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Musicians Who Are Poets: 12 Game-Changing Lyrical Masters

From awards-laden lyricists to those whose creativity has reached new heights of expression, these musicians could – and should – be considered poets.

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Photo: Spud Murphy © Yoko Ono (John Lennon), James O’Mara (Joni Mitchell)

A master of what many would deem “poetic lyrics,” Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature in October 2016, reigniting the long-running debate over whether song lyrics should be considered poetry. For many, the fact that the success of a song lyric tends to hinge upon on its accompanying music, the voices that sing it, and the performance itself means that it cannot be considered poetry. Yet before the written word, poetry was performed and passed on through song. The thing that sets poetry apart from prose is that its impact depends on a musicality in language and rhythm, much like a song lyric. However you see it, there are many musicians who are poets in their fans’ eyes, and their song lyrics are taken seriously today – studied in classrooms and published as annotated, hardback collections.

Here, then, is our pick of just a few lyricists that many would consider poets.

John Lennon

These days it’s difficult to imagine a member of the biggest band on the planet releasing a couple of volumes of absurdist poetry a few years into their career. But with the publication of In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works, in 1964 and ’65, respectively, that’s exactly what John Lennon did. His poetry, much like his lyrics, demonstrated his idiosyncratic worldview, delighting in wordplay and surrealist visions, and often drawing upon deeply personal and traumatic events. Take, for example, “Our Dad,” which begins “It wasn’t long before old dad/Was cumbersome – a drag/He seemed to get the message and/Began to pack his bag.” It’s no stretch at all to compare this poem about his father’s abandonment of his family with similarly soul-baring later song lyrics like “Mother” and “Julia.”

Lennon’s lyrics matured quickly as The Beatles soared to success. While the plea of “Please Please Me” was as straightforward as they came, before long Lennon’s work was ambiguous and seemingly full of several meanings at once (“A Day In The Life,” “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “I Am The Walrus”), while his solo work found him capable of great vulnerability (“Jealous Guy”), vitriol (“Give Me Some Truth”) and mass communication through universal messages (“Imagine”).

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Paul McCartney

John Lennon’s songwriting partner was no lyrical slouch, either. Over the course of a remarkable career, Paul McCartney at his best has proven himself an astute chronicler of the world around him and of the human condition – a poet, in other words. Plenty of his lyrics (“Penny Lane,” “Eleanor Rigby”) came from places in his past; his gift has been to find stories in them and to make them universal. We all understand the tug of nostalgia that comes from the lyrics of “Penny Lane,” despite never having been there.

Equally, McCartney was capable of eloquently talking about topical concerns, from the generation gap opening in the 60s (“She’s Leaving Home”) to civil rights in the US (“Blackbird”). Later albums like Chaos And Creation In The Backyard showed a mature poet of rare sensitivity still making sense of the world around him. The publication of Blackbird Singing: Poems And Lyrics 1965-1999, in 2001, meanwhile, saw previously unseen poems nestle among famous lyrics, suggesting that McCartney had privately been writing poetry for some time.

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Bob Dylan

When Playboy had the gall to ask Bob Dylan what his songs were about in a 1966 interview, his answer was typically offbeat and elusive: “Oh, some are about four minutes; some are about five; and some, believe it or not, are about 11.”

In roughly four years he’d turned the idea of what a song lyric could do on its head and had already become weary of the world attempting to catch up with him. He’d outgrown his extraordinary ability (especially considering his tender age and comfortable background) to write empathetic and universal protest songs (“Blowin’ In The Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “With God On Our Side”) and turned his hand to surrealist masterpieces (“Mr Tambourine Man,” “Visions Of Johanna,” “Desolation Row”). He also showed a true poet’s romantic streak with a knack for documenting tangled matters of the heart (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “To Ramona,” “Just Like A Woman”).

In the decades since his initial run of mould-breaking lyrics, Dylan has demonstrated his versatility as a poet with everything from space- and time-shifting narratives (“Tangled Up In Blue,” “Brownsville Girl”) to ruminations on mortality and morality (“Not Dark Yet,” “Man In The Long Black Coat”), and that’s just scratching the surface. And in his championing of poets, from Rimbaud to the Beats to Robert Burns, there’s every chance that Dylan may have done more than anyone to further the profile of poetry since the 60s.

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Jim Morrison

Even within the context of the 60s, The Doors’ musical mix of jazz, blues and lysergic rock, sitting beneath Jim Morrison’s visionary lyrics, was decidedly avant-garde. “You could call us erotic politicians,” Morrison once said. Regardless of whether that’s your thing or not, the late Doors frontman was most certainly a poet. From the experimental musical and lyrical interplay of “Horse Latitudes” to subversive hits “Light My Fire” and epic statements such as “The End” and “When The Music’s Over,” Morrison brought a poet’s abandonment of the senses to his lyric-writing. He also published a collection of verse during his lifetime, The Lords And The New Creatures, and made a number of spoken-word recordings before his death. Elements of these were revisited by the surviving Doors in 1978 and released posthumously as An American Prayer.

