BuzzFeed’s 23 Of The Most Swoonworthy Love Songs From 2015

1. Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do

Ellie Goulding, "Love Me Like You Do"

Say what you will about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie — the soundtrack is great. Like, really, truly, Beyoncé-is-on-this-thing great! But, while most of the film’s music paints in ~shades of lust~, Ellie Goulding’s contribution, “Love Me Like You Do,” is pure bliss. Built like a cathedral of synths, the song is toweringly romantic and unapologetically sweet.

Swoonworthy lyric: “You’re the light, you’re the night / You’re the color of my blood / You’re the cure, you’re the pain / You’re the only thing I wanna touch”

2. Selena Gomez, “Good for You

Selena Gomez, "Good for You"

Selena Gomez transitioned into adult pop stardom this year with a whisper, not a shout. Literally. Her first post-Disney single — the hushed, R&B-inspired “Good for You” — is sung in a sexy, vowel-breaking whisper. The result is like pillow talk, only catchier.

Swoonworthy lyric: “Let me show you how proud I am to be yours / Leave this dress a mess on the floor / And still look good for you, good for you”

3. Fetty Wap, “My Way (feat. Monty)

Fetty Wap, "My Way (feat. Monty)"

On “My Way” time slows to a syrupy wooze as the rapper tries to impress the object of his affection with come-on after come-on. It’s equal parts charming and desperate. It’s charmingly desperate. There’s something about Fetty Wap’s Auto-Tuned warbling that sounds like the way infatuation feels — uncontrollable and ecstatic.

Swoonworthy lyric: “I spotted you, you had that glow / Watch me pull out all this dough / Take you where you want to go”

4. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Run Away With Me

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Run Away With Me"

Nobody crushes like Carly Rae Jepsen crushes. Fluttery feelings of romantic possibility take on cosmic shadings and become something grander in her hands. Three years ago, she made giving your phone number to a stranger sound fated on her bubblegum masterpiece, “Call Me Maybe,” and, this year, she’s imbued her best new song, “Run Away With Me,” a sax-inflected, end-of-the-night anthem, with a real sense of destiny.

Swoonworthy lyric: “Oh baby, take me to the feeling / I’ll be your sinner, in secret / When the lights go out / Run away with me”

5. 5 Seconds of Summer, “Vapor

5 Seconds of Summer, "Vapor"

Young love and teen angst collide on 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Vapor,” a pop-punk ballad about an intoxicatingly uncertain relationship. The track is full of drums, strings, and capital-F Feelings. The kind of big, bright, painful feelings that make adolescence feel so techno-colored and 5SOS so unbelievably popular.

Swoonworthy lyric: “I want to breathe you in like a vapor / I want to be the one you remember / I want to feel your love like the weather / All over me, all over me”

6. Blake Shelton, “Sangria

Blake Shelton, "Sangria"

Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” is a sexy song. A sexy country song. Country music doesn’t usually excel as “sexy,” but “Sangria” does. There’s some racy electric guitar and Shelton dials down his swagger to an intimate come-on as he sings lines like “Your skin is begging to be kissed by a little more than the sun” and “Only thing I want to do tonight is drink you like a Spanish wine.” It’s a buzzed Mexican honeymoon in song form.

Swoonworthy lyric: “Wrecking-ball dancing down the hallway / You’re holding your shoes, wearing my shades / We fall against the door / We fall into a wild, warm kiss”

7. Melanie Martinez, “Training Wheels

Melanie Martinez, "Training Wheels"

Don’t be fooled by the juvenile title: Melanie Martinez’s “Training Wheels” is loaded with grown-up ideas about love and trust. The 20-year-old pop singer quietly levels with her lover — “It’s not like I’m asking to be your wife / Wanna make you mine, but that’s hard to say” — over twinkly, music box–like production.

Swoonworthy lyric: “I love everything you do / When you call me fucking dumb for the stupid shit I do / Wanna ride my bike with you / Fully undressed, no training wheels left for you”

8. Troye Sivan, “for him. (feat. Allday)

Troye Sivan, "for him. (feat. Allday)"

Is it any surprise that Troye Sivan’s songwriting made Taylor Swift lose her chill earlier this year? “For him.” is exactly the kind of diaristic love song that she loves (and is so good at). Bouncy, laid-back, and chock-full of super-specific details, “for him.” is, in a lot of ways, a downright Swiftian portrait of young love.

Swoonworthy lyric: “You don’t have to say I love you to say I love you / Forget all the shooting stars and all the silver moons / We’ve been making shades of purple out of red and blue”

9. Meek Mill, “All Eyes on You (feat. Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj)

Meek Mill, "All Eyes on You (feat. Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj)"

Look, I’m not gonna lie: Chris Brown almost ruins this song. It’s a testament to Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill’s chemistry that he doesn’t. Instead of being a certified mess, “All Eyes on You” is actually pretty romantic! It’s fun to listen to an actual, real-life couple trade verses about their actual, real-life relationship.

Swoonworthy lyric: “I got him in the back of that ‘bach, I think he catchin’ feelings / Now it’s all eyes on us, and this all lies on trust / And if them bitches wanna trip, tell ‘em they tour guides on us”

10. Jazmine Sullivan, “Let It Burn

Jazmine Sullivan, "Let It Burn"

If you lost your shit over Adele and her perfect voice this year, you should really make room in your playlists for Jazmine Sullivan. The chronically slept-on R&B singer has an equally impressive set of pipes and she really lets loose on “Let It Burn,” a velvety throwback jam that features some truly spectacular wailing and a ‘90s-era Babyface sample. All-consuming passion has never sounded cooler.

Swoonworthy lyric: “When it comes, you never wanna give it up / And, baby, I’m caught in the light and I ain’t gonna fight it / There’s no use in tryin’, I’m yours”

11. Pentatonix, “Rose Gold

Pentatonix, "Rose Gold"

While “Rose Gold” seems ridiculous on paper — it’s Haylor fanfiction, loaded with allusions to 1989 — the song is, in practice, a sparse, surprisingly mature bit of a cappella. The Petatonix have been subverting expectations all year and “Rose Gold” is no exception.

Swoonworthy lyric: “Like a myth, the story of our lives / Couldn’t fit in only black and white / If it’s true that legends never die / Me and you could stand the test of time”

12. Miguel, “Coffee (Fucking)

Miguel, "Coffee (Fucking)"

This is a song called “Coffee (Fucking)” from certified R&B sex god Miguel. What more could you want? What more could you possibly need? Assurances that the song lives up to its sexy and affectionate title? Well, OK, here they are: “Coffee (Fucking)” does, in fact, live up to its excellent title. It’s a sultry ode to nights when “pillow talk turns into sweet dreams” and “sweet dreams turns into fucking in the morning.” Would that we could all be so lucky!

Swoonworthy lyric: “I don’t wanna wake you / I just wanna watch you sleep / It’s the smell of your hair / And it’s the way that we feel / I’ve never felt comfortable like this”

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Women In Music 2015: The 50 Most Powerful Executives in the Industry

From Billboard.com

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“The trailblazing women executives who are celebrated in these pages aren’t just leading the music industry — they’re transforming it,” writes Hillary Clinton in her introduction to Billboard’s annual Women In Music issue. The people below are leaders across every facet of the industry; consider Marcie Allen’s transformative brand work, Jody Gerson’s historic appointment to the top of Universal Music Publishing’s C-suite, Michelle Jubelirer’s indispensable ears and eyes at the Capitol Tower. Taken together they form the bedrock of the business. Congratulations — and thanks.

Agencies

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EMMA BANKS
Co-head of international touring/co-head of CAA Music London, Creative Artists Agency

CAROLE KINZEL
Agent, Creative Artists Agency

MARLENE TSUCHII
Co-head of international touring, Creative Artists Agency

Banks and Tsuchii, based in London and Los Angeles, ­respectively, co-­manage international touring for CAA, an increasingly important part of the agency’s business. Banks worked on Katy Perry’s Prismatic World Tour and guided up-and-comer Hozier to major festival spots, while Tsuchii is plotting Justin Bieber’s 2016 global itinerary, after working in 2015 for such Billboard Boxscore leaders as Foo Fighters and Ariana Grande. Meanwhile, Kinzel helped her client Lana Del Rey set ­multiple venue records on her summer tour of amphitheaters.
wim-exec-agencies-yoh-simon-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SARA NEWKIRK SIMON, 38
Partner/co-head of music department, William Morris Endeavor

SAMANTHA KIRBY YOH
Partner, William Morris Endeavor

New York-based Kirby Yoh (left) and Los Angeles-based Newkirk Simon scout opportunities for their diverse clientele on both coasts. Kirby Yoh, who manages WME’s New York music team, cites the recent launch of the M2M fashion channel on Apple TV by WME and its affiliated IMG agency as a new ­exposure opportunity for clients Florence & The Machine, Grimes, FKA Twigs and Alicia Keys. Division co-head Newkirk Simon guides Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams and Selena Gomez with an eye on new career options; client Miguel has just joined the cast of the upcoming crime film Live by Night, starring Ben Affleck.

wim-exec-agencies-nastaskin-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250NATALIA NASTASKIN
Head of U.S. music operations, United Talent Agency

The former CEO of the Agency Group USA spent the ­summer ­negotiating the acquisition of her 2,200-client firm by United Talent Agency. “It’s a major game-changer,” says the New York-based Nastaskin, who opened a Miami office and created a college and casino booking division for her agency.

 

 

wim-exec-agencies-vlasic-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MARSHA VLASIC
President, Artist Group International

A veteran agent with a loyal client list of superstars and critically acclaimed acts (Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Muse, Regina Spektor, The Strokes, Band of Horses), Vlasic still seeks out additions to her roster. “There’s always room for one more, especially when you’re a Jewish mother,” says the Brooklyn native. Highlights of her year included Young’s tour backed by Promise of the Real (the band led by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas) and Costello’s Detour Tour.

wim-exec-agencies-yim-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250CAROLINE YIM, 37
Concerts agent, ICM Partners

Under Yim’s guidance, Kehlani Parrish — the 20-year-old former America’s Got Talent contestant — embarked on her first solo tour. The Los Angeles native also has orchestrated road runs for Kendrick Lamar (13 intimate shows), The Internet (40 cities domestically), Earl Sweatshirt (62 cities) and duo Rae Sremmurd (with 155 dates booked). “This is my music,” says the UCLA alumna. “I’ve been a hip-hopper from day one.”

Brands

wim-exec-brands-allen-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MARCIE ALLEN, 42
President, MAC Presents

Allen flies weekly between her home in Nashville and office in New York, which helps explain why she saw the potential in an airline-artist partnership. Among the deals her team brokered this year were a Southwest Airlines tour ­sponsorship for Imagine Dragons, including an in-flight ­concert. Thanks to diversification with clients like Microsoft Windows, revenue is up 20 percent over 2014 to a record eight ­figures, and Allen will begin 2016 by rolling out a Sundance Film Festival programming ­partnership in January with the venue Park City Live. She also promises a “breakthrough summer ­festival ­strategy” with a major beer brand.

wim-exec-brands-breithaupt-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JENNIFER BREITHAUPT, 43
Global head of entertainment, Citi

Selling millions of tickets to its credit-card holders, Citi has partnered with more than 1,400 artists and bands and 11,000 events in 21 ­countries in 2015, including a majority of the year’s top tours, says Breithaupt. The brand, which one informed source estimates is working with a $100 ­million budget — Citi doesn’t disclose this ­information — and has seen double-digit year-to-year growth in ticket sales and U.S. ticket revenue, also is focused on creating opportunities for fans “who may never leave the house,” like Yahoo’s concert-a-day series, explains Breithaupt. For 2016, she and Citi are ­working on ­technology to identify card holders in venues and give them ­”special access to artists” as the ­ultimate door prize.

wim-exec-brands-curtis-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250DEBORAH CURTIS
Vp global sponsorships and experiential marketing, American Express

In 2015, Curtis delivered presale access for American Express card holders to tours by The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Chesney, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. With Swift’s team, she created the Emmy-winning Amex Unstaged Taylor Swift Experience app, which included an interactive video of “Blank Space.” (One industry insider put the deal at $3 million to $5 million.) Newer acts have received a boost from Amex Unstaged Artists in Residence, which has showcased Børns, Rae Sremmurd and Pia Mia.

Digital

wim-exec-digital-clemens-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SARA CLEMENS, 44
Chief strategy officer, Pandora

Clemens and her team have spent the last year positioning Pandora to better compete in the digital marketplace. In November, the company acquired some of the assets of Rdio for $75 million with the intention of entering the on-demand subscription marketplace with Spotify, Apple and YouTube. In October, it spent $450 million on Ticketfly, which will allow artists to sell concert tickets directly to Pandora listeners. “There was a crew of probably more than 100 people that leaned in to get this done,” the New Zealand native says of the deal.

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wim-exec-digital-trio-bb37-2015-billboard-510

TAMARA HRIVNAK, 39
Director/head of Americas music ­partnerships, Google Play/YouTube

VIVIEN LEWIT
Director/global head of artist ­relations, YouTube/Google Play

HEATHER MOOSNICK, 43
Director/head of label partnerships (Americas), YouTube

Through complementary roles at Google, these three women are driving the tech giant’s digital music strategy for YouTube and Google Play. Hrivnak focuses on partnerships with hardware manufacturers, telecommunication firms and retailers, as well as labels and music ­publishers. Lewit prepped the November launches of subscription service YouTube Red and the YouTube Music app. Moosnick, a veteran of digital roles at MTV and Warner Music, secured the label licenses for YouTube Red.

wim-exec-digital-schlosser-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250KATIE SCHLOSSER
Senior director of label relations for North America, Spotify

As Spotify has grown from 15 million to 60 million listeners during the past five years, Schlosser, an alumna of the Berklee College of Music, has worked “to generate meaningful artist success stories.” This year, for instance, EDM group Major Lazer racked up 38 million streams of its single “Lean On” — landing it at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 — after Spotify orchestrated “a concerted marketing push,” she says.

