In fact, between them the Great Eight have written more good songs than everyone else combined.
That teeny number of eight accounts for at least half of all the good songs ever written. The only other real-world analogy I can think of that is equally bizarre and out-of-whack is the fact that America spends as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Another bizarre fact: five of the Great Eight are Jewish, which proves once again they're the most inescapable nation on earth, having given us Jesus, Einstein, Marx, Freud and Hollywood.
By my count there are around two hundred other good songwriters in total, if you use an arbitrary rule of thumb that I've sucked out of my very own thumb, namely: to call yourself a good songwriter, you need at least three great songs to your credit.
Only three. An admittedly low bar. Yet as low as it is, it gives us only two hundred good songwriters who ever lived. And none of them come near the Great Eight. Lack of volume keeps the Other Two Hundred out of the top rank — even when their three best songs rank up there with the three best of the Great Eight. In fact, the second-rank Other Two Hundred are so severely lacking in output, you'd be hard put to find even six great songs by even the most prolific of them. Take the excellent songwriter Jimmy Webb. That's all he's got. It's a solid and varied group, and they will live forever.
But that's all, folks. Compare that brilliant but meagre output with the prolific riches of Lennon or Kern or Rodgers, and you've got the difference between good and great, even though McArthur Park is as great as anything by Lennon or Kern or Rodgers. Take Jim Steinman, who wrote those monsters for Meat Loaf. What's he got? That's it. She's written 80 Top Ten hits, but these songs are her only really good ones. Take Andrew Lloyd Webber, another of our richest composers, creator of the shlockiest megamusicals ever. Take Puccini, the most melodic opera songwriter by far. Utterly transportive stuff, but that's it.
And finally, take George Harrison. You go through all the second-rank writers, and lack of volume is what keeps the Other Two Hundred way out of the orbit of the Great Eight. BTW, I'm not thinking of rock bands at all, which as a rule produce interesting sonics, but not many great songs. From the highly regarded Radiohead there's only one song early in their career, Creep , that you'd ever feel like humming.
The rest they've done is great music, but nary a great song. However, among bands there are four special cases, which I will get to after I've listed the second rank of songwriters who aren't top-ranked because none of them wrote enough good songs to be among the Great Eight. Here's my list of the Other Two Hundred — folks who've written at least three great songs — broken down into rough categories I've tried to be inclusive, but please spank me for any omissions. Serious classical composers wrote some great tunes.
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Here are the ones who wrote at least three or more:. Puccini, by far the best melody writer among opera composers.
I do not remember any dread of thieves or ghosts in particular; but things as I actually saw them were dreadful to me; and it now appears to me that I had scarcely any respite from the terror. Cherry Ripe. Four-armed and savage. A taste for blasting Enya's cloying hit song at eye-glazing volume. Light still fades.
Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky wrote great melodies, too — and sometimes dumb words have been applied to them. Johann Strauss wrote very catchy waltzes. I guess one should add Wagner and Verdi. Leroy Anderson, popularized by the Boston Pops, wrote great melodies. The musically complex and adventurous Frank Zappa belongs in the classical category as well. I don't count Schubert and his many Lieder. Can you whistle or hum even one of them?
There are five distinct American musics: American Songbook, jazz, blues, rock 'n roll, and rap. One of these is white and Jewish.
The others are all black. Here is a list of our white and predominantly Jewish writers of the American Songbook:. Rock 'n roll was a black thing, but really broke out when a southern white guy, Elvis, put it on the map. Its early writers were both black and white. In the Brill Building in New York, kids wrote hits for the new music of rock 'n roll and modern pop which, departing from the American songbook tradition, was aimed strictly at teenagers. Here they are:. Country music is basically southern white people's blues — white music with plenty of plaintive soul. Here are the great country songwriters:.
Rock 'n roll was a black thing taken over by white kids. But blacks kept going with their own version of it, and successfully sold this to whites, via Motown. But they stayed corralled in their own camp until Michael Jackson broke open white MTV for black performers, and until white kids all over the world took to rap. Here's a list of the great black songwriters:. Kelly, and Prince. In the 60s, English kids listened to American rock 'n roll and then created their own brand, becoming as important as American rock.
Then they invaded America with it. Those pretentious Brits thought there could be more to rock 'n roll than populist thumpawump, and they proved it with more complex sit-down-and-listen music. Their later Britpop spawn — Blur, Suede, Oasis, Pulp — were one-shot wonders or spotty crap merchants. And of course, the Clash. On the West Coast of America, what with the sun and all, a more relaxed rock 'n roll happened.