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Joni Mitchell

While pop-song lyrics had been traditionally preoccupied with affairs of the heart, the way Joni Mitchell approached such things was different. Her songs analyze people’s behaviours with the perception and incisiveness of the best poetry (“Coyote,” “Court And Spark,” “Cactus Tree”) and, when turning the spotlight on herself, she revealed a poet’s flair for open-hearted vulnerability and self-examination (“Blue,” “Song For Sharon,” “Little Green”). Whether discussing ecological issues (“Big Yellow Taxi”), artistic integrity (“For Free,” “The Boho Dance,” “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio”), or the historical suffering of women (“Sex Kills,” “The Magdalene Laundries”), Mitchell’s lyrics are uncompromising but never hectoring. Further proof of her lyrics as poems: due to be published in October 2019 is Morning Glory On The Vine, a reproduction of a collection of handwritten lyrics and paintings that was originally created as a Christmas present for Mitchell’s friends and family in 1971.

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Leonard Cohen

When discussing his admiration for Federico García Lorca’s poetry, Leonard Cohen managed to hit upon the crux of his own appeal: “I think that’s what you look for when you read poetry; you look for someone to illuminate a landscape that you thought you alone walked on.” With his writing, Cohen did exactly that – his gift of insight lit up the lives of readers and listeners, and continues to do so after his passing. The publication of his final volume of poetry, The Flame, in 2018 proved that until the end he was as concerned as ever with heavenly virtues, deadly sins and a good helping of dry humor – often in the same poem.

Betraying his dour reputation, Cohen’s songs and poetry were wryly humorous; his propensity for self-examination was always served with a knowing wink. Thanks to the seeming solemnity of his delivery, however, especially in those image-shaping early albums, his humor may have been missed by the casual listener. It’s no wonder he was misunderstood by many. Before him, pop singers were not expected to deal in brooding contemplation. In later work, Cohen discussed politics, love and – increasingly – mortality with similar levels of nuance and grace, his words as at home on the page as they were accompanying his melodies.

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Tupac Shakur

Though Tupac Shakur died at the tender age of 25, he left behind a body of work that changed hip-hop and continues to inspire rappers to this day. 2Pac brought a progressive sensibility to his lyrics, discussing social issues with a sensitivity far removed from the gangsta rap of the day. And he began by dabbling in verse, as he explained in 1995: “I started off with poetry. With writing poetry, in junior high and high school. And poets, I saw, were looked on as wimps. So, I started turning [my] poetry into songs, and that got more attention… It is my opinion that I started to rap when I was writing poetry… Rap is poetry, to me.”

Whether discussing the difficulties facing single mothers (“Keep Ya Head Up,” “Brenda’s Got A Baby”), issues around gang culture (“Changes,” “Trapped”), or celebrating women (“Dear Mama”), Tupac’s socially conscious lyrics have the deftness of touch and sensitivity of poetry.

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Patti Smith

Famously considering herself a “poet sidetracked by music,” Patti Smith’s first performance wasn’t in CBGB but at St Mark’s Church In-The-Bowery, New York, opening for the poet Gerard Malanga on February 10, 1971. That evening, Smith (mentored by Allen Ginsberg) performed her poetry punctuated by blasts from Lenny Kaye’s electric guitar, sowing the seeds for her groundbreaking and inestimably influential 1975 debut album, Horses. Smith would publish four collections of poetry before the release of that album, and her parallel careers as poet and recording artist have co-existed happily since, with lyrics that blur the boundaries between the two.

Despite her music laying the foundations for punk, Smith’s writing couldn’t be further from the thoughtless nihilism (not much poetry there) adopted by her less-talented followers. Smith’s poetry has an unquenchable love for life which can take the form of principled rhetoric, ecstatic reveries on love and spirituality, and confrontational truths. A hard-fought, unfailing optimism is present throughout her work, singing from the page as strongly as it does from her songs. There’s poetry in every corner of Smith’s discography, from “The Coral Sea” (about the late Robert Mapplethorpe, set to Kevin Shields’ guitar) to Easter’s “Babelogue” and even in her version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” complete with spoken-word breakdown.

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Lou Reed

The 2018 publication of Do Angels Need Haircuts?: Early Poems By Lou Reed shed light on a period in Lou Reed’s life in which the ex-Velvet Underground lynchpin had put rock’n’roll aside in favor of verse. The work collected came from a period between summer 1970 and spring 1971, during which the chronicler of New York’s seedy yet glamorous underbelly had moved back into his parents’ Long Island home and concentrated his efforts on poetry. Much of it was later published in Rolling Stone along with a succession of poetry periodicals.

