The ten most brutally honest songwriters

Categories: Commentary, Lists


Let's be real: Most songwriting amounts to a bunch of vague amateur poetry with pretensions of profundity. In the midst of all the babble, though, periodically a lyricist will emerge who has the courage to write about things that are real, raw and personal. That kind of truly honest songwriting relies on emotional fortitude and the ability to look within, and as painful as the process can be, it produces undeniably affecting music. Here's a look at the ten most brutally honest songwriters.

See also:
- The ten best storytellers in hip-hop
- The fifty worst rock/pop lyrics of all time
- The fifty worst rap lyrics of all time


10. Cody ChesnuTT
The Roots covered Cody ChesnuTT's song "The Seed" on Phrenology, telling the story of a man on a mission to gain some kind of immortality by impregnating multiple women. The lyrics on ChesnuTT's recent album, Landing on a Hundred, are every bit as raw: "I used to smoke crack back in the day/I used to gamble rent money and lose/I used to dog the nice ladies, used to swindle friends/But now I'm teaching kids in Sunday school, and I'm not turning back."


9. Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett has a kind of whimsical charm that takes him effortlessly from sad country ballads to goofy gospel numbers. However, when he gets serious, his lyrics are surprisingly ruthless: "Thank you, my friend. I sincerely appreciate the words you say about how she'll cry, and how she'll grieve and miss me when she goes away... But she's leaving me because she really wants to, and she'll be happy when she's gone. She'll be happy. She'll be so very happy."


8. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye broke new ground when Motown Records issued "What's Going On," with its political lyrics decrying war and police brutality. His most painfully personal and poignant lyrics, however, appeared on 1978's Here, My Dear, chronicling his messy breakup with Berry Gordy's older sister Anna. Among other things, he accuses her of using their son to manipulate him: "You don't have the right to use the son of mine to keep me in line."

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Are you kidding me? Where is John Lennon? Have you Listened to Plastic Ono Band or the song Cold Turkey or any of his solo material? Really??

Andrew Newman
Andrew Newman

As one of the commenters mentioned in the article itself, any list without Leonard Cohen is not a list worthy of publication.

Jeremy Freund
Jeremy Freund

hip hop seems a bit underrepresented on your list. I think Immortal Technique deserves a spot in the top five for sure..


I'm quite surprised that you didn't include John Grant in your list.  I've been engrossed in his last 2 solo works after reading the incredible interview with him you posted here just a few weeks ago!

Just in case you lost the link:

His songwriting is about as soul-bearing, brutally-honest, self-depreciating and acerbic as it can get. All set to achingly beautiful melodies and - my god - his baritone voice (which is the audio equivalent of melted butter).

"I casually mentioned that I pissed in your coffee ..." - from "Queen Of Denmark"


I'm really not sure how Leonard Cohen didn't make this list.  He should have easily pulled the number one spot, but to not even appear in a list of 10?

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