Time and again, country songwriters have impressed fans and listeners with the timeless appeal of their pieces. From simple stories strummed over the guitar to complex narratives told in complicated melodies, these songwriters never fail to craft the lyrics and the music in a way that weaves deeply into the bones of anyone who hears it. And another thing: we know you know it, it’s hard not to sing (or hum) along to these tunes.
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Country Thang Daily rounded up 10 of the most prolific country songwriters of all time. These are the names that have been consistently on all lists. Let’s get to know them.
10. Loretta Lynn
As Rolling Stone said, ‘If the personal is political, Loretta Lynn was Nashville’s down-home feminist revolutionary.’ And agreed. Loretta’s music never shied away from the major social issues of her time, just like “The Pill,” which talked about the benefits of contraception. And though it was banned in many country stations, the song spoke waves to many and became a huge seller. And she even wrote a string of tracks that took on the unprecedented character of females who take no crap and are unafraid to stand up for themselves. The immense popularity that her tracks gained helped create the country music scene that we see today.
9. Tom T. Hall
Dubbed as The Storyteller, Tom T. Hall sure had a way with his words. His works were literary masterpieces with layers of rich details, nuances, and meanings stacked together, creating a narrative structure that unfolds a taste of ease and sophistication. Not only that, but he was also an overtly political songwriter who wrote songs that roused social consciousness. And until now, his works remain a big influence and help to many songwriters.
8. Guy Clark
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Guy Clark is not called The Craftsman for nothing, and as they say, his style is very different from what was typical. His songwriting was precise, making sure that every word and line was in its place. And his combination of country outlaw’s rough edges with the tenderness of the genre’s roots created a new brand of country music.
7. Townes Von Zandt
Townes is considered one of the modern era’s most elegant lyricists, and while his life on earth didn’t last long (as he envisioned), the songwriting legacy he had built still thrives long after his death. His songwriting remains timeless and unparalleled, with an understanding of humanity that a lot of people never quite grasped. And just like his life that never conformed to anything but his own choices, his music was the same, and this unconventionality was the defining point of his genius.
6. Kris Kristofferson
The greatest living proof of Kris Kristofferson’s prolific songwriting is the fact that his works have been recorded by country music legends like Waylon Jennings, who is also considered a great songwriter himself. Not only that, but the songs he also wrote (and recorded by other singers) earned chart success. His songwriting set a high bar during the ’70s and has since changed the language of the genre.
5. Willie Nelson
Songwriting came easy to Willie Nelson. He was never much of that overthinker when it comes to it, just plucking out the melodies from thin air. But what set him apart from many of his peers at that time was that he never tried to conform, and he made his own music. At one point, people called his style suicidal because it was different and untraditional, but as it turned out, he was a visionary.
4. Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie is the most influential folk singer in the history of the US. His tunes were popular and influenced by a wide range of American musical tradition that he scoured through during his early days. And the lyrics of his songs unfolded the world that he saw right through his eyes. But it was the scope of his music that remained unparalleled. As Bob Dylan said, Woody Guthrie’s music ‘had an infinite sweep of humanity.’
3. Merle Haggard
No one can argue that Merle Haggard created a catalogue of work with unmatched brilliance. He was a gifted songwriter, a master in writing about solitude and sadness with such clarity, sincerity, and conciseness. Haggard’s pen always wrote simple yet profound narratives that you might almost believe he lived it all – and he did, some of them.
2. Dolly Parton
With over 3,000 song credits to her name and an impressive list of chart-topping country singles included, Dolly Parton’s songwriting undeniably broke new ground in the genre. Her songs about heartache, struggles in marriage, and love, just like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You,” became timeless song pieces that you would still hear until today. That’s her impact.
1. Hank Williams Sr.
Topping off our list of the most prolific country songwriters is the undisputed number one in the genre, Hank Williams. A country titan, he remains to be the most revered country artist of all time and one of the most influential songwriters of his time. He was an artist who spent no more than 20 minutes writing a song (as he said, anything more than that ain’t worth writing about), and he did so with such simplicity and eloquence that very few in the genre could ever do.
Dolly Parton, guy clark, hank williams, kris kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, merle haggard, Tom T. Hall, Townes Von Zandt, Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie