10 Best Lyricists of All Time

In popular music, lyrics are less important than the music. Often the words of popular songs float past innocuously. Stringing together meaningless words that sound good together can be an effective strategy – ask Jon Anderson or A.C. Newman. Bad lyrics can be a deal-breaker; I enjoy Flea’s bass playing but I can’t get past Anthony Kiedis’ lack of subtlety.

Some lyricists are genuinely talented writers. Here are ten lyricists from the rock era who, in my opinion, write legitimately good lyrics. Also-rans include Warren Zevon, Paddy McAloon, Chuck D., Paul Simon, and Bruce Springsteen.

Presenting, in alphabetical order:

Nick Cave

Australian punk and singer-songwriter Nick Cave writes on a typewriter. He’s published two novels – And the Ass Saw the Angel and The Death of Bunny Munro – but his literary streak carries over to his music. His words are often filled with Old Testament Biblical imagery and darkness.

And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I’m yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth
An eye for an eye
A tooth for a tooth
And anyway I told the truth
And I’m not afraid to die

The Mercy Seat

Leonard Cohen

Canada’s Leonard Cohen only switched to a musical career at the age of 33, after disillusionment at his lack of financial success as a writer. His literary abilities translated over to his songwriting, fuelling acclaimed records like The Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs of Love and Hate.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in


Bob Dylan

Early rock’n’roll lyrics were often simplistic, about subjects like puppy love and cars. Robert Zimmerman came from folk and initially wrote protest songs. When he switched to rock and roll, he was influenced by writers like Arthur Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg, and his surreal imagery expanded the vocabulary of rock and roll. In 2016 Dylan won a Nobel Prize in Literature.

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes,
Oh, do they think could bury you?

Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Craig Finn

The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America

The Hold Steady play bar-band rock, reminiscent of Springsteen and The Replacements, but front-man Craig Finn is clearly indebted to hip-hop. His lyrics are full of quickfire cultural references and narratives that cross over between albums, of Catholic guilt and youthful hedonism in the twin cities.

Lost in fog and love and faithless fear
I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere.


Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell Hejira

Joni Mitchell‘s music is sophisticated, particularly in her peak years between 1971 and 1976. Her accompanying lyrics are introspective and elegant. Coincidentally, the song quoted below (‘A Case of You’) is rumoured to be about another writer on this list, Leonard Cohen.

Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter
And so sweet, oh
I could drink a case of you darling, and I would
Still be on my feet

A Case of You


New York rapper Nasir Jones emerged with 1994’s Illmatic, a contender for the best debut album of all time. Writer William Jelani Cobb later referred to Nas as the “poetic sage of the Queensbridge projects”.

My window faces shootouts, drug overdoses.
Live amongst no roses, only the drama, for real.
A nickel-plate is my fate, my medicine is the ganja.
Here’s my basis my razor embraces, many faces.
Your telephone-blown, Black, stitches or fat shoelaces

Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)

Randy Newman

Randy Newman‘s satirical streak puts him among rock music’s preeminent lyricists. His songs have covered a variety of unsavoury subjects; an advertising jingle for a slave ship, a conman convincing parents to let their large son join the circus, and more recently, a skewering of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. He’s better known as a soundtrack writer, penning family-friendly songs like ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ from Toy Story.

Asia’s crowded
And Europe’s too old
Africa’s far too hot
And Canada’s too cold
And South America stole our name
Let’s drop the big one
There’ll be no one left to blame us

Political Science

Lou Reed

The Velvet Underground and Nico

Like Bob Dylan, Reed was fascinated by literature. His lyrics with The Velvet Underground bought seediness into rock and roll; key track ‘Venus in Furs’ was based on a novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Reed later released a entire solo album, The Raven, based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather
Whiplash girl child in the dark
Comes in bells, your servant, don’t forsake him
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart

Venus In Furs

Gillian Welch

Gillian Welch‘s Americana is economical and unassuming, but she’s a talented wordsmith. She’s able to recreate the atmosphere of a haunted, early 20th century Appalachia with her words, and she’s just as eloquent writing about herself.

