Music

The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time 

Ranker Community
Originally by Ranker Community
Updated March 3, 2020 255.8k votes 13.3k voters 79.2k views 230 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
Warren Zevon is listed (or ranked) 1 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

Labels: Imperial Records, White Whale Records, Artemis Records, Asylum Records, Koch Entertainment, + 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

More Warren Zevon 

#515 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #518 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive The Best Warren Zevon Albums of All Time

2
John Lennon is listed (or ranked) 2 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

Labels: Parlophone, Geffen Records, EMI, Polydor Records, Apple Records, + 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

More John Lennon 

#41 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years 28 Facts You Didn't Know About John Lennonlisted on Famous Accordionists

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

Labels: Decca Records, Swan Records, Parlophone, CBS Records, EMI, + 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

More Paul McCartney 

#1 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #10 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Paul McCartney Songs

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

Labels: Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Island Records, Asylum Records, Columbia

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

More Bob Dylan 

#64 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #106 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Bob Dylan Songs

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

Labels: Legacy Recordings, Hear Music, Warner Bros. Records, Columbia

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

More Paul Simon 

#116 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years The Best Paul Simon Solo Songs of All Timelisted on All U.S. Senators from Illinois

6
Freddie Mercury is listed (or ranked) 6 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

Labels: Parlophone, Hollywood Records, EMI, Polydor Records, Columbia, + 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

More Freddie Mercury 

#5 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #5 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive 9 Facts That Prove Freddie Mercury Is An Epic Legend For A Reason

7
Don Henley is listed (or ranked) 7 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

Labels: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Geffen Records, Asylum Records, Warner Bros. Records

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

More Don Henley 

#13 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #111 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Don Henley Albums of All Time

8
John Fogerty is listed (or ranked) 8 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

Labels: Geffen Records, Asylum Records, Verve Forecast Records, DreamWorks Records, Fantasy Records, + 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

More John Fogerty 

#9 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #182 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time The Best John Fogerty Albums of All Time

9
George Harrison is listed (or ranked) 9 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

Labels: Swan Records, Parlophone, Zapple Records, EMI, Dark Horse Records, + 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

More George Harrison 

#99 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #90 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best George Harrison Albums of All Time

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

Labels: Mercury, American Recordings, Legacy Recordings, Columbia, Sun Records

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

More Johnny Cash 

#24 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #108 of 330 The Coolest Actors Ever The Best Johnny Cash Songs of All Time

11
Eric Clapton is listed (or ranked) 11 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

Labels: RSO Records, ATCO Records, Deram Records, Polydor Records, Reprise Records, + 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

More Eric Clapton 

#13 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #23 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

12
Roy Orbison is listed (or ranked) 12 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

Labels: Monument Records, London Records, Mercury, Asylum Records, MGM Records, + 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

More Roy Orbison 

#122 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #163 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive The Best Roy Orbison Albums of All Time

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

Labels: EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Walt Disney Records, Caribou Records, Brother Records, + 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

More Brian Wilson 

#7 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #1,537 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time The True Story Behind The Film 'Love And Mercy'

14
Robert Plant is listed (or ranked) 14 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

Labels: Rounder Records, Atlantic Records, Universal Records, Mercury, Sanctuary Records Group, + 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

More Robert Plant 

#17 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #23 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters 12 Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About Robert Plant

15
Tom Petty is listed (or ranked) 15 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

Labels: MCA Records, Shelter Records, Backstreet Records, American Recordings, Reprise Records, + 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

More Tom Petty 

#104 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #73 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #262 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive

16
Mick Jagger & Keith ... is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
17
Stevie Nicks is listed (or ranked) 17 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

Labels: Atlantic Records, Warner Music Group, EMI, Modern Records, Polydor Records, + 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

More Stevie Nicks 

#28 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #14 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters Fascinating Stories From Stevie Nicks’s Love Life

18
Gordon Lightfoot is listed (or ranked) 18 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

Labels: Linus Entertainment, United Artists Records, Reprise Records, Warner Bros. Records

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

More Gordon Lightfoot 

#171 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #145 of 284 Musicians Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame The Best Gordon Lightfoot Songs

19
Jim Croce is listed (or ranked) 19 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

Labels: ABC Records, Atlantic Records, EMI, Capitol Records

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

More Jim Croce 

#42 of 284 Musicians Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame #22 of 199 Rock Stars Whose Deaths Were The Most Untimely The Best Jim Croce Albums of All Time

20
Mark Knopfler is listed (or ranked) 20 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

Labels: Vertigo Records, Warner Music Group, Mercury

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

More Mark Knopfler 

#11 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #1,597 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time The Best Mark Knopfler Albums of All Time

21
Buddy Holly is listed (or ranked) 21 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

Labels: Decca Records, Brunswick Records, Coral Records

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

More Buddy Holly 

#102 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #70 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time What Actually Happened The Day The Music Died?

22
David Gilmour is listed (or ranked) 22 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

Labels: Sony Records, Harvest Records, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Columbia, + 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

More David Gilmour 

#167 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #173 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time

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

Albums: Running on Empty, Jackson Browne, Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2, The Pretender, + more

Labels: Asylum Records, Inside Recordings, Elektra Records

Clyde Jackson Browne (born October 9, 1948) is an American singer-songwriter and musician who has sold over 18 million albums in the United States. Coming to prominence in the 1970s, Browne has ...more

More Jackson Browne 

#39 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #163 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Jackson Browne Albums of All Time

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
25
David Bowie is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Rock Songwriters of All Time
Genre: Rock music, Psychedelic pop & Electronic music; Nationality: United Kingdom

Albums: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Hunky Dory, Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane, "Heroes", + more

Labels: PRT Records, Parlophone, Hansa Records, EMI America Records, Deram Records, + more

David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), known professionally as David Bowie (, BOH-ee), was an English singer-songwriter and actor. He was a leading figure in the music industry ...more

More David Bowie 

#544 of 1,145 The Best Actors in Film History #130 of 330 The Coolest Actors Ever The Best David Bowie Songs of All Time