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Posts Tagged ‘100 best songwriters’

Tonight I am going to see Paul Simon play at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. I am very excited to see him perform live, he is one of my favourite songwriters and it’ll be the first time that I’ll have seen him in the flesh. I have watched the 1981 concert that he did in New York’s Central Park with Art Garfunkel countless times on DVD, and also his “Graceland – The African Concert”, a DVD of the 1987 concert he performed in Zimbabwe (the closest he could get to performing in South Africa in the days of apartheid).

I have blogged about Paul Simon several times, including here in Rolling Stone Magazine’s  list of the 100 greatest songwriters (Rolling Stone place him at number 8, I would place him higher in my own list).

Paul Simon is playing in Cardiff tonight (Friday 4 November) at the Motorpoint Arena.

In several interviews Paul Simon has said that he considers “Graceland” to be the best song that he has ever written, the title track to his seminal 1986 album of South African music. I have blogged about that album here, but I am surprised to see that I have never blogged about the song itself. So, here it is. Simon has commented on his process for writing this song; that the word “Graceland” was just a placeholder as he composed the words to fit the melody that he had recorded in South Africa.

He felt sure that he would replace the word as the song came together. But, he found that the word would not go away. He decided to take his first ever trip to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, to discover what the word may mean and how it could be relevant in the song. In making that trip, he got the opening lines for the song. He also realised that the word could mean “a state of grace”. Notice that in the last verse he drops the reference “Memphis Tennessee”, the “Graceland” that he is referring to at the end of the song is a more general, universal one than Elvis’ home.

The Mississippi Delta
Was shining like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis,Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never notice
The way she brushed her hair from
Her forehead and she said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, in Graceland, in Graceland
In Graceland,
I’m going to Graceland

And here is a video of this exquisite song. It is one of my favourite Paul Simon songs. Enjoy!

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At number 9 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Joni Mitchell. She is probably my favourite female singer-songwriter, I find her songs mesmerising and enchanting. I have blogged about her before, for example here I blogged about her album Blue, which was the first Joni Mitchell album I ever bought, and here I blogged about her song “Both Sides Now”, where I compared the original 1968 studio version to the version she did in 2000, with a much deeper voice and years of experiencing the kind of heartache the song discusses.

Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson in 1943 in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada. Her father was an instructor in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and so Mitchell grew up in various small towns in Canada as her father moved around, although she considers Saskatoon her hometown, where she moved when she was 11. In February 1965, when she was 21 years old, she gave birth to a daughter whom she gave up for adoption; they were only reconciled much later in life, meeting for the first time in 1997. Mitchell never married the father, but soon after giving birth to her daughter she met American singer Chuck Mitchell in Toronto. They married in June 1965, but the marriage ended in early 1967 and she moved to California.

 

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At number 9 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Joni Mitchell.

It was in California that her career took off, and some of her earliest songs such as “Chelsea Morning”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Circle Game”, “Both Sides Now” and “California” remain classics to this day. The song which I have decided to share in this blogpost is “Big Yellow Taxi”, one of her best known songs. It was written on her first trip to Hawaii (if ever there was a paradise, then Hawaii has to be a contender!), and was released as a single in April of 1970. It only got to number 67 in the USA, but was a bigger hit in other countries; reaching number 11 in the Disunited Kingdom, number 6 in Australia and number 14 in her native Canada.

 

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But LEAVE me the birds and the bees
Please!
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Come and took away my old man
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

I said
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Here is a video of this amazing song. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Joni Mitchell song?

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At number 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen is one of my favourite songwriters, I would rank him in my personal top 10. I first came across Springsteen in the late 1970s, when I became aware of his 1975 song “Born to Run”, and bought the album Born to Run on the strength of liking this song.

Springsteen was born in 1949 and grew up in a working class home in New Jersey. His father was mainly unemployed, and this poor upbringing coloured much of his music throughout his career; many of his songs deal with despair and desperation. Springsteen’s first album was the 1973 Greetings From Asbury Park N.J. (Asbury Park is a city in New Jersey and located on the Jersey shore. It is part of the New York City metropolitan area).

The first track on this debut album, “Blinded by the Light”, was released as a single, but failed to make any impact on the charts. It was later covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, who had a number 1 hit with  it in 1977. I remember this song in 1977, but at the time I had no idea that it was written by Bruce Springsteen; I had no idea who Springsteen was until about 1979.

 

At number 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Bruce Springsteen.

At number 14 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen’s breakthrough album was his third, Born to Run, which was released in 1975. This album opens with the incredibly energetic song “Born to Run”, one of the great rock anthems of all-time. This song was released as a single in August 1975 and was Springsteen’s first single to be released worldwide. Its chart success was modest, but it has since gone on to be considered one of the greatest songs of all time, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it at 21 in their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, I blogged about it here.

After Born to Run, Springsteen went on to have a string of hit albums and singles, including “Hungry Heart”, “The River” (which I blogged about here), “Dancing in the Dark” (one of his biggest hits), “Born in the U.S.A” (one of his best known songs) and “Streets of Philadelphia”.

The song which I have decided to share today is his 1994 hit “Streets of Philadelphia”. This poignant song was written for the movie Philadelphia, a movie starring Tom Hanks, who won an Oscar for his performance of a lawyer who contracts HIV and is fired from his job. It illustrates beautifully Springsteen’s songwriting skills, both with its wonderful lyrics but also its haunting melody.

I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.
Saw my reflection in a window and didn’t know my own face.
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the streets of Philadelphia.

I walked the avenue, ’til my legs felt like stone,
I heard the voices of friends, vanished and gone,
At night I could hear the blood in my veins,
It was just as black and whispering as the rain,
On the streets of Philadelphia.

Ain’t no angel gonna greet me.
It’s just you and I my friend.
And my clothes don’t fit me no more,
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin.

Night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake,
I can feel myself fading away,
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss,
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of Philadelphia.

Here is the official vide of this wonderful song. Enjoy!

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At number 15 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Holland-Dozier-Holland, referring to Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. These three were contracted to the Motown record label from 1962 and wrote songs for the artists singing on that label. They helped define the sound of Motown, and of soul music in that decade.

Some of the many songs they wrote are the 1963 hit “Heat Wave” (sung by Martha and the Vandellas), the 1963 hit “Can I Get a Witness” (sung by Marvin Gaye), the 1965 hit “Stop! In the Name of Love” (sung by The Supremes), the 1966 hit “You Can’t Hurry Love” (sung by Diana Ross and The Supremes and which I blogged about here) and the 1969 hit “Give Me Just a Little More Time” (sung by Chairman of the Board, which I blogged about here).

At number 15 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland.

At number 15 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland.

The songwriting partnership followed more traditional lines than e.g. John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Dozier and Brian Holland would write the music and produce the songs, and Eddie Holland would write the lyrics and arrange the vocals. In 1968 their contract with Motown ended, by which time they had fallen out with the label’s founder and owner Berry Gordy. They continued to write together after leaving Motown, but in 1973 Dozier left their partnership to pursue a solo recording career.

The song I have decided to share in this blogpost is their 1966 song “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, which was a hit for The Four Tops.

Now if you feel that you can’t go on (can’t go on)
Because all of your hope is gone (all your hope is gone)
And your life is filled with much confusion (much confusion)
Until happiness is just an illusion (happiness is just an illusion)
And your world around is crumbling down, darlin’

(Reach out) Come on girl reach on out for me
(Reach out) Reach out for me
Hah, I’ll be there with a love that will shelter you
I’ll be there with a love that will see you through

When you feel lost and about to give up (to give up)
‘Cause your best just ain’t good enough (just ain’t good enough)
And your feel the world has grown cold (has grown cold)
And your drifting out all on your own (drifting out on your own)
And you need a hand to hold, darlin’

(Reach out) Come on girl, reach out for me
(Reach out) Reach out for me
Hah, I’ll be there to love and comfort you
And I’ll be there to cherish and care for you

(I’ll be there to always see you through)
(I’ll be there to love and comfort you)

I can tell the way you hang your head (hang your head)
You’re not in love now, now you’re afraid (you’re afraid)
And through your tears you look around (look around)
But there’s no peace of mind to be found (no peace of mind to be found)
I know what your thinking
You’re a loner, no love of your own, but darling

(Reach out) Come on girl reach out for me
Reach out, just look over your shoulder
I’ll be there to give you all the love you need
And I’ll be there you can always depend on me
I’ll be there

Here is a video of this fantastic song. Enjoy!

 

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At number 16 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Leonard Cohen. Cohen was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1934. He was raised in a middle-class religious Jewish family; his maternal grandfather was a Rabi, his father Nathan Cohen died when Cohen was 9 years old.

The part of Montreal in which he grew up was an English speaking part of this predominantly French-speaking city, and so one can say that Cohen grew up as a minority within a minority; an English-speaking Jewish boy in a predominantly French-speaking Catholic city. I have always held that this perception of himself as an “outsider” has influenced much of Cohen’s work.

Before becoming a songwriter, Cohen was a published poet. His first album of songs was Songs of Leonard Cohen, which was released in 1967. By this time, he had already published four books of poems; this poetic style is clearly visible in many of his song lyrics. I am a huge fan of Cohen, personally I would place him in my top five of the greatest songwriters. In terms of his lyrics, he is, in my opinion, up there with the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Like Dylan and Simon, he has elevated “pop songs” to sheer poetry.

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At number 16 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Leonard Cohen.

There are so many Cohen songs that I could have shared in this blogpost. I have already posted several Cohen songs, “Famous Blue Raincoat” here, “So Long Marianne” here and “The Partisan” here. The song I have decided to share today is possibly less well known; it is “The Guests”, a song which appears as the opening track on his 1979 album Recent Songs. This song illustrates many aspects typical of Cohen’s songs, including the evocative and complex lyrics, as well as another hallmark of Cohen’s songs which is his deep voice being accompanied by female voices, something I find quite enchanting.