Film/TV

wim-exec-filmtv-escobedo-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MONICA ESCOBEDO, 38
Entertainment producer, ABC News/Good Morning America

Escobedo did her part in the perpetual ratings battle for network morning-show supremacy by amping up GMA’s summer concert series lineup. Jason Derulo’s June 12 gig scored particularly big, attracting 5.1 million viewers — the highest Nielsen numbers of the series — and translated to the kind of exposure that’s increasingly difficult for an artist to get from a single appearance: Sales of his album Everything Is 4 jumped 20 percent afterward. Escobedo also orchestrated special coverage of One Direction in conjunction with the release of its new album, Made in the A.M. Says the UCLA graduate: “It’s all about creating those television moments.”

wim-exec-filmtv-gurovitsch-shookus-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JULIE GUROVITSCH, 33
Talent executive for music, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

LINDSAY SHOOKUS, 35
Producer, Saturday Night Live

When it comes to music, SNL and The Tonight Show are the most influential shows in late night, and Gurovitsch (left) and Shookus are their gatekeepers. Shortly after Gurovitsch booked blues rockers Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ national TV debut on Aug. 5 at Fallon’s request, streaming of the band’s single, “S.O.B.,” jumped 279 percent to 173,000 plays, according to Nielsen Music. And when Shookus, who leads a team of three other bookers, landed Miley Cyrus for SNL’s fall premiere on Oct. 3, the show saw a 14-percent ratings boost over the 2014 season debut. They make it look easy, but Shookus, who has been an SNL producer since 2010, says, “You get one chance to make the right impression. And people have long memories when you make the wrong one.”

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DEBRA LEE, 61
Chairman/CEO, BET Networks

Lee acknowledges it has been a tough year, characterized by layoffs and ­restructuring that rocked BET parent company Viacom. “But it hasn’t slowed us down,” she says. Despite a 1.4 million dip in viewers in 2015, music tentpole the BET Awards still ranks as cable’s No. 1 awards telecast. The third annual BET Experience festival was another success: Attendance was up 36 percent (150,000-plus), and the event has been renewed through 2018.

wim-exec-filmtv-moll-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SARAH MOLL, 39
Director of media events, NFL

In February, Super Bowl XLIX made history, and not for anything having to do with football. The glory belonged to the 12-and-a-half-minute halftime show put together by Moll’s NFL team, which featured Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and a resurgent Missy Elliott. A record 118.5 million viewers tuned in at halftime — the largest in Super Bowl history. Although Moll, who resides in Playa del Rey, Calif., isn’t ­commenting, she reportedly has drafted one of her favorite artists, Bruno Mars, whose 2014 halftime appearance ranks second to Perry’s, to curate the music for Super Bowl 50.

wim-exec-filmtv-schreiber-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250BRITTANY SCHREIBER, 28
Music booking producer; NBC News, Today

Although Today’s intense rivalry with Good Morning America means Schreiber must land ratings-getters, she thrives on booking an emerging act and “watching it become a success.” When Wiz Khalifa wasn’t available to join up-and-comer Charlie Puth for an August ­appearance, she booked Puth solo — and will bring him back in January for his album release. Seasoned acts also benefit: After Duran Duran played Today, the band notched its highest Billboard 200 chart debut in 22 years with Paper Gods (No. 10).

wim-exec-filmtv-soler-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250DAWN SOLER, 55
Senior vp music, ABC

Now that ABC’s Nashville has spun off 11 soundtracks and sold more than 900,000 units and 4 million song downloads, Soler plans to build ancillary music markets around other ABC series, including How to Get Away With Murder, Wicked City and Marvel Studios’ Luke Cage superhero series, which is being developed for Netflix. “I’d love to create a musical experience for at least half our shows and have a few more like Nashville,” says the Los Angeles native, who admits to having a special affinity for bass solos.

wim-exec-filmtv-vollack-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250LIA VOLLACK, 51
President of worldwide music/executive vp theatrical, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Pressure is finding a memorable song for the 24th movie in the $7 ­billion James Bond franchise, but Vollack rose to the occasion when she secured Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” for Spectre. On 007’s home turf, the song became the first Bond theme to hit No. 1 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart. The Colorado native, who calls both Los Angeles and New York home, says the key to her success is choosing her battles. “The trick to this business is knowing when to give up.” Her next challenge: the perfect theme for the summer 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.

Finance

wim-exec-finance-badgett-henderson-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250LORI BADGETT, 41
Senior vp/team leader, City National Bank

MARTHA HENDERSON
Executive vp/head of entertainment ­division, City National Bank

Badgett (left) and Henderson, based in Nashville and Los Angeles, respectively, exemplify City National’s deep ties to the entertainment industry, a long-established market strength that led Royal Bank of Canada to acquire the financial institution in 2015. Day to day, says Badgett, “you can be setting up a $5,000 credit card for a touring artist or a $25 million publishing syndicate.” The Royal Bank deal, says Henderson, “gives us a lot more to offer our clients. It’s expanding what we do today.”

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JULIE BOOS, 46
Co-owner/vp/business manager, Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy

MARY ANN McCREADY
President/co-founder/­business ­manager, Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy

The duo helps run one of the ­industry’s top financial management firms, which counts Keith Urban and Blake Shelton among its clientele. McCready’s investments also extend to Nashville itself — she’s a fierce civic booster and co-creator of the Music City Music Council — while Boos, who rose from an entry-level gig to co-owner in 20 years, says she enjoys ­mentoring the firm’s up-and-coming business managers.

Labels

wim-exec-labels-anthony-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MICHELE ANTHONY, 59
Executive vp U.S. recorded music, Universal Music Group

At press time, the label group’s artists held the Billboard 200’s No. 1 album spot for 31 of 46 weeks in 2015 and accounted for seven of the 10 best-selling albums. How does Anthony, who oversees the big picture for UMG (and led the 2014 Women in Music list), improve upon those statistics? By growing revenue, she says, “in areas of expertise that we either didn’t have or that needed to be ­reimagined.” To that end, the ­company added branding and ­sponsorship vp Mike Tunnicliffe and a ­playlist strategy team led by Jay Frank, and also took a larger role in developing UMG’s catalogs into film, TV and ­theater projects like the Amy Winehouse ­documentary, Amy.

wim-exec-labels-berry-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250CANDACE BERRY
Executive vp/GM of sales, Universal Music Group

Following Jim Urie’s retirement at the end of 2014, Berry, his ­longtime second-in-command, ascended to the top spot of UMG’s revamped ­distribution unit, which keeps the company pipeline flowing with product from hitmakers Taylor Swift, Drake, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd and Nick Jonas. The Indiana native, who says she’s “proud of still having the slight Southern accent” she picked up while attending high school in Atlanta, also manages UMG’s digital distribution — where streaming ­royalties accounted for 51 percent of digital ­revenue in the third quarter.

wim-exec-quote-05-candace-berry-bb37-2015-billboard-510

wim-exec-labels-fernandez-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MARIA FERNANDEZ, 42
CFO/senior vp operations, Sony Latin Iberia Region

The Venezuela-born Fernandez oversees finances, operations and systems at the regional label, which has the largest share of its market. Signings of Enrique Iglesias and Il Volo, and the launch of marketing agency Arcade Latin are among the ­investments that have grown the division’s revenue 15 percent during the last four years. Fernandez, the mother of a 5-year-old son, credits Sony Latin chairman/CEO Afo Verde with another growth sign: Nearly half of her ­division’s employees are women, up from a handful when she started in 2007.

wim-exec-labels-goldstein-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250WENDY GOLDSTEIN
Executive vp/head of urban A&R, Republic Records

“Once you have an artist’s ­confidence, leading him in a new ­direction becomes a lot easier,” says the A&R veteran, who did just that with The Weeknd when she connected him with songwriter Max Martin. The result: The artist’s Beauty Behind the Madness album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 single “Can’t Feel My Face,” which Martin co-wrote. An interior-design aficionado, Goldstein is readying a new home in Beverly Hills in ­addition to 2016 albums by Ariana Grande, Hailee Steinfeld and Joe Jonas’ DNCE.

wim-exec-labels-greenwald-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JULIE GREENWALD
Chairman/COO, Atlantic Records

Greenwald hates to choose among her label’s successes — “I’m a mother, they’re all my babies,” she says — but she’s in the position of having many ­children to brag about in 2015. Her 11-year stint at the label — which she runs with CEO Craig Kallman — has maintained a ­remarkably steady market share, ­hovering between 5 percent and 7.3 percent since 2005. With hit albums from Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, Meek Mill, Jill Scott, Wiz Khalifa and David Guetta in 2015 and new or ­forthcoming releases from Coldplay, Missy Elliott, Ty Dolla Sign, Sturgill Simpson, The War on Drugs and Charlie Puth, Atlantic’s hot streak doesn’t show any sign of abating.

wim-exec-labels-habtemariam-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ETHIOPIA HABTEMARIAM, 36
President, Motown Records; president of urban music/co-head of creative, Universal Music Publishing Group

Habtemariam, whose first gig was a LaFace Records internship at 14, ­re-upped global publishing deals with J. Cole, Big Sean, Childish Gambino and Nicki Minaj — and watched signees R. City (“Locked Away”) and Sebastian Kole (Alessia Cara’s “Here”) enjoy chart breakthroughs. Following Ne-Yo’s No. 1 album, Non-Fiction, in 2015, Motown is ramping up newcomer BJ the Chicago Kid’s hotly anticipated LP for 2016.

wim-exec-labels-jones-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ALLISON JONES, 46
Senior vp A&R, Big Machine Label Group

Ever since her first visit to the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 12, Jones has been obsessed with country, and, today, her artist roster includes some of the biggest names in the genre, ­including Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line. Jones, who lives in Nashville with her 10-year-old son Dylan, prides herself on matching artists with future hits. This year, for instance, she brought the Meghan Trainor-co-written “I Like the Sound of That” to the attention of Rascal Flatts. The single is No. 29 on the Hot Country Songs chart.

wim-exec-labels-jubelirer-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MICHELLE JUBELIRER, 41
COO, Capitol Music Group

It has been a good year for Jubelirer. She was promoted from executive vp to COO in May, and CMG artists racked up 49 Grammy nominations and 12 wins. “We’re an artist-development company; that’s at the heart of every decision we make,” says the attorney-turned-label executive, who points to the successes of Sam Smith, 5 Seconds of Summer and Bastille as proof. Jubelirer, who lives with her 17-month-old son Stone and fiance, Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson, in Encino, Calif., credits colleagues Jody Gerson and Michele Anthony with teaching her that “it’s possible to be a strong leader by ­taking charge and ­taking care at the same time.”

wim-exec-labels-mabe-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250CINDY MABE, 42
President, Universal Music Group Nashville

Growing up in North Carolina, Mabe says she owned every Alabama album and made her brother and sister join her in dressing up like members of the ’80s country hit machine. “I was always [frontman] Randy Owen,” says Mabe, who now leads a new generation of country stars who have helped UMGN dominate the genre in 2015 with a 40 percent market share. Sam Hunt’s debut album Montevallo is, to date, the 10th-best-selling digital album of any genre in 2015; Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart; and Chris Stapleton’s surprise sweep at the Country Music Association Awards resulted in his debut LP, Traveller, becoming the first in history to re-enter the Billboard 200 at No. 1.

wim-exec-labels-rhone-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SYLVIA RHONE, 63
President, Epic Records

Rhone shepherded a flock of top 10 Billboard 200 debuts from Epic ­artists Future, Fifth Harmony, Travis Scott, Sara Bareilles and, most ­notably, Meghan Trainor, whose freshman album Title bowed at No. 1. Scott’s Rodeo was innovatively ­marketed with a $150 action figure that also appeared on the album cover. Says Rhone: “No one in hip-hop has ever had a debut album released along with creative, ­interactive merchandise.” The year also yielded a joint venture with Janelle Monae’s Wondaland imprint — which scored a hit out of the box with “Classic Man” by Nigerian-American artist Jidenna, whom Rhone calls a “cultural guru.”

wim-exec-labels-romano-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250BRENDA ROMANO
President of promotion, Interscope Geffen A&M

Romano, the executive behind the consistent radio success of Interscope Records (and its Geffen and A&M imprints), is a 20-year veteran of the label who is well-known within the industry for her unabashed ­competitive drive. This year’s ­successes on the Hot 100 include four top 10 hits: Selena Gomez’s “Good for You” (featuring ASAP Rocky), Maroon 5’s “Sugar” and “Animals,” and Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do.”

 

wim-exec-labels-saturn-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JACQUELINE SATURN
GM, Harvest Records

Saturn continued to revitalize the storied label that featured Pink Floyd in the 1970s and Duran Duran in the 1980s with successful releases by upstart artists Banks, who, says Saturn, has “amassed 200 million streams”; Glass Animals, which had a No. 1 Spotify track with “Gooey”; and the New Basement Tapes project, producer T Bone Burnett’s all-star-band take on Bob Dylan and The Band’s classic 1975 album. The Los Angeles-based mother of two is an avid runner. And as she says, “The music game is a ­marathon, not a sprint.”

wim-exec-labels-swidler-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JULIE SWIDLER
Executive vp business affairs/general ­counsel, Sony Music Entertainment

Swidler’s planned two-week stay in Nashville lasted three months as she essentially ran Sony’s Nashville ­division — working with ­superstars Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood and releasing albums by Tyler Farr and Old Dominion — while ­conducting an ­arduous search for a new CEO ­(ultimately hiring Randy Goodman). “I got to exercise muscles I hadn’t used in a while,” says Swidler, who came away from the trip with a new pair of cowboy boots. She also supervised Sony deals with Apple Music, Tidal and YouTube.

Live

wim-exec-live-dufine-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250DANA DUFINE, 50
Head of entertainment bookings, MSG Entertainment

Dufine oversees live ­entertainment for MSG Entertainment’s coast-to-coast portfolio of top-grossing venues, including Madison Square Garden in New York and The Forum in Los Angeles. Since joining MSGE in 2014, the Los Angeles native has created the company’s cross-venue touring division, which leverages the booking power of MSGE’s buildings in major cities. On a more personal level, says DuFine, “You get to go on these ­journeys,” which means that the teen who snuck out of the house to see her first concert — U2 in Los Angeles in the ’80s — got to oversee the 13 shows that the band played this year in New York and Los Angeles. “That,” she adds, “was an amazing journey.”

