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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Book Review: Reading Lyrics

"More than a thousand of the finest lyrics from 1900 to 1975. A celebration
of our greatest songwriters, a rediscovery of forgotten masters, and an
appreciation of an extraordinary, popular art form"

This 600 page plus book of lyrics arrived a few weeks ago as an impulse buy.
I wanted a break from writing, but wanted to do something interesting and related while I stopped, so I thought this book would be a nice change. It was.

Now I must admit than when I bought it I wasn't expecting this to be a book of mainly show songs and songs from films, but that is precisely what it is. The authors/editors (Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball) decided to focus only upon show-tunes as this genre took up such a lot of the last century. The book stops when 'the rot' set in around 1975 and I'm afraid I have to agree with them - I wasn't and still am not a fan of the Lloyd-Webber era, and I'm still waiting for it to stop. I also have to agree with the authors that things have improved considerably in the last few years with new show writing.

You may at this point be thinking that this book is not worth considering. I beg to differ. No matter what kind of music or style you're into at this moment, you and I have heard and can sing along to hundreds of these songs. These are the real classics. Even if you yourself have a hit in the next five years or have already had one, it's these songs people will be singing long after we're gone. These are also the songs that have influenced your childhood simply by virtue of having the television on. Your whole family knows these. There's something in that.

The book starts from Anne Caldwell's birth in 1867 and goes through one songwriter at a time up until the 70's, with a chapter titled 'Coda' at the end to tie up the odd songs that didn't seem to warrant a chapter on their author. Of course, the very well known songwriters are in there, along with many I've never heard of myself and songs I never knew existed.

What is rather good is the information they give on each songwriter/lyricist at the beginning of each chapter. This offers a great insight into the world of the day, and sheds light on some of the power and influence that some of these famous men and women possessed. They must really have been a force to be reckoned with in the growing world of theatre and its emergence as the first popular film genre, and these chapter headings really left me wanting to go and find out more on the background of these writers. Fascinating stuff.

As I scanned the pages of 'Reading Lyrics' and thought about how this may effect or help other people here on Songrut, it got me to thinking back to the main thrust of most of my posts, and that is to have a song with a point, and of course a lot of that being summed up in the title.

I recommend looking through the list of song titles just for inspiration. I would put them here but like I said, there's 1000!

All in all one of those books that's not immediately useful, but you're glad you've got. I can't imagine it spending much time on the bookshelf gathering dust, I've kind of got used to having it 'around'. There's a lot in it, some of it simply shows the cunning linguistics of a previous generation of songwriters, while other lyrics just scream classic. Because they are.

09:06 PM in Book Reviews | Permalink


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Good site. Keep it up.

Posted by: Thomas Itty | May 14, 2004 10:21:46 PM

Good site. Keep it up.

Posted by: Thomas Itty | May 14, 2004 10:22:36 PM

Good site. Keep it up.

Posted by: | May 14, 2004 10:22:56 PM

Good site. Keep it up.

Posted by: Thomas Itty | May 14, 2004 10:23:55 PM

Yeah great! Love it.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 1, 2004 12:45:28 PM

Great site!

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