I met a lovesick daughter of the San Joaquin.
She showed me colors I’d never seen
And drank the bottom out of my canteen
Then left me in the fall
Like a wrecking ball.

Wrecking Ball

Paul Westerberg

Stereo Paul Westerberg Review

The Replacements were a shambolic and drunken outfit, but their front-man had the heart of a sensitive poet. Westerberg clearly enjoys playing with words, as titles like ‘What a Day (For a Night)’ and ‘Best Thing That Never Happened’ demonstrate. I don’t know what’s in the water in Minnesota, but Westerberg is the state’s third entry in this list.

Well you wish upon a star that turns into a plane
And I guess that’s right on par
Who’s left to blame?


Did I leave out your favourite lyricist? Any suggestions?

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  1. We agree on a couple of these. I listed Lennon/McCartney as one. You always knew who the primary songwriter was but they typically always contributed at least something to each other’s songs. Honorable mention – Smokey Robinson, Laura Nyro
    Bob Dylan
    Paul Simon
    Bruce Springsteen
    Joni Mitchell
    Bernie Taupin
    Billy Joel
    Neil Young
    Chuck Berry
    Randy Newman

    • Nyro and Berry are good calls.
      I would like to quibble wwith a couple of your choices though. I find McCartney problematic when he doesn’t have Lennon to rein him in:
      Want a horse, I want a sheep
      I want to get me a good night’s sleep
      Taupin comes up with some really interesting imagery, but also some clunkers:
      Someone’s always playing corporation games
      Who cares they’re always changing corporation names
      I like Joel a lot, but wouldn’t let him anywhere near a list of greatest lyricists. In particular, I hate this couplet from early song ‘You’re My Home’:
      “You’re my castle, you’re my cabin
      And my instant pleasure dome”
      Instant? Doesn’t sound great for Mrs Joel.

        • Like Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle all dressed in green
          Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle till the moon is blue
          Wiggle till the moon sees you
          I guess it was unfair to call out McCartney’s solo stuff when you specified Lennon and McCartney together. And Taupin does have some interesting words, although for me he’s very all over the place. I do struggle with Joel thought- he writes music before lyrics, and lyrics often feel secondary for him.

          • A song I love ,”Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Dylan. These lyrics are meaningless
            “Don’t want to be a bum
            You better chew gum
            The pump don’t work
            ‘Cause the vandals took the handles
            I can agree on much of Paul’s solo stuff. But I can’t separate Lennon/McCartney in Beatles.
            “For No One” (largely, if not entirely, written by McCartney)
            our day breaks, your mind aches
            You find that all the words of kindness linger on
            When she no longer needs you
            She wakes up, she makes up
            She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry
            She no longer needs you
            And in her eyes you see nothing
            No sign of love behind the tears
            Cried for no one
            A love that should have lasted years!
            You want her, you need her
            And yet you don’t believe her when she says her love is dead
            You think she needs you
            And in her eyes you see nothing
            No sign of love behind the tears
            Cried for no one
            A love that should have lasted years!
            You stay home, she goes out
            She says that long ago she knew someone but now he’s gone
            She doesn’t need him
            Your day breaks, your mind aches
            There will be times when all the things she said will fill your head
            You won’t forget her
            And in her eyes you see nothing
            No sign of love behind the tears
            Cried for no one
            A love that should have lasted years!

          • I feel like McCartney’s smart guy who’s well capable of writing good lyrics, but his ability largely disappeared under a large, sweet smelling cloud of smoke in the early 1970s.

          • Alas, to a large extent, so did Lennon’s. I don’t believe either of them separately were as good as they were together. But over time I have found Paul’s stuff more listenable. And yes, I am eliminating crap like “Silly Love Songs.”
            I also don’t put Billy Joel in the category of Mitchell or Dylan. But some of his songs cut deep like “Innocent Man” or “Matter of Trust.”
            Oh, I just remembered somebody, dammit. Elvis Costello. How could I forget? Take Joel off and put him on and make Joel an also-ran.

