Who's your favorite lyricist?


After listening to a couple of John Prine's performances of his Sam Stone today, I started thinking of who my favorite lyricists are. It's always going to be an incomplete list, because I'll have others. I'll probably copy my list as it grows and repost.
A good place to start: 

Robert Hunter
John Prine
Joni Mitchell
Bob Dylan



John Prine, Tom Waits, Chris Chandler 



Hunter and Dylan for sure.
John Hiatt
Lou Reed
David Byrne
Willie Dixon

Gibby Haynes 

Hank Cochran

Steve Goodman
Billy Joe Shaver
John Hartford

Guy Clark

Dean Dillon
Rodney Crowell 
Hoyt Axton


I once had a brief but lovely conversation with Robert Hunter about one of our mutual favorite songwriters, Townes Van zandt . Of course many great ones mentioned above 

Dylan, Hunter , Leonard Cohen

 Jimi - Pete - Neil - John Barlow - Jim Morrison - Warren Zevon + Haynes off the top o me head

I'd add Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, John Gorka and REK Jr. among the long long-established.

Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Goldsmith among the kidz.

George A. Fox (Big Stoner Creek; back and in fine form) and Gary Johanssen (the long-defunct, as far as I know, Big Dream) among the folks you've never heard of.  A late friend played in both bands, but I'd have dug the material even if he hadn't.  


Smokey Robinson

Ray Davies

Patti Smith

John Lennon/Paul McCartney

Exene Cervenka/John Doe

Steve Earle

Joe Strummer/Mick Jones

Robbie Robertson

Richard Manuel

Curtis Mayfield

Charlie Patton

Willie Dixon

Robert Johnson




Number 1 with five stars is Hunter. This is a deadhead site, correct.

John Lennon, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Roger Waters,

That's a quick start. 
Long Live The Grateful Dead

Sorry I forgot Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan.  Bruce Springsteen. George Harrison Van Morrison doesn't suck.  

Mozart wrote an opera in Hebrew.  That's bitchin'

Gordon Lightfoot is another 

I don't have "favorite" lyricists. I don't listen to music to listen to the words and whatever they may be saying.

It's fine when the lyrics are great, like what Hunter, Dylan and all the others mentioned in this thread have done, but ultimately I don't care about that. For me the main thing/the only that matters about lyrics is how their meter fits into the rhythm of the music and if the placement of the vowels allow the words to sound proper musically, because for me the singing is just another instrument, not some important poetry with meaning to be heard. Listening to a story in the middle of a song is usually just distracting to me. 

I suppose that's why I have always loved instrumental music. No matter how good the band is, when the singer is singing they're always just the backup band for the singer.

Still, good lyrics are excellent and impressive, and can be very moving & meaningful, but as long as they fit into the rhythm of the music they can also be about not eating yellow snow or being bought for the price of a flagon of rice, that works just as well for me.

Lyricist Jerome Leiber and composer Michael Stoller were American songwriting and record producing partners.

Jailhouse Rock (Bob solo & Wolf Bros),  Stand by Me,   Spanish Harlem,   Is That All There Is,   Hound Dog (Other Ones),   Kansas City (GD & Ratdog),   Youngblood (Ratdog),   Searchin'(GD 11/8/70 & 4/27/71),  Yakity Yak,  Charlie Brown,  Riot in Cell Block #9 (also 4/27/71),   Love Potion #9,   Leader of the Pack,   Chapel of Love.   Last big charting song: Stuck in the Middle With You by Stealers Wheel.

With Hunter & Dylan, a songwriters Mt. Rushmore.



>ultimately I don't care about that... because for me the singing is just another instrument<


I once told a musician friend of mine that listening to songs sung in languages i do not understand has helped me to appreciate the human voice as another instrument. 



>ultimately I don't care about that... because for me the singing is just another instrument<


I once told a musician friend of mine that listening to songs sung in languages i do not understand has helped me to appreciate the human voice as another instrument. <<<


^ so that was a FB embedded video, which actually is beneficial for those who aren't on FB (assuming it shows for you)

I'm also in the camp of lyrics mostly being "vocals" (in particular with "jambands") ... the iconic lyrics always get through and sometimes I'm immersed in the story, but more the exception than the rule for the type of music I gravitate to. 

Robert Hunter
John Prine
Joni Mitchell
Bob Dylan<<<<

With the exception of Prine (whom I'm only casually familiar with), they would be my top tier too.  I'd also add Neil Young, McCartney/Lennon to the mix. 

