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The 411 Music Top Five 9.11.12: The Top 5 Male Singer/Songwriters

September 18, 2012 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


Honorable Mention:

Paul McCartney: Honestly, he would be high in this list if I had a better understanding of his work, but I do not.

Sting: I respect his talents and his work, I’ve just never been much for it.

Paul Simon: I know much more of his work with Art Garfunkel, but regardless, what I do know of his solo work is great.

5. Joe Bonamassa

He is one of my favorite artists of this generation, and one of the few non-metal artists that I follow on a regular basis. I would have him much, much higher on this list if he wrote more of his own material, a large amount of his early work as well as a few songs an album on his other albums are covers. But his work that he writes himself is well done and done with a voice that I find to be absolutely great.

4. Phil Collins

I’m sure most in the comments will disagree with this pick, because I know that Mr. Collins is seen by some as a pop singer. But I grew up listening to a large amount of his music, and now that I am older, I can say that there is a lot that I missed as a kid. I’d say that his more famous songs (and one of my favorite drum fills ever), “In the Air Tonight” is a sad song that has dark lyrics. He also has some kind of dumb songs, but hey, who doesn’t have a dumb song or two when you have as long as career as he does?

3. David Bowie

Good ol’ Ziggy Stardust himself, David Bowie is a musician and songwriter who needs no introduction. His career is a long one and his sound often changes, but I think his solid writing is what has held him about many others.

2. John Lennon

I really considered putting him at numero uno, but I decided that number two in so vast a category is nothing to be ashamed of. He was one of the musicians that embraced the want of peace among brothers(and sisters), and his lyrics went deep into that idea, and he stayed with that idea for most of his solo writing career, his words alone, with no music, are enough to evoke much emotion.

1. Bob Dylan

Is this any surprise?, the guy is so great a songwriter that a professor who once taught at Oxford analyzed Bob Dylan’s work in 500 pages. His lyrics are timeless and they really speak to the soul of most people. I personally think that as the times keep a-changin’, his works will become even more respected, which is hard to believe, since he and his works are held to a high regard.

Honorable Mention: Hank Williams, Sr., Elton John, Tom Waits, Nick Cave

5. Ben Folds

It was very, very difficult to decide between Folds or Nick Cave as to who would get the #5 spot, and I even considered cheating and making it a tie between them because they are my two favorite “modern” singer-songwriters. In the end, Ben Folds got the nod because a higher percentage of my favorite Ben Folds songs were without the rest of his band than my favorite Nick Cave songs were without the Bad Seed. Folds is a critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter who has just about done it all in the business, and still he somehow ends up seeming underrated. That’s quite a testament to the quality of his work. I loved his work with Ben Folds Five but without it, somehow he got even better.

4. Neil Young

Seriously, what can you say about Neil Young that hasn’t already been said? That sort of applies to everyone on these lists to be fair, but Young in particular is (deservedly) one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters of all-time. Young’s work with Buffalo Springfield and CSNY were both phenomenal, but his absolute best stuff is on his own. He’s a poet in every sense of the word and like some of the people on this list, his work will be studied well beyond the confines of popular music for years and decades to come.

3. Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, like many of the artists on these two lists, just about transcends the word “songwriter.” Either way, his songs are certainly transcendent and his legacy is firmly set in stone. Most people think of “Hallelujah” when they think of Leonard Cohen, and I think that’s actually a disservice to him. I don’t mean to say that the song isn’t great, but as good as it is, it isn’t the best in his arsenal. I prefer songs like “First We Take Manhattan” or “Suzanne.” My personal favorite though is below.

2. John Lennon

Is it wrong that I’m including John Lennon this high and yet I didn’t give Paul McCartney a spot? Probably. Keep in mind though, I’m just looking at their work as solo singer/songwriters and not as a group; McCartney put out some brilliant solo albums but not like Lennon did. I’ve gone on record as saying that Lennon had the capacity to be pretentious and that is undeniable. That’s absolutely necessary for the kind of career he had and the changes he tried to affect. What’s more, he was able to keep that manageable for the most part and in the process created some of the greatest songs of all-time. Simple as that.

1. Bob Dylan

I swear, I didn’t intentionally try to piggyback this off of my 8 Ball list, it just happened. I’ve been talking about the man for two weeks now, so it’s probably not surprising that he’s on the top of this list. Dylan’s work is poetry set to music in its purest form. No one is a better lyricist, and to top it off he’s an amazing performer as well. Doing my Top 16 songs, I could have easily expanded it to thirty-two or even forty and still felt like I unfairly left stuff off. That about says it all.

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it

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Jeremy Thomas
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