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The Poets of Tin Pan Alley

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About the Author

Philip Furia is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Pound's "Cantos" Declassified and many articles on the relationship between American poetry and music.


Readers who can hum ``Puttin' on the Ritz'' or ``Anything Goes'' and who know the musicals Show Boat or Oklahoma will appreciate Furia's study of the lyrics of the ``great standards.'' These lyrics, he argues, contributed almost as much as the melodies to a ``golden age'' of popular song, spanning the 1920s to the 1950s. Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, and Cole Porter are among those whose work is examined, but because Furia tries to survey so many writers, we get only hasty glances at each, and the prose tends to bog down in laborious analyses of rhyme scheme, alliteration, and assonance, making this read like a Ph.D. dissertation.-- Paul Baker, CUNA, Inc., Madison, Wis.

America's greatest tunes were composed by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers, among others, but, as this popular/critical survey demonstrates, those who wrote the words for these songs were equally important figures. Furia, a Univeristy of Minnesota professor of English, perceptively assesses the styles and careers of such masters of light verse as Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Howard Dietz, Yip Harburg and Al Dubin, and of two--Irving Berlin and Cole Porter--who were proficient in both words and music. He concludes with an anomaly, the country boy of Savannah, Johnny Mercer, whose blend of earthiness and elegant urbanity made him one of the few lyricists who could skillfully set to words the jazz melodies of Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington. (Oct.)

'it is the sheer style of the oh-so-familiar lines, placed under a microscope, which is so impressive' Sunday Times 'the background information about the shows and films for which they wrote is worthwhile and puts the songs in context, but it is the sheer style of the oh-so-familiar lines, placed under a microscope, which is so impressive.' Sunday Times 'His observations are scholarly and diverting, even on the most familiar chorus.' Tony Mallerman, Jewish Chronicle 'A study of great songs that makes do without music can only tell half the story, if that; but this brainy and bracing account makes the best of a dry job.' The Independent

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