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Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top 10 Songwriters of All Time

Bob Dylan wins in a landslide, followed by McCartney/Lennon and Bruce Springsteen

Bob Dylan, songwriter

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Bob Dylan wins in a landslide, followed by McCartney/Lennon and Bruce Springsteen

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1. Bob Dylan

Last weekend we asked our readers to vote for the best songwriter of all time. The winner, in an absolute blow-out, is Bob Dylan. He started writing basic rock & roll songs as a teenager in Hibbing, Minnesota that showed little hint of the genius that would come once moved to New York in 1961 and started penning folk originals that forever altered the entire music industry. He's since written over 600 songs, with too many classics to even mention. He's also one of the few people on this list to pen songs in his fifties and sixties that stand up with the best work of his younger days.

By Andy Greene

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2. John Lennon/Paul McCartney

Every Beatles song written by either John Lennon or Paul McCartney is credited to Lennon/McCartney, even though they stopped writing together very early in their careers. "It ended around 1962," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "All our best work–apart from the early days [was written together], like 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.'" In a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone Paul McCartney said that the he feels the arrangement has made people under-value his role in the band. "The minute John died, there started to be a revisionism," he said. "There were some strange quotes, like, 'John was the only one in the Beatles.' Or 'Paul booked the studio' — I don't want to get into who said what, but that was attributed to someone who very much knew better. 'John was the Mozart; Paul was the Salieri.' Like, John was the real genius, and I was just the guy who sang 'Yesterday.' If this revisionism gets around, a lot of kids will be like, 'Did he have a group before Wings?' There may come a time when people won't know." 

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3. John Lennon

John Lennon's early solo albums Imagine and Plastic Ono Band rival even the best work of The Beatles, particularly the tracks "Instant Karma," "Imagine," "Mother" and "Working Class Hero." After a creative decline in the mid-Seventies he took a five-year break before roaring back with the brilliant Double Fantasy shortly before his tragic murder in December of 1980.

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4. Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen spent years crafting songs as a member of various New Jersey bands before writing the material he released on his 1973 debut LP Greetings From Asbury Park. His work grew by leaps and bounds by the time of Born To Run's release in 1975 when he learned to tell a stronger story by using fewer words. He's since become one of the great American songwriters of the past century, rivaled only by Bob Dylan and a few others. "He was the first whiff of Scorsese," Bono said at Springsteen's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. "The first hint of Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and the Clash. He was the end of long hair, brown rice and bell bottoms. He was the end of the 20-minute drum solo. It was good night, Haight-Ashbury; hello, Asbury Park."

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5. Paul McCartney

The amount of music that Paul McCartney has released since The Beatles broke up is stunning, and much of it has stood the test of time. Songs like "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band On The Run," "Live And Let Die" and "Let Me Roll It" are flawless to the point that we'll forgive him for "My Love" and "Silly Love Songs." He's also quite willing to experiment, as he's proven with his ongoing series of Fireman LP's. Despite his completely irrational fears, nobody will ever think of him as Salieri to Lennon's Mozart.

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6. Neil Young

When Neil Young released his second solo LP Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere in 1969 few people were prepared for what was coming. He sang very few songs as a part of Buffalo Springfield, and his self-titled debut in 1968 was largely underwhelming. The follow-up, however, was absolutely stunning and contained classic tracks "Down By The River," "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Cinnamon Girl." It kicked off an incredibly prolific decade of brilliant albums that's virtually unprecedented in rock history. At times he was writing faster than his label could release the music and many LPs wound up being shelved. This year he is bringing his career full-circle by hitting the road with Buffalo Springfield for their first tour in 43 years.

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7. Mick Jagger/Keith Richards

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are complete opposites in many ways, but over the course of 50 years they have worked together to craft one of the most memorable catalogs in rock history. Unlike Lennon and McCartney, they continued to write together even as their personal relationship went through a series of rough patches. Both artists have tried a few times to launch solo careers, but they quickly returned to The Stones. The group hasn't toured since the summer of 2007, but a 2012 tour seems like a possibility.

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8. Paul Simon

As the songwriter in Simon & Garfunkel Paul Simon gave the world "The Sound of Silence," "America," "The Boxer," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Homeward Bound" and many other masterpieces. As a solo artist he felt more freedom to experiment, eventually crafting his world music classic Graceland in 1986. Though he's slowed down since then, next month he's releasing his new disc So Beautiful Or So What and hitting the road to support it.

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9. Joni Mitchell

Rising from the same Canadian folk scene that produced Neil Young, Joni Mitchell became one of the most acclaimed songwriters of the Sixties and Seventies with her classics "Big Yellow Taxi," "Both Sides Now," "Woodstock" and "Chelsea Morning." She's slowed down her career tremendously in recent years, opting to focus on her artwork – though in 2007 she re-emerged with Shine. Last year she drew some heat for her comments about Bob Dylan. "He is not authentic at all," she said.  "He’s a plagiarist and his name and voice are fake. Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”

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10. Elton John/Bernie Taupin

For over 40 years Elton John and Bernie Taupin have had a very simple working relationship: Bernie writes the lyrics and Elton writes the music. It's served them well, producing "Your Song," "Tiny Dancer," "Madman Across The Water," "Burn Down The Mission" and literally hundreds of others. The two of them have never worked on a song in the same room, and they spend much of their time on opposite ends of the globe. Paired at random by a record company executive in 1967, Taupin/John is one of the most successful and long-lasting partnerships in the history of popular music.

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