This week, let’s take a musical break from our usual grammatical discourse!
The twentieth century gave us some of the most prolific songwriters the world has ever known: John Lennon and Paul McCartney; Bob Dylan; Neil Young; Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; Bruce Springsteen; Elton John and Bernie Taupin—just to name a few! And of course, we can’t forget about all of the extraordinary country songwriters, including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Kris Kristofferson.
These famous artists certainly deserve all of the accolades they receive. But many phenomenal songwriters don’t attract widespread attention despite their immense talent. So today, I’d like to share my top ten list of unsung songwriters—not unsung in the sense that no one is listening to their songs (because I certainly am!)—but unsung in the sense that their skills outweigh their mainstream popularity.
(Artists names are linked to their official websites when available. Song titles are linked to YouTube videos when available. Be advised that some songs contain adult subject matter.)
Biographical tidbit: Eaglesmith is a Canadian troubadour with an intense love of trains; his song “White Rose” was recorded by Toby Keith.
One of my favorites: “Drive-in Movie”
Biographical tidbit: Smither penned the Bonnie Raitt classic “Love Me Like a Man.”
One of my favorites: “Hundred Dollar Valentine”
3. Guy Clark
Biographical tidbit: Clark is the quintessential Texas musician whose songs have been recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash to Kenny Chesney.
One of my favorites: “Desperados Waiting for a Train”
4. Jacquie Manning and Rich Prezioso of Small Potatoes
Biographical tidbit: Manning and Prezioso are a Chicago duo that just can’t be pinned down into one genre—to understand the Spuds, you must see them live!
One of my favorites: “1000 Candles, 1000 Cranes” (music begins at 1:40)
Biographical tidbit: Smith is a Chicago-based artist best known for “The Dutchman” recorded by Steve Goodman; he has written nearly 500 songs—and counting.
One of my favorites: “Panther in Michigan”
Biographical tidbit: Cleaves is a Northerner, but his songs can stand up against those of famous Texas wordsmiths such as Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen.
One of my favorites: “Broke Down”
7. Dave Carter (with Tracy Grammer)
Biographical tidbit: Together with Grammer, Carter recorded a vast array of mythical and mystical songs before his unexpected passing in 2002.
One of my favorites: “Gentle Arms of Eden ” (music begins at 1:17)
Biographical tidbit: Mallett wrote the folk staple “Garden Song” that includes the famous chorus “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow […]”
One of my favorites: “Summer of My Dreams”
9. John Gorka
Biographical tidbit: Gorka has toured with both Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin.
One of my favorites: “Houses in the Fields”
10. Greg Trooper
Biographical tidbit: Trooper’s hit “We Wont Dance” appears on Vince Gill’s album When I Call Your Name.
One of my favorites: “This I Do”
Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business and creative content.