The 10 best lyricists, by SikTh's Mikee Goodman
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The thing that’s most important about lyrics is to create a narrative for the music you’re listening to. Really great lyric writers can make you think about things in a whole new way, and it can be a cathartic thing as well. I once had a kid come up to me after a show and he was crying because he felt such a connection to the things that I'd written. When you can affect people on that level, it’s an amazing feeling.
Here, in order, are what I consider to be the 10 greatest lyricists...
10. PHIL ANSELMO
“What I love about Anselmo is that, although he often does talk in metaphors, his lyrics are so hard-hitting and impactful. They're not shrouded in meaning, they're blunt and honest. If you read the lyric sheet to Pantera's Vulgar Display Of Power  or Far Beyond Driven  you'll see words that come from, not just out-and-out aggression, but truth and a sense of self-belief.”
9. ZACK DE LA ROCHA
“His rhymes and his passion to highlight political ideas are both amazing. But what I love about Zack is how he basically influenced an entire new way of lyric writing; so many bands now write statements and slogans. When you think of that approach, it’s pure Zack De La Rocha.”
8. JAZ COLEMAN
“I was never that much of a fan of Killing Joke until I worked with them and went back and looked at their previous work. I have to say, Jaz is just so switched on. He’s got these ideas, big political and social ideas, but he never sounds like he’s preaching or dumbing anything down. The language that he uses is so descriptive and evocative of the sort of apocalyptic content that he’s talking about. He’s an amazing guy.”
“I was hugely influenced by Eminem. If you listen to the early Sikth material, it doesn’t sound like him, but the very, very fast triggering vocal approach is a direct influence. I’d never heard anyone that could have sounds and words and make them flow like that before. Plus, he's just such an amazing storyteller, every little detail of the world he creates is there for you to hear. He’s one of the first people that got me into really thinking about lyrics and then poetry.”
6. NICK CAVE
“You talk about great language with Jaz Coleman, and you have to say the same for Nick Cave. He almost talks in biblical terms, very poetic. I really like No More Shall We Part, that was an album where he was going through a lot and some of the lyrics are very hard hitting. And there are only a certain number of lyricists that can really take you out of your own world and make you a part of theirs. He’s definitely one of them.”
5. LOU REED
“I just wish more people could have seen him live, because he lives those lyrics onstage. It was amazing to see. The pictures that he paints with words. I’m a huge fan, especially of The Velvet Underground, and he was another one who can just transport you to the place he’s talking about with his words.”
4. BOB DYLAN
“Have to have Bob in here. For a guy who says he doesn’t write protest songs, he’s written some of the best protest songs ever. The thing about his lyrics are that, even though he doesn’t necessarily explain exactly what each song is about, you understand exactly what he means. That’s not just a skill, that’s an art.”
3. NEIL YOUNG
“He’s the man. He’s someone who is not afraid to go to places that other people wouldn’t. A lot of people think he just writes these great songs, but he is so politically minded. Listen to Prairie Wind. He's so angry, but intelligent and unafraid to say the things he’s feeling. He’s someone who can just suck you in with his lyrics, and you’ll be pouring over them for weeks.”
**2. JIM MORRISON
**“The Doors are my favourite band ever. But I’d have Jim at number two, because his lyrics are actually better away from the music. They read like poetry. And I love that he is on a completely different spiritual plain to most people. The level of ambiguity is what makes his lyrics so amazing. I hear a lot of people going ‘What’s he talking about? I don’t understand it!’ but that doesn’t make it rubbish! That’s what I love about them. People should allow artists to create and then be drawn in by whatever comes out.”
1. LEONARD COHEN
“The greatest. Just a man that is able to sum up your thoughts and feeling, thoughts and feelings that you didn’t even understand yourself, in the most simplistic terms. That is a real skill you know. That’s the beauty of great lyrics, the reveal things about you that you had only scratched the surface of understanding yourself. And he does that constantly.”
Mikee Goodman was talking to Stephen Hill. SikTh tour the UK in December. For more information, visit their Facebook page.