Top 10 Non-Rock/Metal Songwriters

Turns out UG gives plenty of love outside the rock realm.

Ultimate Guitar

So for this week's Wednesday Question, we asked you guys to step outside of the rock realm and name the greatest non-rock/metal songwriter of all time.

The suggestions kept flowing in, resulting in massive praises of classical, jazz, pop, and avant-garde music. We should note that a vast array of classical composers, including Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart, as well as film music composer Hans Zimmer, scored solid amounts of votes, but were encompassed with a single classical figure. Anyhow, the list awaits below, check it out.

10. Nick Cave

Kicking off the list, Nick Cave is one of the most versatile artists out there. Ranging from the Birthday Party, the Bad Seeds, all the way to solo work and Grinderman, Nick is also active in the film music domain, as well as writing, acting and screenwriting.

9. Louis Armstrong

Arguably the greatest jazz musician of all time, late great Louis Armstrong made a stunningly great impact on the global music scene, as both a trumpet player and a vocalist.

8. Bjorn Ulveus and Benny Anderson (ABBA)

Switching to the pop domain, ABBA's songwriting duo got plenty of love from UG, and with all the hit singles out there still reigning the music scene, it's hard not to give these guys massive props. They do receive hate as "mellow pop crap" on the side, but that's just how it goes.

7. Paul Simon

72-year-old Paul Simon began his musical career way back in 1957, making a permanent impact on the global scene ever since. Writing nearly all of Simon & Garfunkel songs, including such hit singles as "The Sound of Silence", "Mrs. Robinson", and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," he secured himself a spot among the songwriting greats.

6. Frank Zappa

You could definitely argue that Frank Zappa is first and foremost a rock musician, but his domains equally include jazz and experimental, so we'll include Uncle Frank on this one after all, because giving this guy some extra love is never a bad choice. With over 60 studio efforts, he's one of the most prolific artists of all time.

5. Bob Dylan

Reaching the ultimate greats, Bob Dylan cracks the list in two. Widely known as one of the greatest songwriters ever, not much needs to be said about Mr. Dylan.

4. Tom Waits

The growly-voiced Tom Waits easily ranks up as one of the most distinguishable singers of the music world, as well as one of the most brilliant authors. You guys recognized that, placing Mr. Waits at No. 4.

3. Johnny Cash

Another late titan, Johnny Cash, gets to crack the Top 3. Apart from the unique performance style and the ability to give songs an entirely different moniker, Cash is also known as a top-notch songwriter.

2. Elton John

Sir Elton Hercules John is up next, with over 300 million albums sold to date, including seven consecutive No. 1 US albums. For 31 consecutive years (1970–2000) he had at least one song in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

1. Johann Sebastian Bach

Going way, way back, Bach tops this week's list. For many, Bach was the one who created music, and his impact will stand strong for an eternity.

