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Singer-Songwriters: The 100 Greatest Songs

Celebrating the 100 greatest songs from singer-songwriters from the last seven decades, including the best from Bob Dylan and Elton John.

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Singer-Songwriters The 100 Greatest Songs

In a time long ago – well, sometime before the early 60s – songwriters wrote songs and singers sang them. It was less often that people did both. Of course, there were exceptions; arguably it was the coming of Bob Dylan that signalled a great leap forward for singer-songwriters.

But, cast your mind back, if you can, to March 1962 and the release of Dylan’s self-titled debut album. Of the 13 songs on the album, just two were written by the Bobster. Five were Dylan’s arrangements of traditional songs, two were other people’s arrangements of traditional songs, and there were covers of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jesse Fuller, Bukka White and Curtis Jones. It wasn’t until a year later, in May 1963, that Bob’s second album revealed his emerging songwriting talents: 11 of its 13 tracks were Dylan originals. Two months earlier and Lennon and McCartney wrote eight of the 14 tracks on The Beatles’ debut album. It was something of a turning point.

Dylan came out of the folk tradition, and it was the acoustic-folk genre that was – and remains – the spiritual home of the singer-songwriter, where performers tend to provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song, typically using a guitar or piano. The political protest songs of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie are what people thought of as singer-songwriters before Dylan, but by 1963 there was a subtle shift that accelerated as the 60s advanced. Even before that time, however, singers such as Hank Williams were forging a place in musical history where they wrote and performed their own songs, though they were often backed by a group, which causes some to forget that Williams was a true singer-songwriter.

Go back a little further and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Son House and others from the Mississippi Delta were doing just the same in the 30s. Add to that list Robert Johnson, who created a canon second to none of songs that have been covered by countless others ever since. But at the same time, never forget that when Johnson was playing juke joints and house rent parties, he would frequently cover the hits of Bing Crosby who was singing songs from the writers that frequented New York’s Tin Pan Alley. He, like so many performers, was trying to entertain and earn a crust… the covers band and covers singer is a proud tradition. Recently someone posted a video online of a guy with a guitar covering Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ on stage at a hotel, somewhere in America; Stevie himself was in the hotel and he went on stage to join the unknown performer to sing his own composition. Somehow it feels like the tradition finally came full circle.

We have tried to come up with the ultimate playlist of the greatest songs performed and written by singer-songwriters. It includes all the usual suspects, From Dylan, Elton and Stevie to Carole King, Joni and Dolly. It also unearths some real gems by singer-songwriters who have crafted superb songs that forced their way into our list.

There’s Scott Walker’s ‘Such A Small Love’, from his debut solo album; one of Canada’s finest songwriter-singers, Gino Vannelli and ‘Gypsy Days’ Nashville’s Gretchen Peters’ ‘Secret Of Life’, Clifford T Ward’s ‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’ and Stephen Bishop’s ‘On and On’. Which is just what we could do with this list… The 70s was the heyday of the singer-songwriter, but they are as meaningful today as they’ve ever been.

So what are the 100 greatest songs?

100. Skin – Rag’n’Bone Man

99. This Masquerade – Leon Russell

98. Perfect Day – Lou Reed

97. Okie From Muskogee – Merle Haggard

96. Fidelity – Regina Spektor

95. Actor Out Of Work – St. Vincent

94. Lonely At The Top – Randy Newman

93. Suedehead – Morrissey

92. Southern Nights – Allen Toussaint

91. Chicago – Sufjan Stevens

 

90. Drop The Pilot – Joan Armatrading

89. Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

88. Luka – Suzanne Vega

87. The Last Living Rose – PJ Harvey

86. Wild World – Yusuf/Cat Stevens

85. Everything Is Everything – Ms. Lauryn Hill

84. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon

83. Cornflake Girl – Tori Amos

82. Land Locked Blues – Bright Eyes

81. Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple

 

80. Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler

79. Fist City – Loretta Lynn

78. Record Year – Eric Church

77. Traveller – Chris Stapelton

76. Merry Go ‘Round – Kasey Musgraves

75. Royals – Lorde

74. Downtown Train – Tom Waits

73.  Where I Stood – Missy Higgins

72. Perfect Skin – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

71. If It Makes You Happy – Sheryl Crow

 

70. Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty

69. Going To A Town – Rufus Wainwright

68. Capsized – Andrew Bird

67. American Pie – Don McLean

66. Miss Misery – Elliot Smith

65. For A Change – Chris Difford

64. Maggie May – Rod Stewart

63. On and On – Stephen Bishop

62. Being With You – Smokey Robinson

61. Garden Party – Rick Nelson, The Stone Canyon Band

 

60. Draw Of The Cards – Kim Carnes

59. The Immigrant – Neil Sedaka

58. Home Thoughts From Abroad – Clifford T. Ward

57. Superstition – Stevie Wonder

56. Life On Mars – David Bowie

55. Song To The Siren – Tim Buckley

54. New Kid In Town – JD Souther

53. The End of Innocence – Don Henley

52. Desperados Waiting For A Train – Guy Clark

51. Boulder To Birmingham – Emmylou Harris

 

50. She – Gram Parsons

49. Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down – Kris Kristofferson

48. Copperhead Road – Steve Earle

47. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson

46. The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot

45. Cat’s In The Cradle – Harry Chaplin

44. Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams

43. Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins) – Father John Misty

42. Lost Cause – Beck

41. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

 

40. Piano Man – Billy Joel

39. On The Road Again – Willie Nelson

38. Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush

37. Rollin’ And Tumblin’ – Muddy Waters

36. Alison – Elvis Costello

35. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

34. Solid Air – John Martyn

33. Come Away With Me – Norah Jones

32. Jolene – Dolly Parton

31. Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams, Drifting Cowboys

 

30. Longer – Dan Fogelberg

29. At Seventeen – Janis Ian

28. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan

27. The Secret of Life – Gretchen Peters

26. We’re All Alone – Boz Scaggs

25. Gypsy Days – Gino Vannelli

24. Running On Empty – Jackson Browne

23. Pink Moon – Nick Drake

22. Lady-O – Judee Sill

21. Traction In The Rain – David Crosby

 

20. Fire and Rain – James Taylor

19. Yesterday – Paul McCartney

18. On The Border – Al Stewart

17. Into The Mystic – Van Morrison

16. Field of Gold – Sting

15. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen

14. Heart of Gold – Neil Young

13. Such A Small Love – Scott Walker

12. How Can We Hang On To A Dream – Tim Hardin

11. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon

 

10. Late Night Grande Hotel – Nanci Griffith

9. Constant Craving – k.d. lang

8. Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell

7. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison

6. Stony End – Laura Nyro

5. You’re So Vain – Carly Simon

4. Imagine – John Lennon

3. It’s Too Late – Carole King

2. Your Song – Elton John

1. Who Knows Where The Time Goes – Sandy Denny

 

75 Comments

75 Comments

  1. Bob

    January 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    No Jihn Prine????

  2. Mike

    January 28, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Useless list. No Peter Gabriel? You have no cred.

    • Paul

      July 13, 2019 at 2:12 am

      No Brian Wilson?!? Really?!?

  3. Eric West

    January 28, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    No Jimmy Buffett? 35 plus albums, 90% of which he wrote, and 50 years in the business and not one tune? Even Dylan said in Rolling Stone that his favorite song written tune is Buffetts “Captain and the Kid.”

    • uDiscover

      January 28, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Eric, we agree, we think we should have had Jimmy!

    • Ginger_Holt

      January 28, 2017 at 10:44 pm

      Thank you!! All those years, all those amazing songs. Great oversight. Jimmy Buffett, the song writer’s song writer.

  4. Simon Thomas

    January 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Beth Hart doesn’t make the list, but James Blunt does. This is how commercial music is I suppose.

  5. Mike

    January 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Useless list. No Peter Gabriel? You have no cred. And no Sting. Shsme. Shame.

