Rock Out at Home: 8 of Our Favourite Lyricists
Published on 29 May 2020
I'm sure we're all in agreement at this point that the guitar is a pretty special instrument. Capable of evoking emotion we didn't even know existed, our favourite instrument can bludgeon you or soothe in equally satisfying doses.
However, when it comes to bringing true meaning and depth to a song, the lyrics are often what bring it to life. While plenty of bands become great thanks to their sound, or playing style, others craft such poetic and moving words that people can't help but to take notice. This list could've gone on all day but we thought we'd just get started, here are a handful of our very favourite lyricists:
Well, why wouldn't we start here? Praised by many as the greatest songwriter who ever lived, Dylan recently won a Nobel prize for Literature and has influenced so many of our favourite musicians that we simply couldn't miss him out. From John Lennon to Jimi Hendrix, to strummers all over the world, Dylan's lyrics have touched and inspired, leaving their mark on music forever. Every time his pen hits paper, he seems to effortlessly churn out beautifully crafted words which are unique, poetic and often rambling but never wasted.
Whether he's making a political statement, telling a story or simply letting a lady know he loves her, Dylan's message always comes in such a raw, honest and relatable way that he had to find himself right up at the top of our list. In fact, another feature on this list, Mr Leonard Cohen stated that Dylan being awarded the Nobel prize was 'like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.'. Can't argue with that folks!
A relative newcomer compared to other veterans in this list despite a career tracking back to the late '90s, Craig Finn's barking, often abrasive vocal style may not reveal his softer side. However, scratch beneath the surface and it really is the perfect vehicle for the songs he writes; fragile, raw, honest, edgy and dark. Initially part of Twin Cities noise rock outfit Lifter Puller, Finn went on to form the Hold Steady, a band who never really broke into the mainstream despite a fiercely loyal cult following. They did manage to land a track on the Game of Thrones soundtrack though for the nerdier rockers among us!
Finn draws a lot of inspiration from heroes Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, quite a combination huh? The charismatic bar rock frontman's lyrics tend not to focus on the party but the hangover, with references to literature, drug addioction and religion throughout. With vivid throwaway lines such as "she was limping, left on broken heels when she said Father, can I tell the congregation how a resurrection really feels?', Finn's writing is chaotic and fascinating, do yourself a favour and check him out.
The Boss has popped up in a few of our articles recently and it's easy to see why, with a catalogue which has just grown and grown since Springsteen's first record in 1973, musicians don't come much more hard-working than this. Springsteen has a keen eye for a story along with a seemingly inhuman ability to pick out the most emotionally charged part and force you to connect with it. Succeeding through raw drive and determination, Bruce found himself fascinated with the working class, the blue-collar culture he grew up in and you'll find it at the heart of everything he writes.
Springsteen's storytelling is truly one of a kind and always maintains a grit and honesty that let you know he really feels every word he commits to paper. With album upon album of tracks that give you goosebumps, you'd struggle to find another songwriter quite as prolific, or quoted. We never tire of hearing Bruce bare his soul and if you've never really experienced his music, well it's time for you to take a journey... Roy Orbison may be singing for the lonely but Bruce is singing for all the rest of us.
Ah Mozza... Politics and weird inappropriate statements aside, did anyone ever really compare to his songwriting? Totally unique with overwhelming confidence framed in crippling shyness, Morrissey was a voice and icon for all those who grew up a little different. His enchanting, impeccably delivered lyrics set him aside from pretty much every other band in the world at the time, daring to be totally different. Morrisey's songwriting is a truly unashamed look into his mind, warts and all. Unafraid to expose his deepest fears, weaknesses and insecurities, Mozza provided a voice for the outsiders with charm and a smirk that no one could ever imitate. Often addressing themes of adolescence ans alienation in his writing, there are none quite so delightfully miserable and fascinating as Morrissey. With Johnny Marr providing the perfect backdrop, bleakness never sounded so sweet.
Speaking of bleakness, let's move onto Leanord Cohen, shall we? Leonard wasn't always the cheeriest chap but there's no debating how incredibly talented he was as a lyricist. His songs can stun you to silence, or make you laugh or cry depending on what mood struck him at the time. A true gent, Leonard had style and this comes across in everything he writes - there's just a certain poetry to his music that makes him stand out.
Drawing influence from Bob Dylan, Cohen weaves dark and enchanted worlds in his music which is just rippling with emotion and fragile beauty. Every statement he makes is from the heart and this unique quality is what allows us to relate to Cohen. Delicate in his melancholy, Cohen gave us lines such as “Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” that are both haunting and timeless. There will never be another like Leonard.
Sorry guys, we will drag you out of the depths of despair shortly but we thought we'd check in with Nick Cave before we did so... A commanding, enigmatic and slightly terrifying frontman indeed but also an incredible lyricist with a one of a kind voice. Seemingly obsessed with the darker side of human nature, Cave doesn't necessarily give you an easy listen all the time but he always gives you a rewarding one. Outlaws, death, betrayal, anger, love and passion become the focal point of the lengthy, twisted tracks he pens which feel a lot like a journey into the dark side of his mind. With all the vibe of a mad preacher, there's also a romanticism to Cave's lyrics that we can all relate to, no matter which crazy route he takes you on! Nick writes on an old school typewriter and describes his stories as 'lovely creatures' which he helps bring to life... Whatever you're doing it's working dude!
There aren't many writers quite like the one and only Neil Young. The wandering folk-rock legend is about as reclusive, different and often out and out strange as they come, yet he still has the power to bring people together with beautifully poetic, heartfelt lyrics. Similar to Dylan in the sense that his music can tell a story, or simply evoke an emotion, Neil never shied away from doing things the way he thought they should be done, resulting in a one of a kind collection of music that no one could even begin to replicate. His story songs are particularly poignant and he has an incredible ability to make you feel every second the characters are going through. From a whisper to a scream, Neil Young's lyrics have an aura to them that just make you want to know more. When asked about his storytelling he responded, "I don't try to think of them. I wait till they come.". Well, I suppose he was never going to share all his secrets, was he...?
We know, Macca should be on the list too but we thought we'd give John his moment! Out of everyone on this list, Lennon's impact is perhaps the most widely recognised. Of course, the Beatles are among the most popular and iconic bands the world has ever known and with this potent partnership at the heart, how could they not be? Lennon's songwriting was as explosive as it was beautiful with meaning and emotion present in every word. Seemingly simple tracks are laced with potency and therein lies the magic of the Beatles and of John in particular... Even the small moments are worthwhile.
There aren't many people who can make a point and make the perfect pop song at the same time but the legendary frontman managed to do it time and time again. His solo career offered a more stripped-back take on his writing that was every bit as captivating, offering reflection on his years in the biggest band in the world - 'Yesterday I was the Dreamweaver/But now I'm reborn/I was the Walrus/But now I'm John'. Every musician should experience what Lennon has to offer, all these years later, he still stands out as a master of his craft.
Lyrics are a peculiar thing. No one can really pin down exactly what formula makes words resonate with us, yet everyone on this list has undoubtedly made an impact. That said, there are literally LOADS of incredible songwriters out there and to say this rundown hasn't scratched the surface would be the understatement of the century. We'd absolutely love to hear your thoughts on what makes a great lyric and to check out your favourite writers so drop a comment below and tell us who we've missed out!