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Friday, December 18, 2020

#60: The Mt. Rushmore Series

 In your view, which four lyricists - alive or dead - deserve to be enshrined on Mt. Rushmore? Your nominees can also be composers - as three of my four are - but they need not be. As usual, I've given this matter much more thought than it deserves. Don't feel obligated to be as geeky as me, but do join the fun, OK? My Mt. Rushmore of lyricists are listed alphabetically; put yours in whatever order you want.

Johnny Mercer: If there was a more consistent, prolific lyricist active during the Great American Songbook era, I don't know who it is. Mercer composed a few well known songs - Smile is probably familiar to some of you - but it's his lyrics I'm saluting here. I Thought About You (by Jimmy Van Heusen), Moon River (Henry Mancini), One For My Baby (Harold Arlen) represent a small sample of the great compositions immeasurably enhanced by the lyrical magic of the man from Savannah.

Joni Mitchell: What always blows me away is how preternaturally wise Joni was right from the start. She wrote Both Sides Now and The Circle Game before she turned twenty five. And though she took a couple of strident political turns mid-career, even her angriest lyrics were masterfully crafted. My favorite? A Woman of Heart and Mind from For the Roses.  

Paul Simon: To anyone who nominates Bob Dylan for Mt. Rushmore, I'll concede he has been more influential than Paul Simon. But I would argue that Mr. Simon has - song for song - been a more consistently excellent lyricist over the last half century than Mr. Zimmerman. At any stage of Simon's career - Sounds of Silence, American Tune, Father and Daughter - take your pick of the riches. 

Stephen Sondheim: Had Sondheim ended his career as Leonard Bernstein's lyricist for West Side Story, we'd still be talking about his lyrical masterpiece. Hell, just the lyrics to Somewhere are enough to get him halfway to Mt. Rushmore. But this national treasure has continued to create compelling stories with his words for almost seventy years. Picking a favorite Sondheim lyric is a fool's errand, but I'll start with the entire libretto of Sweeney Todd, the obvious but brilliant Send In the Clowns, and Sooner Or Later, which is arguably Madonna's best vocal performance. 

Ready to begin construction on your mountain? 


  1. Hello, Pat. I've given this a lot of thought. Looked at, and thought of, so many different lyricists and tried to narrow the list to four. Not an easy thing to do. I've looked at ones that I am a fan of. Looked at commercial success that they have had - trying to separate 'hits' from (what I may consider to be) good songwriting. And, the geeky-ness was difficult to put in check, so I gave up on that. My list - which I reserve the right to edit (lol) - would be:
    1). The Bee Gees - I've always been a fan. I recently watched a documentary on them and found it to be more interesting and informative than I would have thought. The way that they re-imagined themselves and found success in all iterations .. I had to include them.
    2. Bob Dylan - Yes, I took the opening. And I agree with having Paul Simon. But since you took Mr. Simon, I'll take Mr. Zimmerman.
    3. Johnny Cash - I debated about this one. I had about 3-4 others, but am going with him. I was never a big fan, but I can't deny that he wrote some pretty good songs and had such great success.
    4. Kris Kristopherson - Another difficult selection. I was going to go with Billy Joel, David Bowie, John Prine, Harry Nillson - any of which would have been great selections - and I changed it just while writing this response - but I'm going with this.
    Again - there are just so many to choose from ... But I'm fairly comfortable with submitting this list for my Mt. Rushmore

  2. RRGRMG; Glad I gave you a subject for "...lots of thought". And thanks for the comprehensive response and your Mt. Rushmore of lyricists. I saw that Bee Gees documentary - enjoyed it a great deal. And BTW, "...reserving the right to edit..." is cool; I'd call it "doing construction on your Mt. Rushmore". I myself had to do this after an early Mt. Rushmore of mine - on comedians - included the later-disgraced Bill Cosby. In my only (so far) re-constructed Mt. Rushmore, I ended up replacing Cosby (who shared my original Mt. Rushmore with Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and Jerry Seinfeld) with Ellen DeGeneres. Oh well.