Singer songwriters changed the face of popular music; instead of singers performing songs written by other people, the 10 best singer songwriters made it routine for artists to perform their own music. The movement began in the early sixties and continues to this day, with the best singer songwriters spanning those generational barriers. Here are the ten best singer songwriters in popular music history:
- Bob Dylan – It would likely be impossible for the list of the best singer songwriters to be topped by anyone else. Dylan changed the game, moving from protest folkie to outright rock and roller and back again with a fluid grace. His songs range from breakup songs to gospel to fiery protest, and he is arguably the most influential artist of the second half of the twentieth century.
- Stevie Wonder – Motown was a hit factory, with singers performing songs written by teams of experts, until Little Stevie broke from the mold and began crafting his songs of love and life. In addition to being one of the best singer songwriters, he also performed most of the instrumental work on his classic run of seventies albums.
- Prince – A genius in the vein of Stevie Wonder, Prince was the singer songwriter of the eighties, fusing a number of musical styles—funk, rock, new wave, soul—into something deeply personal and eccentric that still caught on with the masses. Prince is definitely one of the best singer songwriters of all time.
- Townes Van Zandt – A more countrified Dylan, TVZ ushered in a new boom of singer songwriters in the seventies. This entry on the list of best singer songwriters crafted tunes both cynical and beautiful.
- Elton John – Armed with a piano instead of an acoustic guitar, Elton made the singer songwriter game bigger. The seventies were arguably his decade.
- Joni Mitchell – Emerging from the sixties folk scene, Joni added jazz influence to her singing and writing. She has many classic songs.
- Steve Earle – A Van Zandt acolyte, Earle brought intensely personal singer songwriter stylings to the eighties and beyond. He is still writing classics to this day, easily one of the best singer songwriters in popular music history.
- John Lennon – The most artistically successful solo Beatle, his "Plastic Ono Band" album is a singer songwriter's confessional masterpiece. It also helps that he's half of the best songwriting duo of all time.
- Ryan Adams – While it's true Ryan Adams has written as many bad songs as good, the good ones are incredibly good. Those transcendent moments earn him his place on the list of best singer songwriters.
- Conor Oberst – The confessional singer songwriter for the new generation, the artist formerly known as "Bright Eyes" closes out our list of the best singer songwriters. Check out "Fevers and Mirrors" and believe the hype.
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