      • Yu guys are working from opposite poles. Jim S loves his pop and Aphoristic is looking for more interrogative sorts of lyrics. Both of you, though, are fixed in a particular era of music—an era when lyrics mattered to more listeners than is currently the case. I like all of Aphoristic’s suggestions, largely because I prefer that style of ‘poetic’ lyrics. Even John Lennon made that distinction, defining Dylan as poetic and his own lyrics as ‘occasional’ poetry. So, by Ahporistic’s standards, I probably would substitute John Darnielle for Nick Cave. I’d consider Ben Gibberd, particularly his output around ‘Plans (But he has a limited range of interests)’. I’d try and find a place for Bonnie Rait, which would bolster the women’s ranks. In terms of new talent, I would recommend Joustene Lorenz. She’s unique and a brilliant lyricist.
        I wuld definitely NOT include Taylor Swift whose name seems often to appear in these discussions (She must have an amazing publicity team).I find Paul Simon’s lyrics a little mainstream or constrained (with the exception of Graceland).Bruce Springstein: not for me. Otherwise, a pretty impressive clutch of lyricists.

        • Thanks for writing in! I tend to be more pop-oriented than Jim S in my taste most of the time – it just doesn’t carry through to lyricists.
          John Darnielle is a very good call – I included him on my second list of lyricists, but he should have been on the first. I wouldn’t boot Cave though – I think Cave, Newman, Dylan, and Cohen are the best four.
          I don’t know Joustene Lorenz at all – what sort of music does she make?
          I think Springsteen and Swift have a lot of similarities as lyricists – they both use a lot of car metaphors, they both represent of heartland America, they both tell short stories. So perhaps it’s not surprising that you don’t like either.

        • Top 10 Canadian lyricists of all time :
          10. Burton Cummings (the guess who,etc)
          9. Emily Haines ( metric and broken social scene)
          8. David Foster
          7 Jim Cuddy
          6 . Geddy Lee
          5. Robbie Robertson
          4. Neil Young
          3. Leonard Cohen
          2. Joni Mitchell
          1. Gord Downie.
          If you don’t believe me ask anyone who actually knows their music!

          • Burton Cummings was great at writing Rock lyrics. His stuff was loaded with the kind of verbal hooks that you never forget to go along with the great musical ones. I even love his overwrought and overheated singing cuz it drove the lyrics so deep into your head it would be impossible to forget them. And speaking of overheated and overwrought singing, I also love the much-hated Our Lady Peace. They were one of my favorites of all those 90s grunge bands. If you’re gonna write that type of song, then you might as well go all the way with it. Which they did. The farther you go the better it is. You might as well pull out all the stops. And another favorite Canadian one of mine is Gordon Lightfoot. A lot of times his stuff was the kind of folky type lyrics I hate that are too fancy, but his good lyrics are unusual and really creative and memorable. And of course Joni Mitchell would be at the top of my list and a bunch of the other ones you have here on your list.

          • Oops I forgot Gordon Lightfoot. “Fellas it’s too rough to feed ya”. And also Niko Case – new pornographers and the weaker thans (amazing), and sloane, and the arcade fire. But there can only be 10 in the top 10.
            I would NOT say that our lady peace is hated. But like Billy Talent, Blue Rodeo, the Arkelles, Sam Roberts Band , City in Colour, etc they were always in the shadow of the tragically Hip.
            Actually Hated Canadian bands – nickelback, sum 41, finger11, three days grace.

          • I really didn’t know that all those bands were Canadian. but yeah, OLP got the same kind of ridicule as they did. I didn’t think those band’s lyrics or music were very good. But in Our Lady Peace the guy wrote and sang them with such a naive intensity that it made it fascinating. you could only assume by his intensity that he was totally sincere. And that’s exactly how it came across. Unlike 90% of those kinds of bands. Their music just didn’t go anywhere.