Of course, Reed had a change of heart and embarked upon a hugely successful solo career, but his writing retained a unique sensibility that marked his work out as poetry to be reckoned with. As a songwriter he was fascinated with society’s fringes (“Walk On The Wild Side,” “Street Hassle,” “Dirty Blvd”); had an often-disarming ability to speak plaintively of love (“I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Satellite Of Love”); was unflinching in his depictions of drug use (“Heroin,” “Waves Of Fear”); and revelled in charged melodrama (all of the Berlin album). Had he pursued a life away from music in favour of poetry, his writing, you feel, wouldn’t have been much different.

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Kendrick Lamar

On awarding the Pulitzer prize for music to Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 third album proper, DAMN., the committee described it as a “virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” They’re right, Lamar’s work is fearless, multi-faceted, perceptive, boundary-smashing and philosophical. Sounds like poetry to us.

Within two years of its release, Lamar’s essential 2012 album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was the subject of an English composition course at Georgia Regents University. From there, his work has reached new heights of excellence with the staggering To Pimp A Butterfly (its themes including the historical and contemporary treatment of African-Americans in the US, issues of faith, his conflicted relationship with hip-hop culture and fame) and DAMN. (an album deeply concerned with morality and temptation).

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Gil Scott-Heron

A poet who inspired generations of artists by giving a voice to black protest in the 70s, Gil Scott-Heron was another artist who drifted into music from a background in literature. By the time of his debut album, Small Talk At 125th And Lenox, Heron had already published a similarly-named collection of poetry, plus a debut novel, The Vulture. In that first album’s sleevenotes, Heron succinctly summed up himself as “A Black man dedicated to expression; expression of the joy and pride of Blackness.” This was a mission statement of sorts and one that he’d never stray from over his next four decades of writing.

Heron could be relied upon to speak eloquently and fearlessly about the realities of African-American life; the injustices caused by deep-rooted problems in society, and to call out the failing of the political system in representing black Americans. If that sounds heavy-going, all this was frequently conveyed with a lightness of touch, compassion and an extraordinary rhythmic flow – qualities that continue to earn him respect as a poet first and foremost.

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Kate Bush

With the recent publication of How To Be Invisible, Kate Bush herself took on the task of curating her work. The lyrics chosen for the collection were “reviewed as works of verse without their music and so in some places are more detailed than how they originally appeared on their album.” She carefully grouped them to suggest thematic threads that have been present in the work of the enigmatic singer-songwriter since she emerged as a 19-year-old prodigy in 1978 with the none-more-literary hit single, “Wuthering Heights.”

Lyrically as much as musically, Bush’s work has long been synonymous with uninhibited creative expression; setting the words apart from the music allows for extraordinary turns of phrase that may have been overshadowed by musical flourishes to stand on their own. In his introduction to How To Be Invisible the novelist David Mitchell makes a perfect case for Bush’s lyrics to be taken seriously as poetry: “These fiercely singular pieces, which nobody else could have authored, are also maps of the heart, the psyche, the imagination. In other words, art.”

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Looking for more? Debate the singer-songwriters who should be awarded the Nobel Prize.

123 Comments

123 Comments

  1. Dan

    March 21, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Donovan should be on this list.

    • Md

      March 22, 2019 at 3:47 am

      No he should not

      • WJW3

        September 21, 2020 at 6:37 pm

        You do know that he was an established singer/songwriter long before “Sunshine Superman”, right?

    • Bobby

      March 23, 2019 at 2:47 pm

      How is Dylan on tghos list.

  2. Kels

    March 21, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Morrissey??

  3. JoAnn Smith

    March 21, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Marvin Gaye…Amen

    • Steven L Marcus

      March 21, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      You missed Smokey Robinson. His lyrics and body of work is amazing.

    • Stephen Lee Marcus

      March 21, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      Smokey Robinson is disturbingly missing. Marvin was great but Smokey was the best songwriter poet of the past 50 years.

  4. Stephen Marcus

    March 21, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    How could you not have Smokey Robinson on this list?
    He’s in the top 5?

  5. doug meeuwsen

    March 21, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    van morrison?

  6. Peter

    March 21, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Jimmy Buffet — he rights about mundane subject matter but puts you smack dab in the middle of it that you can see, hear, feel and taste every single thing that is happening.

    Paul Simon, Roger Waters, and Billy Joel belong also.

  7. Ton

    March 21, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Fish, what a word smith, especially during his early Marillion years.

  8. Tom Kowalski

    March 21, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Jackson Browne

  9. Jeff

    March 21, 2019 at 10:12 pm

    No Tom Waits? No List

    • md

      March 22, 2019 at 3:48 am

      You are 100 percent correct my friend.

  10. Neil

    March 21, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    How can you leave Jim Morrison off a list of poets?

  11. Patrick Wilson

    March 22, 2019 at 1:08 am

    Paul Simon.
    Bruce Springsteen.
    Good list.