    • uDiscover

      January 28, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Sting is there…

  6. Aydon

    January 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Jon Bon Jovi?
    Mic Jagger?
    Freddie Mercury?
    Linda Ronstadt?

  7. Gusknows

    January 28, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    How bout these. The Band, Chicago, Pink Floyd? No offense to Warren, but Werewolves and 25 or 6 to 4 or any one of other Chixago hits arent on the list. The Weight? Money? Your list is seriously flawed.

    • uDiscover

      January 28, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      It’s singer-songwriters…not groups!

  8. CD the Rock

    January 28, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    No Hotel California??? Really?? Really??? Like Really Really??

    • uDiscover

      January 28, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      It’;s by a group, not a solo singer…

  9. .m

    January 28, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    No Jeff Buckley? Or did I miss it? Bjork?

  10. tom

    January 28, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    No Garth Brooks?, no Buck Owens, where is Dwight Yoakam? Adele? Did I miss Chuck Berry on that list? the fact that you put some guy named Scott Walker on this list shows pretty much that you don;t know what you’re talking about, and honestly if I truly gave it some real thought, I’m sure you’re missing a ton of credible songwriters. Where is Joe Jackson? El Paso by Marty Robbins. . not on the list?

  11. dBay920

    January 28, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I normally don’t complain about lists but Bob Marley needs to be on here.

  12. Roddyra

    January 28, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    No Jimi Hendrix, these list are unreal x

  13. Bridog

    January 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Did I miss Bruce Springsteen on the list?
    Last time I checked he told pretty good stories in his songs.

  14. Rb3mergie

    January 28, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    No townes van Zandt?

    • Scott_Bell2

      January 29, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      I 2nd that question!

  15. clubredken

    January 28, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    No Taylor Swift? She’s the Springsteen of our generation

  16. Jon

    January 28, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    This would have been a much more interesting list if you’d treated “singer-songwriter” as the genre it is, as opposed to considering every solo artist that ever wrote one of their own tracks. Your definition is overly broad, and as a result not really helpful.

    To me the genre is about lyrics over melody, sparse orchestration, a light touch at the mixing board, and personal themes.

    I love Elton John, but I don’t think of him as a singer-songwriter as the term is commonly understood. Ditto Rod Stewart, Hendrix, or Stevie Wonder.

  17. Paul

    January 28, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    No Paul Simon, Prince, Stephen Stills or Peter Gabriel.
    What was the criteria for selection?

  18. Ron

    January 28, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    Bernie Taupin writes Elton John songs

  19. Josh feller

    January 28, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    No Billy joel. . . Serious?

  20. Jim taggert

    January 28, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    Nothing from The New Holsteins??

  21. Paul Castle

    January 29, 2017 at 12:15 am

    I would have found space for Jimmy Webb, Bruce Cockburn, Jackson C. Frank, Ry Cooder, and Shawn Colvin

  22. Deborah

    January 29, 2017 at 12:35 am

    Royals is on this list, but not Bohemian Rhapsody? Queen should have been on this list. It’s pretty good. I agree with many of these songs, but I feel there were a few artist who’s impact was too profound to be over looked.

  23. Donald Sutherland

    January 29, 2017 at 3:06 am

    I took the time to read this drival. Such a waste of everything. You did try however. Sort of.

  24. Vanessa

    January 29, 2017 at 3:08 am

    What no John Denver, he was definitely a singer-song writer.

  25. Stephanie

    January 29, 2017 at 3:15 am

    Harry Chapin and John Denver

  26. Glenn Henderson

    January 29, 2017 at 3:26 am

    Kristoffersonn (Me and Maggie McGee (covered by another 40+ Artists, For the Good Times, Monday Morning coming down). Chuck Berry!!! The King of guitar rock and roll. Wilson Pickett ( don’t know if he wrote but his renditions changed the songs), Mustang Sally must have been covered at least 50 times. More recently Darius Rucker (both as Hootie and under his own full name). There are a lot missing.