          • Yes great call. FYI in Canada we have roughly four categories of bands/singers:
            1. The mainly disliked (nickel back, sum 41, finger eleven, three days grace, etc)
            2. Forever-loved national treasures (Joni, Cohen, Lighfoot, Neil young and crazy horse, the tragically hip, Sarah Maclachlan, the arcade fire, metic, the guess who, the Band – and such)
            3. Very polarizing – love them or hate them: Justin Beiber, shania Twain, Rush, drake, the weekend, BTO, Celine Dion,
            4. Bands/ people who had their day in the sun but fell off the radar or broke up or became irrelevant for whatever reason: Loverboy, Steppenwolf, Saga, Chilliwack, men without talent/ hats, Avril Levine, Alanis Morisette, Corey Hart, Trooper, Max Webster, April Wine, etc.
            I’m sure Buffy St Marie is in 2. So are people like Ian and Sylvia Tyson.
            BTW you should look up Dean Wareham/Britta Phillips album “Aventura” (from Luna – who are amazing). it’s all covers m, but the best one is “Moonshot” which is a cover of a Buffy St Marie song. YouTube it. You won’t be disappointed!

          • I used to have the album Moonshot but I dont remember it. I like her 60s album Illuminations though. And that album that has her bizarre cover of Circle Game on it, which is great.
            There shouldn’t be any question about BTO being great cuz they were the best hard rock singles band of the 70s. Or Steppenwolf either. Magic Carpet Ride is my number two single of all time and Born to Be Wild in the top 50. Loverboy is kind of questionable though. I kind of like them but they’re hardly great . I even know April Wine and Mahogany Rush because I live in New York State right on the Canadian border and I used to listen to the Toronto radio stations so I heard stuff that you didn’t hear on the American stations. Although a lot of Canadian stuff were regional hits in New York. Things like Bruce Cockburn and Jane Sibbery and stuff like that.

          • Yes he is a kiwi like you and a very talented musician. You should read “black postcards “- his story of galaxie 500 and Luna, and how he left his wife for Britta Phillips. I have seen Luna like 29 times live. Amazing. Def one of the most underrated bands Of all time.

  2. Good review! It is difficult to find someone who combines cool music with great lyrics. When The Byrds took Dylan’s songs in the he 60s, it was magic.

  3. Excellent mix – Cohen would be up there for me too (Gord Downie & Stephen Malkmus would probably be my #1 & #2).
    I’ve only heard the one Gillian Welch album so far but I was really impressed by it!

  4. I would have to have the 3 “S’s” Springsteen, Simon,and Smokey. I cannot disagree with who you have though. I know of most of them but one.
    I saw the earlier comments. Lennon and McCartney…if you take their songs from Rubber Soul on… they contend. Yes you have Maxwell and a few bad ones… but you also have I Am The Walrus, Happiness is a Warm Gun and Fool On The Hill.

  5. Way too many for me to narrow it down. I do like some of your choices. Welch/Westerberg string some good ones together. Randy Newman has so many that i dig. “Big nasty redhead at my side”. Don’t forget ‘Be Bop a Lula’ by Gene Vincent. I’ll stop now.

  6. Oooft. That’s a fine list… best of all time, eh? For me, maybe a few changes, but only to fit in Joe Henry (you knew that was coming, right?), Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Richard Buckner, and Greg Dulli… Mark Lanegan, Neko Case… too tough to pick 10.

      • Awesome! New Pornographers gig, aye? New Dulli album is quite something… I’ve listened to it a fair few times (latest earlier today, actually). It’s a remarkable album. Have you listened to it?

  7. Great list. Can’t argue with some of your choices. I too, believe John Lennon and Paul McCartney deserve to be considered the very best. What about Don Henley and Glen Frey? They gave us some real gems in songs during the 70s, particularly Hotel California and its cryptic undertones. Also love Lyin Eyes. I’m also a big fan of Billie Joe Armstrong’s songwriting. Moreover, Dolly Parton doesn’t get enough love. Also a fan of Johnny Cash and Van Morrison’s songwriting chops.