Also, a more drug-infused rock 'n roll. The best songwriters:. If rock 'n roll is a populist thing, it was never more populist than with the heartland rockers: music to be played and heard in bars. They are:. Curt Cobain of Nirvana probably belongs here, too. What's the difference between David Bowie and Billy Joel? Simple: David Bowie is intellectually respectable, Billy Joel is not.
But this is an intellectual construct of image and posture and accent. As songwriters, they're the same: both wrote great tunes; in fact, Billy Joel probably wrote more and better tunes than Bowie. More power to them; they shouldn't be sneered at. The pop song in Europe is a bouncy, flouncy affair, the four-on-floor of Europop — witness Abba. But there's also the French chanson Edith Piaf sang 'em great , often very literary and different from their ye-ye pop music; as well as the Italian ballad, and the Spanish tradition of flamenco. Under Franco, Spanish pop music didn't exist.
The cultural flowering of La Movida Madrilena changed art, film and music in Spain, and today, like the rest of Europe, Spain has everything from heavy-metal to rap. An extremely popular writer and singer was Camilo Sesto. Abba got its start when it won in with its first hit Waterloo. To tell the truth, I don't know much about European songwriting, and would appreciate anyone telling me more.
Here are the writers I know about:. They fall in two categories. There are the serious ones whom I wish I knew more about, like Jorge Drexler; the bosa nova writer-performer Antonio Carlos Jobim; and the Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, who ended his life in a football stadium with his fingers chopped off while his torturers urged him to play his guitar for them. If you know of the others, or can direct me to somewhere I can learn more, I'd really appreciate it.
There's also the salsa tradition, in which Ruben Blades thrives. Reggae has its own beat, its own drug — Jamaica-grown marijuana — and its own religion — rasta. We English-language humans know nothing about our planet's Vast Other, but believe me, they're sure to have their own canons — how deep and rich I have no idea. Perhaps there are 3QD commenters who can tell us about them.
As a coda, here's a personal short list of extremely talented new-comers in America who may yet stumble upon a great tune or two, one hopes, mayhaps: Regina Spector, Joanna Newsom and Andrew Bird. Lady Gaga has potential, too; she reminds me a lot of Abba. They almost belong among the Great Eight, but I don't think they wrote enough good songs — i.
The second special case is Queen, because of three reasons. Three, they are 7th in overall world-wide sales, the sales rankings being The Beatles first, then Elvis Presley, followed by Michael Jackson, Abba, Madonna the only non-tune-writer among the top sellers , Led Zeppelin, and Queen, all claiming to have sold more than million records each, after which you get all the rest. Incidentally, all four Queen members wrote big hits, even if Freddie Mercury wrote the most.
Then there's Abba, who dominated the charts everywhere, except in America. Between and , a mere seven years, their two songwriters, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, churned out the hits sausage-factory style for what must be the ultimate girl group ever. And then there's the Bjorn-Benny forte: oodles of the best bubble gum ever written, a bonanza of inimitable camp catchiness. Their compilation album, Abba Gold: Greatest Hits , contains 19 hits, all of them number ones all over the world outside America, which together with their penned One Night in Bangkok , make 20 number ones.
To put their hold on worldwide charts in perspective, compare the only other writers who've had more number ones than Abba: the Beatles, with 27 number ones five written by John and Paul together, thirteen by Paul solo, eight by John solo, and one by George Harrison: Something , and Motown's Holland-Dozier-Holland, with 25 number ones, which include ten number ones for the Supremes.
Trailing way behind Abba, the Beatles and Holland-Dozier-Holland is … Michael Jackson with 10 number ones written or co-written by him. Incidentally, on the US country charts, George Strait has had 54 number ones, beating Conway Twitty's long-held record of Another special case is Roy Orbison. He didn't write much, but what he did write was so off-the-wall weird and rule-breaking, and so gorgeously operatically over-the-top grandiose, and so cunningly story-telling, that he deserves a category of his own.
Plus, he's got more than ten of them. Orbison is the most original sui generis outlier of all songwriters. And damn, what a voice: the man was the Pavarotti of rock 'n roll. In fact, thinking of these special cases, one might create a third category of songwriters: the Thirty Special Mentions, who because of output — number of songs more than the three stipulated to be in the Other Two Hundred — deserve not to be buried in the Other Two Hundred.
His songs are all on YouTube: google them. He is certainly the best power ballad writer ever.
