Nothing Like A "Best Of" List To Start an Argument...

Okay, so I was listening to last week's All Songs Considered podcast the other day and they were debating Paste magazine's list of the top 100 living songwriters. The list itself is a great conversation-starter and the podcast dissecting it was kind of interesting, although I kept getting the feeling that my dad would have enjoyed it a lot more than I did, as the tastes of the hosts were a little, uh, "older" than mine.

I thought it might be fun to look at at the list here, right here, and dissect it. Now, keep in mind that Paste's list is in no way perfect, nor are my comments or opinions. I will admit up front that my comments are completely subjective and probably not "Rock Critic" correct, (or "Bob Todd's Son" correct...sorry, dad) but they will be "My Gut" correct. For example, on this list, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan are listed before the beloved Sir Paul McCartney. Blasphemy?! Maybe. Like I said, this list is not only imoerfect, but I think it's fluid and totally personal. Tom Waits' songs (at least in comparison to Sir Paul's later solo output) speak more to me as a person, as an artist, than Mr. Mac's stuff sometimes does.

Quick note: In this post, when I refer to someone who should be further "up" or "down" the list, I mean physically. Basically, it's opposite what you'd think it it. "Up" means higher #'d, "down," lower. just so we're on the same page.

Anyway, let's get to the list. Here goes:

100. T Bone Burnett
Uh, T. Bone Burnett? I know the guy's a heckuva producer, but a songwriter? Uh, okay. Who knew? Not me, obviously. Seriously though, the guy's obviously a songwriter, as he just released a new album which prompted his company to release a "best of" album, but he's not one of the first 200 peopel I think of when you say "great songwriter," let alone top 100. Oh well.

99. Andre Benjamin & Antwan Patton (Outkast)
Outkast is an interesting choice. I don't know that they have the body of work that any of these other artists do, but they've taken hip-hop ( and pop music) in an interesting direction, so sure.

98. Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo)
Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo stuff has never really done a whole lot for me. Trace was decent, Straightaways a little bring and Wide-Swing Tremolo is pretty good, but he just got really boring for me.

97. Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter's still an unknown to me despite owning two of his albums. We were listening to his latest, the Animal Yearsthe pther day and Candace summed it up when she said "How does Ryan Adams take this and make it good?" To which I responded, "I have no idea."

96. Jimmy Cliff
I've never gotten into Jimmy Cliff (yet) so no comment there.

95. Patti Smith
It's nice to see Patti Smith somewhere on the list, but personally, I'd rank her higher. Not that I'm a super huge fan or anything, but the lady can write a song.

94. Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips, if it's who I'm thinking of, does nothing for me. One of those standard songwriters that is so innocuous that I think I might be mixing her up with Patti Griffith.

93. Joseph Arthur
Who the heck is Joseph Arthur?

92. Alejandro Escovedo
I need to get me some Alejandro Escovedo, just to see what he's like, as I keep hearing his name.

91. Drive By Truckers (Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell)
Drive-By Truckers seem to be having a good year, as their latest album's all over the place. Maybe I'll have to check them out.

90. Nick Cave
Nick Cave's one of those artists that I really want to like, but haven't been able to really get all that in to.

89. Victoria Williams
If I learned anything from the Sweet Relief tribute album, it's that Victoria Williams is someone that, despite being able to write a song, does very little for me.

88. Parliament (George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell)
P-Funk rules. "Makes my funk the P-Funk/I wants to get funked up." That's songwriting, folks.

87. Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett's a good choice and probably works well this far down the list. He's good, but I can't listen to him all day, every day.

86. Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)
Sam Beam always impresses me. I have this feeling that Iron & Wine will be one of "the" bands of the late 00's.

85. David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones)
David Bazan's one of those artists who mistakes misery for depth, though he can turn a phrase now and then. The song, "Arizona," on Achilles Heel is a really good song.

84. John Linnel & John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants)
Anyone who can write songs with titles like "Kiss Me, Son of God," or "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," or "Hopeless Bleak Despair," deserves to be somewhere on this list. Also, the song, "Thunderbird" from their latest, the Spine is genius.

83. Fleetwood Mac (Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie)
Fleetwood Mac, uh, no thanks. I have heard that their earlier work is really good, but Stevie Nicks is so... yuck. She sings like a goat in heat.

82. John Darnielle (Mountain Goats)

81. Wayne Coyne & Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips)
Flaming Lips are one of my most favoritest bands ever. They deserve the top 10 if only for The Soft Bulletin.

80. Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Nick Mason)
When will I find the time to get into Pink Floyd? Also, Syd Barrett died. For whatever reason, I was sort of sad. Anyway.

79. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Silver Jews)
Interesting that Malkmus and Pollard are right next to each other as they spent a goodly portion of the 90's mentioned in the same breath. Malkmus newest album is, after seven months of letting it sink in, quite good. Also, a large part of who I am is because of the music of Pavement, so... top 25 at least.

78. Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices)
Bob Pollard is a solid gold pop song machine and should be top 10. Have you heard "Pop Zeus?" Seriously, it's on one of his throwaway albums from his Fading Captain series and its one of my favorite songs of all time. Download it now and then tell me I am talking crazy talk when I say that he is a solid gold pop song machine. Also, the entirety ofBee Thousand?!

77. Bruce Cockburn
My dad's always said that I'd really like Bruce Cockburn.

76. Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Palace Music, etc.)
I need to get me some Will Oldham. Anybody who refers to himself as Bonnie "prince" Billy deserves a listen.

75. Ron Sexsmith
Ron Sexsmith's decent, but definitely not better than anybody that's been listed so far. Further up the list, maybe. Switch him out with TMBG and we'll call it good.

74. Linford Detweiler & Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine)
Haven't heard Over the Rhine, though their CD is sitting in my BMG music club shopping cart, waiting for me to win the lottery.

73. Julie Miller
Julie Miller? Barney's daughter?

72. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson, though only #72 on this list made it into the top three on Time's "World's Creeepiest People," list, right after that guy who sells knives on the original Willy Wonka and Coach Kostadelos, my high school driver's ed teacher who had a glass eye.

71. Vic Chesnutt
Vic Chesnutt's another one I've been meaning to check out. His duet with Michael Stipe on the End of Violencesoundtrack is incredible.

70. Alex Chilton (Big Star, The Box Tops)
I owned a Big Star cassette, Third/Sister Lovers. I no longer own it, so obviously my opinion of Alex Chilton's a bit tainted. I hear their first album kills, though.

69. Merle Haggard
One day I will check him out. Tom Waits praises hi to high heaven, so what am I waiting for?

68. Allen Tousaint
Wasn't he an Impressionist painter?

67. Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes)
I loathe Bright Eyes. Sorry. I've tried, but I just can't appreciate him on any level. I can understand the appeal, but it just isn't there. I was born without that part that makes you appreciate him.

66. Charles Thompson (aka Frank Black, Black Francis) (Pixies)
Frank Black's first two solo albums will rock your world. His Pixies stuff is classic. Top 25.

65. Bill Mallonee (Vigilantes of Love)
Bill Mallonee haas a lottt oof doubbllee letterrrs innn his naameeee. Also, Vigilantes of Love had an album that was in the Sunrise library Cd section that I would see everytime I was searching for something new to pirate (I wore an eyepatch and everythingwhen I'd go 'a-piratin').

64. Andy Partridge (XTC, Dukes of Stratosphear)
XTC doesn't do it for me.

63. Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention)
I've always felt like I should like Richard Thompson, but, I dunno.

62. Sting (The Police)
Okay, Sting, or the Police? Because, in my opinion, those are two separate people. Police Sting - decent stuff. After that, he was replaced with a Life Model Decoy or something because Post-Police Sting is, in my not-so-humble opinion, unlistenable minivan music that is noxious to your brains and causes cancer. Much like the music of Bryan Adams.

61. John Hiatt
John Hiatt is one of thise guys my dad loves that, really, I can live without.

60. Jimmy Webb
Jimmy Webb... Oh, I got nothing.

59. Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs)
Jack White deserves to be rated lower on the list. He's an amazing performer and a brilliant songwriter and he is cool. Like actually cool.

58. Sly Stone (Sly & the Family Stone)
Sly Stone is still alive? Seriously though, he's left a legacy of amazing songs.

57. Morrissey (The Smiths)
Morrissey should be a lot higher on this list. The Smiths are okay and all, but I've never held a lot of love for Mister Mopey Himself.

56. James Brown
James Brown is top 10 material if anyone on this list is. And I will fistfight anyone who says differently.

55. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton's got really big...hair. What did you think I was going to say?

54. Aimee Mann
I dont't know what the big fuss is about Aimee Mann. Also, she is like 7 feet tall.

53. James Taylor
I've always had an affinity for James Taylor. I don't Love love love the man, but his music has always resonated with me.

52. Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)
Paul Westerberg is top 20. Seriously, listen to Stereo/Mono and tell me I'm wrong.

51. Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham
Okay, quick clarification: Is it Oldham that doesn't talk in Penn & Oldham, or is he the guy with the ponytail?

50. Public Enemy (Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, et al)
Public Enemy. Uh, okay. I have no point of reference besides the antics of "FLAVE-OrrFLAVE!" on the Surreal Life, so I will shut up now.

49. Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens was amazing. Also, he's rated higher on the list than Sufjan Stevens? Wha?

48. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
My only exposure to Gillian Welch and David Rwalings is Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker album. I tried to get into one of her albums after falling deeply in love with that record, but it's a little too twangy for little old me.

47. Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens is an enigma to me, I'm trying to suss out what the big deal is. I was listening to Illinois last night trying to figure out what the big deal is. Still nothing. Maybe tomorrow. It's not that he's bad, it's just that he's not that good.

46. David Byrne (Talking Heads)
David Byrne is my rock and roll hero. I'd rank him in the top 10 easily.

45. Jackson Browne
I should probably just say that I love Jackson Browne and head off any argumant with my dad. He's okay. I really haven't invested the time to really appreciate his work, though it still resonates with me on some level.

44. Al Green
Al Green's okay. I have a Best Of album and I have trouble telling the tracks apart.

43. Ryan Adams (Whiskeytown)
Ryan Adams has a special place in my heart. Top 10 all the way.

42. Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn. I have nothing to say other than that she owns a haunted plantation. that, and I really want to hear the album of hers that Jack White produced.

41. Ray Davies (The Kinks)
Still waiting to find time to fully appreciate the Kinks.

40. Burt Bacharach & Hal David
Bacharach & David, Attorneys at Law. But seriously, folks, they're untouchable.

39. Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham)
Okay, so this brings up an interesting point that I've kind of stumbled over on this list. When you say "songwriter," I think, "singer-songwriter." I guess if you say, "people who write songs that are enjoyable," it opens it up a little because "Squeeze my lemon 'till the juice runs down my leg," is not something profound or at all intelligent for that matter, but, when take in context, it works, somehow.

38. Kris Kristofferson
Is a grizzled old man.

37. Smokey Robinson
Smokey's cool. He's a legend, so there's nothing to really say about him. Also, only you can prevent forest fires and I know that's a cheap joke but I am a sad sad man so leave me alone.

36. Beck Hansen
Dude, this guy is something else. I always seem to forget how amazing he can be and then I hear something come up on shuffle and you're reminded that he is really talented and "real." Also, he's a Scientologist, which is weird to think too much about because I'm kind of half-waiting for him to jusy go crazy one of these days and not in a good way.

35. Steve Earle
he's a heckuva songwriter. He's gotten a bit shrill, politically, lately, but he's still an amazing songwriter.

34. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Was not born on the bayou, despit what he tells you. Let's be honest though, he really should be up higher on this list. he's been writing the same songs for forty years now. Don't get me wrong, it's a good song, but still... #34?

33. Pete Townshend (The Who)
He's a great songwriter whose best years are light years behind him. It's sad to see people like him who just lost it somewhere along the line. Still Quadrophenia is a landmark in my life and their early stuff is great, classic stuff. Tommy has never impressed me much, but he's a talent, to be sure.

32. Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
Leiber & Stoller. Attorneys at Law. Did I already use that one? Dang.

31. Carole King
She did the theme song for Gilmore Girls. What else do you want?

30. John Prine
Another one of those guys that my dad loves that I can just live without. Then again, maybe I'm just waiting for the right song at the right moment.

29. Tom Petty
He's one of those guys that, in my book, is good, but not really great, y'know? He's kind of like, I don't know, Titian? He's a great colorist and all, but he's nothing special when you hold him up next to Michaelangelo or Leonardo. Am I making sense?

28. Robbie Robertson (The Band)
I [heart] the Band. There was a period when I was all about them and their first two albums are pure gold. Also, he's probably one of the greatest guitar players of all time. Period. "Clapton," who?

27. Radiohead (Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway)
Swap them out for the Flaming Lips. I don't know why there's such an either/or proposition in my mind between those two bands, but for whatever reason there is. They're okay and all, but they seem so (shoot what's the word I used on the phone when I was talking this over with Bryan...oh yeah...) bleak. I prefer a ray of hope somewhere, but I will admit that their first three albums are really good. They lose me with Kid A to be honest.

26. R.E.M. (Peter Buck, Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe)
One of my favorite bands of all time, though their last album was a bit lacklustre. A great catalog of work, though and one of the reasons I am who I am. Top 10. (What am I up to now, like 12 in my top 10 already?)

25. Chuck Berry
Top 10? Maybe not, but he is one of the kings of rock and roll to be sure. Which reminds me: where the heck is Little Richard on this list? It's criminal. Both of them would split slot #15 on my list.