  12. Stefan

    March 22, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    MARK E SMITH

  13. Elise Phillips Margulis

    March 22, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    Springsteen!

  14. Bpbby

    March 23, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    This is is completely useless without having Dylan on it.

  15. Stuart Herrmann

    March 24, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Poetry to me is art, commercial song lyrics, just something to sell in the music business.

    • eboe

      December 8, 2020 at 9:09 am

      Yes, because musicians are most certainly not artists, of course… *Smacks self in forehead at hearing your idiotic implication* Most musicians create out of a burning desire to do so. They don’t do it because they are in the music business. Creativity is stunted when forced. Poets, when forced, are stunted as well. Which is why both poets and musicians (lyricist/songwriters) usually have to maintain a day job until they get greater recognition. And that is never guaranteed to arrive.

  16. uDiscover

    March 25, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Jim Morrison is an absolutely fair point, and has been rightfully added. Meanwhile, the writer has been locked in a room with nothing but the scream of the butterfly for company… The music is not over…

  17. Adam

    March 25, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Curtis Mayfield also needs to included.

  18. Mark

    April 12, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Billy Joel.???

  19. Todd

    July 4, 2019 at 2:46 am

    Smokey Robinson! The Beatles covered him. ABC and George Harrison even wrote songs about him. Dylan called him the greatest poet. His song book fills up several of the greatest songs of all time slots. Moving on. Thanks.

  20. kathy McNally

    September 22, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    And the GREASTEST of all time is…GORDON LIGHTFOOT. His poetic lyrics will touch you very soul every time.

    • kathy McNally

      September 22, 2019 at 7:40 pm

      And the GREATEST of all time is GORDON LIGHTFOOT. His poetic lyrics will touch your very soul every time. The comment box did not allow me to edit. So I re wrote it in the comment reply section. Sorry

  21. gobln

    October 31, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    Gord Downie should be on this list too…

  22. eboe

    December 8, 2020 at 11:10 pm

    This list should totally have Jewel on it, as she started her career out with the first album having a promotional chapbook of her poetry, and then later releasing a full book of her poetry.

  23. Phyllis VanDusen

    February 16, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    Bernie Taupin (Elton John’s lyricist is a true poet)

  24. Richard Ettinger

    March 23, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    WTF!!!! Chuck Berry belongs on this list ahead of McCartney. What about Mick and Keith?

  25. BH

    June 4, 2021 at 12:44 am

    Jesus, what a cookie cutter list. Dylan is nothing but a plagiarist lol. He just assumed nobody would ever realize he stole all his lyrics from asian philosophical books

  26. JIM BROWN

    March 21, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    STEVIE WONDER SHOULD BE AT THE TOP OF THIS LIST – A MASTER MUSICIAN, COMPOSER AND WORDSMITH – A COMPLETE GENIOUS !!!!

  27. Lisa

    March 21, 2022 at 3:44 pm

    Jim Morrison but not Paul Simon…really? Were you even alive when half these people were popular?

  28. Monique

    March 21, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    Kris Kristofferson.

  29. Sharon

    March 21, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    How about Lionel Richie (Hello, Still, Penny Lover, Sail On? All great Lyrics. And also John Denver (Seasons of the Heart, Back Home Again, Annie’s Song? The lists are almost endless for both of them.

  30. John Procter

    March 21, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Beyond the personal favourite artists maybe longevity of popularity counts.
    Iconic lyrics that recur over the years suggest the worth of songwriting rather than celebrity.

  31. jane

    March 21, 2022 at 4:46 pm

    Paul Simon-

  32. Donna Creekmore

    March 21, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    Definitely Kris Kristofferson. And Johnny Cash.

  33. Rand

    March 21, 2022 at 5:02 pm

    Bruce Cockburn. It’s a shame his music isn’t better known in the U.S., but Canadians know. I would also put Ani DiFranco on this list, songs like Both Hands and Your Next Bold Move have stellar lyrics. I’m sure there are thousands of talented artists I don’t know, as well. A better article format, I think, than some numerically-specified list (though 12 looks a bit suspiciously doctored) would be a list of songwriters who put great artistry into their lyrics. Neil Young, Crosby, Still & Nash (+/- Young), Randy Newman, as soon as one starts thinking, the list quickly grows. Even Jimi Hendrix, I’ve always considered Purple Haze and Voodoo Child to be among the best rock lyrics. Notorious Big, Eminem, etc.

  34. Woody

    March 21, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    I have long felt that the art of songwriting is much, much more about the words than the music. In modern popular music, a song’s music is about as important as the the music soundtrack is to a movie. This is why I was delighted when Bob Dylan was award the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature specifically.

    Don’t get me wrong: the art of songwriting is devilishly difficult, existing in that space between poetry and prose with appropriate melody, chord progressions and orchestration / instrumentation / product part of the mix. But very little of today’s song-oriented popular music will ever be studied in the classrooms of serious musicians the way, say, the icons of jazz — very much an instrumental form of music — presently are.