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wim-exec-live-ford-howe-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250MAUREEN FORD, 51
President of national and festival sales, Live Nation Entertainment

AMY HOWE, 43
COO, Ticketmaster North America

Live Nation’s 2015 festival business has “exploded, ­particularly in ­country,” says Ford (left), whose team increased overall festival sponsorship and media by 50 percent. The Boston-based executive secured new multiyear partnerships with Toyota, Hilton and State Farm, while expanding media relationships with Yahoo, Snapchat and Vice. At Ticketmaster, a division of Live Nation Entertainment, Howe works directly with president Jared Smith on strategy and executive talent, where there has been a lot of ­movement: More than 50 percent of the company’s senior team was hired within the past year. Through key acquisitions and new mobile ticketing technology, Howe says Ticketmaster aims to “transform the end-to-end live event experience” for fans.

wim-exec-live-harnell-leon-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ALI HARNELL, 47
Senior vp, AEG Live

REBECA LEON, 40
Senior vp Latin talent, AEG Live/Goldenvoice; manager (Juanes, J Balvin)

Harnell, as head of AEG’s Southeast territory, produced some 180 shows in 2015, grossing $36 million — ­including a run of dates by Little Big Town that generated $3.5 million — a $10 million year-to-year increase. The mother of a 15-year-old son, Harnell also plays a role in the Country 2 Country ­festival, which expanded from the United Kingdom to Scandinavia. For AEG’s Latin ­business, Leon reports a 12 percent rise in ­revenue and guided the ­successful Enrique Iglesias/Pitbull/J Balvin tour. As ­manager, she added Balvin to her roster and got Juanes on the Grammy Awards ­telecast. “Our big goal,” says Leon, “is to ­penetrate the mainstream.”

wim-exec-live-rathwell-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250DEBRA RATHWELL, 60
Senior vp, AEG Live

Rathwell has built AEG Live’s New York office into a ­powerhouse that promotes some 1,000 events annually throughout the Northeast. Her proudest achievements during the past year include John Mellencamp’s 80-date theater tour and 65 arena dates with Shania Twain. Next up: Justin Bieber’s spring/summer tour of North America.

 

 

wim-exec-live-willard-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250KATHY WILLARD, 49
CFO, Live Nation Entertainment

Willard has watched Live Nation’s numbers tick upward this year as the world’s largest event company took majority stakes in C3 Presents (Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Music Festival) and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., and partnered with top German promoter Marek Lieberberg. “The festival deals were huge for the ­business, not only for our overall North American festival base, but also for sponsorships and ­ticketing,” says the resident of Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood. Willard notes Asia and South America are likely areas of future expansion for Live Nation.

Management

wim-exec-management-callahan-longo-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250LEE ANNE CALLAHAN-LONGO, 47
GM, Parkwood Entertainment

After co-producing Beyoncé and Jay Z’s 2014 On the Run Tour, which grossed more than $100 million, Callahan-Longo this year focused on growing Parkwood’s management, production, music and philanthropy divisions. “I’m especially proud of the merger of Chime for Change [of which Beyoncé is a co-founder] with nonprofit Global Citizen, focusing on initiatives for women and girls around the world,” says the one-time Boston College ­communications major. “At Parkwood, we are crazy perfectionists who are never fully satisfied.”

wim-exec-management-kaye-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ALLISON KAYE, 34
President, SB Projects

Returning to work after maternity leave, Kaye this year worked on another comeback — Justin Bieber’s third album Purpose, which yielded the No. 1 single “What Do You Mean?” Of Bieber, she says, “He worked really hard on himself [and showed] the world … that he went through a phase and came out the other side.” She also has guided the careers of Tori Kelly, Ariana Grande and Martin Garrix while preparing for Rixton’s return in 2016.

 

 

wim-exec-management-stennett-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SARAH STENNETT
CEO, First Access Entertainment

Stennett invested in the future in a major way in October when she inked a joint venture with Access Industries, owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik (also owner of Warner Music Group). The deal turned her ­management firm Turn First Artists — which counts Zayn Malik, Iggy Azalea and Ellie Goulding as ­clients — into First Access Entertainment, a music, film, TV and fashion concern. “We’re living in a very different, fast-moving, culturally diverse space,” she says, “and you have to have resources for artists to explore those interests.”

wim-exec-management-stiklorius-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250TY STIKLORIUS, 40
Founder/CEO, Friends at Work

Stiklorius declared her independence in October when she departed Troy Carter’s Atom Factory, where she was co-president, to launch her own management firm and brought John Legend and Lindsey Stirling with her. The mother of two credits her career to a break she got during her college years. An English major at the University of Pennsylvania, Stiklorius took charge of the school’s jazz and blues a ­cappella group, which included a young, unknown Legend. His ­performance of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the national finals “made me want to work with musicians like him,” she says.

Performing Rights

wim-exec-live-matthews-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ELIZABETH MATTHEWS, 47
CEO, ASCAP

In January, after two years as executive vp/general counsel, Matthews became CEO of ASCAP at a crucial moment in the performing rights organization’s history. With the U.S. Department of Justice reviewing how PROs license music in the digital age, Matthews will play a key role in the thorny debate. She also is rebuilding ASCAP’s leadership team, the start of a six-year plan to strengthen its efficiency and effectiveness.

 

 

wim-exec-live-sweeney-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ANN SWEENEY, 56
Senior vp global policy, BMI

Sweeney sets BMI’s agenda in Washington, D.C., and oversees its relationships and revenue with counterpart PROs in international markets. Seeking to “unlock more value” for BMI writers, she cites the PRO’s support this year for the reintroduction of the Songwriter Equity Act in March, which seeks better royalty rates for songwriters.

 

 

wim-exec-live-turner-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250KELLI TURNER, 45
CFO/executive vp operations and corporate development, SESAC

Turner has a key role at the PRO, which is currently on a roll. SESAC’s September acquisition of mechanical rights organization The Harry Fox Agency — and new deals inked during the last 16 months with Mariah Carey, Green Day, Zac Brown and Kurt Cobain’s estate — will boost the music license fees and royalties that SESAC administers by more than 50 percent.

Publishing

wim-exec-publishing-gerson-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JODY GERSON
CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group

As the first woman to run a major label’s music publishing ­concern, Gerson admits she’s “very conscious of being a woman in power. I grew up in a business that was a boys’ club. Now I feel a responsibility to be in a sisterhood.” At UMPG, she’s in good company. Gerson sees friends Universal Music Group executive vp Michele Anthony and Capitol Music Group COO Michelle Jubelirer regularly for lunch at her office or dinner at her Beverly Hills home. “We talk one another off the ledge,” she says. (Gerson is Billboard’s Executive of the Year — read our full profile here.)

wim-exec-publishing-knoepfle-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JENNIFER KNOEPFLE, 39
Senior vp A&R, Sony/ATV Music Publishing

When Jody Gerson departed Sony/ATV to head Universal Music Publishing Group, Knoepfle deftly juggled her A&R duties while running the Los Angeles office with interim co-head Jonas Kant prior to the arrival of newly appointed U.S. co-president Rick Krim. She also helped Bleachers frontman and Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff form a joint venture with Sony/ATV to sign and collaborate with up-and-coming talent. “He wanted to expand who he was working with, including developing writers and artists,” she says.

wim-exec-publishing-marshall-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250CARIANNE MARSHALL
Partner, SONGS Music Publishing

Marshall drives a lot of business for SONGS, thanks to the efforts of her synchronization team, ­which places its artists’ music in films, TV shows, advertisements and other media. In 2015, her group generated a 110 percent increase in ­revenue over the previous year. Placements from the SONGS catalog include Diplo’s “Revolution” in a Hyundai ­commercial and The Weeknd’s “High for This” in a Hugo Boss ad. Marshall prizes the indie scale of SONGS. “I know all of our writers,” she says, “which, at bigger companies, is ­impossible. Practically all of our ­writers make money from synchronization.”

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wim-exec-publishing-metcalfe-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SAS METCALFE, 54
President of global creative, Kobalt Music Group

In 2001, Metcalfe was the first employee hired by Kobalt Music Group founder Willard Ahdritz, and today she guides signings, acquisitions and ­administration ­partnerships with emerging publishers. The Welsh executive, who says she lives by the motto “You’re only as good as your last hit,” has lured Lionel Richie, TV on the Radio and Deadmau5′ label Mau5trap to Kobalt in recent months and helped push the indie publisher to an impressive third-place 12.7 percent market share of the top 100 radio songs in the third quarter.

wim-exec-publishing-katie-vinten-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250KATIE VINTEN, 32
Co-head of A&R, Warner/Chappell Music

Vinten started the year as a ­director and rose to co-head of A&R on the strength of ­identifying hit-making teams of ­songwriters. She signed Julia Michaels and her writing partner Justin Tranter, and the two have collaborated on four top 40 tracks: Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” Gwen Stefani’s “Used to Love You,” Selena Gomez’s “Good for You” and Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself.” (Both also have penned Hot 100 hits individually.) Vinten’s philosophy: “Put the writers and music first. When I focus on that, results occur.”

Radio

wim-exec-radio-besack-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250JESS BESACK, 33
Director of programming; The Spectrum, SiriusXM

Besack programs The Spectrum, one of the most influential ­destinations at SiriusXM, which reports 29 ­million ­subscribers. (It does not break out ­listenership by channel.) Proof: During the week that Adele’s new album 25 arrived and smashed sales records, the pop phenomenon made her first U.S. radio appearance at a Town Hall Q&A session carried on The Spectrum, and a week earlier, gave a rare interview to channel DJ Jenny Eliscu. Besack also championed new act Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, who had a 500 percent sales jump after The Spectrum was first to play its track “S.O.B.”

wim-exec-radio-dastur-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250SHARON DASTUR, 45
Senior vp programming and integration, iHeartMedia

Dastur, a former programmer at New York’s powerful top 40 WHTZ (Z100), celebrated her first year in a national role by bringing in $50 million-plus from advertisers seeking more than just another commercial. “We’re always looking for creative partnerships with brands,” says Dastur, a one-time member of the ­marching band at the University of Texas at Austin. Recent iHeartMedia deals have included Coca-Cola’s First Taste Fridays podcast and Bacardi’s Ultimate House Party Tour.

wim-exec-radio-grundmann-bb37-2015-billboard-250x250ANYA GRUNDMANN
Executive director, NPR Music; interim vp programming, NPR

Through podcasts like First Listen — a prerelease album stream that now includes radio ­interviews and live ­performances — and All Songs Considered — iTunes’ No. 1 podcast — NPR connects artists with an audience of 20 million-plus, guided by Grundmann, who grew up in Baltimore in “a house filled with music.” The 2014 Tiny Desk Concert Contest, devoted to unknown and unsigned acts, had more than 30,000 participants. “Our winner, Fantastic Negrito,” she says proudly, “went from busking in Oakland to ­playing big stages, touring and recording.”

Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 10-1

rolling stone

 

See Part 1Part 2,Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7Part 8 and Part 9

10- Stevie Wonder

“I feel there is so much through music that can be said,” Wonder once observed, and the songs he’s been writing for a half-century have more than lived up to that idea. Whether immersing himself in social commentary (“Higher Ground,” “Living for the City”), unabashed sentimentality (“You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You”), jubilant love (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”) or gritty disses (“You Haven’t Done Nothin'”), Wonder has consistently tapped into the sum of human emotions and happenings. He was already writing his own songs as a childhood prodigy at Motown during the Sixties (including the 1966 smash “Uptight (It’s Alright).”

As he hit his artistic stride on albums like 1972’s Talking Book and 1973’s Innervisions, he used the recording studio as his palette to create groundbreaking works of soulful self-discovery. “Like a painter, I get my inspiration from experiences that can be painful or beautiful,” he has said. “I always start from a feeling of profound gratitude — you know, ‘Only by the grace of God am I here’— and write from there. Most songwriters are inspired by an inner voice and spirit.” Combined with melodies that can be jubilant, funky or simply gorgeous, Wonder’s songs are so enduring that they’ve been covered by everyone from Sinatra to the Backstreet Boys.

9- Joni Mitchell

Mitchell came out of the coffee-shop folk culture of the Sixties, and she became the standard bearing star of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon scene. But her restless brilliance couldn’t be confined to one moment or movement. She began with songs that only by her later standards seemed simple: “Clouds,” “Both Sides Now,” “Big Yellow Taxi.” But then, banging on her acoustic guitar in startling ways or playing modernist melodies at the piano, she unfurled starkly personal lyrics that pushed beyond “confessional” songwriting towards an almost confrontational intimacy and rawness. “When I realized how popular I was becoming, it was right before Blue,” she recalled, in reference to her 1971 masterpiece. “I went, ‘Oh my God, a lot of people are listening to me.

Well then they better find out who they’re worshiping. Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real.’ So I wrote Blue, which horrified a lot of people, you know.” Mitchell’s run of albums from 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon to 1974’s Court and Spark, on which she perfected a jazz-bent studio pop, rival any streak of record-making in pop history, and her lyrical depictions of the ecstasy and heartbreak that came with being a strong woman availing herself of the sexual independence of the Sixties and Seventies offer a unique emotional travelogue of the era. “I had no personal defenses,” she said of her writing at the time. “I felt like a cellophane rapper on a pack of cigarettes.”

8- Paul Simon

If Paul Simon’s career had ended with the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, he would still have produced some of the most beloved songs ever – including “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” But Simon was just getting started. The quintessential New York singer-songwriter, he switches between styles effortlessly with as much attention to rhythm as melody, a rare quality among artists who came of age in the folk era. Over the decades, his music has incorporated Tin Pan Alley tunecraft, global textures, gentle acoustic reveries, gospel, R&B and electronic music, all without diluting his core appeal as an easeful chronicler of everyday alienation.