180 comments sorted by best / new / date

    "We should note that a vast array of classical composers, including Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart, as well as film music composer Hans Zimmer, scored solid amounts of votes, but were encompassed with a single classical figure" Why would UG do such a thing? It would be like saying all Metal is the same
    Floyd Phoenix
    I for one was looking foward to a list of mostly classical musicians, thought it would be interesting. For reference, based on the most-upvoted comments that suggested them, I think the list should read this: 10: Benny and Bjorn (ABBA) 9: Paul Simon 8: Tchaikovsky 7: Frank Zappa 6: Bob Dylan tied with Tom Waits 5: Weird Al Yankovic (4): Hodor 4: Johnny Cash 3: Elton John 2: Beethoven 1: Bach Feel free to correct any mistakes if you spot them.
    Yabba Who
    Why did they not include Weird Al? Oh ya, he does comedy music, so he can't EVER be taken seriously as a musician.
    Epi g-310
    I think it's because his popular stuff was written by other people, he just wrote the parody lyrics. Meaning he didn't write the whole song, thus precluding his eligibility as a "songwriter." He does write some original stuff, but it's mostly style parodies anyhow, so the musical elements aren't really original either.
    In no universe is Weird Al better than Tchaikovsky or Benny and Bjorn. Schoenberg and Boublil should be up there, as should Puccini, I don't agree with Jazz being anywhere near these lists, though, as it's mainly improvising around one theme anyway.
    Floyd Phoenix
    Schoenberg is a horrible composer, a pretentious d-bag who thought his atonal crap was 'art' that others were too stupid to understand... And jazz has so many sub-genres that I think at least one musician in them could easily fit in, like Joplin or similar...
    I like that a tonal crap, it's really eerie, like an old slow burner horror movie. I'm glad it exists.
    Also, Elton John is definitely rock, Bob Dylan does Rock now (and is also almost as big as a thief as Zepplin). . . and this is subjective, but Sun Ra is the greatest jazz musician of all time.
    They could have at least included a composer from each period instead of generalizing it to classical composers. Bach for the Baroque Era, Mozart for the Classical Era, and Chopin for the Romantic Era. (not to say those were the best of each period but you get the idea)
    Epi g-310
    I get the impression the UG staff probably doesn't have a lot of knowledge of music before the 20th century.
    Nay, Tárrega for the Romantic Era! And Barrios beats the hell out of any one of the guys on this list, save Bach, obviously.
    I'm surprised so many people nominated and voted for various classical composers considering this is the same site where people bitch when there's article about something that isn't guitar related.
    I really would have loved to see Prince and Michael Jackson on this list, then again I don't know if they wrote their music or not and am being lazy by not looking it up.
    Wheres Kerry when we need him >.>
    right where we need him, in school until 5. I bet he's a Grammar teacher in real life, but is a were-troll and transforms into kerry when he hits a keyboard
    Can I be the dick who points out none of them are actually songwriters, songs by their definition have lyrics. Therefore even though UG is ignorant by saying they're all the same, none of them actually qualify for this list as they're composers not songwriters.
    This. Putting Bach and Zimmer in the same slot is like doing the same with, say, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden.
    The classical composers should have had their own separate poll. Songwriting is one particular type of composition, of which the classical repertoire has VERY little of. A concerto or a symphony may be an excellent piece of music but, it NOT the same thing as a "song".
    Because of the nature of the list, I'm surprised no one seems to be able to grasp how impossible it is to make a top ten like this. While these are all great artists this list's order is wrong and missing artists
    It's pretty difficult to make just a top ten list for every other music genre other than rock/metal, but you did good UG.
    I don't know...was Louis Armstrong a songwriter? I thought he was mostly just a musician that played songs written by other people.
    I agree with the first half of your sentence, it would work better if they chose a specific genre rather than all other genres
    WTF is a Nick Cave?
    A "Nick Cave" is an incredibly talented singer and songwriter known for his experimental, versatile music, his often very dark lyrical subjects, and his distinctive baritone voice.
    I could be wrong but I believe that Nick Cave is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the civil war era
    2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10 are all rock musicians. This list is absolutely moronic, especially the fact that all classical composers were lumped under Bach. Completely stupid. UG has amazingly reached an even greater low.
    Velcro Man
    "For many, Bach was the one who created music" This is the absolute STUPIDEST comment I've ever ****ing read from one of these shittily written articles. What the **** does that even mean? Are you trying to tell me people believe he created music? Obviously not a single person believes that. He was a seminal figure of baroque music, but no one believes that there wasn't music or even classical music before Bach.
    So much wrong by that statement by UG. He is seen as perfecting the Baroque style, not creating it. He was one of the last Baroque composers before the Classical era began. His work was considered so great at the time that it is now seen as influencing the transition from Baroque to Classical, as other composers felt inadequate compared to his work. Still, that only demonstrates that there was a WHOLE era of Baroque composers before him. Also, Baroque music is not the origins of music. It's not even the beginning of Western Classical music. It's predecessors include Renaissance and Medieval music, but goes back so far we have no idea the actual roots of music. Music has been evident in every observed human culture on earth. To say that Bach created music is like saying the Beatles created music. COMPLETELY WRONG!