  35. TL

    March 21, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    Bob Dylan needs to be the first name on this list

  36. Andrew Lifson

    March 21, 2022 at 5:42 pm

    Donovan should absolutely be on the list. Also: Ian Anderson (Tull), Keith Reid (Procol Harum), and Peter Sinfield (Crimson, ELP, his own solo stuff, etc).

  37. Sue Morgan

    March 21, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    I agree with the choices on this list and of course many more could be included. I would nominate Nick Cave too. He writes so well that even his prose seems like poetry.

  38. Maureen

    March 21, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    Paul Simon — brilliant lyrics as well as music

  39. Vinnygret

    March 22, 2022 at 3:23 am

    He’s on there!

  40. Vinnygret

    March 22, 2022 at 3:35 am

    Exactly! How can you have such astonishing lyrics as ‘come on baby light my fire, girl we couldn’t get no higher’ and NOT have the man who wrote Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes, Graceland, “nothing but the dead and the dying back in my little town”,”and it when it rains, there’s a rainbow and all of the colors are black, it’s not that the colors aren’t there, it’s imagination they lack”. And Bruce Springsteen! “Sandy, that waitress I’ve been seeing has lost her desire for me, she says she won’t set herself on fire for me anymore” I know it’s only 12 slots, but who is left off is as significant as who the chosen 12 are.

  41. Cricket

    March 22, 2022 at 9:51 am

    Stevie Nicks, come on!

  42. Tim

    March 22, 2022 at 10:40 am

    John Prine should be on this list.

  43. Zachary Nagle

    March 22, 2022 at 12:55 pm

    Neil Peart

  44. Keith

    March 22, 2022 at 1:03 pm

    I have a challenge for y’all. Go to Spotify or your favorite streamingf music platform. Search Dan Fogelberg and listen to the Nether Lands LP. I defy anyone to say that he wasn’t a poet that set his poems to music. Try Captured Angel next or Home Free.

  45. kyle

    March 22, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    Nick Cave.

  46. brandi

    March 22, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    Stevie Nicks should be on this list.

  47. Mr. Know it all

    March 22, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Paul McCartney is amazing, absolutely amazing, and one of THE BEST pop music writers and performers of all time. However, it is not poetry, and elicits very little emotion apart from the music. You had the correct Beatle already on the list, and should have used that space for another artist.

  48. Steve

    March 22, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    Sorry but you missed Neil Diamond and Paul Simon. They both belong in any top ten songwriters list.

  49. Ray

    March 22, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    you bet john prine should be on this list for my money prine, dylan, lightfoot pick any order

  50. Tom Lechevre

    March 22, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    Heavy on the Americans, as usual. Bruce Cockburn definitely needs to be on here, as does Gordons Lightfoot and Downie (but hey–two Canadians, not bad). But so does Richard Thompson–he’s been writing amazing character studies for five decades now, and it’s about time he got recognised. He’s also written heartbreaking story-songs, too, of which “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Beeswing” are the best known. I’m a huge Beatles fan, but I don’t really consider Paul McCartney a “poet”–not really sure about John Lennon, either (the solo songs mentioned here are all from one album, and nobody ever mentions the cringeworthy, tin-eared lyrics of Some Time in New York City.)

    Want another American? How about Michael Stipe, of REM. “Nightswimming” alone is brilliant poetry–but there are lots of other examples.

  51. Jody

    March 22, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    Dory Previn

  52. Ken

    March 22, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    You rightly include Bob Dylan; how do you leave out Tom Petty?

  53. Matthew

    March 22, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    The author should read a book on the fundamentals of poetry before attempting an article comparing lyrics to poetry so that she can provide actual reasons relating to poetic elements.

  54. Pat Devlin

    March 22, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    Where are the Stones – ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, ‘Gimme Shelter’ etc.? Instead you include that pretentious phony Patti Smith and that prosaic bore Joni Mitchell?

  55. deepred

    March 22, 2022 at 4:47 pm

    If I recall “light my fire” was written by Robby krieger.

  56. James

    March 22, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    Rather bizarre you would post “Light My Fire” for Morrison when it was written by Robbie Krieger in one night. And mentioned some of Dylan’s more popular songs – I danced around the room when he won the Nobel Prize – while missing some of his most brilliant poetic efforts, like “My Back Pages” and “It’s All Right Ma.” At least you got Desolation Row in there. Kudos on Leonard Cohen, whose work is on par with Dylan, and Joni Mitchell. In no way does Donovan belong on this list, and I question Patti Smith, given her scant output of memorable songs. Her books are far more interesting. But Smokey Robinson is a huge omission, along with Jackson Brown – called “the Lord Byron of Rock” by Rolling Stone – and Don Henley. Then there’s Nina Simone and Alanis Morisette, the latter who helped save Rock. Then there’s Van Morrison and TOM WAITS. Good effort all around, kudos.