Whether he’s operating on a large scale summing up our shared national commitments in 1973’s “American Tune,” or writing a finely wrought personal reflection on lost love like 1986’s “Graceland,” the same wit and literary detail come through. For the generation that came of age during the Sixties and Seventies, he rivaled Bob Dylan in creating a mirror for their journey from youthful innocence to complicated adulthood. “One of my deficiencies is my voice sounds sincere,” Simon told Rolling Stone in 2012. “I’ve tried to sound ironic. I don’t. I can’t. Dylan, everything he sings has two meanings. He’s telling you the truth and making fun of you at the same time. I sound sincere every time.”

7- Carole King/Carole King and Gerry Goffin

Goffin and King were pop’s most prolific songwriting partnership –and, even more impressively, they kept their winning streaks going even after their marriage split up. With King handling melodies and Goffin the lyrics, the two former Queens College schoolmates worked a block away from the Brill Building and wrote many of professional songwriting’s most evocative songs: tracks like “Up on the Roof,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and “One Fine Day” that were tender snapshots of the adolescent experience. “When Paul and I first got together, we wanted to be the British Goffin and King,” John Lennon once said. As a solo act after their divorce, King gave voice to a generation of women who were establishing their own lives and identities in the Seventies; her 1971 masterpiece Tapestry remains one of the biggest-selling albums ever.

Goffin, meanwhile, supplied the lyrics for a string of hits including Diana Ross’s “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You,” and Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination.” For them, there’s nothing crass, and everything earnest, about the art of the pop song. “Once I start to create a song, even if commerce is the motivation, I’m still going to try to write the best song and move people in a way that touches them,” King has said. “People know when you do that. They know that there’s an emotional connection, even if it’s commercial.”

6- Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards defined a rock song’s essential components – nasty wit, an unforgettable riff, an explosive chorus – and established a blueprint for future rockers to follow. Their work was at once primal and complex, charged by conflict, desire and anger, and unafraid to be explicit about it musically or lyrically. They wrote personal manifestos with political dimensions like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off My Cloud”; they brooded on the tumult of the Sixties with “Gimme Shelter” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”; they detailed the connections between societal evil and the individual (and made it rock) with “Brown Sugar” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” And sometimes –”Start Me Up,” “Rip This Joint” – they just kicked the doors in and burned the house down.

One of the many, many things Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have disagreed about over the years is how their songwriting partnership got started. Keith has steadfastly claimed that manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked them in a kitchen until they emerged with “As Tears Go By,” while Jagger says the pressure was merely verbal: “He did mentally lock us in a room, but he didn’t literally lock us in.” Like Lennon/McCartney, Jagger and Richards didn’t always write together – “Happy” was all Keith, while “Brown Sugar” all Mick. But both men had a hand in most of the Stones’ hits. “I think it’s essential,” Jagger once told Rolling Stone of the idea of partnership. “People. . .like partnerships because they can identify with the drama of two people in partnership. They can feed off a partnership, and that keeps people entertained. Besides, if you have a successful partnership, it’s self-sustaining.”

5- Smokey Robinson

“Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes,” Paul McCartney once said. The melodic and lyrical genius behind Motown’s greatest hits is the most influential and innovative R&B tunesmith of all time. Robinson was an elegant, delicate singer and poetic writer whose songs brought new levels of nuance to the Top 40. The son of a truck driver raised in what he called “the suave part of the slums,” Robinson had his first hit in 1960 with the Miracles’ “Shop Around” and went onto pen the Temptations’ “My Girl” and “Get Ready,” Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” the Marvelettes’ “Don’t Mess With Bill,” Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and many more.

With the Miracles, he had his hand in more than a dozen Top 20 hits (including “The Tracks of My Tears” and “I Second That Emotion”), songs that describe heartbreak with stunning turns of phrase: “Sweetness was only heartache’s camouflage/The love I saw in you was just a mirage,” he rhymed in 1967. Though Bob Dylan’s famous quote calling Smokey “the greatest living poet” might actually be apocryphal, everyone believed it for decades because the songs backed it up perfectly. “My theory of writing is to write a song that has a complete idea and tells a story in the time allotted for a record,” he told Rolling Stone in 1968. “It has to be something that really means something, not just a bunch of words on music.”

4- Chuck Berry

He was rock & roll’s first singer-songwriter, and the music’s first guitar hero, as well. Berry was a Muddy Waters fan who quickly learned the power of his own boundary-crossing “songs of novelties and feelings of fun and frolic” when he transformed a country song, “Ida Red,” into his first single, “Maybellene,” a Top Five pop hit. His songs were concise and mythic, celebrating uniquely American freedoms – fast cars in “Maybellene,” class mobility in “No Money Down,” the country itself in “Back in the U.S.A.” – or protesting their denial in coded race parables like “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Promised Land,” which he wrote while in jail inspired by the freedom marches, consulting an almanac for the route.

Bob Dylan based the meter of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on “Too Much Monkey Business,” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards soaked up the idea of no satisfaction from “30 Days,” and John Lennon once summed up his immeasurable impact by saying, “If you gave rock & roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”

3- John Lennon

John Lennon’s command of songwriting was both absolute and radically original: that was clear from his earliest collaborations with Paul McCartney, which revolutionized not just music, but the world. “They were doing things nobody was doing,” Bob Dylan once remembered of a drive through Colorado when the Beatles ruled the radio. “I knew they were pointing the direction where music had to go.” That meant first reconnecting pop music to the awesome power of early rock & roll – Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard – then pushing forward with darker, more personal music like “Hard Day’s Night” and “In My Life” that stretched the boundaries of the capabilities of pop, and then diving into the avant garde with music that had only existed in his dreams: “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “A Day in the Life,” “Revolution #9.”

No one better rendered the complexity of personal life or global politics, or better connected the two, than Lennon during his solo career in universal songs like “Watching the Wheels” and “Imagine.” “I’m interested in something that means something for everyone,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970, “not just for a few kids listening to wallpaper.”

2- Paul McCartney

“I’m in awe of McCartney,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in 2007. “He’s about the only one that I’m in awe of.” Sir Paul is pop’s greatest melodist, with a bulging songbook that includes many of the most-performed and best-loved tunes of the past half-century. McCartney has always had a much broader range than silly love songs. He’s the weirdo behind “Temporary Secretary” and the feral basher behind “Helter Skelter.” But part of what he brought to the Beatles was his passion for the wit and complexity of pre-rock songwriting, from Fats Waller to Peggy Lee.

“Even in the early days we used to write things separately, because Paul was always more advanced than I was,” John Lennon once said. Songs like “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” became modern standards, and post-Beatles, McCartney led Wings to six Number One hits, among them “Band on the Run” and “Listen to What the Man Said.” “The truth is the problem’s always been the same, really,” he said earlier this year. “When you think about it, when you’re writing a song, you’re always trying to write something that you love and the people will love.”

1- Bob Dylan

Dylan’s vision of American popular music was transformative. No one set the bar higher, or had greater impact. “You want to write songs that are bigger than life,” he wrote in his memoir, Chronicles. “You want to say something about strange things that have happened to you, strange things you have seen.” Dylan himself saw no difference between modern times and the storied past – reading about the Civil War helped him understand the Sixties –which allowed him to rewire folk ballads passed down through generations into songs that both electrified the current moment and became lasting standards. Early songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” became hits for others –Peter, Paul & Mary took it Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963; Stevie Wonder brought it Number Nine two years later – and reshaped the ambitions of everyone from the Beatles to Johnny Cash.

Then Dylan began to climb the charts on his own with music that turned pop into prophecy: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Positively Fourth Street,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” His personas shifted, but songs like “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Forever Young” continued to define their eras in lasting ways. And alone among his peers Dylan’s creativity was ceaseless –2000’s Love and Theft returned him to a snarling sound that rivaled his electric youth, marking a renaissance that continues unabated. “A song is like a dream, and you try to make it come true,” Dylan wrote. “They’re like strange countries that you have to enter.” And so we do, marveling at the sights, over and over again.

Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 20-11

rolling stone

 

See Part 1Part 2,Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8

20- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Leiber and Stoller are rock & roll’s first great songwriting team, two Jewish kids who turned their love of rhythm and blues into a run of hits marked by their musical inventiveness and lyrical boldness. Leiber, who grew up in Baltimore, and Stoller, who was from Long Island, met in Los Angeles in 1950. With Leiber writing the lyrics and Stoller handling the music, they wrote Top 10 pop hits for Elvis Presley (“Jailhouse Rock”), the Coasters (“Yakety Yak”), Wilbert Harrison (“Kansas City”), the Drifters (“On Broadway”) and Dion (“Ruby Baby”). Their slyly humorous story songs skillfully mixed R&B grooves with clever, often subversive lyrics: “Riot in Cell Block #9,” a Number One R&B hit for the Robins in 1954, was about a prison uprising, while the Coasters’ 1959 chart-topper “Poison Ivy” was a reference to sexually transmitted diseases. The pair’s songs usually emerged from improvisatory writing sessions that began with just a handful of Leiber’s lyrics. “Often I would have a start, two or four lines,” Leiber told writer Robert Palmer in 1978. “Mike would sit at the piano and start to jam, just playing, fooling around, and I’d throw out a line. He’d accommodate the line — metrically, rhythmically.” In addition to achieving huge crossover pop success in the U.S., their work was also a massive influence on the British Invasion: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Hollies and the Searchers were just some of the acts who recorded their songs.

19- Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry

The Greenwich/Barry team only lasted a few years. They married and started composing songs in the Brill Building in 1962, and split up in 1965. But the dozens of hit songs they wrote for girl groups and teen idols during that time (often with producer Phil Spector pitching in) were as close to raw erotic fervor as you could hear on the radio at the time: the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack,” and — near the end of their partnership — Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep – Mountain High.” Even their demo recordings were so fully realized that several charted under the name the Raindrops. “When things were working, and you’re really connecting, what could be better?,” Greenwich recalled. “Here’s the person you’re in love with, and you’re being creative together, and things are going well — it’s the highest high you can imagine. However, when there were disagreements, it was very hard to leave it at the office and go home at night and change hats: ‘Hi honey, what do you want for dinner?'” After the split, Barry continued to write songs for acts including the Archies and Olivia Newton–John; Greenwich developed Leader of the Pack, a musical about her career.

18- Prince

Prince’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, bandleader and live powerhouse are peerless. But it all builds off his songs, which transform funk, soul, pop and rock into a sound all his own. He’s had 30 Top 40 singles in his career, including five Number Ones. Lyrically, he tends to stick to one freaky subject. But no songwriter has explored sex so ingeniously —from the frisky flirtations of “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look” to more ambitious therapy sessions like “When Doves Cry” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Musically, his stylistic breadth seems limitless: He learned early on to lace a heavy funky jam with an unforgettable pop hook, then mastered every form of rock song — from three-chord bangers (“Let’s Go Crazy”) to straight-up power ballads (“Purple Rain”) — before introducing melodic and harmonic complexities that pushed his increasingly jazzy and experimental compositions beyond ordinary pop constraints. “He knew the balance between innovation and America’s digestive system,” Questlove has said of his idol. “He’s the only artist who was able to, basically, feed babies the most elaborate of foods that you would never give a child and know exactly how to break down the portions so they could digest it.” Prince’s own comments on his craft are even more impressionistic. “Sometimes I hear a melody in my head, and it seems like the first color in a painting,” he said in a 1998 interview. “And then you can build the rest of the song with other added sounds.”

17- Neil Young

Neil Young’s epic career has veered wildly from folk-rock to country to hard rock to synth-driven New Wave pop to rockabilly to bar-band blues. “Neil doesn’t turn corners,” Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro once said. “He ricochets around them.” And while he’s disappointed more than a few bandmates and fans with his at-times baffling career choices, his songs are always pure Neil. Young’s creakingly lovely acoustic ballads and torrential rockers draw on the same ageless themes: the myths and realities of American community and freedom, the individual’s hard struggle against crushing political and social forces, mortality and violence, chrome dreams, ragged glories and revolution blues. Young has released an astonishing 36 solo albums, five in the last two years. His best work (“Ambulance Blues,” “Powderfinger,” “After the Goldrush”) may have come in the Sixties and Seventies, but every single album comes with more than a few amazing moments. Songs like the 1970 soft-rock classic “Heart of Gold,” his only Number One single, have led to an image of the tireless 69-year-old legend as a lonely troubadour, but Young insists that’s deceptive. “Something about my songs, everyone thinks I’m kind of downbeat,” he said at his 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “But things have been good for me for a long time. So if I look kind of sad, it’s bullshit. Forget it. I’m doing good.”

16- Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen was a dark Canadian eminence among the pantheon of singer-songwriters to emerge in the Sixties. His haunting bass voice, nylon-stringed guitar patterns, and Greek-chorus backing vocals delivered incantatory verses about love and hate, sex and spirituality, war and peace, ecstasy and depression, and other eternal dualities. A perfectionist known for spending years on a tune, Cohen’s genius for details illuminated the oft-covered “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah.” “Being a songwriter is like being a nun,” Rolling Stone reported him saying in 2014. “You’re married to a mystery. It’s not a particularly generous mystery, but other people have that experience with matrimony anyway.” In 1995, Cohen appeared to reject the worldliness reflected in songs like “The Future” and “Democracy” by putting his career on hold and becoming an ordained Buddhist monk. But he relaunched his career at age 74 and has continued to tour the world and make sensually luminous albums into the 2010s. At 80, he’s still our greatest living late-night poet.

15- Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland

During Motown’s mid-Sixties golden age, Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier were the label’s songwriting and production dream team. All three began their careers as singers, but when they started working together behind the scenes, they made magic. In 1966 alone, Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote and produced 13 Top 10 R&B singles, from the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” to the Four Tops’ “I’ll Be There.” Eddie’s deceptively simple lyrics — written to Brian and Lamont’s completed tracks — often focused on bittersweet, tormented love (“I got a lot of ideas from what I learned talking to women,” he said). But the music was pure delight: melodies that let vocalists’ power and move gracefully through them, neatly cross-stitched into an array of instrumental hooks and forceful dance rhythms. Late in the Sixties, Dozier and the Holland brothers left Motown and launched a few record labels of their own; although many of the hits that followed for the likes of Freda Payne and the Honey Cone were credited to “Edythe Wayne,” there was no mistaking the H-D-H sound.

