Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Top 100 Songwriters of the Rock Era

Songwriters of the Rock Era:

Top 100

This list was originally posted on the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page on July 1, 2010 and then updated on March 9, 2012, aggregating 36 different sources (see resources at bottom of page).

Despite attempts to gather a wide variety of lists, the emphasis of the lists still heavily largely on singer/songwriters from the rock era, giving short shrift to Broadway, early 20th century writers, and classical composers. As such, I have created two other lists – Composers from Broadway and the Early 20th Century and The Top 50 Classical Composers. However, here’s the list of rock-era songwriters.

See other lists of Acts/Music Makers by Categories.

Bob Dylan, image from

1. Bob Dylan
2. John Lennon/ Paul McCartney
3. Paul Simon
4. Bruce Springsteen
5. Pete Townshend
6. Neil Young
7. Mick Jagger/ Keith Richards
8. Elton John/ Bernie Taupin
9. Joni Mitchell
10. David Bowie

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, image from

11. Leonard Cohen
12. Brian Wilson
13. Carole King
14. Led Zeppelin: John Bonham/ John Paul Jones/ Jimmy Page/ Robert Plant
15. Ray Davies
16. Sting
17. Stevie Wonder
18. Pink Floyd: Syd Barrett/ David Gilmour/ Nick Mason/ Roger Waters/ Richard Wright
19. Chuck Berry
20. Van Morrison

Paul Simon, image from

21. Tom Waits
22. Billy Joel
23. Jerry Leiber/ Mike Stoller
24. Kurt Cobain
25. U2: Bono/ Adam Clayton/ The Edge/ Larry Mullen, Jr.
26. Elvis Costello
27. Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/ Eddie Holland
Burt Bacharach/ Hal David 28.
29. Smokey Robinson
30. James Taylor

Bruce Springsteen, image from

31. John Fogerty
32. Jim Morrison
33. Lou Reed
34. Morrissey
35. Kris Kristofferson
36. Don Henley
37. Bob Marley
38. Prince
39. Gerry Goffin
40. Queen: John Deacon/ Brian May/ Freddie Mercury/ Roger Taylor

Pete Townshend, image from

41. Dolly Parton
42. Michael Jackson
43. Nick Cave
44. Jackson Browne
45. Randy Newman
46. Peter Gabriel
47. Kenneth Gamble/ Leon Huff
48. R.E.M.: Peter Buck/ Bill Berry/ Mike Mills/ Michael Stipe
49. Buddy Holly
50. Neil Diamond

Neil Young, image from Samuel sounds blog

51. Eric Clapton
52. Barry Mann/ Cynthia Weil
53. Roy Orbison
54. Jeff Barry/ Ellie Greenwich
55. Doc Pomus/ Mort Shuman
56. Joe Strummer/ Mick Jones
57. Willie Nelson
58. George Harrison
59. Glenn Frey
60. James Brown

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, image from

61. Thom Yorke/ Jonny Greenwood
62. Little Richard
63. Eddie Vedder
64. Cat Stevens
65. The Bee Gees: Barry Gibb/ Maurice Gibb/ Robin Gibb
66. David Crosby
67. Isaac Hayes/ David Porter
68. Neil Sedaka
69. Jimmy Webb
70. Paul Anka

Elton John and Bernie Taupin

71. David Byrne
72. Curtis Mayfield
73. Boudleaux Bryant/Felice Bryant
74. Lionel Richie
75. Stevie Nicks
76. Carly Simon
77. Noel Gallagher
78. Diane Warren
79. Al Green
80. Phil Collins

Joni Mitchell

81. Robbie Robertson
82. Sam Cooke
83. Loretta Lynn
84. Otis Redding
85. Chuck D
86. Fats Domino/ Dave Bartholomew
87. Tom Petty
88. Chrissie Hynde
89. Frank Zappa
90. Barry Manilow

David Bowie

91. Jim Croce
92. Otis Blackwell
93. Beck
94. Phil Spector
95. Patti Smith
96. Jimi Hendrix
97. Paul Westerberg
98. Richard Thompson
99. Marvin Gaye
100. John Mayer

Resources/Related Links:

First posted 7/1/2010; last updated 1/26/2022.


  1. hahahaha Brian Wilson is 12th?
    Pet Sounds is the best album and it aint an opinion but a fact

  2. Well, that is an opinion and not a fact. As for Brian Wilson being #12, as stated in the beginning of the post, this list is determined objectively by aggregating nearly two dozen best-of lists.

  3. This list has very little credibility when you omit Townes Van Zandt and Willie Dixon. Townes should easily be in the top 5. Not just according to me, that's the opinion of legendary songwriters such as Dylan, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristopherson Lightnin Hopkins and Leonard Cohen. Even modern songwriters such as Norah Jones and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, and John McCauley of Deer Tick name him a legend. As for Willie Dixon it's offensive that you have Led Zeppelin that high and omit Dixon when it is a well known fact that Zeppelin stole many of their hits from Dixon and paid him millions in royalties for infringement. Not to mention the many other songs they stole from old blues musicians. This list has too many songwriters overrated and too many that have no business even being on it.

    1. Certainly everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but as stated in the first paragraph this list was objectively determined by aggregating 36 lists. If there are songwriters who are overrated on this list, it is because they show up on many lists. We all have personal biases; if this were my personal list, I would certainly move some songwriters up and others down. However, the point of the list is to capture a consensus and see who comes out consistently on top.

  4. Queen at number 40? The only rock band in history where each individual member wrote a major hit. Each member solely wrote their songs along with composing the music, none of this co-writing crap. Bohemian Rhapsody had at least 60 chords and composed solely by Freddie Mercury. He along with Brian May were amazing songwriters.

    1. To reiterate my previous defenses of this list, this list was created by compiling multiple best-of lists into one aggregate list. Obviously each individual will want to move some songwriters up and others down, but the objective here was to show what the consensus is from multiple sources.

  5. Aggregating multiple sets of opinions doesn't make it the least bit "objective". All you're saying is that you did not impose your own subjective views; you just added up subjective views of others. There is not one thing "objective" about any of this. All that's OK and even interesting. I would refrain from calling objective, however. Thanks!

    1. The distinction is that a subjective opinion is one which comes from one source. By consolidating multiple sources, the idiosyncratic nature of each individual list is tamed in favor of picks which are more universal.