The Lords of the Lyrics

Crafting the lyrics to a song is tough. In some sense, it’s poetry – something I’ve always either hated or found really tough. Usually, it’s both.

But there are an occasional few who can muster up the string of words and, when matched with some music, turns into a work of art.

As such, here is a Top Five list of who I believe are the best songwriters out in the world today.

1. Gary Barlow

Most Americans aren’t aware of the incredible output that this man has. Part of the British group Take That, he’s been churning out lyrics since the age of 16. In fact, one of the first songs he ever penned was voted as the best ballad ever written. On top of that, in 2009 he was voted as the greatest British songwriter.

Since reforming Take That in 2005, he’s been one of the masterminds behind their comeback’s success.

Gary has an easygoing style – there aren’t any tongue-twisting strings of words nor any incredibly obscure messages that only someone pouring over “The Da Vinci Code” could decipher. He’s straight, honest, to the point and easy on the ears.

His work on Take That’s latest three albums is clean, crisp and refreshing when compared to other artists today. Unlike others who try to evoke some sort of emotional reaction, or reach deep down inside their souls, Gary merely puts a pen to the paper.

Mixed in with his vocal and instrumental abilities, as well as his off-stage efforts, Gary Barlow is one class act.

Tracks that prove I’m right:
– A Million Love Songs
– Patience
– When We Were Young
– Eight Letters

2. Peter Furler

Those who know me are fully aware of my love for Newsboys. They were the first band I listened to when I started finding music, and despite their continuous lineup changes, they are still.

Peter Furler was at their core for songwriting and production. When he left in 2009 to pursue the quiet life, it was thought he’d continue to write songs for Newsboys, but plans changed. Instead, after some time contemplating, he released a solo album earlier this year.

Now, unlike Gary Barlow, Peter can churn out the weirdest of lyrics that will leave you scratching your head, bursting out laughing or wondering what exactly he said in that Aussie accent of his. Like Gary, however, his lyrics are crisp and clean. Peter has a pretty predictable template in terms of how his lyrics are set up, but it works every time.

In the awards category, Peter is a Grammy nominee (with Newsboys) and was the winner of the Award for Christian Songwriter of the Year in 2000.

Peter is at his best when paired with fellow CCM artist Steve Taylor. That’s where the weird lyrics from “Shine,” “Breakfast” and “Tuning In” come from. On his own, he creates the Christian anthems of “He Reigns” and “It Is You,” both of which were instant No. 1 hits.

Toss in his instrumental and singing talent, and you’ve got one formidable guy who puts on an incredible show. In short, Peter is quite possibly the only human on Earth who can find something rhyming with the word orange.

Tracks that prove I’m right:
– Entertaining Angels
– Something Beautiful
– Giving It Over
– Tuning In

3. Randy Newman

Solely Southern, Randy is the immediately recognized voice behind the music from the “Toy Story” films and some sporadic hits in the ’70s and ’80s. While his music takes on a smooth jazzy blues influence, he’s from New Orleans after all, it’s his lyrics that really take the cake.

One only needs to take a listen to “It’s a Jungle Out There” or “Short People,” to find out just how funny this man is. He originally wrote “Lonely at the Top” for Frank Sinatra, but he turned down the offer to sing it. Instead, Randy has a solemn tune that’s painfully ironic.

Randy’s lyrics are able to send out emotion on a grand scale while being very simple and elegant. Simply put, he’s a master of wordage.

Tracks that prove I’m right:
– It’s Lonely at the Top
– Marie
– Rednecks
– Louisiana 1927

4. Elvis Costello

Quite possibly the most sporadic of anyone on this list, Elvis Costello has dabbled in just about everything. If he were at Costco, he’d hit every food sample station and then some. He’s extremely prolific and manages to put out an album every year, it seems.

From his burst onto the music scene in the 1970s to his foray into jazz music and duet albums, Elvis is both at home and itching to venture elsewhere with each release. Despite this, his lyrics are refined and quite brilliant. Take for example his jazz album, North, my personal favorite. On there, he presents the most personal lyrics you’ll ever hear – all reportedly inspired by his relationship with Diana Krall.

Meanwhile, on his previous album, When I was Cruel, his song “45” has a few moments where Elvis hammers his previous relationship. But, that’s just my viewpoint; others have different ones.

Either way, Elvis Costello has managed to capture the span between the colors of leaves in Autumn and the glories of radio. His tale of “Alison” and “Oliver’s Army” are among the finer examples of just how broad this man can truly be. It seems his vocabulary knows no bounds – he’s a walking thesaurus.

Tracks that prove I’m right:
– Still
– Oliver’s Army
– No Hiding Place
– That Day is Done

5. Ed Robertson

Yeah, this is the guy from Barenaked Ladies.

Let’s be honest, anyone who can turn the nonsensical words in “One Week” into an even slightly intelligible song is a talented songwriter. He had the rhyme, the pattern and just the right amount of funny in there to make the song work. But, if that was his only great song, Ed wouldn’t be on this list.

Instead, he applies that same humor, talent and sense of poetry to nearly every song he writes for the Barenaked Ladies. It’s a part of why they’ve been so successful – the lyrics stand true.

On many songs, Ed is able to take life events and turn them into poignant reminders of life that make you stop and think for a second. Life events like a brother’s untimely death, to a band member leaving are all reflected in his lyrics.

And then you get a song about chimpanzee-laden postcards coming in the mail. Classic Ed.

Tracks that prove I’m right:
– One Week
– You Run Away
– Some Fantastic
– Pinch Me

Well, did I miss anyone? Leave a comment with your vote for who writes the best song lyrics.


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