Doug Thompson: ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE MISSES THE MARK…..AGAIN!
Rolling Stone Magazine recently released their latest ‘list’, “The 100 Greatest Songwriters” rollingstone.com). Let me repeat that title, “The 100 Greatest Songwriters”. Their descriptive line states “From Brill Building tunesmiths to Punk poets, from Woody Guthrie to Max Martin, the visionaries who defined music history.”
Look, I fully realize that ALL lists are subjective but I’ve got a few problems with this one. Rolling Stone Magazine doesn’t say who created the list, what the criteria was or anything like that, so right away, it’s suspect. It’s very much like the annual list of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some names you say “Yah, absolutely, about time” and others get a “What the fuck?”
Let me say that for the most part, I have no problems with most of the people on Rolling Stones “100 Greatest Songwriters” list, but there are some glaring omissions and I’ll get to those as we go. Alright, I’ve said my piece, let’s just jump right in, shall we? We’ll start with the bottom ten.
100 – 90
# 100 are Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA. This duo wrote a lot of catchy hits, from “Dancing Queen” (ABBA’s only # 1 single) to “Waterloo”. Their song writing legacy was the key element in “Mama Mia”, one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history.
# 99 is Tom T. Hall, certainly a great and literate songwriter. Hall was an English major at University, yet he was easily able to write Jeannie C. Riley’s # 1 pop and country hit from 1968, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” As an artist in his own right, Hall had 7 # 1 hits on the country charts. In 2008, the storytelling songwriter was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
At # 98, is Otis Blackwell, one of my all time favourite songwriters. Elvis recorded quite a few of Otis’ song, including “All Shook Up”, “Don’t Be Cruel” (both of which went to # 1) and “Return To Sender” (a # 2 hit). Otis wrote two Jerry Lee Lewis classics, “Great Balls Of Fire” and “Breathless”. He co-wrote “Fever”, a hit for both Peggy Lee and Little Willie John. Because he was signed to a different publishing company, Blackwell used his stepfather’s name, John Davenport the name on the credits to “Fever”. The Jimmy Jones and later James Taylor hit “Handy Man” was also written by the African-American songwriter. Blackwell’s written or co-written songs have accounted for the sale of 185 million records. Otis, who died in 2002, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Carole King in 2010.
Taylor Swift is at # 97. Seriously? OK, she’s been extremely successful, but the 97th Greatest Songwriter? I don’t think so.
Timbaland and Missy Elliott log in at # 96. Yes, he’s a great producer, writer and remix artist and she’s a cool singer and writer (although she hasn’t released an album in 10 years), but in my opinion, they’re definitely out of place here.
Someone who does belong is # 95, The Bee Gees. Frankly, I thought that they’d rank a little higher than they did. I wasn’t a big fan of Robin Gibb’s warbling voice on some of their late 1960’s/early ‘70’s hits like “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You”, “Lonely Days” and their first # 1 single, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, but I loved many of the songs on their 1975 album, “Main Course” and then 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever”. When I interviewed Barry Gibb back in the 1990’s, he insisted that as far as he and his brothers were concerned, the songs from “Saturday Night Fever” were NOT disco.
Next, we come to # 94, John Prine. He was certainly influential, but one of the 100 greatest songwriters? I don’t think so.
Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day ranks # 93, at least according to Rolling Stone Magazine anyway. Not sure he actually deserves to be on this list just yet, but I do think “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” is a classic, so maybe he should stay.
# 92 is Paul Westerberg. I like the man, I think he writes thoughtful, interesting songs. Paul gave me a great interview back in the 1990’s, but again, aren’t there more deserving songwriters that could be in his place? Just askin’.
Eminem is # 91. If the criteria is influential, then absolutely he deserves his spot.
# 90 is Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds. Well, this is Rolling Stone Magazine’s list, not mine, but I can think of a songwriter or two who might be a bit more deserving.
89 – 80
Our countdown continues (as Casey Kasem used to say) with # 89, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. Their hit songs they wrote for the Everly Brothers would be reason enough to make this list, but then there’s “Raining In My Heart”, recorded by Buddy Holly and “Love Hurts”, not a hit for the Everly Brothers, who originally recorded it in 1960. It took 16 more years before the Scottish band Nazareth took that song into the Top Ten.
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill are # 88. It would take the rest of this column just to list their songwriting credits, but they more than deserve their spot on this list, although again, they could have been higher up. The couples’ hit songwriting output includes “On Broadway”, “Uptown”, “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place”, “Kicks” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. Of course we can’t forget about singer Barry Mann’s 1961 novelty hit, “Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp Bomp Bomp)”, which he co-wrote with Gerry Goffin, who later partnered with Carole King (they’re higher up on the list). Mann also wrote the music to Canadian Dan Hill’s 1978 # 3 hit, “Sometimes When We Touch”.
