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35 Best Songwriters of All Time

June 19, 2023
best songwriters

Are you interested in learning more about the best songwriters in history?

Behind every great song is a talented songwriter, and these are some of the best of all time.

They’ve brought us some of the most popular hits of the past few decades, and have certainly earned their place on this list.

We hope you enjoy checking out the best songwriters of all time.

1. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has been coined one of the best songwriters in history, and rightly so.

His songwriting career spans over six decades, and he largely writes songs for himself that center around anti-war messages and other philosophical topics.

In 1982 he was inducted into the United States Songwriters Hall of Fame and twenty years later he was introduced into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame for his revolutionary work.

He has also won eleven Grammy Awards during his career. 

2. Paul McCartney

Sir James Paul McCartney first became famous as the bass guitarist for the Beatles, sharing songwriting credits with bandmate John Lennon.

Their songwriting collaboration has gone on to be one of the most successful of all time.

In 2014 McCartney was awarded the Songwriter’s Songwriter Award at the NME Awards, following on from his Q Magazine Songwriter Award in 1997.

He is an eighteen-time Grammy Award winner and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.

3. John Lennon

John Lennon is the second half of the McCartney-Lennon songwriting partnership and a member of the Beatles.

His writing is known to be witty and rebellious, leading him to his many inductions into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

He was also posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame following his death in 1980.

His legacy certainly lives on, and he has for sure earned his spot on this list.

4. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder, whose full name is Stevland Hardaway Morris, is a songwriter with a huge songwriting discography for both himself and other artists.

He began his career as a child prodigy, and was blinded shortly after his birth; a very impressive man.

He has released twenty-three studio albums and wrote every single one of them himself, becoming one of the sixty best-selling artists of all time.

In the eighties, he made it into the United States Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

5. Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has been noticed for her revolutionary songwriting, which she began doing professionally aged only fourteen.

She has won countless awards for her talented writing, including Songwriter of the Year at the Apple Music Awards.

Swift has earned herself twelve Grammy Awards, all for songs she’s written for herself in a variety of genres.

The reason she’s such a popular songwriter is the way she can jump between different genres, and excel in all of them.

6. Paul Simon

Paul Simon is a songwriter whose career has been vibrant for over sixty years.

He began by performing with his friend Art Garfunkel in the fifties, and they soon became Simon & Garfunkel. He still made his name as a solo artist, though!

He was ultimately ranked number eight on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time list.

In an interview with American Songwriter, he spoke about the process of writing his songs:

“The music always precedes the words. The words often come from the sound of the music and eventually evolve into coherent thoughts. Or incoherent thoughts.”

7. Elton John

Sir Elton Hercules John is a multi-talented artist who is well-known around the world for his composing abilities.

He teamed up with Bernie Taupin to form a songwriting partnership that went on to be one of the most successful in history.

In 1992 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters.

He is definitely one of the top songwriters in the history of the music industry, and has changed the course of the industry!

8. Prince

Prince is largely thought of as one of the best singer-songwriters of his generation, and even produced many of his own albums.

He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a songwriter named John Lewis Nelson.

After his death, he was still regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and his songwriting credits were still distributed by Universal Music Group in his honor.

9. Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is a  songwriter who has helped to bring heartland rock to the forefront and triggered its popularization in the mainstream.

He is credited for being one of the originators of the genre, which combines mainstream rock and socially conscious lyrics.

In 1999, Springsteen was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has an enormous discography of hits that he wrote himself.

10. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was a songwriter who excelled in the country genre, being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977  and winning numerous other awards.

Cash has released over one hundred and seventy singles and ninety-one albums, each of which he wrote himself. 

11. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, i.e. the King of Pop, is a household name that everyone knows.

He is full of musical talent and particularly excels in songwriting.

Near the beginning of his career, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Michael was Jackson 5’s lead songwriter for most of their run, and he even won a Grammy for his own “Billie Jean” as a songwriter.

12. John Fogerty

John Fogerty is a singer, guitarist, and songwriter and the founding member of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

He was the band’s lead songwriter, as well as their lead singer and guitarist.

His talent was recognized when Rolling Stone ranked him at number forty on their list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters, and he was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen.

He said, “As a songwriter, only a few did as much in three minutes [as John Fogerty]”. 

13. Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain used his talents as the primary songwriter for the band Nirvana, which he co-founded with Kris Novoselic.

He has been coined one of the most influential alternative rock artists for his anti-establishment songwriting.

He was included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time, many years before his tragic death.

His death increased the popularity of many Nirvana hits, and Cobain’s legacy is sure to live on.

14. Bob Marley

Robert Nesta Marley, who is better known by his stage name Bob Marley, was a singer/songwriter who is considered to be a pioneer of the reggae genre.

His career began in 1963 after joining the Wailers with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.

A big reason why people love his songwriting so much is because the style is so distinctive, mixing genres together in a way that no one had thought to do. 

15. Randy Newman

Randy Newman began writing songs at the young age of seventeen, and in 2002 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

He’s known for his often satirical lyrics and the fact that most of his work is film scores.

Some of his film scores include “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story One through Four,  “That’ll Do” from the Babe: Pig in the City soundtrack, and the Cars soundtracks.

Newman has won countless Grammy and Emmys for his work.

16. Madonna

Madonna Louise Ciccone, also known as Madonna or the ‘Queen of pop’, is an impressive songwriter who manages to seed heavy topics such as religion, sexuality, political, and social themes in her pop songs.

She began to find her passion for writing music with the group Breakfast Club in the late seventies and has since been three times inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and reached number fifty-six on Rolling Stones’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time list.

17. Tom Petty

Thomas Earl Petty was the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter of the seventies band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as well as achieving great success as a solo artist. 

Altogether he has sold over eighty million records worldwide, making him of the best-selling artists ever.

Petty has won three Grammy Awards, among a multitude of nominations, as well as three MTV Video Music Awards.

18. Marvin Gaye

Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., better known as Marvin Gaye, was a soul singer-songwriter who was affectionately nicknamed the “Prince of Motown” and the “Prince of Soul”.

He was a huge part of how the Motown sound of the sixties came about!

Gaye was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as being ranked at number eighty-two on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time List.

19. Buddy Holly

Charles Hardin Holley, who goes by the stage name Buddy Holly, was a 1950s rock n’ roll singer and songwriter.

He began his career as a part of the duo Buddy and Bob, with Bob Montgomery, and they opened for Elvis Presley.

This was when his career took off.

In 1986 he was posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, with them stating that his work “changed the face of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

He has also been described as a lasting influence on the artists who will follow him.

20. Eminem

Marshal Mathers, known worldwide as Eminem, is one of the artists who popularised hip-hop around the world.

He was included in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Rappers of All Time for his lyrical work.

With one hundred and fifty awards and three hundred and eighty-four nominations, he is one of the best-selling and most popular rappers in history.

He writes all of his own songs and also holds songwriting credits on hits for other artists.

21. George Harrison

George Harrison made his fame as the lead guitarist of the band The Beatles.

Most of their songs were written by the Lennon-McCartney partnership, but their hits contain at least six songs written by Harrison, including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

His biggest two contributions, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something”, helped him to assert his songwriting dominance and gave him equality with McCartney and Lennon, who, up to this point, had always dominated the area.

22. Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Lee Mayfield was a trailblazer in soul and African-American music and was dubbed the “Gentle Genius” for his songwriting and lyrical talents.

He is known as one of the first artists to bring political and social themes into the soul, setting him apart from others.

Mayfield wrote and produced hits for other artists, as well as for himself.

The three hits that he wrote for Jerry Butler are some of the most prolific in his career; “I’m A-Tellin’ You”, “Find Another Girl”, and “He Will Break Your Heart”.

23. Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Ellen Hynde rose to prominence as the primary songwriter, lead vocalist, and guitarist for the Pretenders, a seventies/eighties rock band.

Her songwriting has allowed her to perform on BBC Radio Four as part of their Songwriter’s Circle Program in 1999.

She wrote a lot of hit singles and albums for the Pretenders, including their number-one debut Pretenders, but she has also had a successful solo career.

She wrote and performed “I Got You Babe” with UB40, which hit number one in the US and the UK.

24. The Notorious B.I.G.

Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G or Biggie Smalls, is an East-Coast rapper and songwriter and one of the best hip-hop artists of all time.

Rolling Stone said that he is “one of the few young male songwriters in any pop style writing credible love songs”.

