Music

The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time 

Ranker Community
Originally by Ranker Community
Updated April 28, 2020 261.6k votes 13.6k voters 82.7k views 231 items

The greatest rock songwriters of all time have a lot in common. Firstly, they are some of the biggest names in rock music history. These household names have written some of the most popular songs. Secondly, even if you aren't too familiar with these songwriters, you've definitely heard their songs at least once or twice. You may not be familiar with their names or faces, but you should know their music. For some bizarre reason, you may not have heard of John Lennon or Paul McCartney, but you definitely have heard of The Beatles and their music. The same goes for Freddie Mercury and Queen, who like The Beatles' songwriting duo, wrote some of the most popular songs in music history.

Bob Dylan is widely considered one of the first songwriters to incorporate poetry, imagery and a social consciousness to rock music. His influence ranges far and wide. Many of the songwriters on this list count Dylan as one of the most important songwriters in rock history. He may not have had the same impact as Dylan, but Kurt Cobain has proven to be one of the most important songwriters in recent history. His career may have been short, but his impact on music history cannot be understated.

It's not easy to determine which of these songwriters is the greatest of all time. It's up to you to determine who is the greatest rock songwriter of all time by voting for who you think deserves that title.
list ordered by
1
John Lennon is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Blues-rock, Pop music & Rock music; Nationality: England

Albums: Imagine, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Double Fantasy, Milk and Honey, Walls and Bridges, + more

John Winston Ono Lennon (born John Winston Lennon, 9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English singer, songwriter and peace activist who gained worldwide fame as the rhythm guitarist for ...more

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28 Facts You Didn't Know About John Lennon #30 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalistslisted on Famous Accordionists

2
Warren Zevon is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Americana, Blues-rock & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Excitable Boy, The Wind, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: An Anthology, Warren Zevon, The Envoy, + more

Warren William Zevon (; January 24, 1947 – September 7, 2003) was an American rock singer-songwriter and musician. Zevon's most famous compositions include "Werewolves of London", ...more

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The Best Warren Zevon Albums of All Time #486 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #425 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time

3
Paul McCartney is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Experimental rock; Nationality: England

Albums: Flaming Pie, Ram, McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Press to Play, + more

Sir James Paul McCartney (born 18 June 1942) is an English singer, songwriter, musician, composer, and record and film producer who gained worldwide fame as bass player for the Beatles. His ...more

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The Best Paul McCartney Songs #1 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #75 of 274 The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World

4
Bob Dylan is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Blues-rock, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, Blonde on Blonde, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, + more

Bob Dylan (born May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, poet, and visual artist who has been a major figure in popular culture for more than fifty years. Much of his most ...more

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The Best Bob Dylan Songs #3 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #186 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

5
Paul Simon is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Rock music, Folk music & Folk rock; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Graceland, Still Crazy After All These Years, So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon, The Rhythm of the Saints, + more

Paul Frederic Simon (born October 13, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter and actor. Simon's musical career has spanned seven decades with his fame and commercial success beginning as half of ...more

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The Best Paul Simon Solo Songs of All Time #2 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #11 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

6
George Harrison is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Experimental rock; Nationality: United Kingdom

Albums: All Things Must Pass, Cloud Nine, Living in the Material World, Thirty Three & 1/3, George Harrison, + more

George Harrison (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001) was an English musician, singer-songwriter, and music and film producer who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the ...more

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The Best George Harrison Albums of All Time #60 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #18 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

7
Freddie Mercury is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Rockabilly; Nationality: United Kingdom

Albums: The Solo Collection, Barcelona, Mr. Bad Guy, Time, Guide Me Home, + more

Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara; 5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991) was a British singer, songwriter, record producer, and lead vocalist of the rock band Queen. Regarded as one of the ...more

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All About Mary Austin, The Love Of Freddie Mercury's Life #1 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #911 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

8
Mick Jagger & Keith ... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
9
John Fogerty is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Americana, Blues-rock & Swamp pop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Deja Vu All Over Again, Hoodoo, Centerfield, The Blue Ridge Rangers, Revival, + more

John Cameron Fogerty (born May 28, 1945) is an American musician, singer, and songwriter. Together with Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and his brother Tom Fogerty, he founded the band Creedence ...more

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The Best John Fogerty Albums of All Time #79 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #22 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

10
Johnny Cash is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Outlaw country, Christian music & Americana; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: American V: A Hundred Highways, American IV: The Man Comes Around, At Folsom Prison, American Recordings, American III: Solitary Man, + more

John R. "Johnny" Cash (February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003) was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor, and author. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, ...more

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The Best Johnny Cash Songs of All Time #10 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #30 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

11
Robert Plant is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Blues-rock, Rock music & Folk rock; Nationality: United Kingdom

Albums: Raising Sand, No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, Walking Into Clarksdale, Mighty Rearranger, Manic Nirvana, + more

Robert Anthony Plant (born 20 August 1948) is an English singer, songwriter, and musician, best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin. Plant enjoyed great success ...more

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12 Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About Robert Plant #42 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #2 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

12
Don Henley is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Country rock; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The End of the Innocence, Building the Perfect Beast, I Can't Stand Still, End of the Innocence, Dirty Laundry, + more