Literally speaking, it's Christina Callicott ... who's penned the lyrics of a few songs for SCI (Desert Dawn, Cottonmouth, Cedar Laurels, and just learned Tinder Box - with Barlow).  I've known her for over 20 years as a friend and fellow local ... who shares a similar love of the Telluride area and its quirky culture (or at least the remnants thereof).

<< I don't have "favorite" lyricists. I don't listen to music to listen to the words and whatever they may be saying.

LMHSFAO [email protected]@!!!!!!! Did I read that correctly ??

Mr Mutherfucking Thesis with every post is not a fan of words ???? You can't make this kinda shit up.

Lance you are such an oxymoron, so many things wrong with you,  you so belong here hahaaa

OMG you are too fucked funny, for lyrics/words [email protected]@!

> This is a deadhead site, correct.

Correct. And, as such, Bonnie Dobson needs a mention here.

> beneficial for those who aren't on FB (assuming it shows for you)

It shows just fine. Face, your new method might be the perfect solution to the FB video problem.

Lol wut

"I don't really listen to the words. I just like the beat."


and add Richard Dobson to my list

Not Trey

Steven Stills has some amazing songs.

Lou Reed, Springsteen

John Barlow doesn't get the credit he deserves. He has penned some of my favorite lyrics and songs: Black Throated Wind, Just a Little Light, Cassidy, Sailor>Saint, Estimated, Let it Grow, Brother Esau, etc,

I'm surprised no one has mentioned zone favorite Ryan Adams

Jackson Browne deserves a mention.

Willie Nelson

Dan Penn

Gerry Goffin/Carole King

Laura Nyro

Woody Guthrie

John Trudell 

Jimi Hendrix

Jon Anderson

Peter Sinfield

Percy Mayfield


Merle Haggard

Steve Winwood

Dee Dee Ramone

Jello Biafra

Chrissie Hynde

Bernie Taupin

Brian Wilson

Gene Clark

Roger McGuinn

David  Crosby

Gram Parsons

Mick Jagger/Keith Richards


Allen Toussaint

Bill Withers

Roberta Flack

Alex Chilton 

Burt Bacharach

Richard & Karen Carpenter

Dave Alvin

Paul Westerburg

Frank Black

Donovan Leitch

Jason Molina

Louie Perez/David Hidalgo

Randy Newman


”Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”
- Steve Earle 

"I've met Bob Dylan and his bodyguards, and I don't think Steve could get anywhere near his coffee table."
— Townes Van Zandt

Buddy Holly

And a special nod to original Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, who just passed:


Townes Van Zandt

A lot of what makes lyrics so interesting to me is the phrasing of the singer.

Robert Hunter
John Prine
Joni Mitchell
Bob Dylan
Neil Young
And let's not forget Harry Nilsson.


Some great names up there!
In no particular order, and in addition to all above;

Peter Gabriel 
Tom Waits
Chris Chandler
Jim Page
Ray Davies
Todd Rundgren
Willie Dixon 
Warren Zevon
Paul Simon 
Danny Elfman 

So many more, and then there's all the jazz and broadway lyricists 

Robert Hunter absolutely.

That other guy, John Perry Barlow, deserves mention also.


"...as a listener of music, lyrics were strictly tertiary for me. First there was the song and then there was the musicianship, and then, after I already liked the song, there were the lyrics. There's no way I'll ever like the lyrics to a song that I don't like. It's an essential relationship. So I never really paid a lot of attention to lyrics until after I started writing them, and then it became a craft, like drumming... It's something I became aware of as my involvement with words became more and more active and intense. At that point I started to become more aware of the techniques. I learned about rhymes and learned what's a real [sic] good rhyme and what's a false rhyme, what's a rhyme for the sake of convenience and what's a carefully constructed one. I have a very rigid set of values in those terms. I'll never rhyme just for the sake of it. I hate semi-rhymes."

"...I think being a drummer has been very helpful to me. I have a good sense of the music of words and the poetry of words and what makes a nice-sounding and even a nice-looking word."

...I find that the more layers a word or series of words offers to me, the more satisfied I am. So if I can get a series of words that are rhythmically interesting and maybe have some kind of internal rhyming and rhythmic relationship, plus at least two ideas in there too, the more pleased I am."