24. Jeff Tweedy (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Golden Smog, Loose Fur, etc.)
Just outside the top 10 on "my" list. If you can dispense a truth like, "You've got to learn how to die if you want to stay alive," inside a pop song, you have my respect forever. Another group that, 20 years from now, will define the turn of the millennium for me. One of the few "artists," right now in a field overrun with craftsmen.

23. Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Yeah, that looks right. Great but not that great. The John/Taupin partnership is deservedly admired.

22. Lucinda Williams
She's okay, but #22? Swap her out for Patti Smith.

21. Lou Reed (Velvet Underground)
Yeah, that's about right.

20. Van Morrison
Again, the list's starting to look pretty right. Astral Weeks is amazing.

19. Patty Griffin
Stewie's sister? Another one of those songwriters that critice wet themselves over that really are a mystery to me. Swap her for Malkmus.

18. U2 (Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton)
Yeah, maybe a little higher. #25 maybe. Up until Pop I would have believed that they were the best band on earth. Now, not so much. they're still great, but... I dunno. It seems like they lost momentum around that album that they've never quite made up.

17. Holland-Dozier-Holland
Attorneys at Law. Getting old yet?

16. David Bowie
Yeah, that looks right. He's someone who've I've grown to appreciate ove rthe last few years. I still want to get more into his catalog, especially his work with Brian Eno, who is incredible. Dang lottery!

15. Willie Nelson
Is a great songwriter and a dirty old man. I always imagine him as being sort of smelly, sort of randy. The kind of guy you hang out with but never invite for a sleepover. Anyway.

14. Stevie Wonder
Stevie's one of those artists that I appreciate the heck out of, but just don't click with.

13. Paul Simon
Yeah. He's a classic.

12. Mick Jagger & Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
Fossils, I mean, classics. I don;t think they're that great, but somewhere between 10 and 20 is about right for them. It's god rock and roll, butit doesn't touch me like a Paul Simon song or a Willie Nelson, for that matter.

11. Randy Newman
A great songwriter, but not #11. Sorry, Randy, but you know it's true. Somewhere between 25 and 30 maybe.

The Top 10
10. Prince
See #14, above. Another one that I admire but just don't click with. Except for "Purple Rain." That song is just amazing. Seriously, it's a perfect song.

9. Joni Mitchell
In a perfectw world, she's be in my top 10. But this isn't a perfect world and she isn't. Somewhere between 10 and 20 for sure, but I have never connected with her as much as I should have.

8. Elvis Costello
He's a great songwriter, but, as the kids say, "He's not all that and a bag of chips." He's not in my top 10.

7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
My #2 slot, maybe? Seriously, he's one of my favorites

6. Leonard Cohen
I [heart] Leonard Cohen. Big hearts. His later work pales in comparison to songs from, well, Songs or, uh Songs From A Room, but those two albums alone cement his place in my top 10.

5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
He's so good it's hard to say anything about him. Initially I though that it was understandable that he was higher up than tom Waits, but I'm not so sure anymore. He's still amazing. He's almost consistently amazing. Which is why it looks so much worse when they do something that's a bit mundane. The contrast with their amazing stuff makes it look that much worse, despite the fact that it might probably be better than others' good work. Does that make any sense?

4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
One of my favorites. When I heard Bone Machine, it totally changed me. It was loud, obnoxious and weird. And I loved it. I know that it's not for everybody, but I really love his dirty, bluesy, clangy stuff just as much as I love a beautiful song like, "Hold On." I think you appreciate the one more because of the other and they help each other to exist, if that makes sense.

3. Bruce Springsteen
He'd be just outside my top 10. I've not had a really personal experience with his music like other people I know, so that counts him out. He's great and all, but just not "all that" for me.

2. Neil Young (Buffalo Sprinfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Just outside my top 10 as well. #11, maybe. After the Gold Rush, as an album, is a perfect album, not a single misstep. I just wish he were more consistent (look who's talking... I have Bob "Out of 30 tracks on a CD, 8 of them are annoying, 10 are solid, 7 or them are really good and 5 are brilliant," Pollard in my top 10... Still those 5...)

1. Bob Dylan
Yeah, it's obvious, I know, but the guy's still got it. He's like 125 years old, but he sings these songs like he's only 85! Seriously though, he's the king. And I'm not saying that because he's named after me. Or vice versa... It's hard to remember. Anyway, it's so obvious, but so true, so with no recourse but to concur, I'll agree and we'll be done with this travesty.

Okay, so what, you may ask, is my Top 10? Here goes (in no order because I can't rate tham even if I tried. Also I'm probably forgettig someone, but leave a comment, for crying out loud!):
Bob Dylan
Brian Wilson
Tom Waits
Bob Pollard
James Brown
David Byrne
Flaming Lips
Leonard Cohen

So, I showed you mine. What's yours?

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