    Sorry, but you kinda sound like an *******...
    He is right though. You are a complete f***ING moron if you think music was invented less than 300 years ago, and if you did you wouldnt even be on this website in the first place. This is just amateurish, careless writing by UG.
    Velcro Man
    I sound like an ******* for knowing Bach didn't "create music"? Sorry if not lying offends you, I guess lol
    All of the above, plus: Bill Withers, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye...
    YAY! lets talk about J.S. Bach! First, look at a facsimilie (copy of the original)of one of Bach's works When you look at this, there are a few things you need to know. First off, you can tell by Bach's handwriting (which was rather neat, compared to a Beethoven facsimilie) that he knew exactly what note came next. Keep in mind that paper was expensive back then so making an error on paper was rather costly. Bach didn't really seem to do that. Bach was an amazing improviser! One thing that troubled him his whole life was that he wanted to pass on his improv skills to his students, and he desperately tried to come up with ways to teach improv to his students. Now there are a lot of guitar shredders and improvisers that are reading this, and I want you to know that it is an entirely different form of improv. Bach could improvise counterpoint! Basically, it would be the equivalent of improvising on three or more guitars at the same time! so think about it. do you think Bach had the time to say "hmmm, should I use THIS note or THIS one" Not really, keep in mind Bach had like 20 children. He was a busy guy. If you added up all the works that Bach did, it came out to about one a day! and finally "For many, Bach was the one who created music" I have studied Bach for many years and I have no ****ing clue what the hell this is supposed to mean
    Velcro Man
    Dat Chopin improvisation though.
    Huh? Chopin was in the Romantic era, he was born after Bach died. So I don't understand what you mean by this
    Velcro Man
    Chopin's ability to improvise.
    Bach was a excelent improviser and excelent organist, but he was also to compose something like this:
    Take more time to listen Bach's works please. Toccatas and Fugues, the Ciaconne (problably the most beautiful and complex piece ever written for violin), Mass in B minor, St Matthew Passion, Brandenbourg concertos, etc.
    So yeah, if you combine your post with mine. Bach could improvise up a song like the Never Ending Canon in about a day or so, and notate it neatly and flawlessly using an ink quill (no pens back then) I don't know of any other musician in the classical eras that matched the amount of quality work that he did. Does anyone know of any? p.s. I still don't understand his reference to Chopin
    But this canon isn't a matter of improvisation. He just composed something that modulates every repetition (this isn't the original score) and musicians at that time were asking "What the **** is happening?". Beethoven or Mozart maybe could reach that quality but, listening Bach's works... for me, he's the BEST and the most complete compositor ever.
    the thing is that I kind of agree with you kinda sorta, but not entirely. I'm just saying with the amount of work he did, and the fact that there are just not that many hours in a day, that I think he was able to just write this music out freehand style. Because the numbers just wouldn't add up otherwise. I personally consider writing music freehand (like how you would write a letter) a form of improvisation. Granted, it is a completely different form from what is known as improv today. we're not talking about a Bach blues jam on a pentatonic scale here. We're talking about writing music in the same fashion as if you would be writing a letter to someone. I personally consider that a form of improv, however this is my opinion and subject to debate!
    I understand you and I suppose that you are right (I'm starting to study Bach). But another habit that Bach had was composing songs with enigmas or "secrets". For example in the violin partita BWV 1004 (Ciaconne), the canons that I posted below, the B-A-C-H motif (The H in German music notation is a B flat), etc. The book "Musical Offering" is full of this stuff.
    Even though he did not write ALL of his songs, I find the absence of Michael Jackson very strange. He did write some of his greatest songs.
    Overshadowed by his popularity I guess. Nobody picked him because he's such a predictable pick for a list like this.
    Floyd Phoenix
    Except that someone nominated him and I think it got more votes than Nick Cave at least, and Weird Al definitely did...
    Epi g-310
    I'd wager Weird Al didn't make the list because his most popular content is his lyrics. I don't know that his original compositions (which are largely also style parodies, using musical elements created by other artists) have ever had the same kind of notoriety that his direct parodies have.
    Bob Dylan?! He's pretty much the first person that comes to mind when I think of great Rock songwriters.
    He's a songwriter that wrote rock songs. Some of his greatest and most significant compositions, however, are not Rock and Roll songs. We mostly define songs like "Blowing in the Wind," "The Times They Are A'Changin', and "Mr. Tambourine Man" as Folk songs. But I do agree, it's a fine line at best.
    Velcro Man
    Typical list of music for people that mainly only listen to rock/metal. Pretty awful, but then again, what else was there to expect from a website that only gives a **** about generic rock/metal.
    This might be the dumbest top 10 UG has ever done. Just a dumb question to begin with. Most classical composers didn't write "songs." And the one jazz artist on here wasn't know as a songwriter. And on a personal note, the fact that Miles Davis isn't on this list is ridiculous.