  57. J Prince

    March 22, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Tom Waits should be on this list.

  58. Matthew

    March 22, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Roger Waters is the greatest poet of the 20th century.
    “…you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking, racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”

  59. suzanne

    March 22, 2022 at 5:13 pm

    What ? No Laura Nyro? Shame!

  60. Angie

    March 22, 2022 at 5:28 pm

    May of these are artist that are commonly mentioned. I would like to see more contemporary artist like Jason Isbell or Ryan Adams.

  61. Jude

    March 22, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    Gordon Lightfoot

  62. Allyn

    March 22, 2022 at 6:16 pm

    Jackson Browne, 20+ albums of poetic expression

  63. AK007

    March 22, 2022 at 6:29 pm

    Where’s Eminem ppsstttt…. you’re bias is showing

  64. Jim Mazza

    March 22, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    Loreena McKennitt – She Uses Poets work for her music, as well as her own. Consider “Bonny Portmore” “Night Ride Across the Caucasus” “The Bonny Swan”

  65. Jim (Moon Shadow)

    March 22, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    You’re scratching the iceberg.

  66. George Daniels

    March 22, 2022 at 7:04 pm

    Paul Simone for Graceland if nothing else.

  67. Dork

    March 22, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    Wow! What a surprising and unpredictable list!

  68. J. Glunt

    March 22, 2022 at 7:57 pm

    This list should be called “12 Game-changing lyrical masters in pop/rock music history,” and even then, I’d have to ask where David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young are. But all country poets have been ignored. What about Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, or John Hartford (who wrote one of the greatest poems of all time, the song, “Gentle on my Mind”)? And nobody from gospel music, either. Clearly, those who compiled this list have limited musical educations.

  69. Bill Johnson

    March 22, 2022 at 8:51 pm

    Most of the folks on the list can’t carry a tune in a bucket . So how could they receive such accolades !!!!??? I don’t understand it , an artist must be able to deliver his or her lyrics with good vocal quality , or a beat that stands out to compensate for what’s lacking in the vocal quality and none of these so-called artists meets that standard but Gil Scott-Heron and Tupac Shakur . How can you possibly compile a list of non-singing artists and leave off those who are poets , that can really , really sing ,actually perform , and completely entertain a crowd which is what over 92% of what black artists can do and have done and I am just being truthful !!!???? You can’t be a ” Game-Changing Lyrical Masters” not being able to really , really sing and sing flat . Some of these guys don’t even measure up to mediocre they’re so bad and I mean bad as in bad , not bad good . How could you leave out artists like Sam Cooke , Otis Redding , Sly and the family stone , Stevie Wonder for crying out loud the list goes on and on !!!??? These are true artists that can sing and perform their hearts out . You better go back and re-think this bcoz it’s a none-starter as far as I am concerned

  70. Liz Webber

    March 22, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Kris Kristofferson… Paul Simon… these two go on my list of poet/musicians… or musician/poets! 😉

  71. Andy

    March 22, 2022 at 9:22 pm

    Missing from the list….

    John Prine – All The Best

    I wish you love, and happiness
    I guess I wish, you all the best
    I wish you don’t, do like I do
    And never fall in love with someone like you

    ‘Cause if you feel, just like I did
    You’d probably walk around the block like a little kid
    But kids don’t know, they can only guess
    How hard it is, to wish you happiness

    I guess that love, is like a Christmas card
    You decorate a tree, throw it in the yard
    It decays and dies, and the snowmen melt
    Well, I once knew love I knew how love felt
    Yeah, I knew love, love knew me

    And when I walked, love walked with me
    And I got no hate, and I got no pride
    Well, I got so much love that I cannot hide
    Yeah, I got so much love that I cannot hide

    Say you drive a Chevy, say you drive a Ford
    Say you drive around the town ’til you just get bored
    Then you change you mind for something else to do
    And you heart gets bored with your mind and it changes you

    Well, it’s a doggone shame, and it’s an awful mess
    I wish you love, I wish you happiness
    I wish you love, I wish you happiness
    I guess I wish, you all the best

  72. Veto Roley

    March 22, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    Some good names, but you missed a lot of country, bluegrass, blues, and Americana songwriters. And, it is in these genres where musical poetry lives as the lyrics, in these areas, particularly for the older songs, are as important as the singer and the musicians around the singer. Willie Nelson, Kris Kristopherson, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Sr., Tom T. Hall, Mac Davis, Don Williams, Robert Johnson, even names like Bill Gaither and Dottie Rambo, should have been considered. And, if poetry is the language of the art, then songwriters are poets…

  73. Broken Glass

    March 22, 2022 at 9:30 pm

    Paul McCartney and not Pete Townsend? I don’t think so.

  74. DannyVinlyInNJ

    March 22, 2022 at 10:43 pm

    Or (my favorite) Souvenirs, but I can’t argue as long as he’s near the very top. “Oh I’ve seen the bottom – and I’ve been on top – but mostly I’ve lived in between. But where do you go when you get to the end of your dreams?” Fogelberg wrote more songs with more great lyrics than all of them

  75. Bobbi Baker

    March 22, 2022 at 11:06 pm

    What about Neil Young? Bob Walkenhorst? Elliott Smith?

  76. G V

    March 22, 2022 at 11:42 pm

    Sting and Morrissey have better lyrics than anyone on this list. Try reading The Soul Cages instead of listening to it, especially The Wild Wild Sea , the title track, and Why Should I Cry For You?

  77. D S

    March 23, 2022 at 1:11 am

    Lost Under Heaven

  78. Ed

    March 23, 2022 at 1:12 am

    To this fine list, I would like to add Canada’s
    own poet-lyricist, Leonard Cohen. While it’s
    a bit of an overstatement, it’s fair to say
    that Cohen was first, and that Dylan copied him,
    before everyone else copied Dylan.

  79. Alex

    March 23, 2022 at 1:37 am

    Townes Van Zandt

  80. Rod

    March 23, 2022 at 2:24 am

    How about Don McLean with his iconic American Pie and Vincent – a loving tribute to the genius Van Gogh?

  81. Lars

    March 23, 2022 at 4:33 am

    Robbie Robertson. Choose any lyric he has written: poetic, cinematic, wise, original, surprisingly incisive…sometimes hilariously raunchy, deeply touching (just scratching the surface here)….

  82. kazy

    March 23, 2022 at 4:39 am

    Missing from this list is Laura Nyro.

  83. Anire Mosley

    March 23, 2022 at 5:11 am

    Curtis Mayfield

  84. Zplayed Grunchkin

    March 23, 2022 at 6:16 am

    MF DOOM

  85. Realist

    March 23, 2022 at 11:23 am

    A poet they shall NEVER be––
    a song lyricist that sets his imaginings free
    in 3 minutes 50 seconds time.

    Heavens to Betsy!
    It’s just a pop tune on the radio! Get real.

  86. Mick

    March 23, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    It’s called INFLUENCE people, Their influence was massive, others not so much. Personal choices are just that. And the writer forgot to mention how Yoko was Lennons collaborator until he died. SHE wrote the lyrics for “Imagine.” Look it up!

  87. KJ

    March 23, 2022 at 5:27 pm

    Gen X poet Chris Cornell needs to be added here.

  88. Robin

    March 23, 2022 at 5:42 pm

    Paul Simon and Bernie Taupin deserve to be on this list, IMHO

  89. Bronana

    March 23, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    Lists are lame. But here’s my two cents: Martin Walkyier (my fave lyricist), Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Martin Jacques,Dick Gaughan, Richard Thompson, Stephin Merritt, Marc Bolan, Morrissey, Nick Drake.

  90. Mark

    March 23, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    And all of you missed Robert Hunter…

  91. jon casalegno

    March 23, 2022 at 7:46 pm

    townes van zandt

  92. Declan Macmanus

    March 23, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    No Elvis Costello? Supreme use of the English language. He can always turn a phrase…..

  93. NoMarley

    March 24, 2022 at 12:22 am

    Bob Marley… one of the top selling dead lyricist and song writers in history. Forget sales, his message and potent timeless lyrics.

  94. C

    March 24, 2022 at 12:24 am

    Robert Hunter – best lyricist/poet of the 20th Century – and THE MILLIONS OF DEADHEADS AGREE WITH ME

  95. samo109

    March 24, 2022 at 12:57 am

    Suzanne Vega

  96. Yet another Gemini

    March 24, 2022 at 2:02 am

    Regarding Lennon and McCartney, I’ve been watching the “Get Back” sessions and getting a clearer understanding of why they could no longer work together. In the beginning, they were both equal parts glibness and raw emotion. Maybe around late 1965 Paul was discovering he could pull songs out of thin air. He could sing nonsense like “Scrambled eggs” while he was fixing breakfast, and turn it into the lovely ballad “Yesterday.” Or, he could take it somewhere else and end up with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s almost as if John were being pushed into a corner, out-glibbed by Paul’s intellectualism, extended musical vocabulary, and apparent detachment from his creations. John would have to go in the other direction, searching for ways to express what he really felt.

  97. A. Torres-Salazar

    March 24, 2022 at 8:41 am

    How is Paul Simon not on this list?

  98. Rosemary

    March 24, 2022 at 8:56 am

    GEORGE HARRISON!!!! “All Things Must Pass”, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, Here Comes the Sun”, “My Sweet Lord”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps, “All Those Years Ago”. These are just the tip of the iceberg of his library of poetry set to music. I wish I had come upon this list much sooner. GEORGE needs to be near the top.

  99. Chris

    March 24, 2022 at 9:46 am

    BONO U2!!