He wrote all of his own raps and has successfully released countless platinum hits.

25. Billy Joel

William Martin Joel, who is affectionately nicknamed “Piano Man”, is a talented songwriter and the seventh best-selling artist of all time in the United States.

In 1992, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Nearly ten years after he was inducted Joel was awarded the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, an award for songwriters who uphold the standard of four-time Oscar winner Johnny Mercer.

26. Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn was a country singer and songwriter who had a massive role in the popularization of country music, with a career that spanned over six decades.

She once stated that her songwriting was inspired by the early years of her marriage.

Her writing was often based on her own life, and she felt like no topic was too far.

She often tackled controversial topics at the time.

In 1983 Lynn was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and then into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

27. Don Henley

Don Henley was a founding member of the rock band Eagles and was one of their main songwriters.

Their 1973 soft-rock hit “Desperado” was the point at which he began his successful songwriting partnership with bandmate Glenn Frey.

He interestingly stated in a Charlie Rose interview that ​​”rock bands work best as a benevolent dictatorship”, with the leading songwriters in a band (in the case of Eagles, “Me and Glenn Frey”) being the ones that will be most likely to hold the power.

28. Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson is a talented songwriter and one of the leading artists in the outlaw country genre.

He was inducted into The Texas Institute of Letters in 2018 for his songwriting prowess.

He has won thirty-eight awards in his time, including several Grammys, and has starred in a multitude of books and films.

He played the leading role in Red Headed Stranger, which is a film based on his album of the same name.

29. Joe Strummer

John Graham Mellor was a singer and songwriter who is best known for being the lyricist and co-lead vocalist, among other roles, of the punk-rock band The Clash.

He wrote many of their hits, including the number-one song “Should I Stay or Should I Go”.

He also had a successful solo career, writing the soundtracks for many films, including Sid and Nancy, Walker, and Straight to Hell.

30. Morrissey

Steven Patrick Morrissey, known simply as Morrissey, is a singer-songwriter from England.

He was the lead lyricist and frontman of the Smiths, an eighties rock band.

He is known for writing controversial lyrics involving dark humor and anti-establishment.

He teamed up with Stephen Street to form a songwriting partnership, and after that ended he had four other songwriting partners during his career.

Morrissey received an Ivor Novello Award in 1988 for Outstanding Contribution to British Music from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors.

31. Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard was a country singer and songwriter, with a booming career from the sixties through to his death from double pneumonia in 2016.

In 1977 he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame for his outstanding lyricist work.

He earned many awards during his songwriting career, including over forty-eight BMI Awards and logging songs with other twenty-five million performances. 

32. Chuck Berry

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was a rock and roll trailblazer, known for his songwriting abilities.

He was even nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll”, and is thought to be the artist that invented songwriting as storytelling.

His debut hit “Maybellene” reached number one on the United States Top R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart and set him up for a lifetime of success.

He sadly passed away from a cardiac arrest in his home in 2017, but his influence on rock lives on.

33. Smokey Robinson

William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. is an R&B and soul singer and songwriter who was the founder, lyricist, and lead vocalist of the Miracles, a Motown group.

He led the group to several top-ten hits, including “The Tears of a Clown”.

Robinson was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1989 following his first Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Just to See Her”, his own solo single.

34. Mick Jagger

Sir Michael Philip Jagger is the lead vocalist and founder of the Rolling Stones.

His songwriting partnership with Keith Richards has proven legendary and one of the best in the history of rock music.

“Dancing on the Street” with David Bowie was one of his most successful solo hits, reaching number one in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

45. Keith Richards

Keith Richards is the founder, guitarist, and second lead singer of the Rolling Stones.

He was the group’s lead lyricist alongside Mick Jagger, who he teamed up with to form a songwriting partnership that would prove to be the best of all time.

His career reaches over six decades, and he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1993 following several hits, both solo and with the Rolling Stones.

Best Songwriters of All Time – Final Thoughts

This article listed the thirty-five best songwriters of all time.

From pop to folk to rock, these artists have been trailblazers.

They have written songs for some of the best artists in the world to date, and have proved their place in this list.

We hope you enjoyed learning about these talented songwriters!

You may also like: Best Music Producers of All Time

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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