"Being a drummer helps me a lot, because words are a subdivision of time."

"If people don't take all the trouble interpreting lyrics that I took in creating them, that doesn't bother me, because I'm a musician first and not just a lyricist. I only spend two months out of every two years doing that and the rest of the time I'm a drummer."


- Neil Peart  (one of my favorites)



The I don't care about the lyrics is facile. It's an integral part of the song, I don't know, the MELODY.

Sheesh, enjoy the thread. It's a fun one

Long Live The Grateful Dead

P.S The Wind in the Willows played tea for two...  Yup. Gotta ignore that.   LOL..

You stole my thread Judit. I was going to start this today also.




Beatles (collectively and individually.)


Willie Nelson

I also like some relatively new ones like Hayes Carll.


"because for me the singing is just another instrument,"  In a lot of cases, I tend to agree. Said same many times.

I got sunshine on a cloudy day


I feel better after I bail the hay

Allright, that's enough 

Neil Peart was an incredible lyricist. It gets a bad rap, but the final song on the final album, The Garden is such a heartbreakingly beautiful coda to an incredible career and life.  Wish I had made the effort to see the final tour(my last was 2010)

Sam Stone

Was alone

When he popped his last balloon.

Judit, it's interesting that when he wrote that song, the line about the broken radio is what he started with.  His father used to listen to an old radio and the cord was draped across the kitchen. It was always getting knocked down.  A lot of what he wrote was for his father.  His father grew up in "Paradise" Kentucky.  And his arguably best 3 songs, Sam Stone, Paradise and "Hello in There" were all written while he delivered the mail. Before he ever was on a stage.   I believe Kris Kristopherson saw him in a bar and is responsible for "discovering" him.


> For me the main thing/the only that matters about lyrics is how their meter fits into the rhythm of the music and if the placement of the vowels allow the words to sound proper musically<


The members of phish have stated something similar, especially regarding Fuego. Although there are plenty of phish tunes with meaningful lyrics, imo they get much better once they stop signing. 


Always liked this one...


I wish you love

And happiness

I guess I wish

You all the best

I wish you don't

Do like I do

And ever fall in love with

Someone like you

Cause if you fell

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...

>>>Mr Mutherfucking Thesis with every post is not a fan of words<<<

Reading comprehension is a part of loving words too Ras.

I didn't say I wasn't a "fan of words" and I did say that good/great lyrics are impressive, can be fine art and be very moving, but for me personally the meaning of the words or how impressively they're written generally does little to enhance the music.

One of my favorite types of music is salsa, and when listening to salsa I don't understand a single word sung, yet I find the singing in that style of music as impressive, as moving, as brilliant as anything I hear in English. It doesn't hurt that I find the Spanish language incredibly musical. For all I know they're singing about taking out the trash, but I don't care at all what they're singing ABOUT, I just love how it SOUNDS.

>>>The I don't care about the lyrics is facile. It's an integral part of the song, I don't know, the MELODY<<<

For you/for many that may be true, and I did say that I believe that phonetically lyrics are important to the melody, but for me personally the meaning of the words is not integral to the quality of a song.

Ultimately, I'm probably being a little more antagonistic to the theme of this thread than I actually feel. Just a bit of the stick to stir the drink.

I DO like good lyrics. The last song I saw Jerry sing was Brokedown Palace. It was so obvious in the summer of '95 that it was all coming to an end, and when he sang the final lines of that song I somehow knew that this was the last time and it was incredibly heavy, and it gets me every time Phil sings the final line to Box of Rain. 

But overall, even if Tom Marshall had written all the GD lyrics I still would have loved the Grateful Dead.

fun thread, mostly, lol

Tom Marshall !!

once i read the book

ya know

and, everybody already pretty much mentioned everybody, double lol

johnny cash up there yet?


also funny how there are pretty much zero chicks up there that i have noticed


This is a the type of thread that I enjoy. I had a few people in mind when I started reading and one by one they were mentioned but leave it to Judit to mention the one that I couldn't believe hadn't been mentioned yet. 

And let's not forget Harry Nilsson.

Nilsson stands tall with anybody on that list. 

also funny how there are pretty much zero chicks up there that i have noticed

I don't think that is in any way sexist, just what people like. I saw Joni Mitchell and Carole King up above and they deserved their mentions. If you feel the list is lacking some estrogen, bring some of it on. 

