Whoknoze, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“The label “singer-songwriter” (or “song-writer/singer”) is used by record labels and critics to define popular-music artists who write and perform their own material, which is often self-accompanied – generally on acoustic guitar or piano. Such an artist performs the roles of composer, lyricist, vocalist, sometimes instrumentalist, and often self-manager.”


In other words, “Singer-Songwriter” is one of those labels people use when their brains freeze and they can’t come up with anything else.

Paul McCartney is a singer and a songwriter, but he’s not considered a singer-songwriter. Same with Neil Young, Billy Joel, Richard Thompson and a host of others. Phil Ochs didn’t make the cut because he recorded a few traditional songs he didn’t write, but Bob Dylan (who also recorded a few traditional folk and blues tunes) did earn that appellation.

I’m going to use Joni Mitchell as a prototype of the singer-songwriter and expand the definition to include “who are not associated with a band and whose music does not fit into a specific musical genre.” Ergo, Phil Ochs, Billy Joel and the solo work of both Richard Thompson and Neil Young make the grade.

It really comes down to this: if I say someone is a singer-songwriter, goddammit, they’re a singer-songwriter!

Richard Thompson and Phil Ochs have their own pages and spots on the menu bar; here are the other singer-songwriters I’ve covered:


%d bloggers like this: