The Echo Ranks the Top 10 Singer-Songwriters of All Time

By Josh Muller | Reporter 

While it may not be considered its own instrument, the role of the songwriter is just as if not more important than any of the other parts in a band of any musical genre. Songwriting encompasses every word spoken, every note played, and every single second of the sonic hysteria known as music. In honor of the rock stars who’ve recently passed away such as David Bowie, Prince, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, we’ve compiled a list of some of the greatest songwriters of all time, and included in this list are thoughts from Avon students about these lyrical geniuses.

  1. Bob Dylan
  • There’s a reason he’s called the literal voice of a generation. Born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota, no one could’ve possibly imagined what kind of cultural and historical impact he would have on the entire United States. His words were a war on war itself, and arguably turned the tide of one of the most horrific conflicts in American history. While he may not be the most technical vocalist in the world, his words still resonate to this day, crumbling social and political divisions throughout the world and history. He is the greatest songwriter of all time.
  • Key Works: “Hurricane,” “The Times Are-A Changin’,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
  • “His lyrics are politically interesting,” sophomore Jacob Brown said, “and I enjoy knowing about the thoughts of the time.”
  1. John Lennon (The Beatles)
  • All the people in all the world getting along in peace and harmony. Such was the dream of John Lennon, once the frontman of the iconic rock band The Beatles, and later a revered Avant-Garde solo act. Lennon was the quintessential 70’s hippie, preaching about love, tolerance and peace at a time when the entire world was frozen in what seemed like an eternal cold war. His songs reflected those sentiments, crafting beautiful pieces of literature that hit the entire Western World in the face with its poignant and progressive themes. Lennon lived by his songs, and eventually paid for them with his life, as he was assassinated in 1980.
  • Key Works: “Imagine,” “Working Class Hero,” “Give Peace a Chance”
  1. Freddie Mercury (Queen)
  • Considered by many to be the single greatest frontman in music history, Freddie Mercury definitely lived up to that title. He poured his heart and soul into every note. He was practically a virtuoso on the piano. But what places him on this list is his absolutely brilliant songwriting abilities. Mercury penned songs that would become anthems for not only his generation, but almost every generation until the modern day, where songs that he wrote forty years ago are still extremely popular with today’s audience. Who knows what else he could have accomplished had he not tragically succumbed to HIV/AIDS in 1994.
  • Key Works: “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Spread Your Wings,” “We Are the Champions,” “Somebody to Love”
  • “The lyrics are strong and beautiful like in the song ‘We Will Rock You,'” senior Michael Whitmer said. “‘We Are the Champions’ is all about having an attitude and being excited for what lies ahead.”
  1. Neil Peart (Rush)
  • Guns and galaxies. Priests and politicians. Temples and terror. Just a few words to describe the eloquent and genuinely beautiful stories behind the lyrics of Neil Peart. The only way to really describe Peart’s role in virtuosic rock band Rush is revolutionary. He was revolutionary in how he drummed and especially in how he wrote. Until that time, drummers were generally considered to only be rhythm and bass. Then Rush hit the limited airwaves with a twenty-minute, nine part suite simply titled, It told stories of galaxies, of new religions and new frontiers to explore, which at the time was extremely unheard of.
  • Key Works: 2112, “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight”
  • “He was very poetic and lyrical,” math teacher Brian Tearman said. “He’s even a writer besides just writing songs and he’s written four or five books. Some of his storylines have to do with mythology and things like that.”
  1. David Bowie
  • Rest in peace, Starman. You will be missed. As of Jan. 10, 2016, David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie, passed away from liver cancer. What he left behind was an entire legacy of glitzy, fabulous and androgynous stories detailing his many personalities and onstage characters, ranging from the Martian Ziggy Stardust to the “ice masquerading as fire” Thin White Duke. There were stories of glam metal bands from Mars, hollow tales of romance and agonizing nothingness, and finally the acceptance of the eventual blackness that overtakes us all. He inspired countless musicians, actors, comedians, and performers of every shape and size for hopefully centuries to come. He can finally rest in peace, and maybe even find out if there is, indeed, life on Mars.
  • Key Works: Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, ”Young Americans,” “Heroes,” Blackstar
  • “He’s quite abstract,” sophomore Keith Milks said. “He was very Avant-garde with his fashion sense and style.”
  1. Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel)
  • Paul Simon, much like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, was something of a voice of a generation. But while Dylan stood for issues of representation and true freedom in a time of paranoia, and while Lennon religiously preached the virtues of peace in a time of chaos and war, Simon was the voice of a time before the war, when millions of Americans were embroiled in the affairs of countries seemingly light-years away. With his lyrics, he illuminated voids that were never spoken of before, told us to enjoy the sounds of silence, and to cross that bridge over troubled waters despite the uncertainty of what may lay beyond.
  • Key Songs: “The Sound of Silence”, “You Can Call Me Al”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
  1. Bob Marley (Bob Marley and the Wailers) 
  • Understanding. Rastafari. Bob Marley wore many of his virtues on his sleeve. He wanted nothing more than for everyone in the entire world to just get along, and this reverberated through his lyrics of careless and blissful happiness. It was Bob Marley against the world for the majority of his life, with seemingly no one else until that time believing that simple, pure love and respect was an attainable prospect in a world of racial tension close to exploding. His words will stand the test of time, and will forever be the anthem of the tolerant and an enclave for the abused.
  • Key Songs: “Buffalo Soldier”, “Three Little Birds”, “I Shot the Sheriff”
  1. Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground) 
  • Living in the psychedelic world of vogue and pop art known as the late 1960’s, Lou Reed put into words what Andy Warhol put into art: bohemia incarnate. Tales of bittersweet drug highs, beautifully glazed blue eyes, and comical yet empowering tales of the lives transsexuals at a time when they were viewed as second-class citizens. Glamourous. Experimental. Breathtakingly stunning and distressing tales of the effects of the rock and roll lifestyle as told through the eyes of a survivor of such a debilitating and thrilling way of life.
  • Key Songs: “Walk on the Wild Side”, “Heroin”, “Pale Blue Eyes”
  1. Radiohead
  • Thom Yorke and the rest of Radiohead, along with Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, pioneered a new wave of teenage angst, begrudgingly raising loosely wrapped fists against a system devised to demote young adults to that of the voiceless. Radiohead pushed boundaries the music industry hadn’t even known at the time, telling tear-jerking stories of heartbreak and loss, of crippling heart-wrenching sadness that related to teens in a way that never had before. While Nirvana related to the anger in a young adult’s heart, Radiohead mended those fiery holes with relatable and comforting lyrics, reassuring the teen masses, saying “hey, we’re all a little weird here.”
  • Key Songs: “No Surprises”, “Creep”, “Fake Plastic Trees”
  1. Claudio Sanchez (Coheed & Cambria) 
  • The fiction will see the real. This philosophy has dominated the mindset and writing technique of one Claudio Sanchez, better known as frontman, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist of Coheed & Cambria. Many writers can write an entire concept album, weaving songs together with ease. But what about a band’s entire catalogue? Every song, every word in Coheed & Cambria’s repertoire (excluding their recent non-canonical effort The Color of the Sun) tells another chapter of The Amory Wars. Entire galaxies are forged behind every note played and sung.
  • Key Works: The Afterman Duology, “Atlas”, “Peace to the Mountain”




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