  27. Bill

    January 29, 2017 at 3:28 am

    Harry Nilsson? Lennon/McCartney? Simon & Garfunkel? Jimmy Webb? Phil and Don Everly? Buddy Holly?

  28. Danny Holmes

    January 29, 2017 at 4:28 am

    No Neil Finn songs? The best songwriter apres Lennon & McCartney!

  29. metal rocks!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2017 at 4:45 am

    No twisted sister, def leppard, guns n roses, ozzy Osbourne/black sabbath ?
    More 80’s metal!!!!!

  30. metal rocks!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Oh ya and jimi hendrix!

  31. Peter McLean

    January 29, 2017 at 6:36 am

    No Prince!!! WTF???

  32. David O'Donnell

    January 29, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Never heard of John Stewart? Mother Country alone is better than three quarters of the stuff on that list.

  33. Dr Rich

    January 29, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Please commenters – at least try to understand what a singer/songwriter is. I don’t agree with many of these either, and could name a bunch of artists who should be on the list, but if you are going to comment, please try to stick the singer/songwriter criteria. OTOH, a good argument could be made that those who are most famous for being in bands (McCartney, Knopfler. etc..) should not be represented.

  34. John Eskola

    January 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Gino Vannelli, not Gino Vanilla

  35. Scott_Bell2

    January 29, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Dax Riggs should be on this list

  36. Steve

    January 29, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    No Layla? Born To Run? Shine On You Crazy Diamond? This list blows

  37. Glenn

    January 29, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    Really. JJ Cale not here. RUNNING ON EMPTY hardly Jackson Brownes best. PORTABELLO BELLE Dire Straights. NO Bruce Springsteen! No Night Moves Bob Seeger. ERIC! JIMMY BUFFET! You need a new job. Your list blows. LYLE LOVETT! JOHN Mellencamp. ROLLING STONES come on. Led Zep! Eurythmics! BUFFALO Springfield!! DOOBIES!

  38. Frank

    January 29, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Clapton ???

  39. Danny

    January 30, 2017 at 11:12 am

    No….jimi Hendrix. No…Jim Morrison…..no Kurt Cobain….no blowing in the wind or times a changing by Bob Dylan….bad list

  40. John Herzog

    January 30, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Where is Neil Young,John Prine,Bob Seeger,Waylon Jennings,Hoyt Axton,Jimmy Buffet and Neil Diamond

  41. Babs

    January 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    No John Prine?

  42. mike

    January 31, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    This list will never please everybody, but still of the artist included often its not evan their best work. Okie from Muskogee for Mr. Haggard? I can list 10 of his songs as good or better, same for Warren Zevon and Heart of Gold for Neil Youngs only entry? Have you heard any other Neil Young. And finally did I miss Johnny Cash on this list? How about Jim Croce, or Rodney Crowell, or Roger Miller, and the list goes on.The list shows a bias toward more commercial songs and the is seldom the best work of an artist. Nice try though.

  43. Jerry

    January 31, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Isn’t even close to being the 100 best!!

  44. Rich Curtis

    February 1, 2017 at 6:42 am

    This is an absolutely terrible list. There were some songs I wouldn’t include in a list of the Top 500 songs, let alone the Top 100. Who came up with this terrible list – the Three Stooges? Barney Fife? Britney Spears? The Little Rascals? The Marx Brothers?

    Total garbage!

  45. Juan C.

    February 6, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    Not Peter Hammil ? and yes Tom Petty, this list is a real shit.

  46. allen

    February 12, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    No muddy waters, or any of the blues greats whose foundation of pop and r&b hinges on? No temptations? I mean out of 100, please, I could go on no need. Somebody done bumped their head.

  47. tom

    June 24, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    thankless task doing a list like this. it does open up some artists you aren’t aware of i suppose. now my moan at a couple of omissions lol Albert Hammond and Bobby Goldsboro?

