Who is the greatest lyricist? (not including Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen)

Author Comments: 

I may have missed some deserving candidates. Feel free to make suggestions. And, because the poll may expand, don't vote yet unless you are certain that is your pick.

I would really have to go with Joanna Newsom http://www.listology.com/zacharyyy/list/greatest-lyricistspoets-and-musi... with or without the "other than Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen" thing. Heh...
For one thing, her little poetic similes and small metaphors are some of the best little images and poetic turns I've heard in music(for example: "Your skin is something that I stir into my tea", a boat "flanked by furrows curling back like a match held up to a newspaper", "we'd talk as soft as chalk 'til morning came, pale as a pearl." and so on)

(and as for suggestions on more, just see my currently still forming list... XP)
(and I gotta say... Eminem being at the top on this is kind of a travesty)

Ditto, IMO Yorke is the best here.

Mr. Yorke gets my vote

Great choice. He may be the most "economical" lyricist on here (Wyatt is the only one I can think of who may be better), meaning he is an absolute genius at saying more, yet using fewer words...he gets the most meaning per word or phrase than perhaps anyone else on here.

I have read online articles proclaiming that David Byrne's work in the 1980s is the most advanced poetry to come out of the U.S. since Bob Dylan. I agree.

I can't argue with you that he is a great, great lyricist. He would likely make my top ten from this poll.

Is Dylan really that great a lyricist? Now having to plagiarise isn't he? And being excused! I rate Cohen, but can't help thinking most pop-rock lyrics don't really stand up on their own merits, are overrated. Can someone suggest the Dylan songs with his best lyrics (forgetting the music), to check out.

1, 2 & 3 are dead on. The rest are kinda off the top of my head. Even if there's some I missed these should all suffice.

In the following order:

1. Desolation Row
2. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
3. Gates of Eden
4. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
5. Visions of Johanna
6. Mr. Tambourine Man
7. Tombstone Blues
8. Tangled Up In Blue
9. Like Rolling Stone
10. Idiot Wind

I dunno if you're into rap music (the only immediatley recognizable rapper on your list is Eminem), but I think you should add these three rappers to your list.

Lauryn Hill

Hope you consider it.

Sorry it took me so long to get back. I did consider it, but, while they are all very good lyricists, I found them to be out of their league when compared to those on this list. If you want to list out for me which of their songs represent their lyrical genius best, I would take a look at those, and this may increase (or decrease) the likelihood of me adding them.

Thanks for the suggestions.

John Lennon all the way, baby.

Either Billy Joel or Renaud Séchan.

I don't know who Renaud Sechan is and I can't think of anything by Joel that stands out for me, but you're welcome to state some songs by each that you feel would clinch them to be added to this poll and I'll check them out and make a decision from there.

Well, for Joel, Piano Man is IMO among the best songs of all time, with really great lyrics. But also Leningrad is of an exceptional power.

Renaud Séchan is a renouned French singer and songwriter. Songs like Docteur Renaud, Mister Renard, Manhattan-Kaboul, Je vis caché, Baltique, Corsic'armes or L'entarté feature fantastic lyrics. Unfortunately, they are in French. I don't know about your knowledges in French, so, you can leave him out...

Well, I'm no Frenchman (even though my real last name is French) so I can't help you if I can't read the lyrics.

As for Joel, I looked over the lyrics and while he's certainly a solid lyricist I didn't find enough to convince me of his worthiness for this poll. I don't think he's in the same league as those who are already on there.

I second the inclusion of Billy Joel. Piano Man is fantastic. A personal fave of mine by him is Only The Good Die Young, but the lyrical quality is debateable.

"book endorsements, unfortunate."

The NYTimes has just had a good couple of days. Today there is a review of two Dylan books, The Essential Interviews, a chronological anthology edited by Jonathan Cott, and The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, by Michael Gray.

Janet Maslin makes the interview book sound more appealing. She confirms my belief that Jann Wenner is one of the luckiest fools alive and reaffirms my high opinion of Nat Hentoff.