For me, lyrics don't always have to be pure poetry to be an excellent lyric(s). Sometimes the most low-brow phrase, used with a vocalization of angst can be among the most powerful lyrics out there. One of my most favorite lyrical lines is this:

Why don't you dance with me? I'm not no limburger.

While the collective of The B-52's usually won't rise to the level of Bob Dylan, that phrase is as powerful as anything he has written. At least it the context it is in. .

Anyway, I want to add Josh Ritter to this list. If you aren't familiar with his songs and lyrics, search him out. There is a reason Bob Weir chose him to write cowboy songs with.   


Here you go, Jill...

Kathleen Brennan


And Tom Marshall gets far too much criticism here, imo. I was fortunate to be in attendance when Marshall sat in with phish and sang the first lyrics he wrote for the band....


Rye, Rye, Rocco

Marco Esquandolas

Been you to have any spike, man?


It was epic.


Amongst many already mentioned, here are a few additions that in my humble opinion are of note.

* Nina Simone

*Lucinda Williams

*Natalie Merchant


I've hesitated jumping in on this, but I listened to "What You Didn't Say" the other day by Mary-Chapin Carpenter and was absolutely moved by the combination of the song lyrics AND musical composition, even though I've heard it so many times before. Stunned me.

Tim O'Brien. Brandi Carlile. John Gorka or Bill Morrissey or the GREAT Bill Staines. I LOVE Todd Snider's songs. 

There's so many great lyricists, many on Broadway and many pitching their tunes to country artists like Garth Brooks, who record them. Many up and coming ones too like Kasey Musgraves, who's getting better all the time. Jon Randall used to be Sam Bush's guitar player, left in 2003, and now has a couple of Grammys for songwriting.

IMNSHO, Jackson Browne is the f'ing man, and I'm a folkie, so lyrics is where it's at for me. The music enhances the message and properly meshed, can create masterpieces.    

Smacking myself in the forehead for forgetting to list Lucinda Williams considering that I am a huge Lu fan. D'oh.

zero chicks<<<<

Someone lacks reading comprehension skills.  There's seven women in my lists, and others have posted a few more. 

Shills gonna shill.

The thread is about favorite lyricists.  It's not gender specific.

Anyhow, some others I forgot:

Mac Rebbenack (Dr. John)

Doc Pomus

Mort Shuman

Nikki Giovanni

Hal David (I forgot him when I listed Burt Bacharach, but he wrote most of their lyrics)

Jimmy Webb



David Bowie wrote some memorable lyrics too.  

Probably the best line ever using the word "chicks" occurs in Hang On To Yourself.

No chicks in Hang On To Yourself, Dave. I think you mean Suffragette City: "This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place."

Hang On To Yourself does have some great lines though:

We can't dance, we don't talk much, we just ball and play
Then we move like tigers on Vaseline
Well, the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
You're the blessed, we're the Spiders From Mars

Geezer Butler

" Traditional " - whoever that bastard is.

And whoever wrote the song, Mairzy Doats

Lot of people hot on Tyler Childers. Prine sure liked him. Had him on ACL. Ticket drop upcoming for his two Red Rocks shows at the end of September. 


Two things that are plain from this thread:

1. There've been a lot of outstanding lyricists over the years and luckily we've heard many of them.

2. We love music.

I appreciate that we often turn each other on to music (and other things) that make our lives richer. Thanks.

How could we forget Dolly fucking Parton?


^ Yes, how could we?

She thinks of herself foremost as a song writer.

Dolly for the win, and it was so good to so Joni perform again!!!  

Other ladies;
Abbey Lincoln
Loretta Lynn
Carole King

and a whole bunch of punkers too!

David Lowery

Lolol ras

I'm a big fan of traditional!

And the truth is, "Dave;" I never read what you write. 

And I'm not even sure you're the guy I think you are. Lol

^^^Geezer Butler
good one.... too bad we don't see/hear more from him. I'll add Steve Harris to the list, I don't think I saw him on here yet 


It this lyricists we like, or is it our favorite?


KRS-One, Chuck D, MF Doom


Frank Zappa says a lot with his instrumental stuff, I hear watermelon in the Easter hay calling me now 

Grace Slick


^^^It this lyricists we like, or is it our favorite?

it's already been determined that this is akin to choosing a favorite child, so I'd say the former


Lyle Lovett, Pokey LaFarge


"There's only two things in life but I forget what they are"



Jimmy Webb

Mike I see your point

"She's got box back nitties, great big noble thighs, working undercover with a Boar Hog's eye."

As Greg Kihn said, they don't write em like that anymore 

Right on, fabes. Pigpen only penned a handful of lyrics, but he could versify with the best of them. He was a lot like Neal Cassady in that way.

I still think that as far as song writing goes, Operator is one of the most well crafted songs in the GD catalogue 

Two Souls in Communion is a sweet piece too.

Trey Anastasio doesn't get enough love....

Boy man
Boy man
Wash uffitze drive me to firenze

David Bowie, David Bowie
David Bowie, David Bowie
David Bowie, David Bowie
David Bowie, David Bowie

UB40, UB40
UB40, UB40
UB40, UB40
UB40, UB40


And if I had a boat

I'd go out on the ocean

And if I had a pony

I'd ride him on my boat

And we could all together

Go out on the ocean

I said me upon my pony on my boat...




I'm the guy who sits next to you

And reads the newspaper over your shoulder


Don't turn the page

I'm not finished

Life is so uncertain


Here I am

Yes it's me

Take my hand

And you'll see

Here I am

Yes it's true

All I want

Girl is you


Given that true intellectual and emotional compatibility

Are at the very least difficult

If not impossible to come by

We could always opt for the more temporal gratification

Of sheer physical attraction

That wouldn't make you a shallow person

Would it


Here I am

Yes it's me

Take my hand

And you'll see

Here I am

Yes it's true

All I want

Girl is you


If Ford is to Chevrolet

What Dodge is to Chrysler

What Corn Flakes are to Post Toasties

What the clear blue sky is to the deep blue sea

What Hank Williams is to Neil Armstrong

Can you doubt we were made for each other


Here I am

Yes it's me

Take my hand

And you'll see

Here I am

Yes it's true

All I want

Girl is you



I understand too little too late

I realize there are things you say and do

You can never take back

But what would you be if you didn't even try

You have to try

So after a lot of thought

I'd like to reconsider


If it's not too late

Make it a cheeseburger


Here I am

Yes it's me

Take my hand

And you'll see

Here I am

Yes it's true

All I want

Girl is you


Country Dick Montana neads a mention



An unappreciated genius, the Dylan of Saturday morning, he wrote all the Splits classics -  Bingo

Fuck yeah I got his autograph,, duuuuhhhh


I think Suzanne Vega deserves to be on this list. 

It's no easy road, there's struggle and strife
We find ourselves in the show of life
What's on your schedule, what's on the plan?
Do you ever ignore what you don't understand?

Don't ask me 'cause I don't know
I just fasten my seat-belt wherever I go
It's been perfectly planned, it's completely insane
It's a revolving cast but it's the same old game

Waves of people come and they go
Shine for a while in this marvelous show
It's a limited time that we exist
We slowly make our way into the mist

My thoughts are racin'
I see faces of the friends that I recall
I'd like to take this time
To thank you all

Just as the blind imagine what it is to have sight
We slowly take a stroll into the night
It's no easy road, there's struggle and strife
We find ourselves in the show of life
In the show of life.....

Bob Dylan, easily - The BARD is my favorite EVER!

Conor Oberst would be my #2, I call him 'Baby Dylan'

Anyone here familiar with his work solo or with Bright Eyes?

highly recommended!


Greg Lake

Paul Rodgers

Diana Ross

Ethel Merman



Elvis Costello 


I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign

A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain

She spills with compassion, as that young child's

Face in her hands she grips

Can you imagine all that greed and avarice

Coming down on that child's lips

Well I hope I don't die too soon

I pray the lord my soul to save

Oh I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave

Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live

Long enough to savor

That's when they finally put you in the ground

I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

When England was the whore of the world

Margaret was her madam

And the future looked as bright and as clear as

The black tarmacadam

Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn't

Haunted by every tiny detail

'Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands

All she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run

Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son

And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt

Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt

Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent

When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment

And then expect you to say thank you straighten up, look proud and pleased

Because you've only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease

Just like a schoolboy, whose head's like a tin-can

Filled up with dreams then poured down the drain

Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed

Who takes all the glory and none of the shame

Well I hope you live long now, I pray the lord your soul to keep

I think I'll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep

I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap

'Cos when they finally put you in the ground

They'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down


From an album full of great lyrics.