# 87 belongs to Kris Kristofferson. Sam Cooke is # 86 while R.E.M. are at # 85. I’m sure Kanye West’s ego would say he should be # 1, but here he is at # 84. The husband and wife songwriting team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are # 83, while the # 82 spot belongs to Marvin Gaye. This is not a joke, but Bjork is # 81. Seriously, higher than Marvin Gaye? I do NOT get that. Wrapping up the 80’s is R. Kelly at # 80.
79 – 70
Moving on, # 79 belongs to Lucinda Williams. No offense Lucinda but c’mon Rolling Stone, get real. Curtis Mayfield certainly deserves a spot and it’s # 78. New Orleans native Allen Toussaint is # 77.
Country legend Loretta Lynn is at # 76. They made a movie out of her life. Can R. Kelly, Lucinda Williams or Bjork say the same? I didn’t think so. The STAX songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter are # 75. Their credits include the Sam & Dave hits “Soul Man”, “Hold On, I’m Coming”, “I Thank You” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”, which the duo wrote in just 15 minutes.
# 74 is Patti Smith, certainly an influential artist and songwriter. Radiohead is # 73 but probably should be much, much further down the list (possibly towards the end). ‘The Fat Man’, Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino and his songwriting partner Dave Barthomolew step into the # 72 spot while # 71 belongs to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame. That leaves Dan Penn, who wrote such classic hits as “I’m Your Puppet”, “Cry Like A Baby” and Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (co-written with Chips Moman) at # 70. Although he didn’t write the song, Penn produced The Box Tops 1967 chart topper “The Letter”.
Walter and Donald
69 – 60
Counting down the 60’s, we have: James Taylor (# 69), Jay Z (# 68), Morrissey and Johnny Marr of The Smiths (# 67), the Philadelphia songwriting moguls, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (# 66), George Harrison (# 65), Bert Berns (# 64). Bert’s credits include “Tell Him”, “Twist And Shout”, “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Piece Of My Heart”. Bert was the letter ‘B’ in BANG Records (the ‘A’ was Ahmet Ertegun, the ‘N’ was his brother Nesuhi Ertegun and the ‘G’ was for Gerald ‘Jerry’ Wexler), The Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde ranks # 63 while # 62 belongs to Harry Nilsson. The songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman hold down the # 61 spot. This New York based duo wrote the hits “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “This Magic Moment”, “Little Sister”, “A Teenager In Love”, “Sweets For My Sweet” and “Viva Las Vegas” (OK, we’ll forgive them for that last one. In the late 1960’s, Shuman moved to Paris, France and co-wrote the successful off –Broadway production, “Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris”. # 60 is the one-and-only Willie Nelson, the legendary pot enthusiast who wrote such hits as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, “Pretty Paper” and “On The Road Again” rightfully deserves a spot on this list, but as I’ve stated several times before…he should be much higher up, certainly in the Top 40.
59 – 50
Tom Petty rolls in at # 59 with George Clinton at # 58. Gee, this is just like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees list. Hmmm. The same guy who owns Rolling Stone Magazine also makes the final decision on who does and doesn’t get into the R&R HOF. This grows ever more curious! # 57 is Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of The Clash. Madonna straddles the # 56 spot with Tom Waits at # 55. The late Kurt Cobain from Nirvana makes the list at # 54 while Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks aces the # 53 spot. Notorious B.I.G. is given the # 52 position. Again, I seriously question this one. # 51 belongs to the well deserving Willie Dixon. The songs this man wrote and his influence on music is undeniable. Songs like “Little Red Rooster”, ”Back Door Man”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “The Seventh Son” aka “Seventh Son” (a Top 10 hit for Johnny Rivers in 1965) and “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” ensured that Willie Dixon would one day be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which he was in 1994). He’s also in the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. And how lame would Led Zeppelin’s song “Whole Lotta Love” sound if they hadn’t ‘borrowed’ from Willie’s songs “You Need Love” and “Bring It On Home”. Closing out the midpoint of the list at # 50 is Billy Joel.
Mose Allison sings Willie Dixon
From here up to # 1 this list makes a whole lot more sense. There are a couple of names that I don’t think belong here over some others that aren’t and I might have a quibble about where some of these songwriters are rated, but most certainly deserve to be in the Top 50.