One by one, the guests arrive
The guests are coming through
The open-hearted many
The broken-hearted few

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

And those who dance, begin to dance
Those who weep begin
And “Welcome, welcome” cries a voice
“Let all my guests come in.”

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

And all go stumbling through that house
in lonely secrecy
Saying “Do reveal yourself”
or “Why has thou forsaken me?”

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

All at once the torches flare
The inner door flies open
One by one they enter there
In every style of passion

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

And here they take their sweet repast
While house and grounds dissolve
And one by one the guests are cast
Beyond the garden wall

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

Those who dance, begin to dance
Those who weep begin
Those who earnestly are lost
Are lost and lost again

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

One by the guests arrive
The guests are coming through
The broken-hearted many
The open-hearted few

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

Here is a video of this mesmerising song. Enjoy!

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At number 17 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Neil Young. Young was born in 1945 in Toronto, Canada. I first came across him on the 1970 album Déjà Vu as one of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. This was before I knew that he had previously been in Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, or that Crosby, Stills and Nash had released an album before being briefly joined by Young.

I have blogged about Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 song “For What It’s Worth” here, and there are several songs on Déjà Vu which I like a great deal, but my favourite Neil Young work are his two solo albums After the Gold Rush and Harvest. I adore these two albums, I think both are masterpieces.

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At number 17 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Neil Young.

The song I have decided to share in this blogpost is “Heart of Gold”, which is one of my favourite Neil Young songs. It is from his 1972 album Harvest.

I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching for a heart of gold.And I’m getting old.
Keep me searching for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.I’ve been to Hollywood
I’ve been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold.
I’ve been in my mind,
It’s such a fine line
That keeps me searching for a heart of gold.

And I’m getting old.
Keeps me searching for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.

Keep me searching for a heart of gold.
You keep me searching and I’m growing old.
Keep me searching for a heart of gold
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.

Here is a video of this wonderful song. Enjoy!

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At number 18 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 best songwriters is Prince. Prince is not a stage name, it is actually this artist’s real name; his full birth-name is Prince Rogers Nelson. He was born in Minneapolis in 1958, and his fusion of black and rock music is often attributed to growing up in a city with a relatively small black population, leading to his being exposed to white as well as black music.

He is one of the most prolific songwriters in modern music. Not only has he written and recorded many hits for himself, (a few examples are “Purple Rain”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Kiss” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”), but some of his songs have been enormous hits for others. Three songs written by him which have been huge hits for other artists are Sinéad O’Connor’s 1990 hit “Nothing Compares 2 U”, The Bangles’ 1986 hit “Manic Monday” and Art of Noise’s 1988 hit “Kiss”, which featured Welsh singer Tom Jones and helped resurrect Jones’ career.

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At number 18 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Prince.

The song which I have decided to include in this blogpost is one of my favourites by him, “Raspberry Beret”. This was released as a single in 1985, and comes from his 1985 album Around the World in a Day.

I was working part time in a five-and-dime
My boss was Mr. McGee
He told me several times that he didn’t like my kind
‘Cause I was a bit too leisurely

Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing
But different than the day before
That’s when I saw her, ooh, I saw her
She walked in through the out door, out door

She wore a
Raspberry beret
The kind you find in a second hand store
Raspberry beret
And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more
Raspberry beret
I think I love her

Built like she was
She had the nerve to ask me
If I planned to do her any harm
So, look here
I put her on the back of my bike
And we went riding
Down by old man Johnson’s farm

I said now, overcast days never turned me on
But something about the clouds and her mixed
She wasn’t too bright
But I could tell when she kissed me
She knew how to get her kicks

She wore a
Raspberry beret
The kind you find in a second hand store
Raspberry beret
And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more
Raspberry beret
I think I love her

The rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof
And the horses wonder who you are
Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees
You feel like a movie star

Listen
They say the first time ain’t the greatest
But I tell ya
If I had the chance to do it all again
I wouldn’t change a stroke
‘Cause baby I’m the most
With a girl as fine as she was then

(Raspberry beret)
The kind you find (The kind you find)
The kind you find (In a second hand store)
Oh no no
(Raspberry beret)
(And if it was warm)
Where have all the raspberry women gone?
Yeah (Raspberry beret)

I think I, I think I, I think I love her

(Raspberry beret)
No no no
No no no (The kind you find)
(In a second hand store)
(Raspberry beret)
Tell me
Where have all the raspberry women gone? (And if it was warm she)
(Wouldn’t wear much more)
(Raspberry beret)

“Raspberry Beret” is quite different in its sound from Prince’s previous songs. In fact, many songs on the album Around the World in a Day have this different sound to them, but “Raspberry Beret” is my favourite on the album. The YouTube videos of this song have had the sound removed for copyright reasons, but I have found this link to a video which seems to currently work. Enjoy!

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/8305118/prince_raspberry_beret

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