Classical 91.5

Fascinatin' Rhythm with Michael Lasser

Saturdays at 11:00am-12:00pm on WXXI-FM 91.5, WXXI-FM/HD 91.5-1 and online at wxxi

WXXI's Fascinatin' Rhythm presents of popular American music from Stephen Foster to Stephen Sondheim, in the context of their relationship to American history. Every week, host Michael Lasser offers a rich mix of singers, songwriters and songs to explore the history and themes of American popular music.  LISTEN to this past week's show below.

Playlists for Fascinatin' Rhythm are located here.

Episode # 1938

9/21      Fallen Angels   One of the great musical subjects of the 20th century is the emergence of women from Victorian restraints. But with it comes changing sexual attitudes and behavior, and with that comes temptation, the dangers of city living, and the loss of innocence and reputation. These fallen angels live shady lives. The flapper was fast, but in the Thirties, survival was he first order of business.

I got a call one day from Jeanie Williams, a features editor at the now long-defunct Rochester Times-Union. She had heard my review of a revue—Irving Berlin’s songs performed at the old Downstairs Cabaret located in a restaurant’s basement at the corner of Andrews and St Paul. She’d been unable to send someone to cover it and asked if the paper could run what I’d read on the radio the morning after the show opened.

Episode # 1937

9/14      Nineteen Nineteen   It wasn’t just the year after the War, it was also the beginning of what would become the Roaring Twenties. On Broadway, Florenz Ziegfeld hired Irving Berlin to write the entire score for his new Follies, the first time Ziegfeld had bet everything on one writer. Berlin didn’t disappoint him. It was one of the great Follies in a year of outstanding popular songs.

Episode #1936 

9/7       Hart on the Heart  Lorenz Hart was a tortured soul who somehow managed to write about love and romance. It helped that his viewpoint was ambiguous, even bittersweet, and always laced with a dose of irony. More then any other songwriter, he knew all there was to know about “the self-deception that believes the lie.”

Fascinatin' Rhythm: I Am and I Want, 08/31/2019

Aug 26, 2019

Episode #1935  

8/31      I Am and I Want Two kinds of songs that sound generic unless you write them for a musical that cares about character. During the Great American Songbook, when writers of scores for a new musical thought about what kinds of songs to write and where to put them, what they called “I Am songs” and “I Want songs” were usually near the top of the list.


Episode #1934

8/24      Thanks for the Memory Composer Ralph Rainger and lyricist Leo Robin were stuck. The studio head told them to write a poignant song for a divorced couple who are still half in love but haven’t faced it. But it was for Bob Hope, he said, so it also had to be funny. The writers came up with a song that was amusing and maybe the most touching catalogue song ever written.

Fascinatin' Rhythm: City Songs, 08/17/2019

Aug 19, 2019

Episode #1933  

8/17      City Songs City songs aren’t about subject or setting as much as they’re about a distinct sensibility that can only be called urban—maybe even strictly New York City. That’s where Tin Pan Alley was, and Broadway and Harlem as well. That sensibility is central to what defines the Great American Songbook.

Episode #1932

8/10      Hello Bluebird—Cliff Friend Most songwriters from the Great American Songbook were either composers or lyricists. A few, like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, wrote both music and words. Cliff Friend sometimes wrote both, but more often he wrote the words or the music. And always he wrote hits.

Fascinatin' Rhythm: Protest Pop, 08/03/2019

Jul 28, 2019
Woody Guthrie, Wikipedia

Episode #1931

8/3        Protest Pop Popular songs set out to sell copies by being entertaining and reassuring. If you want upheaval, you contact Woody Guthrie rather than Irving Berlin or Bing Crosby. But every now and then, popular music gets up on its hind legs to take a shot at injustice—racism, war, and poverty, among others. It’s striking to watch popular songs taking sides.


Episode #1930

7/27      Music Makes Me How we make music, the most abstract of the arts, inseparable from the expression of emotion. Most songs start with the music and then adds the words. E.Y. Harburg said that music makes you feel an emotion and words make you think a thought, so a song makes you feel a thought.