What are the best popular songs with lyrics written by guitar gods/virtuosos?

There seems to be a common theme amongst many of my favorite heavy guitar god technician types: namely, that they can’t write a song with any kind of standard verse/chorus/verse format that is any good. Vai can’t do it, Satriani hasn’t done it, Eric Johnson hasn’t and Yngwie tried with “Heaven Tonight” and scored a minor hit, but the song really sucks.

Hendrix is an obvious outlier as both a guitar god and a songwriter with his plethora of hits…so let’s leave him out of the equation.

So who is left that wrote a quality song that was generally well recived or otherwise got some radio play? I am looking for something that also has at least a few tasty guitar licks. Aside from Hendrix I am starting to think that most “guitar gods” are the masters of the instrumental and little else. Convince me otherwise.

PS: Jimmy Page doesn’t count. I am talking almost prodigy-like virtuosos, like the aforementioned players. I know this may be a stupid, contentious topic. Has Jeff Beck ever written a pop song that charted? Hopefully you see what I am driving at here.

Hm… looks like most of Santana’s hits were written by others, too. How about Clapton?

Do the Yardbirds count?

I would say good songs in general. They don’t need to be verse/ chorus, etc.
That’s why Hendrix and Page are the best. At the end of the day, guitar wankery is boring unless you wear acid washed jeans, black high top Reeboks and your hair is 2 ft long. It’s all about good song writing.

Dunno if they meet your criteria - not shredders - but a few songwriting “guitar player’s guitar players” who come to mind are Richard Thompson, Prince, Brad Paisley.

Eddie Van Halen played pop music. Whether he wrote the songs or if they are good is another discussion.

They aren’t good.

Maclean. Croce is basically a singer/song writer.

You’re kind’ve expressing two different groups, then crossing your own boundaries. Vai, Satriani, and Johnson are technically precise virtuosos - they are nothing like Hendrix or Clapton but you say they’re worthy of consideration, but then you block Jimmy Page and yet Hendrix had slop in his playing, too.

In terms of technically precise virtuosos who could write songs, start with Randy Rhoads. Have to add Mark Knopfler, Brian Setzer and Chet Atkins - they may not be metal shredders, but they are technically precise virtuosos who write hit songs.

Beck is his own category; he is known mostly for his hand in writing instrumentals. Stevie Wonder wrote Superstitious for him; does that count?

As for Hendrix, Page, Van Halen, Townshend, etc - they aren’t like Malmsteen or Vai or Johnson. The former group are songwriters who happen to be brilliant guitarists, whereas the latter are primarily guitarists.

I was going to suggest Todd Rundgren but I don’t know if he exactly fits what the OP is looking for. I consider him a “guitar god” but I’d be hard pressed to name a popular song of his that proves it. You kinda have to dig through his catalog to get to the real juicy stuff.

Well, certainly Robbie Krieger is no virtuoso, but he has a unique and identifiable style and wrote a bunch of The Doors top hits including Light My Fire, Love Her Madly, Love Me Two Times, Touch Me, etc.

I could give y’all a long list of songs that meet the criteria of the OP, but they’d be metal songs and they wouldn’t be popular or even much liked by most of the general public.

If the OP asks, I’ll put together a list (with links) to a dozen or so.

Until then, if he counts, Buck Dharma wrote the music and lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult’s (Don’t Fear) The Reaper.

I don’t suppose you could provide a (link to a) list, canonical or otherwise, of the sort of guitar god/viruosos you have in mind?

I thought of Eric Clapton and George Harrison right away, but I don’t want to get into an argument about who’s a virtuoso.

Sam Totman writes most of Dragonforce’s music, and while it can be argued that most of the songs aren’t really about anything, he certainly has the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-bridge-chorus format down.

Knopfler would have to be right up there. He’s had a lot of hit singles that are definitely songs and he’s undoubtedly virtuoso.

Clapton can make a fair claim. He is after all the original Guitar God (indeed, Clapton is God), and he’s had a fair few hit songs (Badge, Layla, Wonderful Tonight, Tears in Heaven). Many have been written with someone else although Wonderful Tonight is just Clapton, and Clapton probably wrote the key parts of the others.

Steve Cropper, along with Booker T & the MG’s, wrote the #1 hit “Green Onions.” In the years to follow he co-wrote some of music’s biggest classics such as “Knock On Wood,” “Midnight Hour,”“Soul Man,” “634-5789,” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay," with Otis Redding.

Cropper was named #2 in a list of guitarists by Mojo magazine, #36 by Rolling Stone and #1 by a British survey.

Joni Mitchell I guess. Rolling Stone rate her one of the top 10 songwriters of all time. And every guitarist I know that plays a range wider than just rock music thinks that she is a great guitarist. She plays in 50 different tunings, mostly invented herself to overcome the effects of childhood polio on her left hand. Pretty awesome ask of a guitarist.

Nobody’s mentioned Chuck Berry yet?

Yeah…I suppose you’re right. I suppose EVH works to answer this question as well as anyone. And Randy Rhoads. I knew this was going to be difficult/stupid.


Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis, is a guitar wizard and has written some amazingly intelligent and very listenable songs. Some examples include Blood on the Rooftops (while with Genesis) as well as most of his solo work, including Hoping Love will Last, Carry on up the Vicarage, Every Day, etc.