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Top Ten Songwriters since 1980

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What are your top ten favorite/best (is there a difference?) songwriters since 1980? I think that the 1980 distinction should mean that the output for which they are best known should be post-1980. E.g. this would rule out (imo) Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello (whose first three and probably most famous albums came out in the '70s), and Bob Dylan (who has obviously written lots of great stuff since 2000 along). We could do a separate list of greatest living or greatest ever.


Jeff Tweedy

Ryan Adams

Tom Waits

Jay Farrar

Elliott Smith

PJ Harvey

Alejandro Escovedo

Tori Amos

Aimee Mann


Ok, I couldn't even get to 10. The hardest part was groups where the songwriting credit was shared. That throws out a lot of good ones. I know I'm forgetting a lot.

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01. Thom Yorke

02. Prince

03. Kurt Cobain

04. Tom Waits

05. Elliott Smith

06. Jeff Tweedy

07. P J Harvey

08. Jack White

09. Wayne Coyne

10. Steven Malkmus



People I couldn't include due to technicalities.


R.E.M.- 4 songwriter unit.

Sonic Youth- great music, but it's hard to call it pure songwriting.

Edited by Jesusetc84
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Neil Diamond belongs on the list, even though some of his greatest songs were written in the 60s and 70s. He did The Jazz Singer soundtrack in the early 80s and his 2005 work, 12 Songs, proves he's still an excellent songwriter and considered one of the all-time greats.


I'll also toss a bone out there for Robert Hunter. He continued to write some amazing songs in the 80s and 90s (and currently) for the Grateful Dead, Jim Lauderdale, and a few more modern acts.

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Yeah, I totally forgot about all those albums Waits did pre-1980. If Costello isn't eligible, Waits wouldn't be either.


I went back and forth with Frank Black and left him off because while I love the Pixies, it's not his songwriting that does it. I would also probably add Robert Smith and Thom Yorke. Does Yorke handle all the lyrics for Radiohead? If so, then definitely him just for Bends and OK Computer alone.

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Yorke writes most, but not all of Radiohead's lyrics.


As for Costello, Waits, etc...I'd say it should be judged by the material they put out post-1980. If you were to consider EC's whole career, for example, there's no doubt he's near the top of the list. But since the question here is post-1980...well, that's a lot more debateable. He's done a lot of good stuff since 1980, but he did most of his best stuff before that.

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I'd add Joe Henry and Colin Meloy to the list. Am I the only one who prefers Waits' later stuff? I love everything from Raindogs to Real Gone, and with the exception of Small Change (and Nighthawks) almost never listen to his earlier records.


I prefer Waits 80s stuff, which explains why I forgot about all those earlier records. Some good albums (with some amazing songs) but nothing I like as much as the Swordfishtrobones-era albums.

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elliott smith

paul westerberg

tom waits

mark lanegan

jeff tweedy

frank black

steve earle

greg dulli

lucinda williams

patty griffin



joseph arthur

jeff buckley

nick cave

tom petty

ryan adams

joe henry

pj harvey

thom yorke

ian mackaye


jello biafra

glenn danzig

steve harris

dave mustaine

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I'm struggling...my list is pretty unbalanced toward more recent years, and although I might not say that these are the definitive top 10, I'd say that each has at least one masterpiece album.




Sam Beam

Isaac Brock

Vic Chesnutt

Ted Leo

Jeff Mangum

Tim Rutili

Elliott Smith

Jeff Tweedy

Lucinda Williams

Thom Yorke

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