The Great American Songbook

My story is much too sad to be told
But practically everything leaves me totally cold
The only exception I know is the case
When I’m out on a quiet spree
Fighting vainly the old ennui
And I suddenly turn and see your fabulous face
—- I Get a Kick Out of You, Cole Porter

God help me… I have been in a long, hopeless argument with my wife and kids and anyone else who will listen to me. I’m all alone here, though I don’t think I’m wrong – it’s just that nobody understands what I’m trying to say or the point I’m trying to make.

It all started out innocently enough. I wrote about it here – I discovered some early sixties music on YouTube through a show called Shindig!. The more I listened and the more I thought about it I came to the conclusion that this was a particularly fruitful period for great popular music. The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, The Supremes, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Temptations, James Brown, The Righteous Brothers, The Yardbirds, The Moody Blues, The Kinks, Roy Orbison, Martha and the Vandellas, Dionne Warwick, The Four Tops, The Ronettes… it goes on and on. The thing is all this amazing greatness is all at the same time. A window of only a couple of years spewing out all this diverse music that is still great today.

Take a look at the top pop songs of the last few years… It does not hold a candle.

So everyone is calling me “Grandpa” and naming recent music that doesn’t completely suck. The point isn’t that music now is bad (it might be) but that 64-65 or so was an explosion of creativity and quality. And this isn’t music of “my time” either. Everyone has a window where music means something special to them. For me that’s the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. That’s the time of Disco moving into punk and New Wave. Though I have fond memories and much love for that stuff – I don’t even pretend to think it is music of particular quality.

Another argument is that this is all purely subjective – that everyone likes what they like and nothing is better that anything else. I don’t buy that. There has to be gradations of quality. But for the life of me I can’t come up with an objective measure.

I have a lot more thinking and research on this – I’ll write more at a later date (sorry).

But things were about to get a lot worse for me. In looking around I came across this YouTube by Andrew Klavan. His thesis is that the best music was done in the 30’s and 40’s.

Ok, I disagree with him and could type up my rebuttal, maybe I will. But in thinking about this and doing research on “I get no kick from champagne“, I came across the idea of “The Great American Songbook.”

Wikipedia says:

According to the Great American Songbook Foundation:

The “Great American Songbook” is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy. Often referred to as “American Standards”, the songs published during the Golden Age of this genre include those popular and enduring tunes from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film.

I think a more concise definition is a set of American songs that have stood the test of time. Wikipedia has an alphabetical list of songs that are generally considered to be part of the Songbook.

And as I started to move through the list I realized I had fallen down a steep and very deep rabbit hole.

Because this stuff is truly great and actually timeless. So now I’m working on my Great American Songbook playlist on Spotify (although there are several there already… I want my own – the best of the best – the ones that speak to me).

I think I’ll take some notes and write about some of the songs that stand out… but this is truly the kind of thing that can destroy my life.

2 responses to “The Great American Songbook

  1. OK, stick with me here. Your post reminded me in a flash of one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos: one of the pair known as Twins the New Trend listening to Peggy Lee. It’s just marvelous, and I think it somehow proves your point about music having staying power — even music that most people today have forgotten or never knew about.

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