If I have one wish for this article, it's to turn more Americans on to the tunesmithery of Chris de Burgh. BTW, his daughter was Miss World Before I forget, I hope to maybe count myself somewhere one day: check out this song I've written for my band The Dingbots as tentative proof of my hubris. We can't abandon the topic of songwriters without mention of a final category: the glorious one-offs. A songwriter may write mediocre malarkey by the mile and still come up with one deathless jewel of a miraculous hair-raising melody. Here's a very short selection of these lightning-struck-but-once goodies.
Check out his The Best of Peter Sarstedt. Louie Louie written by Richard Berry in This song has been covered hundreds of times. Berry sold the copyright cheap in , and didn't make a dime off the song till and , when he got paid some guilty money. Runaway by Del Shannon and Max Crook, who played that astonishing instrumental break — the best ever — on his self-invented clavioline-based electronic keyboard called a Musitron.
Stagger Lee , based on a fatal shooting over a hat. Nobody knows who wrote it. We don't know who wrote House Of The Rising Sun either brilliant version by the Animals ; it may have been written as early as the s. In the s it was popularized in the US by Pete Seeger. In a perfect version by The Tokens thundered on to the charts. After journalist Rian Malan exposed this travesty in in Rolling Stone magazine, there was a lawsuit, and Linda's dirt-poor descendants started getting royalties.
Feel free to suggest your own favorite one-off. Bizarrely, there are quite a number of glorious one-off power ballads by terrible rock bands, written so chicks will consent to come to the headbanging concerts that their headbanging boyfriends like to attend. There are even some pearls by the ghastly corporate-rock LA hair-metal cretins like Poison, Cinderella, and Whitesnake et al, among whose dire bottom-feeding putrid stinker ranks I like to place Guns 'n Roses, Van Halen and Bon Jovi, just to annoy their fans.
Final big question: why aren't there any great songwriters today, even if amazing music is still being made? Number one, there is not much need for great songwriters anymore, being that the music business is dominated by rappers, to whom great producers are more important than great songwriters. Call it the revolt of the lyricists, and the rule of the beat.
Music so basic, it doesn't need melody. Just a voice and a beat. Rhythmic spoken word. And when rap does give a nod to melody, it's something real basic, like a simple chant. Rap is a kind of anti-music. Hence, a real music revolution — the biggest since rock and roll. Rock 'n roll was a revolution because it made the beat as important as the melody.
Rap was a revolution because it made the beat oust the melody altogether. There's something odd about the rap revolution, though, odder than the fact that it made America's black urban youth angst a worldwide cultural commodity, which is mighty odd all by itself. Here's the absolute oddity about rap. Rap is novelty music writ large. Here I am in the hood. Rappers are the natural heirs of Alan Sherman and the satiric spoof bandleader Spike Jones.
The playfulness, the outrageousness, the absurdity, the sonic surprises — rap is pure novelty music. It is this, I believe, that makes it popular all over the world — not just the fact that the youth of the world can empathize with its rude posture of defiance. If nothing else, their silly names tell you that.
Reason number two why there are no great songwriters today: indie rock, aka college radio rock. Here intelligent thoughtfulness and English Major pretensions prevail. Nothing as vulgar as a good melody needed. Just make your music sound smart and hipsterish and not too obvious. Consider Arcade Fire. Amazing music, but where are the tunes? Where is something you find yourself spontaneously belting out in the shower? Number three, the creative rock 'n roll explosion of the 60s happened so long ago, it no longer inspires. New York, London, Paris, Munich Everybody talk about pop muzik!!
Keep 'em coming. Just two requests could you include 'Weeks' column and put a dase between Tw Lw Wks numbers. Apologies to BoroButch - not included weeks, simply because I don't know exactly how many weeks some of these were on the chart. The info comes from Hitmusic, which never showed no. Anyhow, here's how things looked 10 years ago - someone called Shania Twain scraped in the singles chart at no. Thanks oldbloke , don't worry about Weeks, you're doing a great job.
Here's another slice of history from the world of "bigger" charts 10 years ago. As a serious chart collector, I sometimes wish I'd never seen these - if I'd settled for the "official" top 75 singles and albums, I'd have a complete collection - with these longer charts, it's virtually impossible to have them all.
The charts below are from "Hitmusic". The chart was actually compiled for the length that went down to the lowest selling single, so you will see titles with a previous week position higher than The album chart was strictly a top , of which Hitmusic chose only to print the top titles, hence every week you get titles with a previous week position Great music in Originally Posted by Fedepeti. Excellent topic!!!