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 #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.


Episode # 1929

7/20      As Time Goes By It didn’t win the Oscar for best song because it wasn’t new when it appeared in the movie Casablanca, courtesy of Dooley Wilson, who wasn’t a singer and couldn’t play the piano. But it rose quickly, a decade after Herman Hupfeld first wrote it for a Broadway revue, to become one of America’s iconic songs. Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

Episode # 1928

7/13      Marriage, Not Exactly Blessed Even in a make-believe world devoted to the necessity of eternal romantic love, here’s what happens, good and bad, once the honeymoon is over. It may not be what you predict you’ll find in popular songs, but at least some of the time, songwriters set out to tell the truth with a combination of sentiment and wit.

Episode #1927

7/6       Sounds Like America From patriotic marches to folk tunes, there’s something distinctive to the sounds of singing about America. We wear our patriotism on our sleeves, but we sang about it one way during the jingoistic nineteenth century, another way during the Great Depression, and still another way during the two world wars.


Episode # 1926

6/29      In Our United State  This show follows up on last week’s. It’s amazing what you can do with a patriotic slogan, catch phrase, or title. You can make it funny or satiric, or even turn it into a love song. Over the years, we’ve found dozens of ways to sing about America and to hear America singing.

How does music capture a culture, or a political moment, or a time of change? One of the great musical historians is a WXXI host and contributor, and his new book looks at what he calls “City Songs.”

We sit down with Michael Lasser to discuss how music shaped public perspectives as America developed, and we talk about how to recognize when a song goes from just a song to something more culturally powerful.