49 – 40
The Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey are at # 49. # 48 is Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Both have written successfully with others, but together, the duo charted over 30 hits. Not too many others on this list can boast that claim. Neil Diamond is ranked at # 47. He was only inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame four years ago. # 46 is Motown’s Norman Whifield and Barrett Strong. Whitfield is a powerful political and social commentator in song. Robbie Robertson stands at # 45 (FINALLY, a Canadian songwriter on this list). There should be a whole lot more (and there are, just keep reading). Jimmy Webb ranks at # 44 with # 43 belonging to Johnny Cash. Both deserve to be much higher up on this list. Sly Stone comes in at # 42 with Grammy award winning contemporary songwriter Max Martin showing up at # 41. Martin’s hit list include The Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way”, Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time”, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back together” (a co-write with Swift and Shellback), plus Arianna Grande’s “Problems”, Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me?”, Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” and “Teenage Dream”, both of which were co-written with Perry and others. In the # 40 spot is John Fogerty, whose hit writing for his group Creedence Clearwater Revival would be enough to get him on this list, but then there’s his solo output which includes the Top Ten hit, “Old Man Down The Road”.
Elton and Bernie
(Editor’s Note – Turn on any contemporary hit radio station. That’s Max. If he didn’t write one, it will sound like he did. Max Martin IS the format.)
39 – 30
The 30’s start out with David Bowie in the # 39 spot. Al Green is at # 38 while Jackson Browne checks in at # 37. Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter are, at least according to Rolling Stone Magazine anyway, at # 36. I wouldn’t agree with them being that high up, but then again, Rolling Stone did launch from San Francisco, home to the Grateful Dead, so this isn’t a complete surprise (there’s a LOT of subjectivity on this list). # 35 falls Bono and The Edge. U2 can write great songs when you also have Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois producing and adding their own magic touches. Michael Jackson comes in at # 34 while country star Merle Haggard hangs on at # 33. Burt Bacharach and Hal David made the # 32 spot. Interestingly, Bacharach was part of the inner circle of avant-garde composer John Cage. In the # 30 spot (for some reason, there was no # 31 listed) is Dolly Parton. A country cross-over legend whose song writing hits include “9 To 5”, “Islands In The Stream” (a 1983 duet with Kenny Rogers that went to # 1 on the pop and country charts), “Jolene”, “Here You Come Again” and her songwriting piece de resistance, “I Will Always Love You” (a # 1 country hit for Dolly and a # 1 pop smash for Whitney Houston.)
A Tribute to Burt Bacharach and Hal David
29 – 20
The 20’s begin with The Who’s Pete Townshend at # 29 but Buddy Holly is ALSO listed at # 29 (obviously, someone at Rolling Stone screwed up big time with two numbering errors). Next, at # 28 is Woody Guthrie (Bob Dylan has said that Woody’s songs were his biggest influence).
# 27 is Ray Davies of The Kinks. When he’s not feuding with brother Dave Davies, he writes a mean song. The ‘hardest working man in show biz’, Mr. James Brown is at # 26 while Randy Newman holds down the # 25 spot. I love Randy Newman, but I’m not sure he should be this high on the list. Elvis Costello, who’s married to Diana Krall, is # 24. The ‘Crossroads’ man, Robert Johnson owns the # 23 spot (well, maybe he leases it from The Devil) while Van Morrison is listed in the # 22 position. Lou Reed’s at # 21 while Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are # 20. In my opinion and certainly on MY list of the ‘100 Best Songwriters’, Leiber & Stoller would be in the Top Ten, no question.
Leiber and Stoller
(Editor’s Note – Copyright owners (lawyers, publishing companies, record companies) have eviscerated the 2 L&S documentaries and they are now silent. I did, however, find this….)
19 – 11
The Rolling Stone Magazine list continues with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry at # 19. This husband and wife team (it was a short lived marriage) wrote many hits, including “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be My Baby”, “Baby, I Love You”, “Then He Kissed Me”, “River Deep – Mountain High” and “Christmas, (Baby, Please Come Home)” (all 6 of those were co-written with Phil Spector) as was “Chapel of Love”. On their own, Barry & Greenwich wrote “Hanky Panky”, “Leader Of The Pack” (‘Shadow’ Morton was an additional co-writer), “Do Wah Diddy” and “Maybe I Know”. With other collaborators, Jeff Barry co-wrote “Tell Laura I Love Her”, “Sugar Sugar”, “Montego Bay” and “I Honestly Love You”.
# 18 is Prince while Neil Young, only the second Canadian on the list so far, is # 17. Another Canuck, Leonard Cohen is listed at # 16. The Motown songwriting/producing team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland aka Holland, Dozier, Holland land at # 15. On MY list, they’d also be in the Top Ten. ‘The Boss’, Bruce Springsteen is # 14 while Hank Williams (Senior) is # 13. Rolling Stone Magazine lists Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys at # 12 while Bob Marley is # 11.
Holland Dozier Holland
So now we come to the Top Ten!
