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The Best Underrated Songwriters

Updated on September 29, 2015

Best Songwriters who are Underrated

I saw the request for this hub and thought about all the best and well known songwriters. Then I thought to myself about how there are probably ten times as many lesser known songwriters who are still great. Then there are the totally unknown songwriters. I decided that it might be useful to put together a hub of some of my favorite songwriters that not everyone knows.

If I said Billy Joel, Hank Williams, Stevie Wonder or Cole Porter most everyone would know the names, so I am aiming at songwriters who are less known or overshadowed by others. These are songwriters that I think about everyone should know by name, but I don't think this is the case.


I searched my own music library to see what songwriters I liked best who were less known. I found one artist named, "Traditional" who wrote some really great songs in a multitude of genres. I don't think any songwriter compares to this "Traditional" character I have discovered. He or she is probably filthy rich from royalties. Traditional wrote Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Motherless Child, Lay My Burden Down, and When the Saints Go Marching In. I noticed that Traditional likes to collaborate with a myriad of other artists and tends to write spirituals.

John Hiatt

With songs like "Feels Like Rain,"" Cry Love,"" Have a Little Faith in Me," and "Thing Called Love," John Hiatt gives us catchy melodies, incredible feeling, interesting lyrics, and groovy rhythms. You know he's good when artists like Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and Joe Cocker do his songs. What a compliment from other great artists. Each of the artists have had a big hit with a Hiatt song.

Hiatts style lives somewhere between the blues and country with an old time rock n roll flavor. Hiatt's instrumentation and arrangement keeps your ear interested and his golden voice is at a level of distinction of the above named superstars. Maybe he is known better than I think, but he is probably under-rated. I've never seen him live, but would love to.

Mark Knopfler

Whenever I tell people I like Mark Knopfler, they usually say, "Who's that." Then I say Dire Straits, "Sultans of Swing" and "Money for Nothing" His name isn't all that well known, but he is still writing great stuff. He was the writer of most of the Dire Straits stuff anyway. I listened to a song several times before realizing it was about Ray Kroc, who exploded the McDonald's business in the 50's. The song is titled "Boom, Like That."

I can't list all of the great songs he's written, because there are way too many. He is definitely not well known enough for his skill level. Knopfler surpases Hiatt in arrangement and instrumentation; he even wrote movie scores. His lyrics are as flavorful as his sweet guitar fills. If you like his gruff Scottish voice, then you have the ultimate package.

Keb’ Mo’ or Kevin Moore

He's a modern day Robert Johnson. Keb' Mo' has a nack for simplicity and touching lyrics. He hangs out in the acoustic blues genre and writes like an old souled bluesman with one foot in the 1920s and one foot in modern time. He won songwriting awards in the blues genre, and is our best hope for keeping the blues authentic in today's pop culture. Unmistakable vocals, clean toned organic instrumentation, and inspirational lyrics are his trademarks. This guy can do more with just an acoustic guitar and voice than most artists can do with an entire band backing them. An example is Every Morning and Hand it Over.

Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman is my favorite soundtrack movie score composer. You may not know the name, but I bet you know the tunes. From the creepy Tales From the Crypt theme song to mysterious beautiful Edward Scissorhands scores, Danny Elfman makes my mind paint adventurous scenes in my mind. I believe his scores make movies twice as intriging. Imagine watching Edward Scissorhands without the Elfman score. It would be a cult classic B movie instead of a cult classic A movie. Danny Elfman produced great scores for superhero movies, just as John williams has done with the Sci-Fi genre.

Willie Dixon

I'll just let a list of artists and songs that covered him speak for his writing. When you see a line-up of songs redone by these greats, it says something about how underrated Willie Dixon is.

  • Round and Round-Bonnie Raitt
  • I just want to make love to you- Buddy Guy
  • Hoochie Coochie Man- Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, etc.
  • Gone Daddy Gone- Gnarls Barkley
  • Spoonful- Several Blues Greats (Howlin' Wolf)
  • Whole Lotta Love- Led Zeppelin
  • You Shook Me- Led Zeppelin
  • I Can't quit You Baby- Led Zeppelin
  • Bring it on Home- Led Zeppelin
  • Little Red Rooster- The Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke
  • Shake for Me- Stevie Ray Vaughn
  • Close to You- Stevie Ray Vaughn
  • and the list goes on...

Who do You Think is Underrated?

This is not a comprehensive list of great songwriters who are less known. I have included my favorite lesser known songwriters, and now it is your turn to share. I would love to check out other people's lists. Write your own favorite underrated songwriters below.

Vote for your favorite

Which of these lesser known songwriters do you like best?

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    • WayneCha profile image

      WayneCha 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields fame is more unknown than underrated since he's highly regarded as a songwriter by critics and fans, but some of the best writers ARE fairly obscure. Scott Miller (Game Theory, The Loud Family), who just passed away in April 2013 at age 53, is another unknown songwriting marvel. His buddy Anton Barbeau is even less known but incredibly prolific and has a great reputation among some of his fellow musicians. Obviously, there are plenty more where those came from.

    • hotwebideas profile image

      Bruce Chamoff 5 years ago from New York

      How about Ani Difranco?

    • malonge profile image

      malonge 7 years ago from Western New York On Hubpages

      My son writes song after song after song, has over 100. They pour out of him like it's meant to be. Listen at www.myspace.revelrytheband. My favorites are "To Our Graves" For My Queen and Highway Mood. He is also the vocalist, plays the harmonica on the recordings but also plays guitar.

      Other great songs on his myspace are "Underwater Minds" and "Love Stories From The Night Shift"

    • profile image

      Hxprof 8 years ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Good piece. I'm impressed that Willie Dixon has had so much material covered by Led Zepplin, arguably the greatest rock band ever.

      One of my favorite 'unknown' song writers is Chris Rea. He's a baritone with a soulful voice. His music has a strong blues orientation.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Heck if you get to do what you love and write songs all day, who cares whether anyone knows your name?  Thanks for introducing me to some great songwriters, Blake.  And the Traditional piece?  Classic you.

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 8 years ago from United States

      Unfortunately it is true that most people I talk to here in Indianapolis don't know the name Mark Knopfler, maybe he is more popular in other parts of the world. I usually use his music to chill out.

      Spread the world about Keb' Mo', Real Tomato, I'm sure he'll be around for a while.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      Mark Knopfler rocks! :) Actually I don't often know who's written a song unless it's the singer himself...there must be so many unsung greats out there!

    • The Real Tomato profile image

      The Real Tomato 8 years ago

      Hot Damn! Willie Dixon is the bomb!, next to Robert Johnson. Rich and thick with American bred music. You've introduced me to a new sound Keb "mo" - omg it is the rich honey of "the blues" that I thought was in the past. I was wrong. Yowza Yowza I am glad you wrote this one.

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 8 years ago from Madrid

      Blake, do you really get teh question "who's that?" about Mark Knopfler?? That is ... funny ... for lack of a better (or more polite word!) Anyhow, this was cool, doing these songwriters a hub. I think it's a bit of a pity when the singers are such household names but the brains and talents that put together the sogns that made them famous aren't even known.