  48. CarolL

    October 9, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    How could Dave Cousin’s (Strawbs) masterpiece, “Blue Angel” not make this list? Whole lot of people missing on this list. Neil Diamond? Carole King? John Denver? Jimi Hendrix? Prince? Michael Jackson? Meh…

  49. Firannion

    October 9, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Steve Goodman should definitely be on here – for ‘City of New Orleans’ if nothing else.

    Still, I’m delighted to see Sandy Denny in the top spot, and Richard Thompson making the list at all (though I’d argue that ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ belongs higher up).

  50. Arthur

    October 10, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Rubbish list , no Buddy Holly, Eric Carmen , Ian Dury, Shane MacGowan,Robert Plant, Ian Anderson , Otis Redding, Muddy Waters ,Howlin Wolf & Bruce Springsteen. On top of that people like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney & John Lennon should have dominated on the list

  51. Carole

    January 16, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    What about I Will Always Love You? by Dolly Parton?

  52. Margaret

    January 16, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    I can’t believe Tom T. Hall didn’t make this list.

  53. Robert Ohlemeyer

    January 19, 2018 at 4:45 am

    Roger Miller “King of the Road”

  54. JIM

    January 21, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    BEE GEES

  55. Jim Figgerty

    January 22, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Del Shannon

  56. Greer

    July 30, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    Sia should have made the list.

  57. Carol L

    October 25, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Someone mentioned Dave Cousins “Blue Angel”. Carole King, John Denver, Neil Diamond, Prince, Jewell. Loreena McKennitt (amazing Canadian artist), Sarah McLachlan, Roger Whittaker. No Arlo Guthrie? “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”? Where is David Bowie??? And I agree that Sia should be here as well.

  58. Catowner

    January 16, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    Pleased to see Zevon, but WEREWOLVES??? Really???

  59. Tim Ingram

    January 17, 2019 at 2:28 am

    John Prine, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett. C’mon, you’ve got to do better.

  60. Hesh Meister

    January 17, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    Does Elton John count if he only writes the music? His most famous lyrics came largely from Bernie Taupin, as is well known.

  61. Hesh Meister

    January 17, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    as for “Superstition,” it’s a Jeff Beck song, covered and made famous by Stevie Wonder.

  62. Mitchell

    January 17, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    George Michael!? Hello?!

  63. Jim Figgerty

    January 18, 2019 at 12:42 am

    Del Shannon. Del Shannon.

  64. Juan

    January 20, 2019 at 3:45 am

    No Prince ?? No Todd Rundgren ?? You must be joking !!

  65. Ivan Morais

    January 25, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    O problema de vocês americanos, europeus, é acharem que estão sozinhos no mundo.Na música brasileira existem centenas de grandes cantores-compositores iguais ou melhores do que a maioria desses aí listados. Uma pena que vocês ignorem.

    • Fernandoramos196@yahoo.es

      January 28, 2019 at 12:21 am

      Me interesó el titulo de esa relación
      Cree conocer la música contemporánea y los 600 géneros, son cientos de cantantes y grupos que han aportado al música no necesaria mente tienen que ser cantante solo hicieron una canción porque es difícil tener un éxito todos tocan, interpretan es un un minúsculo grupo el brilla
      Pero me %su trabajo, la broma de que vía hizo la lista es la peor
      Me gustaría aportar a la buena musica que quieren esa élite de buenos y exigentes conocedores,satisfacerlos
      Muy pronto lanzate un trabajo y como aporte a conocer y mejor la buena musica
      Gracias x permitirme participar es de disco
      La buena música es hermosa algunismpositor y cantante son excepciónes elvis Presley, Beatles, Santana, machael Jackson,, Bee gees, Eric clapton, algunos

  66. Linda

    November 13, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Bohemian Rhapsody should be No 1 on this list. Most people would agree with this. Most famous song in the world. Also written by Freddie Mercury. Much as I love Elton John, he didn’t write his lyrics.

  67. Nancy Garreaud

    November 22, 2019 at 6:21 am

    Give me an effing break. Half of these songs suck.

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