14- Bruce Springsteen

He was one of rock’s first inheritors, and certainly its greatest, because from the start he saw rock & roll as more than music. “I got tremendous inspiration and a sense of place from the performers who had imagined it before me,” he once told Rolling Stone. “They were searchers — Hank Williams, Frank Sinatra, James Brown. The people I loved — Woody Guthrie, Dylan — they were out on the frontier of the American imagination, and they were changing the course of history and our own ideas about who we were.” At the start, he balanced epics — the Dylan word clouds of “Blinded by the Light,” the Wall of Sound sweep of “Jungleland” — with the tightly constructed stories of struggle that delivered even bigger results, like “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run.” Songs like “Badlands” could make a rousing anthem out of existential crisis, and as he focused his sound and narrative, his music continued to gain power and the mass audience he knew it always deserved: Born in the U.S.A. delivered seven Top 10 singles — as many as Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Unafraid of risk, Springsteen followed it with a long period of redefinition, making his sound and his stories ever more intimate on 1987’s Tunnel of Love and later 1996’s The Ghost of Tom Joad. Since reuniting the E Street Band in 1999 he has been reconnecting to his earliest sense of inspiration and mission. “My songs, they’re all about the American identity and your own identity,” he once explained. “And trying to hold onto what’s worthwhile, what makes it a place that’s special, because I still believe that it is.”

13- Hank Williams

More than six decades after he died at 29 years old in a car wreck on New Year’s Day 1953, Hank Williams is still the most revered country artist of all time, and his impact on the history of rock & roll is just as complete. “To me, Hank Williams is still the best songwriter,” Bob Dylan said in 1991. Between 1947 and 1953, Williams landed 31 songs in the U.S. Country Top Ten, with five more making the Top Ten in the year following his untimely death. His songs ranged from Friday night party starters like “Hey Good Lookin'” and “Settin’ the Woods on Fire” to tales of romantic desolation like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to the redemptive anthem “I Saw the Light” to heart-wrenching depictions of dread and isolation like “Lost Highway” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” the last single released during his lifetime. No matter what mood he was channeling, Williams wrote with an economy and concision few songwriters in any genre have touched. “If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing,” he once said, summing up the no-frills eloquence that makes his songs so fun to sing and easy to cover. “Songs like ‘Lonesome Whistle’ and ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ are wonderful to sing because there is no bullshit in them,” Beck said. “The words, the melodies and the sentiment are all there, clear and true. It takes economy and simplicity to get to an idea or emotion in a song, and there’s no better example of that than Hank Williams.”

12- Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys’ resident genius wrote gloriously ecstatic California anthems such as “Fun Fun Fun,” “I Get Around” and “California Girls,” rock & roll’s greatest odes to idyllic summertime freedom. But he also penned darkly introspective masterpieces like “In My Room” and “God Only Knows,” as well as groundbreaking symphonic masterpieces like 1966’s Pet Sounds, which transformed the idea of rock album-making itself and inspired the Beatles’ own masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wilson would later blame his father and bandmates for the despair in his more somber writing. “They wanted surf music, surf music, surf music,” he said in 2011. “The sadness came from. . .my heart.” Years later, a diagnosis of bipolar schizoaffective disorder would help explain his mood swings, recluse years and bizarre relationship with therapist-manager Eugene Landy. With the completion of his aborted late-Sixties opus Smile in 2004, Wilson reemerged to reclaim his title as a pop eminence who was once again capable of writing with incredible depth and beauty. Yet, despite the heights his music scaled, Wilson’s songwriting methodology was deceptively simple. “[I] sit down at the piano and play chords,” he told American Songwriter. “And then a melody starts to happen, and then the lyrics start to happen, and then you’ve got a song.”

11- Bob Marley

Marley didn’t just introduce reggae to an American audience, he helped transform it from a singles-oriented medium to a social and musical force every bit as powerful as rock & roll at its best. Marley drank deep from American soul music; he briefly lived in Delaware during the late Sixties, where he worked in a factory. On early compositions like dance-floor-filling ska tune “Simmer Down” and the lilting pop gem “Stand Alone” he displayed mastery of sweet melodies and cleverly turned hooks that showed he could’ve easily done time on Berry Gordy’s assembly line as well. As Marley continued to find his voice in the early Seventies, his songs took on an unrivaled breadth and power, especially as he began yoking his skills as an anthemic craftsman to lyrics that raised the banner of Third World struggles against systemic oppression. In reference to his 1972 watershed “Get Up, Stand Up,” he said, “I am doing something because I see the exploitation.” Marley wrote kind invocations of spiritual and herbal uplift (“Lively Up Yourself,” “Stir It Up”), smooth, sensual love songs (“Waiting in Vain,” “Is This Love”) and searing statements of Rasta enlightenment and Pan-African unity (“Exodus,” “Zimbabwe”). In “Redemption Song,” released a year before cancer took his life in 1981, he gave us a protest anthem that still carries the universal power of a true global call to arms. “I carried ‘Redemption Song’ to every meeting I had with a politician, prime minister or president,” Bono said. “It was for me a prophetic utterance.”

Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 30-21

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See Part 1Part 2,Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6 and Part 7

30- Dolly Parton

With 3,000 songs to her name — including more than 20 Number One country singles —Dolly Parton has enjoyed one of country’s most impressive songwriting careers. Parton tapped her hardscrabble Tennessee-hills upbringing on songs like “Coat of Many Colors” and “The Bargain Store,” and throughout the Seventies, her songs broke new ground in describing romantic heartache and marital hardship. On “Travelin’ Man,” from her 1971 masterpiece Coat of Many Colors, Parton’s mom runs off with her man, and on the gut-wrenching “If I Lose My Mind,” also on that album, Parton watches while her boyfriend has sex with another woman. Over the years, her songs have been covered by everyone from the White Stripes to LeAnn Rimes to Whitney Houston, who had an enormous hit with her version of Parton’s ballad “I Will Always Love You.” Parton has always had a self-deprecating sense of humor (she once described her voice as “a cross between Tiny Tim and a nanny goat”). But she doesn’t do much joking around when it comes to the art of songwriting. “I’ve always prided myself as a songwriter more than anything else” she once said, adding “nothing is more sacred and more precious to me than when I really can get in that zone where it’s just God and me.”

29- Pete Townshend

The Who had a one-of-a-kind drummer, a brilliant bassist, a towering singer — and their songs featured some pretty impressive guitar playing too. But they would never have gone anywhere if Pete Townshend hadn’t developed into an endlessly innovative songwriter. Early tunes like their debut single “I Can’t Explain” and the epochal anthem “My Generation” were fueled by adolescent angst, but with each passing year, Townshend became more and more ambitious, moving from a loose concept record about a pirate radio station (1967’s The Who Sell Out) to a groundbreaking rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball star (1969’s Tommy) to a double LP about a young mod facing with a form of split personality disorder (1973’s Quadrophenia.) His output slowed down considerably by the mid-1980s and he’s released a scant two albums in the past three decades. But what he accomplished in the Who’s first 15 years transformed the possibilities of rock music. “If I did [release another album], I think I would want it to be something that really addressed everything that’s going on in the world at the moment,” he told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “I’m old enough and wise enough and stupid enough and have done enough dangerous shit to say pretty much whatever I like.”

29- Buddy Holly

Chuck Berry wrote about teenage America. Buddy Holly, the other great rock & roll singer-songwriter of the Fifties, embodied it. Holly had only been making records for a little less than two years when he died in a plane crash in 1959 at age 22. Yet, in that brief career, he created an amazing body of work. On songs like “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rave On,” “Everyday,” “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue” and “Not Fade Away,” his buoyant, hiccupping vocals and wiry, exuberant guitar playing drove home lyrics that seemed to sum up the hopes, aspirations and fears of the kids buying his records. After a failed attempt to make it in Nashville as a country artist, Holly returned to his native Lubbock, Texas, where he and his band the Crickets drove to producer Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, to cut a version of “That’ll Day Be the Day” (a song Decca Records had rejected), that became a Number One single. Though Petty often took co-writing credit on his songs, Holly was one of the first rock & roll singers to write his own material, exerting a huge influence on the Beatles and Rolling Stone, among countless others. The Beatles’ name was inspired by the Crickets and, according to legend, when the Fab Four arrived in America to play The Ed Sullivan Show, John Lennon asked, “Is this the stage Buddy Holly played on?”

28- Woody Guthrie

The most influential folk singer in American history once described his creative process thusly: “When I’m writing a song and I get the words, I look around for some tune that has proved its popularity with the people.” Born to a relatively prosperous Oklahoma family and radicalized during the Great Depression, the former Woodrow Wilson Guthrie scoured the American musical tradition —from country music to church songs to blues to novelty tunes — and created songs that addressed, and helped shape, the world unfolding around him. (“This Land Is Your Land,” which he recorded in 1940 while on leave from the merchant marines, borrowed its melody from an old gospel tune called “Oh My Loving Brother.”) The scope of his music is almost unparalleled: Guthrie wrote children’s songs and Hanukkah songs, songs supporting unions and World War II and the construction of several dams, songs that celebrated Jesus as an outlaw and criticized Charles Lindbergh as a Nazi sympathizer, even a song about a flying saucer. Guthrie’s music, Bob Dylan wrote in Chronicles, “had the infinite sweep of humanity.”

27- Ray Davies

“In British rock,” said the Who’s Pete Townshend of his onetime rival, “Ray Davies is our only true and natural genius.” The Kinks’ primary songwriter helped invent punk rock with “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” But with songs like “Waterloo Sunset,” “A Well Respected Man,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” and many more, Davies perfected a uniquely English songcraft, rooted in the sly wit and tunefulness of early music hall tradition but extended with fresh concerns (courting a trans woman in “Lola,” for instance), a storyteller’s exacting eye for realism, and a signature delight in upending British class hierarchies. But it’s his ability to nail emotion that makes simple love songs like “Days” incandescent, and elevates a lonely meditation like “Waterloo Sunset” into what some consider the most beautiful song in the English language. “I think the things I write about are the things I can’t fight for,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970. “There are a lot of things I say that are really commonplace. I can’t get rid of them. I go into something minute, then look at it, then go back into it.”

26- James Brown

After scoring R&B hits like “Please Please Please” and recording the greatest live album ever, 1963’s Live at the Apollo, James Brown changed the pop songwriting game forever during the Sixties and early Seventies by flipping the script on songform itself, foregrounding his music in tight, tempestuous rhythm to invent what would eventually be known as funk. “Aretha and Otis and Wilson Pickett were out there and getting big. I was still called a soul singer,” he once recalled. “I still call myself that but musically I had already gone off in a different direction. I had discovered that my strength was not in the horns, it was in the rhythm.” A masterful arranger and composer, Brown also invented a new kind of aphoristic lyrical exhortation that became the lingua franca of hip-hop and dance music. The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business often created on the fly, scrawling lyrics on a paper bag (“Sex Machine”) or a cocktail napkin (“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud”). “He felt everything he wanted to feel, and he would use us to ‘write it down,'” says Bootsy Collins, Brown’s bassist in the early Seventies. “We were kind of like the interpreters of what he had to say.”

25- Randy Newman

“When you’re going 80 miles an hour down the freeway you’re not necessarily going to notice irony,” Randy Newman has said. “But that’s what I choose to do.” Indeed, he’s the greatest ironist in rock & roll. On classic albums like 1970’s 12 Songs and 1972’s Sail Away, Newman developed characters, explored ironies and embodied perspectives no one else of his time had even considered — “Suzanne” was sung from the point of view of a rapist, “God’s Song” surveyed mankind with disgust from the Almighty’s easy chair and “Sail Away” was a sales pitch from an antebellum slave trader to Africans on the wonders of America (“Every man is free to take care of his home and his family”). Newman’s early albums were commercial calamities, but he had a surprise hit with 1977’s “Short People,” a bitingly funny parody of bigotry, and he’s gone on to enjoy a hugely successful second career writing soundtracks for movies like Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Newman’s songs have been covered by countless artists — from Judy Collins to Harry Nilsson to Ray Charles to Manfred Man’s Earth Band to Three Dog Night — and his respect among his peers is universal. T. Bone Burnett calls “Sail Away,” “the greatest satire in the history of American music.”

24- Elvis Costello

After springing forth in 1977 as a sneering, splay-legged punk rocker with a knack for motor-mouth lyrics (“I was always into writing a lot of words,” he said in 2008. “I liked the effect of a lot of images passing by quickly”), Elvis Costello evolved into a songwriter of profoundly American sensibilities and almost unparalleled versatility. Following a series of early rock masterpieces like 1978’s searing This Year’s Model and 1980’s soul-informed tour de force Get Happy!, Costello delivered an album of pure country with 1981’s Almost Blue and then hit another highpoint with the Tin Pan Alley subtlety of 1982’s Imperial Bedroom. Costello’s two-dozen or so best songs — “Beyond Believe,” Radio, Radio,” “New Lace Sleeves,” “Watching the Detectives,” “Oliver’s Army” among them — make all those densely packed images and subtle wordplay roll by with almost Beatles-esque precision. His ability to embrace diverse styles would lead to fruitful album-length collaborations with Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, his wife, jazz singer Diane Krall, and, most recently, hip-hop crew the Roots. “It’s not effortless,” he told Rolling Stone in 2004. “I despaired, for a time, of writing any more words. In ‘This House Is Empty Now’ [on Painted From Memory], I meant this house [points to his head].'”