Wenner, Rolling Stone's editor, managed to inform readers that he slept stark naked and found more importance in his Dylan run-in than might have been warranted. ("It somehow seemed appropriate enough that Judy Garland's funeral coincided with the interview.")

Nat Hentoff, writing for Playboy, gives Mr. Dylan's speaking voice a suave vocabulary and syntax it doesn't have elsewhere and remarks that the singer's "tonsorial tastes are on the conservative side," compared with those of other male performers of the 60's. "How do you feel about these far-out hair styles?" Mr. Hentoff wants to know.Her short review might be worth reading for the weird Encyclopedia headings alone.

The day before this there was a shorter article on Leonard Cohen's new collaboration with Anjani Thomas. We learn that Cohen has won (but not received) a $9.5 million court judgement and that it's now all about the Benjamins. "Finances were a huge factor," Ms. Thomas said. "It was like, we've got to make a record, make some money." Which begs the question: Wasn't Jennifer Warnes available?

Wow, these sound great! Especially the Dylan interview book. His interviews are never predictable and always reveal something...I think.

Thanks for the heads-up Odysseus.

The thread title caught my attention as Dylan and Cohen are indeed my #1 and #2 lyricists...I picked Elvis Costello. Hilarious and barbed lines just from his first four albums are too numerous to count, though I've tried. I think that many more hip-hop artists deserve a position in the poll, however. Nas, Rakim, and Chuck D. should all be here.

It's difficult to include hip hop artists since in most cases their delivery and rhythm make their lyrics sound far better than they actually are when looked at written down. You're welcome to give me some songs by those artists that best represent their lyrical content, and I'll check them out and see if I agree with you.

You made a great pick in Elvis Costello, and your #1 and #2 lyricists would've dominated this poll if they were included (especially Dylan) which is precisely why they weren't. What's the use in a poll if the results are already known beforehand?

Your options are too white. Where is Smokey?

Give me some of his song titles to check out and then I'll see if he's deserving.

Are you trying to tell me you've never heard of Smokey Robinson?!?

No, of course I've heard of him. The man's a legend. Please give me some of the song titles you feel are worthy for this list.

I can't believe that I voted for Eminem but his storytelling abilities are second to none in the modern age. Sure there have been better - like Springsteen and, I second, Replacement-era Westerberg but of those still putting out music and still writing new lyrics Marshall Mathers is the best. Which is amazing because he is the most inarticulate speaker when he's not songwriting.

By the way, a classic one that you missed is Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. He uses verbal puns and such better than anyone. "...And The Horse They Rode In On" may very well be the best written album ever as far as pure wordplay.

I checked him out and you're right about Pirner. His wordplay is fantastic. I'll add him.

Thanks for the suggestion. I would've never ever thought of him.

Wow, Cockburn made the list without me even having to nominate him?


Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

The funny thing is, I just put him on there today, and I did it in a hurry, thinking to myself:

"I better get him on here before lbangs comes around!"

Looks like I barely succeeded. I just added him a few minutes ago. Great, great lyricist. He should've been here from the beginning.

You're too good to me, and Ma Cockburn also appreciates it, I'm sure. :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I voted for Nick Cave. He's probably be #1 even if Dylan and Cohen were included.

Others i might have considered if they were on the list: springsteen, randy newman.

While I disagree with your assessment, I hardly disagree with your pick. Cave was one of my top choices as well, though I didn't actually select him. I took Robert Wyatt.

I'd nominate Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Richard Thompson
Also, maybe Stephen Merritt of Magnetic Fields, just because of this couplet: "On a Ferris wheel overlooking Coney Island/Under more stars than there are prostitutes in Thailand."
And, I'd probably nominate Springsteen. You're right, he can be cheesy at times, but there's also stuff like "Wreck on the Highway" and "The River."

The first 3 are definitely in! Can't believe I didn't think of those. Thanks for your help. I'll check into Stephen Merritt. I'm not too familiar with him. I'm still deciding on Springsteen.

Stephen Merritt is a shoe-in. Wow. Thank you, I had no idea.

John Hiatt... Richard Thompson... Townes Van Zandt?

Warren Zevon?

I vote for the guy who rhymed "chemin de fer," "transplanting hair," "Malaysian Air," and "none the worse for wear."

