The last phrase in my Twitter bio says, “recovering d.j.”. The term ‘recovery’, like as a goal for those ridding themselves from an addiction of some sort, is usually equated with abstinence or necessary lifestyle change. I understand this concept well. Not that music and d.j.ing hold any personal danger. But, after college, I pursued a career saying goodbye to those radio d.j. days and the former obsession. I still hear music on the radio and automatically think about what segue would work best. Old habits die hard. Now, my iPhone music playlists are about as close as I get to relive those days.
So, you can understand my hesitation to join a conversation and debate on the best rock and roll songwriters (lyricists) of all time. So, I eavesdropped.
“Seriously? How can you not put Ed Sheeran on this list?” questions Corinne from the conference table next to my booth setup. I glanced at her badge to remember her name.
“Right?!” agreed Lisa, her booth partner.
They were leafing through a Rolling Stone magazine from a couple of years ago. It must have been sitting in the lobby of this rather old, hotel/country club in Holtville, CA. The Imperial Palms is about 10 miles east of El Centro. It has an atmosphere of the ‘60s with an ’80s update. So, I can see why this magazine would still be around two or three years later.
“Who is John Prine?” Corrine states out loud. “And why would he rank better than Taylor Swift?” I hold my thoughts, smile, and stifle an urge to offer any enlightenment.
Wait! Taylor Swift is on the list?
Rolling Stone does this to stir up controversy, I swear. I’ve shared in these lists before and they foster more arguments than agreement. You’d think THIS magazine to be the definitive authority on all things Rock n’ Roll. But, at best, these types of lists offer basic background with a dash of analytical insight. It does get people talking, that is for sure.
“What is the list?” I inquired over the booth railing.
Corrine flips to the first page, holds it up to me, and reads, “The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time”.
“Songwriters, huh? Let me guess,” I state. “Lennon/McCartney or Bob Dylan have to be at number one.”
Corrine thumbs through to the end. “Yep! Dylan is #1, McCartney #2, and John Lennon at #3,” she detailed.
Lisa questioned, “They separated Lennon and McCartney?” Lisa is older than Corrine and might be my age, though I’m terrible at this age guessing game.
“Chuck Berry at number four? Really?” complained Corrine. “He’s, like, before my parent’s time even.”
“The title says ‘All Time’,” I add. “I’m sure there are quite a few surprises in there that don’t conform to our modern view of music.”
“I guess,” Corrine sighs. She continues to flip.
“Where is the Door’s Jim Morrison?” Lisa inquires. She glances at me. Corrine looks. And, she looks.
“I don’t think he is listed,” states Corrine.
“That can’t be,” demands Lisa. She holds her hands out for the magazine. Corrine hands it over.
Lisa starts, “Bee Gees at 95. Billie Joe from Green Day at 93, nice! … Paul Westerberg at 92.”
I smile at that one. The Replacement’s Let It Be album could be the best record to come out of the 1980s.
“Eminem, not a fan,” she argues. “Hmmm. Hmmm. R.E.M. 85. Kanye West? How can he be better than R.E.M.? This list sucks.” Yet, she continues to look for her favorites. “Tom Petty at 59. Ok. … The Clash at 57.” She nodded in agreement. “Curt Cobain should be higher than 54! … Bowie, too. He should be top ten. …. U2 only at 35? I don’t think so. … Prince at 18 is about right. … Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon at 8. Stones at 6. … No Jim Morrison. That’s just wrong.”
It is hard to argue that one. In fact, it is hard to argue with just about any of those on the list. I am glad to see Lou Reed and Elvis Costello in the top 25. Both Ray Davies (27) and Chrisie Hynde (63) made the list. And, Pete Townshend (29) and Jackson Browne (37) are fittingly listed. Robbie Robertson is in at 45. I think Tom Waits should be higher than 55. But, that is just me.
I agree with Lisa. It isn’t so much the minutia of who is listed and where they rank, but who didn’t make the list. Classic bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Queen and Yes aren’t represented in this songwriter category. How can Freddy Mercury not be on this list? David Byrne isn’t here, either. That is a crime.
Obviously, popularity had something to do with it. I have a hard time that brilliant, intelligent lyrists like Lloyd Cole, Morrissey, or Mike Scott from the Waterboys aren’t represented.
If Taylor Swift is on this list, then so should Dave Matthews. Seriously!
People started to fill the hall. They put away the outdated magazine. Its list might have some merit, but it was narrow and not particularly relevant today.