23- Robert Johnson

Many bluesmen talked of sin and redemption. Johnson made it personal, walking side by side with Satan in “Me and the Devil Blues,” rewriting the Book of Revelations as a diary entry in “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day,” looking for shelter from the storm in “Hell Hound on My Trail” and enacting his own crucifixion in “Cross Road Blues.” His songwriting, like his guitar playing, was at once vivid and phantasmagorical —psychedelic some 30 years before the Acid Tests — and helped set a course for Bob Dylan (who can be seen holding King of the Delta Blues on the cover of Bringing It All Back Home), the Rolling Stones (who covered “Love in Vain” and “Stop Breaking Down) and Eric Clapton (who covered “Ramblin’ on My Mind” and “Cross Road Blues” and then chased Johnson’s hell hounds for decades). “When I heard him for the first time, it was like he was singing only for himself, and now and then, maybe God,” Clapton once said. “It is the finest music I have ever heard. I have always trusted its purity, and I always will.”

22- Van Morrison

Morrison was a hugely successful singer before he began writing songs and he never lost he idea that even the most intricate lyrics are meant to be sung and felt. He began his career with the tough Belfast R&B of Them, and was soon creating a brand of mystic Irish rock & roll that was equally touched by Yeats and Dylan as Jackie Wilson and Leadbelly. Only Van can make a Romantic incantation like “if I ventured in the slipstream/Between the viaducts of your dream” roll out as smooth as Tupelo honey. After becoming disillusioned with commercial pop following the success of his 1967 hit “Brown Eyed Girl,” he went into a brief period of down-and-out seclusion, emerging the following year with his greatest statement, Astral Weeks, singing “poetry and mythical musings channeled from my imagination” over meditative backing that wove folk, jazz, blues and soul. Throughout his career — but especially on a run of albums he recorded during the early Seventies that included 1970’s Moondance and 1974’s Veedon Fleece — Morrison has always rooted his ecstatic visions in a warm, commonplace intimacy perfect for his music’s easy-flowing grandeur. “The songs were somewhat channeled works,” he said when he performed Astral Weeks live in 2008. “As my songwriting has gone on I tend to do the same channeling, so it’s sort of like ‘Astral Decades,’ I guess.”

21- Lou Reed

“I wanted to write the great American novel, but I also loved rock & roll,” Reed told an interviewer in 1987. “I just wanted to cram everything into a record that these people had ignored. . .I wanted to write rock & roll that you could listen to as you got older, that wouldn’t lose anything, that would be timeless, in the subject matter and the literacy of the lyrics.” And so he did. A collegiate creative writing student who played covers in bar bands and briefly held a job writing pop song knockoffs in the Brill Building era, Reed drew inspiration both from literature (Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch) and his own life — for example, the fellow Warhol collaborators that informed quintessential Reed character studies like “Candy Says” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” Besides writing about the psychology of polymorphous sexuality and drug users, he penned some of the most beautiful love songs in history (“Pale Blue Eyes,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror”). Reed was also a sound scientist who, with the Velvet Underground and after, advanced what was possible with simple chords and electric guitars. His creative ambition never flagged: his last major project, Lulu, reimagined a late-19th century play/early 20th-century opera with Metallica, and as always, he took no prisoners.

Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 40-31

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See Part 1Part 2,Part 3Part 4,Part 5, and Part 6

40- John Fogerty

“In 1968 I always used to say that I wanted to make records they would still play on the radio in ten years,” Creedence Clearwater Revival architect John Fogerty told Rolling Stone in 1993. Try 50 years. CCR were the catchy, hard-driving dance band amidst the psychedelic San Francisco ballroom scene of the late Sixties, scoring 12 Top 40 hits during their run while releasing an incredible five albums between 1968 and 1970. Fogerty’s songwriting process reflected the blue-collar worldview of a guy who wrote his first Top 10 hit (1969’s “Proud Mary”) just two days after being discharged from the Army Reserves: “Just sitting very late at night,” he said. “It was quiet, the lights were low. There was no extra stimulus, no alcohol or drugs or anything. It was purely mental. . .I had discovered what all writers discover, whether they’re told or not, that you could do anything.” Fogerty later admitted to envying the critical adulation received by Bob Dylan and the Band, but he tapped the tenor of his times as well as anyone, whether on the class conscious Vietnam protest anthem “Fortunate Son” or “Bad Moon Rising,” which channeled America’s sense of impending apocalyptic into two-and-a-half choogling minutes.

39- David Bowie

The first time most people heard David Bowie, he was playing an astronaut named Major Tom, floating through space, completely cut off from civilization. Within a couple of years Bowie was channeling that sense of cosmic alienation into albums like 1971’s Hunky Dory and the 1972’s classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, emerging as one of the most creative (and unpredictable) songwriting forces of the 1970s. Early on, Bowie specialized in offering an indelible vision of the Seventies glam-rock demimonde. Lyrically, his use of William Burroughs-style cut and paste made for fascinating, if at times, baffling flows of image and ideas. “You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients-list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them,” he once said, describing a process that sometimes involves literally pulling phrases out of a hat. “You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this.” Bowie is also one of rock’s great collaborators, whether he’s working with Brian Eno, Mick Ronson or Iggy Pop. On timeless songs like “Life on Mars” or “Changes” or “Heroes,” his ability to combine accessibility and idiosyncrasy makes for music that marries art and pop and transfigures culture itself.

38- Al Green

He didn’t start writing songs in earnest until he’d recorded a few albums, and his songwriting gifts have been overshadowed by his vocal mastery. Still, Al Green’s best original material isn’t just a showcase for his voice. Starting in the early Seventies, Green, working with Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell and guitarist/co-writer Teenie Hodges, created a rich catalog of songs that mixed sacred and profane like no other soul singer of any era. Green sang about romantic ecstasy and failings and deeper longings for divine love (the language of Scripture has never been far from his lyrics, even when he was writing secular material). And you could put together a rock-solid compilation of Green’s songs that became hits in the hands of other artists: Syl Johnson’s (or Talking Heads’) “Take Me to the River,” Tina Turner’s “Let’s Stay Together,” UB40’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” Meli’sa Morgan’s “Still in Love With You,” Earnest Jackson’s “Love and Happiness,” and on and on. His songs weren’t as political as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway,” Justin Timberlake wrote in Rolling Stone, “But if those guys were speaking to you, Al Green was speaking for you.”

37- Jackson Browne

He may sound (and look) like the prototypical SoCal balladeer, but Browne has spent his career pushing the singer-songwriter envelope. He’s written some of rock’s most finely observed songs not just about his journey through life (from the prematurely wise “These Days,” penned when he was 16 years old, through more recent songs like “The Night Inside Me”), but has also ventured into social critiques (“Lawyers in Love”) and political protest (“Lives in the Balance”). Whatever the subject, Browne brings the same probing, thoughtful take on what he called, in “Looking East,” “the search for the truth.” “The nature of my music has to do with dealing with very fundamental things by depicting my own experience,” he told Rolling Stone in 1976. “There’s nothing that isn’t pretty fundamental.” And in “Running on Empty,” “Boulevard” and others, he also knew, far more than most of his peers, the value in rocking out. “I learned through Jackson’s ceiling and my floor how to write songs,” Glenn Frey recalled of a period when he lived in an apartment one floor above Browne, “elbow grease, time, thought, persistence.”

36- Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, the writing partners at the center of the Grateful Dead, are the psychedelic Rodgers and Hart. The duo charted deep space — inner and outer—on early collaborations like “Dark Star.” But beginning with 1969’s Aoxomoxoa, and hitting stride with the 1970 doubleheader of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, they uncorked a vividly mythic America full of crooked gamblers, coked-up train engineers, strange sea-captains, story-telling crows, card-playing wolves, and — fittingly— transcendence-seeking musicians. “You’d see Hunter standing over in the corner,” drummer Mickey Hart said of the time Hunter joined up with the Dead. “He had this little dance he’d do. He had one foot off the ground and he’d be writing in his notebooks. He was communing with the music. And all of a sudden, we had songs.” The storytelling was always a delight, but it was Hunter’s way with a homey-cosmic aphorism that made Dead lyrics so tattoo-able, bobbing and bouncing on Garcia’s sweet, sad melody lines like glinting revelations. “Let there be songs to fill the air,” insists the singer on “Ripple,” one of the duo’s most indelible numbers. And voila: there they are.

35- Bono and the Edge

When they first got started in the 1970s, the ambitious lads in U2 made a deal to split all their publishing money evenly. But as important to U2’s sound as Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. may be, Bono and the Edge have been the primary songwriting team in the band from day one. Bono brings the grand vision and uncanny ear for heroic hooks, and the Edge brings his sonic mastery and an eagerness to push boundaries. Working together, the duo have pursued their expansive vision from the adolescent cry of “Out of Control” to political anthems like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to the stadium-shaking roar of “Where the Streets Have No Name” to the funky, danceable “Mysterious Ways” and “Discotheque” all the way through the highly-personable “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” from last year’s Songs of Innocence. As the band’s charismatic frontman, Bono may soak up a lot of the credit, but he’s the first to admit how important the Edge is to their songwriting. “Smart people know what [the Edge] does, and he doesn’t care about the rest of the world,” Bono told Rolling Stone in 2005. “I get annoyed and I say, ‘How do people not know?'”

34- Michael Jackson

Jackson’s innate musical genius could be heard on the earliest Jackson 5 chart-toppers. And he came into his own with the sterling disco pop of 1979’s Off the Wall and the monumental Thriller, where he got sole writing credit on “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” By Bad in 1987, he was getting a writing credit on nearly every song on the record. Jackson’s collaborators and co-writers marvel at the way his dance-floor classics sprang full-formed from their creator’s head. That, Michael said, was the only way he could write: “If I sat down at a piano, if I sat here and played some chords. . .nothing happens.” Even more remarkably, the singer imagined the full arrangements for these songs as he wrote them, working from the basic rhythmic elements all the way up to the smallest ornamentations. “He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part,” engineer Rob Hoffman recalls. “Had it all in his head; harmony and everything. Not just little eight-bar loop ideas. He would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills.”

33- Merle Haggard

“Hag, you’re the guy people think I am,” said Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard, whose life and lyrics intertwined magnificently. Among Haggard’s 38 Number One country hits, signature tunes like “Okie From Muskogee,” “Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home” mixed autobiography and attitude with a honky-tonk spirit in the tradition of Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams. As he told American Songwriter in 2010, “Sometimes the songs got to coming too fast for me to write, and sometimes they still do.” The prolific Haggard, who once released eight albums in a three-year period, is an icon of country conservatism thanks to his hippie-baiting classic “Okie From Muskogee.” Yet, his music directly influenced rock touchstones like the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead and the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, and Hag has been influenced right back. “I’m a rock & roller,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “I’m a country guy because of my raisin’, but I’m a Chuck Berry man. I love Fats Domino just as much as I like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.”

32- Burt Bacharach and Hal David

Burt Bacharach studied classical composition with French composer Darius Milhaud and was part of avant-garde icon John Cage’s circle. But he chose pop music as a career and started writing songs with lyricist Hal David, who had a knack for matching wistful sentiments to Bacharach’s unconventional jazz chords and constantly shifting time signatures. (“It all counts,” Bacharach said. “There is no filler in a three-and-a-half-minute song.”) Their first hit came in 1957, but their partnership really took off five years later, when they started working with singer Dionne Warwick. Between 1962 and 1971, Warwick charted with dozens of Bacharach/David songs like “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Walk on By” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” Their songs were hits for other artists, too: Richard Carpenter of the Carpenters, who went to Number One with “Close to You,” called Bacharach “one of the most gifted composers who ever drew a breath. . .unorthodox never sounded lovelier or more clever.”

31- Dolly Parton

With 3,000 songs to her name — including more than 20 Number One country singles —Dolly Parton has enjoyed one of country’s most impressive songwriting careers. Parton tapped her hardscrabble Tennessee-hills upbringing on songs like “Coat of Many Colors” and “The Bargain Store,” and throughout the Seventies, her songs broke new ground in describing romantic heartache and marital hardship. On “Travelin’ Man,” from her 1971 masterpiece Coat of Many Colors, Parton’s mom runs off with her man, and on the gut-wrenching “If I Lose My Mind,” also on that album, Parton watches while her boyfriend has sex with another woman. Over the years, her songs have been covered by everyone from the White Stripes to LeAnn Rimes to Whitney Houston, who had an enormous hit with her version of Parton’s ballad “I Will Always Love You.” Parton has always had a self-deprecating sense of humor (she once described her voice as “a cross between Tiny Tim and a nanny goat”). But she doesn’t do much joking around when it comes to the art of songwriting. “I’ve always prided myself as a songwriter more than anything else” she once said, adding “nothing is more sacred and more precious to me than when I really can get in that zone where it’s just God and me.”

Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 50-41

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50- Billy Joel

From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island, rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand — Billy Joel, in real life a piano man from Hicksville. Joel started out playing in rock & roll bands before returning to the piano at the beginning of the Seventies. “After seven years of trying to make it as a rock star, I decided to do what I always wanted to do — write about my own experiences,” he said in 1971, around the time of his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor. Joel has always had a heart in Tin Pan Alley, first hitting it big in the Seventies with the semi-confessional tale of wasting away as a lounge performer, “Piano Man.” But he’s applied his old-school craft to a host of rock styles, scoring hits as a blue-collar balladeer (“She’s Always a Woman”) or a doo-wop soul man (“The Longest Time”), trying out jazzy Scorcese-like streetlife serenades (“Zanzibar,” “Stiletto”). His signature song, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” is an epic seven-minute tale of suburban dreams biting the dust down at the Parkway Diner. Happy 50th anniversary, Brenda and Eddie.

49- Don Henley and Glenn Frey

The two future Eagles were lucky to meet up in L.A. in the early Seventies, but in their hunger for success, they were even more fortunate to have formidable competition. “In the beginning, we were the underdogs,” Frey once said. “Being in close proximity to Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, this unspoken thing was created between Henley and me, which said, ‘If we want to be up here with the big boys, we’d better write some fucking good songs.'” They proceeded to do just that: Whether composing together (“Desperado,” “One of These Nights,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes”) or with other band members (“Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town”), Henley and Frey knew that songs — and fastidiously produced recordings of them— would be the key to their success far more so than their harmonies or lack of flashy showmanship. And those songs, soaked in world-weariness, cynicism, resentment and the occasional happy ending, were so precisely crafted that, decades later, they keep people returning to the records and seeing the band’s seemingly endless reunion tour.

