Monday, February 14, 2011

A Look at Paste’s 100 Living Songwriters

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
(Except for the list, which is owned by Paste Magazine – see link to original article at the end)
Images from the Internet
”One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”
– Paul Simon (No. 13)

Fifty musicians and composers made up the late Paste magazine’s list of the top 100 songwriters, essentially in the past 50 years. Published in 2006, this list came to my attention only a few days ago.

This is bound to drive just about anyone else crazy, because music is subjective to the core, which they firmly state in the opening article before the list. Their criteria was that those who selected “were encouraged to vote for the songwriters they treasured the most, not the ones with the highest sales, the biggest impact on culture or even the greatest influence on other songwriters.”

For me, I don’t capishe some of their choices, such as Patti Smith being No. 95 while Tom Petty is No. 29, or Allen Toussaint at No. 68 and then putting David Bowie at No. 16. Sure, there are some they got right (remember, this is my subjective opinion), like Michael Jackson down at No. 49, and Chuck Berry way up at No. 25 (though I would have put him much higher).

What I find most significant is the lack of artists on the list, such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, both of whom are still very alive. The Ramones could have been added, with Tommy and Marky still standing. Yeah, their songs were simplistic, but the music they wrote and produced was exciting, and they electrified the world. What about John Lydon, who wrote some incredible lyrics?

It is leaving out Ellie Greenwich, who died after the list was formulated, that is just criminal (for just a starters, she wrote or co-wrote ”Leader of the Pack,” "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry,” "Why Do Lovers Break Each Others' Hearts?" "Be My Baby," "Baby, I Love You," "Then He Kissed Me," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Not Too Young To Get Married," "Hanky Panky", "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "Chapel of Love,” "I Wanna Love Him So Bad", “I Can Hear Music," "River Deep, Mountain High"… well, you get my drift? To me, it just shows sheer ignorance on those who chose.

Here is Paste’s top 10:
10. Prince
9. Joni Mitchell
8. Elvis Costello
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
6. Leonard Cohen
5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
3. Bruce Springsteen
2. Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
1. Bob Dylan

With the exception of No 5 (Paul McCartney above Lennon-McCartney, who aren’t even on the list? Ha!), I don’t really have a problem with it.

But the thing is, though, that nearly all of these listed are pretty major players, despite the “favorite” label. However, there are so many other musicians who are under the radar who consistently write incredible songs. For example (in no particular order) there is Mary Gatchell, Tamara Hey, Maria McKee, Ruth Gerson, Harriet Shock (who has won awards for her tunes), Margo Hennebach, Adrienne Jones, Anne Lorre, Carrie Catherine, Kim Delmhorst… Oh, there are so many others.

My guess is that Paste’s selectors of the list have never heard of many – if any – of these powerful songwriters, because of their lack of numerous chart hits. You may have noticed that all the ones I have selected are women. Why? Because the Paste list has only 11: Patti Smith, Victoria Williams (No. 89), Julie Miller (No. 73), Dolly Parton (No. 55), Aimee Mann (No. 54), Gillian Welch (No. 48), Loretta Lynn (42), Carole King (No 31; one ahead of Leiber & Stoller), Lucinda Williams (No 22), Patty Griffin (No. 19), and Joni Mitchell (No. 9). They all deserve to be there, but that’s only 11 percent.

These kinds of lists are bad ideas. They draw in the readers, sure, and it’s those numbers that drive the magazine biz, but most of them are insufficient and have wide gaps. It’s part of the reason I usually don’t do “Best Of the Year” articles. Personally, I believe that these “greatest ever” things are made up just to get people riled and write angry letters, which can then be published to show everyone, “Look! People read us!” Guess it didn’t help Paste though, as they can no longer be listed in the 100 best existing magazines.

Bonus Videos:
Maria McKee

Carrie Catherine

Anne Loree

Ruth Gerson

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