Shit, this is hard. Whilst I can, after days of deliberation, narrow my all-time favourite songwriters down to a top five, there is no way I can do so without mentioning a whole heap of others who just failed to make it. Elsewhere in this personal patch I’ve chronicled my musical life inspirations as far as late summer 1980, Dexys have just made their impact and thanks to a newly found school friend, The Beatles are about to take over my life. The previous three years in particular had been a wonderful voyage of musical discovery, but things were about to get serious.
My top five songwriters – and probably my top twenty – are either influenced or entrenched in ten years spanning 1963-1973. During this period creativity in the arts exploded – pop music especially. Freedom of speech, drugs, and a cultural shift opened up eyes, ears and minds, whilst this new awareness coupled with world events and society in general inspired songwriters everywhere. Bob Dylan is probably the most notable exception from my top five. He could easily be in, but the effect his songs have had on me doesn’t quite match those I’ve included. My Dylan love is there, but it’s limited.
Other loves from that period would include Brian Wilson, George Harrison, Burt Bacharach, Nick Drake, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Jagger & Richards and the incredible Motown machine – Holland-Dozier-Holland. I feel like a cop out, listing so many others beyond my top five, but it feels like a betrayal not to mention them. Then of course there’s the likes of James Brown who’s just as big an inspiration, but more for the lick than the lyrics. I’m in danger of sounding like an old bastard by saying my more ‘modern loves’ would be Morrissey & Marr and Elvis Costello, all of whose best stuff came out in the last century.
When I was a teenager I used to think people in their twenties were old. Now, at the slender age of 47 I still struggle to think of myself as middle-aged. My love of ‘modern music’ may be waning, but in the fifty years since the fab four explosion and the birth of pop, there’s more than enough musical love to last me a lifetime.
My top five songwriters…
- Lennon & McCartney
I found the Fabs in late 1980 and spent the next ten years devouring them. It is fairly common knowledge that as an actual songwriting team their partnership all but ended by 1964. But, a Beatles recording studio missing either one would not have produced the glorious mountain of groundbreaking pop perfection had one not been there to inspire the other. Lennon & McCartney’s skill as lyricists, as masters of melody and creativity, and their constantly radical approach to songwriting means their influence to artists of every generation and genre over the last fifty years will never be repeated.
- Pete Townshend
It all started with Quadrophenia when I was 16. My head was submerged in the 1960s; I loved the Fabs, The Kinks and Soul. Then I saw Quadrophenia the movie and its effect on me was virtually transcendental. The movie, and in particular Townshend’s soundtrack hit me hard, like a beautiful attack to my personal, eagerly evolving constitution. I loved The Who, and for many a year shuffled around dancefloors like a pretend mod, but more than anything it was the genius of Pete Townshend and his ability to inspire and enrich which has left its formidable, indelible mark on me.
- Ray Davies
The Golden Hour of The Kinks, purchased/borrowed/stolen in 1981, was another groundbreaking moment for me. It wasn’t cool at school being a fan of The Kinks, but the poetic prowess of Ray Davies, with his kaleidoscopic vision of 1960s England made up with equal measures of idealism and scorn, was simply irresistible. A songwriter about people, for the people, Davies’ skill was to paint pictures through his words, portraits and representations of every day life laced immaculately with heart, soul and an ocean of whimsical wit.
- Neil Young
It took me until my mid-twenties to discover Neil Young – After The Goldrush was the first, and still for me his finest. I love his honesty, his integrity and ability to bring tears to my eyes and fire to my soul. With no regard for fashion or trends, it’s his single-minded approach to his art that sets him apart. Unafraid to take risks, simply following his heart, his music is a glorious outpouring of uncorrupted sincerity, a tidal wave of emotion.
- Paul Weller
For a few years as a teenager Paul Weller was my idol. A spokesman for my generation, Weller more than anyone opened my eyes and ears to both musical and cultural happenings. Having seemingly shaken off the dregs of the late 80s, his re-emergence as a solo artist saw him at his peak as both writer and performer for over a decade. Another whose influences are rooted in British culture, it’s his honesty, incisiveness and unrivalled passion for his art that place him amongst our shared musical luminaries.