48- Elton John and Bernie Taupin

In 1967, a clever record company executive paired lyricist Bernie Taupin and a young piano player named Reginald Kenneth Dwight. Their partnership has endured for nearly 50 years, putting 57 songs in the Top 40. “Without [Bernie] the journey would not have been possible,” Elton said in 1994. “I let all my expressions and my love and my pain and my anger come out with my melodies. I had someone to write my words for me. Without him, the journey would not have been possible.” Their process has remained nearly identical from day one: Bernie writes a lyric and sends it to Elton, who sits down at a piano and turns it into a song. They first hit it big in the Seventies with “Your Song,” a tune that Taupin now calls “one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music.” But it quickly lead to more advanced work like “Madman Across the Water,” “Levon” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” along with goofy fun tunes like “Bennie and the Jets” and “Crocodile Rock.” “Andy Warhol never explained what his paintings were about,” Taupin said said in 2013. “He’d just say, ‘What does it mean to you?’ That’s how I feel about songs.”

47- Neil Diamond

There’s a reason Diamond’s songs have been covered by everyone from the Monkees and Smash Mouth to Sinatra. First are the meaty, hooky melodies, dating back to early Diamond sing-alongs like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Sweet Caroline” and extending into later, more brooding angst-a-thons like “I Am. . .I Said” and “Song Sung Blue.” The all-ages appeal of his music also has to do with the way Diamond has sketched out his life — and the lives of many of his fans. From his early, frisky Brill Building pop (“I’m a Believer”) to the later-life love songs about his latest wife, few singers brood and contemplate life in song the way Diamond has. And let’s not forget the ebullient “Cracklin’ Rosie,” the vaguely salacious “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” just two of the more than 50 songs he’s placed in the Billboard Top 100 during his half-century-plus career. “I’m motivated to find myself,” he told Rolling Stone in 1976. “I do it in a very silly way. I write these little songs and go and sing them. . .It seems like an odd way to gain an inner sense of acceptance of the self. But it’s what I do.”

46- Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong sang Motown’s first big hit, 1959’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” but found an even greater success as a lyricist. For a six-year stretch beginning with 1967’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” he and composer/producer Norman Whitfield were a mighty songwriting team at Motown. Working most famously with the Temptations, they created “psychedelic soul,” built on Whitfield’s expansively experimental production and Strong’s downbeat, socially conscious lyrics. As far away from pop convention as Whitfield and Strong’s music could be — several of the artists they worked with grew frustrated with their freakiness — their sound found its audience: the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and Edwin Starr’s vehement protest diatribe “War” were all huge hits. “Norman Whitfield was the visionary,” Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey recalled. “He was always building up layers, making breakdowns, creating this searing funk with amazing dynamic changes.”

45- Robbie Robertson

At a time when many rock songwriters were interested in psychedelic escapism, the Band’s Robbie Robertson looked for inspiration in America — its history, its myths and its music. Songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight” and “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” were, as Greil Marcus wrote in Mystery Train, “committed to the very idea of America: complicated, dangerous and alive.” Robinson’s songwriting grounded the Band, influencing generations of back-to-the-land rockers. Yet, he was content to play a kind of behind-the-scenes role, passing out songs for the Band’s three distinct vocalists — Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel — in an act of generosity that enhanced the Band’s theme of communal progress and spirit. “I had almost like a theater workshop,” he said, “where you’re casting people in these parts, and that’s what my job was then.” Since the Band ended its run, Robinson has only released albums sporadically; his most recent, 2013’s How to Become Clairvoyant, delivered vintage American idioms with a 21st Century feel.

44- Jimmy Webb

“[Songwriting] is hell on Earth,” Jimmy Webb wrote in his book, Tunesmith. “If it isn’t, then you’re doing it wrong.” Born in Oklahoma in 1946, Webb is an heir to the Great American Songbook. Sixties hits like “Up, Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Wichita Lineman” marked him as an MOR master, a pigeonhole that irked him no end: According to Linda Ronstadt, Webb “was shunned and castigated for what was perceived as his lack of hipness.” While he’s recognized today for his unique explorations themes of loneliness and individuality in the American landscape, his most popular song remains an abiding enigma. “I don’t think it’s a very good song,” he said of “MacArthur Park,” the much-covered 1968 hit he penned for singer Richard Harris. “But the American people appear to have developed an incredible fascination with the one image of the cake out in the rain.”

43- Johnny Cash

His voice had the authority of experience, and so did his songs. In them, he was the man who taught the weeping willow how to cry, the solitary figure who wore black for the poor and beaten-down, the stone-cold killer who boasted he’d “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” At Sun Records and later at Columbia — in songs like “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Big River,” “Five Feet High and Rising” and “I Still Miss Someone” — he married the language of country, blues and gospel to the emerging snap of rock & roll. He recognized emerging talent, recording Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and one of his signature songs was written by his future wife, June Carter, about their emerging love. And he never stopped, recording “The Wanderer” with U2 in 1993, and a series of albums with Rick Rubin in his final years as he battled the effects of Shy-Dragger Syndrome. “Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul,” Dylan wrote after Cash’s death in 2003. “This is a miraculous and humbling thing. Listen to him, and he always brings you to your senses.”

42- Sly Stone

“My only weapon is my pen/And the frame of mind I’m in,” Sly Stone muttered on “Poet,” his clearest public statement on the art of songwriting. In his late-Sixties/early-Seventies prime, it was a potent combination: composer/producer David Axelrod called him “the greatest talent in pop music history.” Born Sylvester Stewart, Sly was a DJ and record producer with an equal love for soul music ands the Beatles. When he convened Sly and the Family Stone in the late Sixties, he deployed a fast-talking radio jock’s ear for aphorism (“different strokes for different folks,” “I want to take you higher”) and an ability to make tricky arrangements seem natural (“Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin” builds raw funk out of everyone in the band playing radically different parts). From the optimism of “Everyday People” to the funky angst of 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, his music mapped the flower-power era’s journey from utopian promise to catastrophic meltdown as well as anyone, and his grooves and riffs have been endlessly sampled by the hip-hop artists to arrive in his wake. “I have no doubt about my music,” Sly said in 1970. “The truth sustains.”

41- Max Martin

Every pop era has at least one songwriter who effortlessly taps into the zeitgeist, and for the last roughly 15 years, that person has been this Swedish writer-producer. Starting in the Nineties with the Backstreet Boy’s “I Want It That Way” and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” among others, Martin helped create the whooshing, hyper-energized sound of modern pop — a talent that has extended to a mind-boggling list of recent collaborations that include Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” and “Teenage Dream,” Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want from Me.” “I try to make the songs as good as I can — the way I like it, you know?” Martin has said. “And I guess my taste sometimes happens to be what other people, particularly radio programmers, like, too. As you know, a lot of the stuff that was once considered rubbish or ‘for kids’ is now considered classic.”

Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 60-51

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60- Willie Nelson

Nelson was a struggling Music Row pro when Faron Young cut his ode to an empty room, “Hello Walls,” in 1961. A string of undeniable classics followed — “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Crazy,” immortalized by Patsy Cline — and Nelson began his own recording career, to fair results. But in the early Seventies he moved to Austin, Texas, and reinvented himself as a link between Nashville’s tradition and rock’s imperative of personal freedom, making concept albums like Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger, helping pioneer the stripped-down Outlaw Country movement and rising as the greatest interpreter of American song outside Frank Sinatra. No one except Dylan has embraced the endless highway with more artistic success — as explained by Nelson in “On the Road Again,” a Top 20 Grammy-winning hit in 1980 — and his studio career is just as endless, ranging from Texas swing to reggae to standards with strings. “Willie sort of creeps up on you,” Keith Richards once said. “Those beautiful mixtures he has between blues and country and mariachi, that Tex-Mex bit, that tradition of a beautiful cross section of music. . .He’s unique.”

59- Tom Petty

“The words just came tumbling out of me,” Petty said of “American Girl,” his greatest song and first hit single. He began as the Seventies and Eighties most commercially potent inheritor of the Sixties songwriting tradition, knocking out hit after hit of compact, hard-jangling rock & roll – from “I Need to Know” to “Refugee” to “The Waiting.” As he’s aged, Petty has movingly explored relationships (1999’s divorce chronicle Echo) and the dark side of the American dream itself (2014’s Hypnotic Eye), always rooting his music in a sense of our common experience (Johnny Cash told Petty that the title track from 1985’s Southern Accents should replace “Dixie” as the region’s unofficial anthem). “When young musicians ask me what the most important thing is, I always say it’s the song,” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2009. “You know, you can chrome a turd, but it’s not going to do any good.”

58- George Clinton

For all of pioneering funk radical George Clinton’s subversive use of hard grooves, distortion, jamming, Afro-futurism and arena-wowing spaceships, the vast P-Funk canon was built on traditional songwriting chops. Parliament was born as a doo-wop group in the Fifties led by Clinton, a young Leiber and Stoller fan who worked briefly in the Brill Building and later spent time as a Motown songwriter. After his exposure to Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge and copious amounts of psychedelics, Clinton’s pop-wise sense of puns and wordplay helped drive home his interstellar philosophizing. “It was a way of bending people’s minds and showing them that what they took for granted might not be the truth at all,” he wrote in his bio. “In other words, it was classic psychedelic thinking in the sense that you didn’t take no — or yes — for an answer, instead tunneling down a little bit to see what else might be there beyond the binary.” Eventually, Clinton’s songwriting became a foundation for the G-Funk of the Nineties, including songs like Dr. Dre’s “Dre Day” and Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name?).”

57- Joe Strummer and Mick Jones

It isn’t a stretch to call Joe Strummer and Mick Jones the Lennon and McCartney of the U.K. punk explosion. Between their roaring debut in 1977 and their split in 1983, the duo wrote at a feverish pace, often in Jones’ grandmother’s flat in a high-rise council estate, bashing out finished songs together as a full band in their rehearsal space. The Clash’s 1980 watershed London Calling, which Rolling Stone declared the best album of the Eighties, became a double album not by design but because they were writing so many songs so quickly at the time. “Joe, once he learned how to type, would bang the lyrics out at a high rate of good stuff,” Jones recalled. “Then I’d be able to bang out some music while he was hitting the typewriter.” Strummer was the band’s social conscious, taking the lion’s share of the vocals, while Jones came up with the band’s most memorable pop moments — 1980’s “Train In Vain” and their 1982 smash “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Though they didn’t work together for years after Strummer fired Jones from the Clash, the pair was back collaborating on songs shortly before Strummer’s death in 2002. “We wrote a batch,” said Jones. “We didn’t used to write one, we used to write a batch at a time — like gumbo.”

56- Madonna

Before she was a star, Madonna was a songwriter with a sharp ear for a hook and a lyrical catchphrase, playing tracks like “Lucky Star” for record companies in the hope of scoring a contract. Her earliest hits honed the electro beats coming out of the New York club scene into universal radio gold. But songs like her greatest statement, “Like a Prayer,” can also summon an anthemic power to rival Springsteen or U2. Madonna has enlisted numerous collaborators en route to selling more than 300 million albums — she started working with longtime writing partner Patrick Leonard after he brought her “Live to Tell” in 1986, and from Shep Pettibone and William Orbit in the Nineties through Diplo, Avicii and Kanye West on 2015’s Rebel Heart, she’s worked successfully with producers across many genres. Through it all, her songs have been consistently stamped with her own sensibility and inflected with autobiographical detail. “She grew up on Joni Mitchell and Motown and. . . embodies the best of both worlds,” says Rick Nowells, who co-wrote with Madonna on 1998’s Ray of Light. “She is a wonderful confessional songwriter, as well as being a superb hit chorus pop writer.”

55- Tom Waits

Waits began as a throwback, a beatnik jazzbo singing the praises of old cars and barflies and looking for the heart of Saturday night. His early period produced gems like “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” and “Jersey Girl,” made most famous by Bruce Springsteen. But with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and 1985’s Rain Dogs he blossomed into what he called his “sur-rural” period, drawing on old blues, German cabaret and street-corner R&B to create songs populated by dice-throwing one-armed dwarves, men with missing fingers playing strange guitars and phantom truck-drivers named Big Joe. “You wave your hand and they scatter like crows,” he sang in his rusted plow-blade voice to a Brooklyn girl about her suitors. “They’re just thorns without the rose.” It would be his biggest hit — Rod Stewart took “Downtown Train” to Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989. “The creative process is imagination, memories, nightmares and dismantling certain aspects of this world and putting them back together in the dark,” said Waits. “Songs aren’t necessarily verbatim chronicles or necessarily journal entries, they’re like smoke.”

54- Kurt Cobain

Nirvana’s skull-crushing noise assault would have meant little if not for the deceptively brilliant pop craft underpinning it. Kurt Cobain was raised on Beatles LPs, which you can hear in songs like “About a Girl” and “Something in the Way.” And he employed Dylan-style love-and-theft to left-field pop as well, masterfully distilling indie-rock icons Pixies in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and U.K. post-punks Killing Joke in “Come as You Are.” Lyrically, songs like “Rape Me” and “Stay Away” (with its memorable “God is gay” declaration) brought deep gender studies provocations to a mass audience — one of the most astonishing subversive achievements in rock history. And if lines like “I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us” became generational epigrams, it’s in their cryptic ability to nail inarticulate pain. “I don’t like to make things too obvious, because it gets stale,” Cobain said. “It’s the way I like art.”

53- Stevie Nicks

Fleetwood Mac blew up in the Seventies thanks to three top-notch singer-songwriters — guitarist/producer/mastermind Lindsey Buckingham, bluesy songbird Christine McVie and the gypsy queen herself, Stevie Nicks. Her “Rhiannon,” “Sara” and “Gold Dust Woman” were full of post-hippie witchy imagery, but under the gossamer surface, they were deceptively tough-minded accounts of heartbreak and betrayal in the L.A. heyday of free love and hard drugs. She and Buckingham were a couple when they joined Fleetwood Mac, but some of her greatest songs came out of the wreckage of their relationship — including the Number One “Dreams.” “We write about each other, we have continually written about each other, and we’ll probably keep writing about each other until we’re dead,” she told Rolling Stone last year. She remains undiminished as a writer, as she proved on her 2011 gem In Your Dreams. But her most famous song is still “Landslide,” her acoustic lament for children growing older, written before she’d even turned 30. “I was only 27,” she said. “It was 1973 when I wrote it, about a year before I joined Fleetwood Mac. You can feel really old at 27.”