    • With both of those writing duos, I’d probably zero in on one member – Henley’s a very good lyricist IMO. For some reason I love that line in ‘Boys of Summer’ – “Out on the road today, I saw a deadhead sticker on a cadillac,
      A little voice inside my head said: “Don’t look back, you can never look back.””

    • I never really thought of Eagles, but you’re right that Lyin Eyes is truly great. Even as long as it is you wish it would go on forever. I like songs like that. They have about a dozen other great ones too. but I thought they were better before Hotel California album. there’s only about two on that album that I think are part of their best.

  8. Warren Zevon would be a great addition to the list. His unique style, voice and ability as a lyricist puts him up there with the greats

  9. Fun list. But any vest lyricist lust that excludes Paul Simon and Chuck Berry is incomplete IMO. A good case could also be made for Springsteen, Roger Waters, Pete Townsend, & Ray Davies too. Love Lou, Paul, & Gillian but maybe a bit further down this particular poll.
    I remember seeing Lou on a best guitarist list and I realized that its probably best for me to ignore all lists…ha!

    • IMO, there’s a Mt Rushmore of rock lyricists – Cohen, Newman, Dylan, and Cave. Then there’s basically a pool of worthy contenders, any of whom are good choices. I should do a part 2 sometime with 10 more choices.
      Lou on a best guitarist list is pretty outlandish….

  10. The worst kind of lyrics are the kind that are meant to have meaning, or meant to tell us something important, or meant to tell us something about the person writing and singing them. In other words, the kind that are meant to be taken seriously. Music is not literature or sociology, or poetry or philosophy. More often than not music is ruined by lyrics. The best kind of lyrics are nonsense style lyrics. The kind that at first appear to be saying something but on closer examination are really just a bunch of unrelated phrases and thoughts strung together. These are the best kind because you have to let the music itself create the meaning. Which is the way it’s supposed to be anyway.

    • IMO the worst kind of lyrics is where the message takes priority over the music – examples for me include overtly political music (like Rage Against The Machine) or religious music.

      • Exactly. Only a very few people are able to come up with both the lyrics and the music to support that kind of songwriting. Most people who attempt it come up with neither lyrics or music that are good enough.

        • I think the approach of trying to write impressionist poetry like Nick Drake generally works well. It’s quite genre dependent too, IMO. What works in metal doesn’t work in pop.

  11. And of course, the only real valuable function
    of lyrics is to give you something to sing so you don’t have to hum along to the music. Because it’s more fun to sing than to hum.

  12. Try Mary Chapin Carpenter:-
    “Grief rides quietly on the passenger side
    Unwanted company on a long, long drive
    It turns down the quiet songs and turns up the din
    It goes where you go, it’s been where you’ve been….”

  13. If you want upbeat country rock mixed with moving ballads then go for Come On, Come On or maybe Shooting Straight In The Dark or Hometown Girl.
    If you want seriously emotional, but musically sombre stuff try Between Here and Gone and Ashes And Roses. Some heartbreaking songs on those.
    Check out my reviews – I’ve done all her albums. Her material is very close to my heart, and has been for years, but it is only to be listened to every now and again.

  14. Paul Simon.
    Two more under the radar lyricists are Aaron Weiss and Connor Oberst. The former is relatively unknown because his band is pretty niche but he has some wonderful lyrics. Early in his career they were unbearably real and raw and then they became poetic, layered, and allegorical. Highly recommend reading his lyrics.

  15. I listen to many types of music. I believe Gord Downie is the greatest lyricist of two generations. He is unequalled in terms of thought fullness and versatility.
    Hip fans have the lyrics of 200 songs in their heads every day of their lives, living just under the surface – born ready for you.
    Listen for yourselves and see if I’m right – illusions of Sunday…

  16. Warren Zevon for sure. There’s plenty of songs where the lyrics blend with the rest, but Zevon has lyrics that bite you and make you feel sympathetic to whatever outlaw, mercenary, or full blown wack-a-loon he chooses to be.