Donald Hugh Henley (born July 22, 1947) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer and founding member of the Eagles. He was the drummer and co-lead vocalist for the Eagles ...more

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The Best Don Henley Albums of All Time #32 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #8 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

13
Brian Wilson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Outsider music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: SMiLE, What I Really Want for Christmas, Orange Crate Art, That Lucky Old Sun, Brian Wilson, + more

Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer who co-founded the Beach Boys. After signing with Capitol Records in 1962, Wilson wrote ...more

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The True Story Behind The Film 'Love And Mercy' #10 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #119 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

14
Eric Clapton is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Blues-rock, Rock music & Reggae; Nationality: England

Albums: 461 Ocean Boulevard, Crossroads, Pilgrim, Journeyman, Tears in Heaven, + more

Eric Patrick Clapton, (born 30 March 1945) is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo ...more

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All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla #11 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #35 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

15
Roy Orbison is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
versusmen added Genre: Country pop, Pop music & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The Essential Roy Orbison, King of Hearts, Mystery Girl, Crying, The Orbison Way, + more

Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician known for his impassioned singing style, complex song structures, and dark, emotional ...more

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The Best Roy Orbison Albums of All Time #21 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #41 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

16
David Gilmour is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Blues-rock, Rock music & Experimental rock; Nationality: England

Albums: On an Island, David Gilmour, Remember That Night, About Face, Live in Gdańsk, + more

David Jon Gilmour ( GHIL-mor; born 6 March 1946) is an English multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter who was a member of the progressive rock band Pink Floyd. He joined the group as ...more

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#41 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #43 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #75 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

17
Jim Croce is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
LarzLarzen added Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Simply the Best: Time in a Bottle: His Greatest Hits, Jim Croce Smash Hits, Singer Songwriter, Bombs Over Puerto Rico, Life and Times, + more

James Joseph Croce (; January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American folk and rock singer-songwriter. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released five studio albums and numerous singles. He ...more

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The Best Jim Croce Albums of All Time #213 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #189 of 1,043 The Best Singers of All Time

18
Tom Petty is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Blues-rock, Heartland rock & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Full Moon Fever, Wildflowers, Highway Companion, Mary Jane's Last Dance, Free Fallin', + more

Thomas Earl Petty (October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017) was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor. He was the lead singer of Tom Petty and the ...more

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#28 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #78 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #61 of 639 The Greatest Guitarists Of All Time

19
Roger Waters is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Folk rock, Progressive rock & Art rock; Nationality: England

Albums: The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Amused to Death, When the Wind Blows, Music From the Body, Ça Ira, + more

George Roger Waters (born 6 September 1943) is an English songwriter, singer, bassist, and composer. In 1965, he co-founded the progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Waters initially served solely ...more

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The Best Roger Waters Albums of All Time #40 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #171 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

20
Buddy Holly is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Lubbock sound, Rock music & Rockabilly; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Buddy, 20 Golden Greats, What You Been A-Missin': What You've Been A-Missin', The Buddy Holly Story, That'll Be The Day, + more

Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American musician and singer-songwriter who was a central and pioneering figure of ...more

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What Actually Happened The Day The Music Died? #83 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists #28 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

21
Gordon Lightfoot is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: Canada

Albums: Endless Wire, If You Could Read My Mind, Summer Side of Life, Don Quixote, Did She Mention My Name?, + more

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music. He is credited with helping to ...more

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The Best Gordon Lightfoot Albums of All Time #22 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #406 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

22
Mark Knopfler is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Celtic rock, Blues-rock & Rock music; Nationality: Scotland

Albums: Private Investigations: The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler, Shangri-La, Sailing to Philadelphia, Golden Heart, The Ragpicker's Dream, + more

Mark Freuder Knopfler ( NOP-flər; born 12 August 1949) is a British singer-songwriter, guitarist, record producer, and film score composer. He was the lead guitarist, lead singer, and songwriter ...more

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The Best Mark Knopfler Albums of All Time #30 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #106 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

23
Stevie Nicks is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Classic rock, Pop music & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Bella Donna, Buckingham Nicks, Trouble in Shangri-La, Enchanted, Rock a Little, + more

Stephanie Lynn Nicks (born May 26, 1948) is an American singer and songwriter. Nicks is best known for her work as a songwriter and vocalist with Fleetwood Mac, and also for her chart-topping ...more

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Fascinating Stories From Stevie Nicks’s Love Life #24 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #4 of 696 The Best Rock Vocalists

24
Bernie Taupin is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Pop music and Rock music; Nationality: England

Albums: Tribe, Taupin, He Who Rides the Tiger

Bernard John Taupin (born 22 May 1950) is an English-American lyricist, poet, and singer. He is best known for his long-term collaboration with Elton John, having written the lyrics for most of ...more

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#46 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #89 of 415 Musicians Who Belong In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame #3 of 32 Celebrities Turning 70 In 2020

25
Carole King is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Adult contemporary music, Blue-eyed soul & Pop music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Tapestry, Wrap Around Joy, Music, Love Makes the World, Colour of Your Dreams, + more

Carole King (born Carol Joan Klein, February 9, 1942) is an American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1958, initially as one of the staff songwriters at the Brill Building and later ...more

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The Best Carole King Albums of All Time #77 of 311 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #285 of 2,040 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time