the top of their head, but it’s the vast discography that makes him so important within the spectrum of rock music.

#6: Joni Mitchell

She’ll stimulate your brain with lyrics about social change and pierce your heart with poetic musings on love. This Canadian arrived on the scene at a crucial moment in music history when young people were coming to grips with the realities of war while reflecting on the natural beauty of life. As a result, Joni Mitchell served as the soundtrack for millions with her poignant lyrics and equally remarkable voice. Songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock” spoke to a generation, along with her acclaimed 1971 album Blue. Joni gives us everything we want out of folk music, and her vocal tone is a fascinating instrument in itself.

#5: Bruce Springsteen

He’s the blue-collar boss of rich American music. With numerous albums titles referencing geographical locations and evocative imagery, Bruce Springsteen penned most of his classics based on his experiences of hustling for the American dream. His 1975 album Born to Run included the self-written smash “Thunder Road”, and his 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. is undoubtedly essential for any patriotic American. More importantly, however, is that Springsteen’s lyrics convey a grittiness that can be felt by anyone workin’ hard for their money.

#4: John Lennon

Speaking of working class heroes, this rock legend played thousands of shows with his Liverpool band mates before they invaded America, and his first solo album touched on the artist’s personal state of mind at that point in his career. John Lennon co-wrote the majority of Beatles’ classics with Paul McCartney, however had a number of solo writing credits including “Across the Universe” and “Dear Prudence”, and had a successful solo career until his unfortunate death in 1980. Although Lennon wouldn’t live beyond the age of 40, his short career cemented his place in history as both a pop culture icon and one of rock’s most influential voices.

#3: Paul Simon

This New Jersey native was once honored by TIME magazine as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World,” and it wasn’t because of his unbelievable style. With a knack for the folk and worldbeat music, Paul Simon first conquered the charts with band mate Art Garfunkel and produced classics like “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson”. Although Simon & Garfunkel would split by 1970, the former embarked on a solo career that would rattle listeners to the core with his soul-piercing lyrics. Decades later, we’re still crazy about Mr. Simon.

#2: Paul McCartney

Some artists fade into obscurity when their rock star days are over, and some continue to create - day after day, year after, decade after decade. Paul McCartney forever changed music through his collaborations with band mate John Lennon, however his insatiable love for music resulted in eight albums with Wings, and a long career as a solo artist. He wrote the masterpiece that is “Hey Jude” for the Beatles in the late 60s and composed “Freedom” over 30 years later in response to the September 11th attacks. In one way or another, the words of Paul McCartney have touched all of our lives, and there’s not another singer-songwriter that has reached all corners of the earth like Sir Paul.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Billy Joel

Carole King

Johnny Cash

Stevie Wonder

Leonard Cohen

#1: Bob Dylan

Born and raised in Minnesota, Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan walked to the beat of his own drum in the early 60s, even if his vocal style or deeply insightful lyrics weren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. But much to his surprise, Dylan became the unwilling spokesman for a generation upon his arrival in New York City and proceeded to abandon his acoustic sound for electric riffs while continuously re-working his sound from album to album. Always the innovator, Dylan remains one of the most prolific performers of modern times and certainly the most culturally significant songwriter of American history.

So, do you agree with our selections? Who is your classic songwriter? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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