  17. Top ten Gord Downie lyrical moments
    10. The Rules – phantom Power. “Cars scream at bikes and bikes scream at trucks, motorists curse their lousy luck,, crossing guards not doing his job,,,”
    9. Throwing off Glass – in violet light
    “ why is the world so creepy she asked ? Backseat full of the boys .. and then just like after she heard, the word “iredessent “ everything was irredesent for awhile”
    8. Wheat kings – fully completely “sundown in the Paris of the prairies, wheat kings and all the treasures buried, all you hear are the rustic breezes. Pushing around weathervane Jesus “
    7, poets – phantom power – “lava’s flowing in the farmers direction. He’s been getting relief from the heat in the frozen food section”
    6. Ahead by a century- trouble in the henhouse – “ illusions of Sunday, no dress rehearsal.. this is our life. And that’s when the hornet stung me… and I had a feverish dream, of revenge and doubt”
    5. Bobcageon- phantom power – “ could have been the willie Nelson, could have been the wine…”
    4. Vapour trails – phantom power – “ I pull the car on over, to give you a ride, but there’s nothing uglier than a man hitting his stride”
    3. Pigeon Camera – fully completely – “he was handsome at the auction, “
    2. Scared – day for night – “you’re in Russia and with a million works of art. When the Nazis find the whole place dark, I think god’s left the museum for good”
    1. Flamenco – trouble in the henhouse “ maybe a prostitute could teach you.. how to take a compliment “

    • I can understand why you like these lyrics, Andrew. They’re fine. They do a job. It’s hard to demarcate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ lyrics because so much of language is shaped around a listener’s experiences, including their linguistic experiences. I love poety and read poetry every day. So, I enjoy lyrics that build their imagery and tropes with the same emotional force as a good poem. It’s easy to write ordinary lyrics that sre riddled with cliché language and experience. ‘S/he broke my hear sort of stuff’. It’ much harder to write songs that explore experiences in a novel and emotionally generative way. So: for me it’s the old legends (Dylan, Cohen, Mitchell) and more recent songwriters like John Darnielle and Joustene Lorenz. But I entirely respect your views and personal experience.

  18. Striking that Robert Hunter isn’t mentioned anywhere. I think he gets lost within the band, but he was a pretty outstanding lyricist.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I do think that the Grateful Dead haven’t aged as well as some of their contemporaries, I don’t hear them talked about much and haven’t listened to anything past the two acoustic albums from around 1970.

  19. Here’s the interesting thing, Jeff… Gord Downie (RIP) actually did try his hand at writing a book of actual poetry.
    And it didn’t go over so well. You can look it up
    But he’s the greatest musical lyricist of our generation. IMO.
    Who is better?? Not Taylor Swift or Carlie Jepson or people who don’t even write their own music.
    And Dylan won the Nobel for “she breaks, just like a woman”? Which is barely even English.
    If anyone listens to the words and does a blind taste test – that would be good.

  20. Good list. One major oversight that no one seems to have mentioned in the comments. Morrissey. He could write circles around half these lyricists. His use of irony is at the level of Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain. He can write a line so dense that hundreds of images flood your head. Examples: “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools. Spineless swines. Cemented minds.” “You can pin and mount me like a butterfly.”
    He can be very humorous often in self deprecation. “I am the son and the heir of nothing in particular.” “I was looking for a job and then I found a job. And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”
    Some of his song titles alone: “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.” “Girlfriend in a Coma.” “Barbarism Begins at Home.”
    A very literate writer that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best like Dylan and Cohen.