10 – 1
Stevie Wonder is at # 10. Joni Mitchell is # 9. Paul Simon’s at # 8. Another husband and wife duo, Gerry Goffin and Carole King are in the # 7 spot. Their marriage may not have lasted, but the songs they co-wrote certainly will. “Up On The Roof”, “One Fine Day”, “The Locomotion”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Take Good Care Of My Baby”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Chains” (John Lennon was quoted as saying that when he and Paul McCartney stared writing together, they wanted to be the British Goffin and King). After their divorce, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, writing alone or with others, created even more classic hits. Carole King even had a Tony Award winning Broadway play written around her music. # 6 on Rolling Stone’s list are The Glimmer Twins aka Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. These two may have had their disagreements, but when they wrote songs together, they were in harmony (no pun intended). Motown’s Smokey Robinson is # 5 while St. Louis’ Chuck Berry is # 4. John Lennon is listed at # 3 and Paul McCartney‘s at # 2. In terms of influence and social relevance, those two numbers could easily be reversed.
Goffin/King The Drifters
Lennon and McCartney
Marvin Sings Smokey
And I think we all know who # 1 is….
Bob Dylan of course.
The man who wrote “Blowing In The Wind”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “Positively 4th Street”, “Lay Lady Lay”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Gotta Serfvce Somebody” is now comfortable enough in his own skin and with his legendary status to record an album of Frank Sinatra songs. Hey, when you’re cool…you’re cool.
(Editor’s Note – Once again copyright owners have struck, no version of Dylan’s hit recording of Like a Rolling Stone is available on YouTube…but I found this…)
OK, now that you know who IS on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Best Songwriters” list, here’s a few who are NOT!
Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. Their hit songwriting output, together and separately, includes “These Eyes”, “American Woman”, “Stand Tall”, Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”.
Paul Anka is another Canadian songwriter who more than deserves to be included on this list. Besides his own hits (he charted over 50 singles on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 chart and that includes 3 # 1’s…can Bjork claim that? I didn’t think so). Paul’s also written hit songs for Buddy Holly (“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”), Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley (both had hits with “My Way”) and Tom Jones “She’s A Lady”.)
Then there’s Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield. Maybe they’re not ‘hip enough’ for Rolling Stone, but this songwriting duo charted a string a hits from 1958 on. Although they both wrote with other collaborators in later years, Sedaka and Greenfield managed to score 6 Top 10 hits in only 4 years. Sedaka was certainly ‘hip enough’ for Elton John to sign to his Rocket record label in the 1970’s. Sedaka went on to chart two more # 1’s (“Laughter In The Rain” and “Bad Blood”) on Rocket plus score another Top Ten hit with the slowed down remake of “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. Neil and Greenfield also scored a # 1 smash in 1975 with Captain & Tennille’s version of “Love Will Keep Us Together”.
And what about Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange? His co-writes with then wife Shania Twain are just the tip of the Mutt iceberg when you consider he’s either written, or co-written such hits as “Do You Believe In Love” (a Top Ten for Huey Lewis & The News), “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”, “All For Love” & “Have You Ever really Loved A Woman” (all three were # 1 hits written with and for Bryan Adams). Then there’s his Def Leppard co-writing output, “Hysteria”, “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, “Love Bites” (a 1988 # 1 hit) and so many others.
The list of important influential songwriters that SHOULD have replaced some of the weaker names on Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Songwriters’ includes Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Gaudio & Bob Crewe, Dianne Warren, David Foster, Jackie DeShannon, Daryl Hall, Freddie Mercury, Paul Williams, Tony Hatch, Will Jennings, Michael Masser, Lionel Richie, Graham Nash, Harlan Howard and Little Richard. Interestingly, all of those named in the last paragraph ARE in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
(Editor’s Note – NO Daryl Hall? Little Richard? Paul Williams? Gaudio and Crewe? WTF?)
Rolling Stone Magazine…you’ve let me down yet again. Maybe you’re just not ‘hip enough’ anymore.
Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.
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Doug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S.
He’s won a shitload of awards for his creative efforts, over 150 at present count. He’s interviewed, as well as
worked with major celebrities on various radio and television projects, including Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono,
Randy Bachman, David Foster, Wolfman Jack, Bob Ezrin and John Candy. Doug was Creative Director for
Telemedia Network Radio in Toronto for 13 years. He’s also worked with ABC and NBC Radio networks in the U.S.
His first television series, “Hi Fi Salutes”, for Canada’s Hi Fi Channel, won a Platinum Award at the World Television
Festival in Houston, Texas. He wrote and produced 28 episodes of “Hi Fi Salutes”. Doug also wrote and produced
“Pressed In Canada”, a one hour television documentary on the early Canadian independent record company scene.
He continues to do work for Sirius/XM, NFL Canada as well as other companies. Doug’s also a Professor of
Communications at Seneca College@York in Toronto.
Currently, he has no plans to sit in a rocking chair in his backyard and grow old gracefully.