Some of the most underrated songwriters of the 1960s are musicians you probably know well.
Bob Dylan is an excellent example of one of the most well-known prolific songwriters. Then you have the lyricists who remain in the shadows while their songs gain popularity through famous singers.
You may be surprised to learn about the songwriters behind hits such as Piece of My Heart and Hang on Sloopy.
Let’s get down to it!
Songwriters – Poets of the Musical World
A songwriter composes music and lyrics to create a song. Songs have a basic structure starting with an introduction, which gives the listener the song’s theme and “hook.”
Verses are where the writer fleshes out the theme’s ideas. Finally, the chorus usually repeats throughout the song. It emphasizes the central theme and again “hooks” the listeners.
A good songwriter is also a poet. They create images and emotions in the listener’s mind and soul with their words.
Think about some of your favorite songs and how they make you feel. For example, when you hear Stevie Nicks sing Gold Dust Woman, you can hear the raw emotion in her voice. The music and lyrics combine with her husky voice to create a feeling of loss and raw emotion.
Well did she make you cry,
make you break down,
shatter your illusions of love?
A good songwriter can also combine these emotions with what’s going on in the world.
An example of this is Bob Dylan’s song, The Times They Are A ’Changin’. This was Dylan’s attempt at an anthem for the civil rights movement. It also exemplifies how songs are poetry that can touch the global heart and soul.
As the present now will later be past,
the order is rapidly fadin’,
and the first one now will later be last,
the times they are a’changin’
Today, though, let’s look at some of the underrated songwriters of the 1960s.
#1 Bert Burns
About the Songwriter: Bert Burns was born in the Bronx, NYC, on November 8, 1929, and died on December 30, 1967. As a child, he had rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart and caused his early death.
He had a hand in writing many of the hits of the 1960s. He collaborated with a few writers, notably Phil Medley, Jerry Wexler, and Jerry Ragovoy. In 1963 he became a record producer for Atlantic records.
Burns created BANG records in 1965, which produced a lot of British invasion bands. He also started SHOUT records in 1966, where he pursued his passion for R&B and Soul music.
Greatest Song of the 1960s: Burns wrote many of the massive hits of the 60s, such as Cry Baby, Twist and Shout, and Hang on Sloopy.
His most famous and greatest song is probably Piece of My Heart, originally recorded by Emma Franklin in 1967. You probably know it from Janis Joplin’s version recorded with Big Brother and the Holding Company.
#2 Bridget St. John
About the Songwriter: Bridget St. John was born October 4, 1946, in Surrey, England. Her mother and sisters were pianists, and Bridget took lessons. She moved on to other instruments before settling on the guitar in high school.
She then became immersed in the British folk music community. Bridget began playing at top folk venues and met musicians such as John Martyn, Paul Simon, and David Bowie.
John Peel signed her to his Dandelion Records, where she recorded three albums between 1969 and 1972. She quickly rose to cult status with her album, Songs for the Gentle Man.
Greatest Song of the 1960s: St. John’s greatest song of the 60s is Ask Me No Questions, released in 1969. It’s a haunting and melodic folk-rock song from her first album of the same name.
Ask me no questions,
tell me no lies,
if you don’t mind
#3 Felice and Boudleaux Bryant
About the Songwriter: Felice Bryant was born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto on August 7, 1925, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her husband, Boudleaux Bryant, was born February 13, 1920, in Shellman, Georgia.
The couple met in Milwaukee in 1945 and eloped five days afterward. They spent several years struggling for financial success as songwriters.
Finally, Little Jimmy Dickens recorded their song, Country Boy, and it was a hit. They moved to Nashville and eventually wrote a succession of hits for the Everly Brothers, such as Bye Bye Love and Wake Up Little Susie.
Together they have written over 6,000 songs, and about 1,500 have been recorded.
Greatest Song of the 1960s: Their most famous song is Love Hurts, initially performed by the Everly Brothers but covered by Roy Orbison in 1961. Nazareth, Cher, and Jim Capaldi covered the tune later.
Numerous video games and films have featured Love Hurts, including Wayne’s World, Sid and Nancy, Dazed and Confused, and The Full Monty.
#4 Graham Gouldman
About the Songwriter: Gouldman was born May 10, 1946, in Broughton, England. He’s a singer, songwriter, and musician. Graham’s also been the singer and bassist for the band 10CC since 1972. He’s written songs for many major bands in the 60s, including The Yardbirds, The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, and Ohio Express.
Greatest Songs of the 1960s: Gouldman’s greatest hit song was Bus Stop by The Hollies in 1966. It’s the epitome of 60s pop-rock with a fun, danceable beat.
#5 Joe South
About the Songwriter: Born Joseph Souter on February 28, 1940, in Atlanta, GA. He was a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. In 1969, he won 2 Grammys for his song, Games People Play.
His music is primarily country-oriented, although he’s crossed over into pop music. Many musicians have recorded his songs, including Johnny Cash, Glenn Campbell, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Loretta Lynn.
Greatest Song of the 1960s: South’s greatest hit was Games People Play in 1968. It won two Grammys for Best Contemporary Song and Song of the Year.
#6 Kris Kristofferson
About the Songwriter: Kristoffer Kristofferson was born June 22, 1936, in Brownsville, Texas. He’s a retired singer, songwriter, and actor. He began writing at an early age and had his work published in The Atlantic Monthly.
He began songwriting while at Oxford University in England on a Rhodes Scholarship. And while he may not be everyone’s favorite singer, his songwriting was prolific. In fact, he’s worked with some of the most celebrated artists and actors in the world, such as Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.
Kristofferson won four Grammys, one of which was the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Greatest Song of the 1960s: Me and Bobby McGee (1971) Grammy – First release 1969, Roger Miller. This was also one of Janis Joplin’s greatest hits. It appeared on her album Pearl, released posthumously in 1971.
#7 Smokey Robinson
About the Songwriter: William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. was born on February 19, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up several doors down from Aretha Franklin.
He met Berry Gordy in 1957, who formed the Tamla record company. It later became Motown Records in 1960. Robinson was the principal songwriter and producer for Motown records between 1962 and 1966. So, he not only wrote his own incredible songs but created hits for many others as well.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were the first act signed to Motown Records. Their first single, Shop Around, became Motown’s first million dollars selling record.
Robinson has had a long and illustrious career as a singer, songwriter, and producer. Robinson’s in the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fame. Singer Diana Ross once said, “If a great writer is a poet, and a great poet is a genius, then Smokey Robinson is a miracle.”
Greatest Song of the 1960s: You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me 1962 is one of the Miracles’ most covered songs. It’s also in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Which of These Underrated 1960s Songwriters Surprised You?
All of these songwriters have had prolific careers that spanned decades. However, the 1960s were their defining moment when they first started their climb to greatness.
Which of these underrated 1960s songwriters surprised you the most?