The Top 10 Best Lyricists of All Time

best lyricists

Some songwriters are good, some are great, and then there are some that are downright legendary.

Whether you’re a beginner writer or a seasoned musical lyricist, it never hurts to get a little inspiration from the greats throughout time.

We put together a list of the best lyricists of all time to get you inspired to start writing.

We simply couldn’t rank these great lyricists, so mind that this list is not in ranking order.

Check out these amazing musical lyricists!

The Top Ten Best Lyricists of All Time

Many of these best lyricists are commonly know, but you may be surprised by the others that make this list.

10. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is an American songwriter, artist, and singer known for his extensive works throughout the sixties.

He’s been an active musician with a career spanning over fifty years. His stamina in a stressful music industry isn’t his only talent, though. He also happens to be one of the best lyricists of all time.

Some of Bob Dylan’s best songs include:

  • Alright Ma
  • Desolation Row
  • It’s All Over Now Baby Blue
  • Visions of Johanna
  • Blowin’ In The Wind
  • Like A Rolling Stone
  • Positively 4th Street
  • Idiot Wind

9. John Lennon

You can’t really have a legendary lyricist list without including the Beatle’s frontman and solo artist John Lennon.

John Lennon was a talented British singer, songwriter, and creative. Known for being diverse and experimental in his songwriting, John Lennon’s career as a musician lasted many years before his untimely death in 1980.

Some of John Lennon’s best works include:

  • Imagine
  • Instant Karma
  • Jealous Guy
  • Mother
  • Mind Games
  • Whatever Gets You Thru The Night
  • Dream

John Lennon’s work has been covered by many popular musicians, most recently by Lady Gaga at the Baku 2015 European Games opening.

8. Jesse Michaels

An unexpected and underrated creative makes this list with Jesse Michaels.

Jesse Michaels is a songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist known for his work as the singer for ska punk band Operation Ivy.

Much of Jesse Michaels’ work was within Operation Ivy, which was short lived in itself. However, both stylistically and politically, Operation Ivy is known as one of the most iconic and influential bands in the punk and ska genre.

Some of Jesse Michaels’ best songs include:

  • Unity
  • Yellin’ In My Ear
  • Artificial Life

7. Kurt Cobain

Considered one of the most influential figures in nineties ‘grunge’ rock music, Kurt Cobain composed and wrote songs for the rock band Nirvana before his death in 1994.

He is known for his artful approach to music and ability to connect ideas and emotions in a relatable way.

Some of Kurt Cobain’s best songs include:

  • Come As You Are
  • Lithium
  • Heart-Shaped Box
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • About A Girl
  • All Apologies
  • Pennyroyal Tea

6. Jello Biafra

Another punk makes this list. Vocalist and songwriter Jello Biafra was the lead of San Francisco punk band Dead Kennedys and Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine.

Known for being outlandishly political and running for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 and president of the United States in 2000, Jello Biafra is incredibly political in his music while maintaining a level of artistic comedy in his words.

Some of Jello Biafra’s best songs include:

  • Holiday In Cambodia
  • Kill The Poor
  • MTV Get Off The Air
  • California Uber Alles
  • Police Truck

5. Paul McCartney

The other fantastic musical creative that was part of The Beatles is definitely Paul McCartney. Bob Dylan himself is quoted as saying “I’m in awe of McCartney. He’s about the only one that I’m in awe of.”

On top of being an excellent and iconic melodist, Paul McCartney was able to stretch his talents past typical pop songs to add wit and complex storytelling to his written work.

Some of Paul McCartney’s best songs include:

  • Maybe I’m Amazed
  • Live And Let Die
  • Band On The Run
  • Another Day
  • Coming Up
  • Silly Love Songs
  • No More Lonely Nights
  • Eleanor Rigby
  • Yesterday

4. Chuck Berry

Considered the first singer-songwriter of the rock and roll genre, Chuck Berry crossed boundaries that hadn’t been crossed before.

His fun-loving songs and celebratory American classics are still loved to this day.

Some of Chuck Berry’s best songs include:

  • Maybellene
  • Johnnie B. Goode
  • Roll Over Beethoven
  • Sweet Little Sixteen
  • School Day
  • Rock & Roll Music
  • Memphis, Tennessee

3. Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson truly set the stage for melodic and lyrical goals when he created some of the Motown genre’s greatest pieces of work.

His lyrics were poetic and elegant while still maintaining catchiness in the pop genre as well. He even inspired The Beatles in their early days.

Smokey Robinson described his method of songwriting as such: “My theory of writing is to write a song that has a complete idea and tells a story in the time allotted for a record.”

Some of Smokey Robinson’s best songs include:

  • I Second That Emotion
  • You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me
  • Tracks Of My Tears
  • The Tears Of A Clown
  • Ooh Baby Baby
  • Cruisin’
  • Being With You
  • Shop Around

2. Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was a talented folk musician known her her artistic approach to simplicity in lyricism.

Usually accompanied by her acoustic guitar or piano, she would recite almost disturbingly personal words that changed the way people saw “normal” songwriting.

Confrontational and intimate, Joni Mitchell’s work somehow remains underrated for her masterpieces.

Some of Joni Mitchel’s best songs include:

  • Big Yellow Taxi
  • Both Sides Now
  • Circle Game
  • A Case Of You
  • Free Man In Paris
  • River
  • You Turn Me On I’m A Radio
  • Chelsea Morning

1. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton’s career as a country singer has been above and beyond impressive, and she can owe all that to her talent for songwriting.

From sweet bouncy Tennessee songs to heartwrenching ballads about romance and marital problems, Dolly Parton has pumped out hits that just about every American can recognize.

She was also the writer behind Whitney Houston’s iconic song “I Will Always Love You.”

Some of Dolly Parton’s best songs include:

  • Jolene
  • 9 To 5
  • I Will Always Love You
  • Coat Of Many Colors
  • Here You Come Again
  • Eagle When She Flies
  • My Tennessee Mountain Home

Get Inspired

Were you inspired by this list of the ten best lyricists of all time? Tell us what you think, along with your own favorites, in the comments below!

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