Townes Van Zandt for sure. Thank you Odysseus.

I don't think Hiatt makes the cut unless you can change my mind by giving me some song titles that represent him best. I'll check 'em out and let you know after that.

Well, Hiatt wanders into, or out of, country (and blues, kinda) territory but if rappers make the cutting contest then... anyone who rhymes "amoeba" with "Queen of Sheba" and gets covered by Nick Lowe, Bonnie Raiit, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton is pretty good. But maybe not "Rock" or "Rap."

Hiatt wrote "Feels Like Rain," "Riding with the King" and (because cleverness seems to be winning out) "The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari." Read him but don't include him. I'm still going with the guy who wrote, "They say love conquers all. You can’t start it like a car. You can’t stop it with a gun."

Don't even get me started on Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin and some people renting Brill Bldg apts. And whichever one of Gilbert & Sullivan wrote the words. (I'm going to say "Sullivan.") That would be far too much frothy cleverness; too many choices.

...and Springsteen wrote "Blinded by the Light" which is also far too clever.

Oh yea, and I added Springsteen...finally. He was getting closer and closer and your Blinded by The Light did it for him. Thanks Odysseus.

Well Hiatt's getting closer after reading those. I'm very close to electing him, but he's losing by about as thin a margin as Bush did. Err, I mean...nevermind.

Got any more songs of his for me to look over? The ones you gave me almost clinched him so if he has a few more in the same league I'll prop him up there.

As for the others you mentioned, you're welcome to give me some song titles to check out as well.

It's 'Conor Oberst,' not 'Colin.'

And as much as I adore Zappa, I must suggest that his inclusion here is a bit absurd -- his compositions are the attraction. His lyrics are occasionally great ("Cheepnis"!) but more often jes' plain silly.

"A moon beam through the prune in June
Reveals your chest I see your lovely beans
And in that magic go-kart I bite your neck
The cheese I have for you, my dear
Is real and very new"

C'mon now!

whoops, surely I was typing too fast...thanks for noticing that mistake.

C'mon, you gotta love the ingeuity of Zappa! He wasn't mere novelty...

Wait a sec, was he?

Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, definitely!




Yea, I know, I know...

I figured Dylan would get about 80% of the votes and Cohen would get most of the rest so I decided not to include them as it would make the poll a bore.

Now I'm just hoping that Eminem doesn't do the same.

Personally, I think he's quite overrated. If you laid those lyrics down on paper, the poetry would be pretty dorky. He is great much more because of his amazing delivery than because of his writing gifts. His performance, rhythm adn timing make his lyrics.

Now I'm ranting. You didn't even mention Eminem and hear I go all talkin' smack.

Anyway, surely you have some suggestions for me to add with all the music you've encountered?

I'm currently going back and forth on adding Springsteen. The negative is that he was so commonly amateurish, but then he would write something really good, such as Thunder Road, or parts of Born To Run, but then there's about 1/4 of The River that is dangerously close to the cheezy side of things. And I can't get past how he fumbles the finale of Jungleland on Born To Run. It's tough to add someone who could be argued just as equally both ways. What do you think?

Sorry, I have no feedback; I don't listen to lyrics, except for Dylan and Cohen.

You're totally right about Eminem. And his delivery is what makes him one of my favorite rappers.

Absolutely the best rapper alive. And out of all the rappers I've heard, probably the best lyricist. He deserves to be in this poll if only because he displays (or rather, displayed...have you heard that piece of trash "Fak", perhaps the worst song ever written by a great artist! Yeesh!)

Anyway, I was saying: because he displayed such unique, if silly, metaphors and songwriting ingenuity.

Which reminds me, that dude from The Streets should probably be on here.

*Springsteen support*

I'll be voting for him if you add him. Or perhaps Michael Stipe of R.E.M.? :-D

Otherwise, I'll probably vote Lennon.

Springsteen has been added. You can vote now.

Tough between Stipe and Springsteen, but I went with Springsteen.

I added Michael Stipe. Thanks for reminding me of him. I'm still seesawing on Springsteen.