  100. Theresa Vega

    March 24, 2022 at 11:29 am

    Carole King

  101. Richelle LaFleur

    March 24, 2022 at 3:29 pm

    Be nice to see some picks from Europe. Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish seriously deserves to be on this list. Here’s an excerpt from “The Greatest Show On Earth” from 2015’s album Endless Forms Most Beautiful:

    The cosmic law of gravity
    Pulled the newborns around a fire
    A careless cold infinity in every vast direction
    Lonely farer in the Goldilocks zone
    She has a tale to tell
    From the stellar nursery into a carbon feast
    Enter LUCA

    The tapestry of chemistry
    There’s a writing in the garden
    Leading us to the mother of all

    We are one
    We are a universe
    Forebears of what will be
    Scions of the Devonian sea
    Aeons pass
    Writing the tale of us all
    A day-to-day new opening
    For the greatest show on Earth

  102. Rick

    March 24, 2022 at 10:28 pm

    Neil Diamond, for sure, with 50+ years of work. More “behind the scenes” would be Jimmy Webb.

    Many of the artists mentioned didn’t appeal to me in their delivery(as one poster put it)…as such, I might not have been exposed to the meaning/depth of their lyrics.

  103. Tim

    March 25, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    Any list of this sort that doesn’t include Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt is pretty much not an actual list of “Lyrical Masters” but a random collection of names.

  104. r1ng0

    March 29, 2022 at 10:46 am

    No Bowie? and patti smith and lou reed please? list is a joke half baked no Arthur Lee? No George Clinton? No Zappa?

  105. Markdvdman

    March 29, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    To not include metal artists is crazy as they are some of the deepest poetic lyrics of all! James Hetfield, Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson. John Petrucci and Max Cavalera to name a few!!

  106. Brit Bryan

    March 29, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    What an archaic list! I agree with other posters that even given the seemingly abrupt ending in time, poetic composers of the era have been left out. Where’s Paul Weller?

    Moving on to the 21st century: no list could be complete without reference to the mastery of Guy Garvey.

  107. Yeah But

    March 29, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    What a stupid waste of an internet page did someone actually get paid for this I mean I believe its in the JD of being a musician to be somewhat poetic.

  108. The Jokester

    March 29, 2022 at 8:43 pm

    Where is Fred Durst!

  109. Mick Freeman

    March 29, 2022 at 9:15 pm

    Ray Davies the Kinks listen to the twentieth century man and others

  110. Annie

    March 30, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    Ray Davies should be on the list.

  111. Kiran

    March 30, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    Neil Diamond doesn’t find a place on the list!! Seriously???

  112. Hooligan McHooliganface

    March 30, 2022 at 10:07 pm

    This morning on the harbour
    When I said goodbye to you
    I remember how I swore
    That I’d come back to you one day
    And as the sunset came to meet the evening on the hill
    I told you I’d always love you
    I always did and I always will

    I sat for a while by the gap in the wall
    Found a rusty tin can and an old hurley ball
    Heard the cards being dealt, and the rosary called
    And a fiddle playing Sean Dun na nGall
    And the next time I see you we’ll be down at the Greeks
    There’ll be whiskey on Sunday and tears on our cheeks
    For it’s stupid to laugh and it’s useless to bawl
    About a rusty tin can and an old hurley ball

    The light was going out, the moon was dying
    The night was turning to a fine Spring morning
    The dogs were barking and the kids were shouting
    The sun was splashing in a crystal fountain
    When the cold winds come to find you
    Blowing down from the top of the high rise
    I’ll come and take you back down to Soho
    Away from all those mad men’s eyes

    No Shane MacGowan?

    Ireland’s greatest living Poet!

  113. RDog

    March 31, 2022 at 3:56 am

    Robert Hunter, absolutely, one of the best, in a league with Dylan, even wrote a few songs with him. And, Suzanne, thanks for remembering Laura Nyro. Dated as some of it sounds now, the “Eli…” album was a masterpiece: there was never anything like it before, nothing like it at the time, and nothing like it since.

  114. j

    April 3, 2022 at 11:48 pm

    all writers are poets

    so the exclusion of some is inevitable

    but to leave off

    pee wee herman

    yah got to be kidding

    😉

  115. Louise Said

    May 5, 2022 at 7:05 am

    Like most of these ‘best poetic musicians’ lists, this one doesn’t distinguish between good pop song lyrics and musical poetry. Early Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and maybe some of Patti Smith have written musical poetry. None of the others fit, despite being good lyricists. There are a few others who’d fit the category. Among the newer singer songwriters—Joustene Lorenz is the most interesting and poetic songwriter I’ve heard in years. Some songs are pretty straightforward (eg ‘Dover Beach’ and The Women of Ukraine); others are more beguiling, but no less powerful (eg Flying and Songlines). She’s incredibly well-read and references to tribal mythology, ancient myths, and various other literary and philosophical traditions. She is quite extraordinary.

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