52- The Notorious B.I.G.

The greatest rapper ever balanced gangsta realness and R&B playfulness, proving that a self-described “black and ugly” corner kid from Brooklyn could blow up to become a pop superstar through sheer brilliance and charisma. At the heart of Biggie’s music was a gift for rolling off scrolls of buoyant lines that were as singable as they were quotable — “Birthdays were the worst days, now we sip champagne when we’re thirsty,” “Poppa been smooth since days of Underoos” and on and on. Working with pop-savvy producer Sean “Puffy” Combs, Biggie raised his game throughout his brief career —from the social realism of “Things Done Changed” to the euphoric rags-to-riches celebration “Juicy” to effortlessly virtuosic performances like “Hypnotize” and “Ten Crack Commandments,” both from his 1997 swan song Life After Death. “I wanted to release music that let people know he was more than just a gang­sta rapper,” Combs said later. “He showed his pain, but in the end he wanted to make people feel good.”

51- Willie Dixon

Dixon was a fine performer and bass player, but he made his greatest contribution as house songwriter at Chess Records in the 1950s. Dixon was essential in shaping the sound of post-war Chicago blues, supplying masters like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf with riffs as crisp as the creases in a new suit and lyrics so boastful that they’d be terrifying if half-true. By the early Sixties, as a new generation discovered the blues, plenty of young white men were learning to exaggerate their sexual prowess from Dixon’s songs. It’s possible that no blues writer other than Robert Johnson had had as profound an impact on the development of rock music: Mick Jagger acquired his strut from “Little Red Rooster,” which the Stones faithfully covered in 1964; the Doors did a leering L.A. version of “Back Door Man” on their 1967 debut; and Led Zeppelin belatedly admitted the debt “Whole Lotta Love” owed to Dixon’s “You Need Love” and “Bring It on Home” when they settled a copyright dispute in the Eighties. “He’s the backbone of postwar blues writing,” Keith Richards has said, “the absolute.”

RollingStone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters 70-61

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70- Dan Penn

Often working with Spooner Oldham, Penn was an integral part of the Southern soul sound that flowed out of Muscle Shoals and Memphis, and their songs about the hard price lovers pay for their desires became classics: “Dark End of the Street” for James Carr, “I’m Your Puppet” for James and Bobby Purify, “Cry Like a Baby” for the Box Tops (it was Penn who produced “The Letter” for Alex Chilton’s first group). The way he could mix the deep grooves of church music and blues with lighter pop melodies electrified his music, but there was nothing light about his greatest work, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” Written with Chips Moman, it was recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967, and the feminist power of Franklin’s calm preaching about temptation, fidelity and sexual equality was, as Jerry Wexler put it, “perfection.” “I think all the best songs come out of just pure, raw feeling that you can’t quite explain,” Penn once said. “Everything we get is just a gift we can borrow for awhile.”

69- James Taylor

Taylor was one of the most successful and influential artists to emerge from the “singer-songwriter” scene of the early Seventies. By chronicling every aspect of his life — drug addiction, recovery, marriages and divorces, deaths of friends and family members — he created the mold for confessional balladeers from Cat Stevens to Elliott Smith. “It comes out of a sort of mood of melancholy, somehow,” Taylor once told Rolling Stone of his songwriting process. And like Taylor himself, standards like “Fire and Rain,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Copperline” seem delicate yet are as melodically sturdy as oak trees. As his friend and former guitarist Danny Kortchmar has said, “They’re like Christmas carols. It sounds like they were written a hundred years ago.” Taylor himself knows that some people slag him for the first-person aspect of his writing: “If you think it’s sentimental and self-absorbed, then I agree with you, basically. It’s not for everybody. And it doesn’t pretend to be. But to me, there’s still something compelling to me about doing it.”

68- Jay Z

No hip-hop artist has reached the Billboard Top Ten more times than Jay Z, and none has done more to shape both the culture and music around him. His most indelible songs — “Izzo (Hova),” “99 Problems,” “Big Pimpin'” — mix diamond-sharp rhymes with unshakable hooks. As he notes himself, in the late Nineties and early 2000s, it wasn’t summer without a Jay Z hit blasting out of every car window. Recent highpoints like the Kanye West collaboration “Otis” and 2013’s “Picasso Baby” show that no number of lunches with Warren Buffet or late-night diaper-duty emergency calls can slow down his de Vinci flow and Sinatra roll. He began writing as a childhood hobby — authoring, as he later recalled, “100,000 songs before I had as record deal.” Over the years, his recording-booth ability to conjure intricate verses out of thin air has become legend, but he’s a also master of fitting the right lyric to the right musical mood: “I try to feel the emotion of the track and try to feel what the track is talking about, let that dictate the subject matter,” he has said. “The melody comes second, and then the words.”

67- Morrissey and Marr

“I really believe he’s one of the best lyricists there’s been,” guitarist Johnny Marr said about his songwriting partner in 1989, just after the Smiths’ breakup. “I don’t think anyone’s got his wit or insight or originality or obsession or overall dedication.” Together, in less than four years, the duo wrote more than 70 songs, with Marr working as arranger and producer and Morrissey navigating whole new worlds of misery and disaffection, often with much more wit than he got credit for at the time. Morrissey’s lyrics went hand-in-glove with Marr’s gorgeously-detailed melodies: the lilting car-wreck fantasy “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” the Bo Diddley-in-space wallflower anthem “How Soon Is Now?,” the homoerotic Afro-pop of “This Charming Man,” the nouvelle vague folk of “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” and on, and on, and on. The more you listen, the clearer it becomes that Marr isn’t exaggerating.

66- Kenny Gamble and Leon A. Huff

They scored their first big hit with the Soul Survivors’ “Expressway to Your Heart” in 1967, but by then the team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had already been working together for five years, and over the following 15, they’d define the sound of Philadelphia soul and help invent disco. Gamble wrote most of their lyrics, and keyboardist Huff most of their music, but their roles were flexible, and so was their style: they wrote poignant love songs (“Me and Mrs. Jones”), rubbery political funk (“For the Love of Money”), and richly orchestrated dance music with the rhythms that became disco tropes (like the Soul Train theme “TSOP”). Gamble and Huff launched Philadelphia International Records in 1971, assembling a crew of musicians and engineers around them, and throughout the Seventies, they were near-permanent fixtures on the R&B charts, working with singers including the O’Jays, Lou Rawls and Teddy Pendergrass.

65- George Harrison

Harrison wrote one of the Beatles’ earliest openly political songs in 1966’s “Taxman” and one of their prettiest late-period tunes in “Here Comes the Sun.” But his songwriting legacy was sealed for good when Frank Sinatra declared “Something,” the group’s second-most-covered song after “Yesterday,” to be “the greatest love song of the past 50 years.” Harrison described songwriting as a means to “get rid of some subconscious burden,” comparing the process to “going to confession.” After the Beatles split, he let his creative impulses run free on the 1970 triple-album solo debut, All Things Must Pass, and enjoyed a strong Eighties comeback with the pop success of 1987’s Cloud Nine as well his stint with the Traveling Wilburys. “If George had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he’d have been probably just as big as anybody,” his fellow Wilbury Bob Dylan said.

64- Bert Berns

A kid from the Bronx who fell in love with black and Latino music and even traveled to Cuba during Fidel Castro’s revolution, Bert Berns got his start in 1960 at age 31 as a Brill Building songwriter and went on a run that included hits like “Twist & Shout,” the Exciters’ “Tell Him” and Salomon Burke’s “Cry to Me.” Where other writers of the time strove for sophistication, Berns’ songs communicated a fierce romantic hunger and longing. After working as a producer at Atlantic Records, he established his own labels Bang and Shout, where he collaborated closely with Van Morrison (most famously on the singer’s biggest hit, “Brown Eyed Girl”) and wrote “Piece of My Heart,” which was covered by Big Brother and the Holding Company. Berns, who suffered from chronic health problems since childhood, died of a heart attack in 1967 at 38. Despite his enormous reputation among other songwriters, he remains a relatively obscure figure in pop history. “Bert deserves to be elevated to his rightful place in the music industry,” Paul McCartney recently said.

63- Chrissie Hynde

As the leader of Pretenders, Hynde linked the start-and-go rhythms and abrasive guitars of post-punk to a heartland rocker’s sense of straightforward melody. Hynde had one of the best runs of the New Wave era: winning over a wide pop audience with sharp tunes like “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special),” “Middle of the Road,” and “Back on the Chain Gang” as well as the buoyant “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and ballads like “2000 Miles.” Despite her innate sense of craft, the brash-sounding singer was actually a bit sheepish about her idiosyncratic song structures, admitting, “People talk about songwriting clinics and how to construct a song and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I didn’t know that!'” Hynde’s lyrics proved even more influential, articulating a complex female toughness that wasn’t just a sexy pose, inspiring guitar-slinging women and self-directed pop stars like Madonna, who said, “It gave me courage, inspiration, to see a woman with that kind of confidence in a man’s world.”

62- Harry Nilsson

Nilsson was a pioneer of the Los Angeles studio sound, a crucial bridge between the baroque psychedelic pop of the late Sixties and the more personal singer-songwriter era of the Seventies. Overdubbing his flawless voice, he was his own angelic choir on songs like “1941” and the Beatles medley “You Can’t Do That,” and he caught the ear of Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, who bought a box of Nilsson records to send to friends. A lifelong friendship with John Lennon — who produced Nilsson’s Pussy Cats during his Lost Weekend period — followed. In songs like “You’re Breaking My Heart” (“. . .so fuck you”), “Gotta Get Up,” and “I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City” he applied pop color to the darkness of a shut in, and Three Dog Night turned “One” (“. . .is the loneliest number”), into a Top Five hit in 1969. “He had a gift for melody. Which is a rare, inexplicable talent to have,” Randy Newman once said of Nilsson’s easy way with complex melodies and counterpoint. “People like McCartney have it, Schubert, Elton John has it. Harry had that gift.”

61- Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

Jerome Felder was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who’d been on crutches since he’d contracted polio at age six. When he started trying to establish himself as a blues singer, he called himself Doc Pomus. But he gave up his performing career in the late Fifties and formed a songwriting partnership with Mort Shuman. Together their ability to match sweet melodies and multi-faceted lyrics was second only to Leiber and Stoller among early rock & roll songwriters. Between 1958 and 1964, they wrote a string of sly, swaggering hits that bridged the divide between R&B and pop — most famously the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me,” Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister,” Dion’s “A Teenager in Love” and Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” One example of Pomus’ lyrical inventiveness is Ben E. King’s “Young Boy Blues,” a collaboration with Phil Spector, in which every verse is effectively one long sentence. Spector later called Pomus, who died of cancer in 1991, “the greatest songwriter who ever lived.”

Barack Obama Shares Summer Vacation Playlists


In a rather unusual move on Friday, the White House decided to kick off its official Spotify channel with the release of Barack Obama’s two personal playlists, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Obama split up “The President’s Playlist” into two categories: “Volume 1: Summer Day” and “20 picks for a summer night.”

Check out the track listing to Obama’s summer playlists below:

The President’s Playlist: Vol. 1 Summer Day
The Temptations – “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”
Isley Brothers – “Live It Up”
Talib Kweli and Hi Tek – “Memories Live”
Bob Dylan – “Tombstone Blues”
Bob Marley – “So Much Trouble in the World”
Coldplay – “Paradise”
Mala Rodriguez – “Tengo Un Trato (Remix)”
Howlin Wolf – “Wang Dang Doodle”
Stevie Wonder – “Another Star”
Sly & the Family Stone – “Hot Fun in the Summertime”
Low Cut Connie – “Boozophilia”
Brandi Carlile – “Wherever Is Your Heart”
Nappy Roots – “Good Day”
John Legend – “Green Light”
Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”
Aretha Franklin – “Rock Steady”
Okkervil River – “Down Down the Deep River”
Justin Timberlake – “Pusher Love Girl”
Florence and The Machine – “Shake It Out”
Sonora Carruseles – “La Salsa La Traigo Yo”

The President’s Playlist: Vol. 2 Summer Night
John Coltrane – “My Favorite Things”
Beyoncé and Frank Ocean – “Superpower”
Van Morrison – “Moondance”
Lianne La Havas – “Is Your Love Big Enough?”
Al Green – “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”
Aoife O’Donovan – “Red & White & Blue & Gold”
Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo – “Nothing Even Matters”
Frank Sinatra – “The Best Is Yet To Come”
Ray Charles – “You Don’t Know Me”
Mary J. Blige – “I Found My Everything”
Joni Mitchell – “Help Me”
Otis Redding – “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember”
Leonard Cohen – “Suzanne”
Nina Simone – “Feeling Good”
The Lumineers – “Stubborn Love”
Cassandra Wilson – “Until”
Mos Def – “UMI”
Billie Holiday – “The Very Thought Of You”
Miles Davis – “Flamenco Sketches”
Erykah Badu – “Woo”

As Billboard wrote in its report on Barack Obama’s musical choices, there is nothing deep to be garnered here, except perhaps to celebrate Obama’s inclusive (and unapologetic) taste in music.

“If there’s anything about Obama’s current political or psychological state to be drawn from the playlists, it’s the sense of the president as an utterly relaxed lame duck with nothing to prove or sell. When he suddenly seemed to be down with Jay Z midway through his first term, Obama was accused of trying to court the youth vote, but there’s nothing here to suggest he’s playing to any constituency but the demo of 54-year-old boomers who still have their fingers on some pulses. Even if you didn’t know the purported curator, the personality profile you might put together from the song choices would be that of a cool, calm, and collected cucumber whose strong undercurrents of passion aren’t likely to lead to any untoward outbursts.”