1/2. Lennon/McCartney - Hard to put one over the other here, but this one is obvious for the resident Beatles fanboy. 3. Lou Reed - I really like the man's lyrics and he's written some really special songs. 4. Nick Drake - He tries so many different tunings which allows for a variety in the melodies he uses, and again, I like his lyrics. 5. Kate Bush - Been getting into her music more and more recently and I think her songwriting is probably her biggest strength.
1. Bob Dylan - the preeminent troubadour of American music in the last 50 years. From the surrealist masterpieces of the 1960s' to great simple pop tunes to the Cohen-esque tales of mortality that he most recently adapted, no one has seen it all and done it all like Bob Dylan. He doesn't view his songs as museum pieces, rewriting and re-aaranging some dozens of time through his erratic but always interesting live performances. He has always strived to challenge and perhaps alienate his audience for the sake of artistic evolution. And I love his voice.
2. Bruce Springsteen - his songs are like cinematic vignettes set to film. I can't think of another writer who can create such vivid, relatable characters and situations where you can close your eyes during the song and envision what's happening right then and there.
3. Paul McCartney - the rock and roll equivalent to a Gershwin or an Irving Berlin, able to write deceptively simple yet timeless pop masterpieces that touch the soul.
4. Billy Joel - Joel combines the melodic sensibility of McCartney with the cinematic lyricism of Springsteen, and has his own distinct voice and style.
5. James Taylor - it's a close call between him and Neil Young, but I feel Taylor is incredibly underrated. His album Hourglass is one of my all time favorite records by anyone, a true masterpiece. He's also quite an acoustic player.
Not in any particular order. 1) Kate Bush, because she still dreams of Orgonon ("Cloudbusting", "Wuthering Heights") 2) Regina Spektor, because she's a pizzatarian ("Samson", "Us") 3) Joanna Newsom, because she's a sensitive bore. ("Cosmia", "Good Intentions Paving Co.") 4) Joni Mitchell, because she's looked at life from both sides now. ("Big Yellow Taxi", "River") 5) Freddie Mercury, because I'm running out of ideas and needed some gender diversity. ("Bohemian Rhapsody", "Somebody to Love")
I also like Tori Amos and Björk, though the former isn't as consistent as the people mentioned above, while Björk occasionally has other people help her write songs.
Also Holsety if you liked "The Kick Inside" and "Hounds of Love", you might also like "Never for Ever" and "The Dreaming" because I'm an iTunes suggestions page now.
I wish I was who Björk was singing about in Vespertine.
5. Julia Holter - A classically trained composer, she has proven to be one of the most versatile and emotional songwriters of this decade. Her songs are either hauntingly beautiful or long, complex nightmares, but whatever she does I keep coming back for more. Also, her voice... HER VOICE.
4. Tom Waits - Arguably the best lyricist ever, he's one of those rare artists who never seems to get bad. No matter how many times I listen to songs like Tango Till They Sore, Swordfishtrombone and many more, I never get bored or uninterested in the characters and worlds he creates. Truly a spirutal lyrical individual.
3. JG Thirlwell/Foetus - A friend of Nick Cave and Lydia Lunch, Foetus could be viewed as a theatrical and super sardonic Beethoven in a world he hates. His records from the 80's rank as some of my favorites because of the sheer exaggeration of every single sound. He has a knack for writing songs that make me wanna jump around.
2. Van Morrison - Do I really need to explain why Morrison is great and why Astral Weeks is the best acoustic album ever?
1. Mark Lanegan - The only songwriter who has made me into a better human being, Mark is a legend and a personal artistic hero. His tormented, lonely, Cohen-esque approach to songwriting mixed with the grunge scene is so spectacular it gives me the same feeling as listening to Velvet Underground's debut. That felling of "I'll never even come close to make something this amazing" and that's the best compliment I can give.