Classical 91.5

great american songbook

2/22     Episode # 20-08

Most catalogue songs are exercises in wit based on a single premise—“You’re the Top” or “Let’s Do It.” They’re about the songwriter’s ability to weave a list of clever if arbitrary associations. Sometimes, though, the song might feature a more interesting point of view that reveals something about character or situation. These list songs feature the names of the famous, both real and fictional.

Episode #2004

1/25      Singin' in the Rain: A History of Sorts Here's an attempt to draw some circles around one of the most famous songs in the history of the movies. Nobody knows exactly when composer Nacio Herb Brown and lyricist Arthur Freed wrote it—probably by 1925—but it first appeared in a movie in 1929, twenty-three years before Gene Kelly made it into one of those songs nearly everybody can identify.

Episode #2003

1/18      Here's to the Band Society bands at the turn of the century played ragtime for dancing in elegant hotels. Time passed and they played the fox trot. Down the street, another kind of band was playing Swing, the jazz of the 1930s, with a pause for a fox trot so people could dance close. The big bands, numbering 12-14 musicians, were hugely popular. So there were the bands and then there were also songs about the bands.

Episode 2002

1/11      The Songs of Casablanca Nearly everybody knows that "As Time Goes By" appeared in Casablanca and became a standard as a result. But Dooley Wilson as Sam appears in Rick's Place night after night, almost always playing the piano and singing. The movie is filled with snatches of songs that provide a soundtrack for the lives of Ilsa and Rick.

Episode #2001

1/4       Steppin’ Out with My Baby Maybe you remember a time when people actually dated. A young man called up a young woman to ask her out for an evening of dancing or a movie and something to eat after. When you walked home together, maybe you even stole a kiss or two, or even a little more. The powder on your tie was the giveaway. These songs take you through a joyful time, as they used to say, when a boy chased a girl until she caught him.

Alamy Stock Photo

Episode #1952

12/28    Time Off  Americans had enough extra cash in their pockets by the early decades of the 20th century so that ordinary Americans—as opposed to the fabulously wealthy—could take vacations and even dream of moving to the country. They headed for lakes, mountains, and seashores; triumphed more or less over the necessities of the rural life, and endured the endless mosquito bites—and Tin Pan Alley set all of it to song.

Episode #1949

12/7      Three Decades of Ballard MacDonald  MacDonald moved successfully from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway to Hollywood, scattering hits along the way. His name may be largely forgotten but his songs include “Back Home in Indiana,” “Beautiful Ohio,” and “Somebody Loves Me.”

Episode #1948

11/30    Greatest Songs from the Movies Some years ago, the American Film Institute made a list of the greatest, most important, songs from the movies. A lot came from originally from Broadway musicals, so it took 45 songs before I could find enough that were truly “movie songs.”

Episode 1947

11/23    Writing Ragtime Songs When ragtime became popular, Tin Pan Alley songwriters added syncopation to their tunes and called them “ragtime songs.” But there are also some revealing and humorous stories behind a lot of these songs that, for a while, swept the country.

Episode #1945

11/9      First Pop From Charles Harris’ “After the Ball” that led to the founding of Tin Pan Alley, to a performance by Paul Whitman’s Orchestra that purported to tell the story of jazz, here’s music from four landmarks in the history of American popular music.