    Eminem? Even if you like rap or not, you have to admit that some of his stuff is really brilliant.
    I agree, keep in mind for a metal head, it takes a LOT for me to admit when a hip hop artist has talent. Eminem has talent
    I'm also a metalhead and I have no problem listening and enjoying hip hop, in fact I've got as much metal as I have hip hop records. The fact that you don't appreciate hip hop has nothing to do with the fact that you enjoy metal.
    Rock is a broad church... A nice list though I'm not sure what it means. Nick Cave isn't rock? well that's news to me - post punk [rock], gothic rock, alternative rock, experimental rock, garage rock. If you want to put a label. Same goes for Bob Dylan . Highway 61 is a rock track. Thats what the fuss was about. Anyway Cole Porter...Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein
    Next week : Best collaboration between artists from different styles for some crossover stuff? For example : Kenny G and Buckethead
    I could be wrong, but wasn't it Bach who created the chorus? As in, writing a musical piece, then a hook type thing in the middle, and then going back to a verse. If so, modern music follows his structure more than anyone else. Thumbs up to Bach. I would've like to have seen Miles Davis on the list. Best blues solo is "So What?". I reference to it often on the guitar. And I think he invented "hooks". Please, correct me if I'm wrong.
    I wouldn't go so far as to say that J.S. Bach created the modern verse-chorus song structure. I think that owes more to the classical period of composing, that strongly emphasized alternating themes and motifs, which came mostly after J.S. Bach. However, in the Baroque period (preceding the classical), Bach was considered the creator of the "Fugue", which was a complex style of composing featuring counterpunctual themes that would echo, build, and interlock with each other, much like when you hear people singing "Row row row your boat" in a round. Being able to perform these fugues by oneself on an organ or harpsichord was for the most part mind boggling, like trying to play Eruption and Cliffs of Dover at the same time on the same guitar. This is why J.S. Bach, while being considered one of the most prolific composers of all time, is much more so recognized as being perhaps the most virtuoso performer of all time. Interesting factoid - Bach rarely, if ever, performed any of his music outside of the Sunday services at the church of which he was the organist. At the time, people in "the know" would travel from all over Europe to his church to hear him play, but it wasnt until much later that people started going through his literally thousands of compositions and said "Holy F***!" Anyways, rant over. I just find these things interesting, and I think it would be nice if UG shared things like this instead of merely "to many, Bach was the one who created music"....
    "For many, Bach was the one who created music" OMG THIS IS THE BEST THING I'VE EVER READ. i mean all that time i spent studying ancient near east art was wasted then right? woo good to know it was a lot to handle
    JOHN WILLIAMS! JOHN WILLIAMS! JOHN WILLIAMS!!!! The most amazingly talented musical genius who has created more well known themes and pieces of music than anyone in the modern age. From the insanely complicated orchestral arrangements to the most simple pieces ever (Jaws!!!) he is a musical GENIUS!!!
    He definitely knows how to write a soundtrack. He makes those movies all that more memorable.
    I had a feeling my suggestions of Gustav Holst and Thelonious Monk were never going to make it...great list though.
    To be entirely honest, this wasnt as much of a sh*t fest as I thought it was going to be, solid Congratulations UG users you redeemed my faith! Nice to know we do listen to something other than the most obscure band from rural Sweden
    Jazz, funk, soul and hip hop artists are missing on this list. What is it with the exclusion of most negro music in UG? Only Armstrong featured on the list, for shame.
    Look at how cute people at UG are these days. Trying to be all sophisticated by putting a classical composer on the list. Bach does not really meet the standards of a 'songwriter' the way this term oviously applies to the rest of the list. If you do include him, however, none of the other nine should be there. Instead, they'd have to be replaced by Chopin, Mahler, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and so on. Replace Bach with Lennon/McCartney, and the list will be fine.
    It's just your standard 22 year old elitist snobs trying to one-up each other with their "musical knowledge." If it's SONG WRITING we're after, I'd take the brashness of Mozarts Opera over Bach any day and so would many more actual informed classical listeners. Lists like this are just examples of how UGs elitist pompous dickheads like to get together and circle jerk all over a subject because they love the sounds of their own voices. This list has literally NONE when it comes to anything hip-hop, soul, funk or r&b. Wheres Otis Redding? Where's James Brown? Where's Tupac or even a single half of Gnarls Barkley?!! What a joke these lists are.
    Yabba Who
    So now I see how these lists works. The number of upvotes doesn't mean anything. UG just picks who they want from our suggestions and makes their own list. Gotcha.
    Elton John is on the list about songwriters, and not a single mention of his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin? List writer doesn't know shit.
    Next wednesday question: best non-rock/metal guitarist
    If this list proved anything, the whole "non-rock/metal" thing is WAY too expansive to make even a semi-meaningful list. Sure, any "best of" or "top 10" list is going to be arbitrarily compiled, but lists with titles like these are pretty much going to be dead on arrival, leaving not much to take away from it. But then, this is UG.
    2pac and Eminem. Just because this is a guitar site doesnt mean they should be excluded. Those 2 have written timeless classics. I love metal but I also love to hear what people have to say.