  21. Morissey is a king of music – and lyrics. Actually an unusual combination
    Incidentally Cohen and Gord Downie both passed in the same year. Canada’s two greatest music poets ever
    (and Joni and Robbie and Neil but they are all three alive and kicking)

  22. I really enjoy this conversation. I compiled a list of the most ‘poetic’ lyricists. Some overlap, but I like some of the recent female lyricists as well. The Big Three overlap—Cohen, Dylan, Mitchell. But the others—Joustene Lorenz, Lucy Dacus, John Darnielle (Mountain Goats), Ben Gibberd (Death Cab),God Help the Girl, Sufjen Stevens, Maggie Rogers, Aimee Mann, Becker/Fagen, etc. If I were to single one person who I think could rise to the Big Three, it would be Joustene Lorenz.She’s put out two albums and is about to release a third. https://open.spotify.com/artist/0RKmSb6Sz0gkSyYwzmvrf9
    My list of poetic lyrivists—https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6vruBKurEcki05TR5Pk6xw

    • I agree with the comment that popular songs often have meaningless lyrics. It’s why I rarely listen to pop. But I’ve taken up the Joustene uggestion.

    • I listened to some Joustene Lorenz yesterday. I am already familiar with most of the other artists – I have been listening to Dacus a bit recently, and I liked Maggie Rogers’ album when it came out. Becker/Fagen is a big oversight on my part though – they should really be one of these lists somewhere. Darnielle is on the second list, and probably deserves to be on the first.

      • I’m having this conversation with my partner who also tends to overlook many female artists. I just love Joustene’s evocative and intriguing lyrics. I love her music. As an independent artist, the production is limited, but the songs are unique. I just found her by accident, recommended by a Spotify acquaintance. I think your list is fantastic, but there’s not much new stuff. that’s my only observation. Pbviously the recent artists can;t compare with people who have been in the business for forty + years—but their individual songs can. I really don’t think much of Taylor Swift’s music, though. I just find it riddled with clichEes. Overy familiar motifs with uninteresting and worn-down themes Nothing original that I’ve ever heard. But that’s why I like people like Joustene and John Darnielle. Yes: you have to work at it. But wasn’t that also true of Cohen and Dylan in those early days? Joustene and John are poets. Good luck to everyone else in the lists. I guess it comes down to personal preference. I like lyrics that are stunning, evocative, powerful and unique.

        • Apologies for all the typos in that post. I was just trying to make the point that some of us love poetic, evocative and adventurous lyrics. I know it’s minority taste and most people want to be entertained, more than moved or challenged…That’s fair enough… Good luck to everyone else and their respective tastes.

  23. I googled ‘best lyricists’ because I was looking for someone new and interesting (especially female). So this list contains everyone I might have heard of. A great list with a few I’d question—but that’s just a matter of taste, I suppose. But I did follow up one new name—Joustene Lorenz. And I really do think she’s extraordinary. She offers a rich poetry that I haven’t heard before. A genuinely female perspective of the world but not clichés of ‘me too’ or all men are bastards. Quite the opposite. Thoroughly human—reflective, emotional, sensual, philosophical and political. Wow. She really is something else. There’s so much music and noise around these days, it’s hard to find someone who is genuinely original. Thank you for the alert!

  24. I love these lyrics and some of the writers, though I don’t know them all. I write lyrics and poetry, and also play music, though I’m a newbie. I write a kind of freestyle lyricist as far as strict lyrical meter goes, which might be a bit rare. My lyrics are far different from almost anything on radio, top 40 or mainstream. But i get inspired and I write a certain kind of way. Which is to say I write inspired lyrics in different moods and ways all the time. I change things up, and I can write in different ways as far as topics and approaches. It’s how I am.

    It’ll be interesting to see how people respond to them because I’m going to publish several of them soon. They’re largely inspirational, but some are quirky and dark, and likely not similar to some inspirational songs out there. Many spiritual or inspirational songs I hear are uplifting, innocent and kind of happy. Which is awesome. But mine vary from uplifting to topics like depression, fighting suicide, homelessness and struggling with Faith. Not happy face topics, but truthful 1’s I think more inspirational artists need to address. I think they’re lyrics that some people can relate to. We’ll see. Thanks for this awesome list. I love Leonard Cohen! 😃

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