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The Poets of Tin Pan Alley


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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 modern art 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.)

"[A] fascinating history of the popular lyricists....A triumph worth trumpeting."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Sophisticated, literate....A welcome addition to the sparse lyrics-as-literature shelf."--Kirkus Reviews "Well-written and interesting....A good history of American popular culture."--Choice "Furia not only pays tribute to the great lyricists but does it with a joy and flair that ingratiates itself to the reader page upon page....Overall, pleasure reading and then some."--West Coast Review of Books "The author's love and enthusiasm for his subject, and also the fact that you can't help humming while reading, make this the rare book of literary criticism that is downright enjoyable."--Booklist "Apparently all the younger lyricists of the present day freely acknowledge that they are not as gifted as Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, and other early masters of the art form. Along comes Mr. Furia's admirable study to provide more than ample documentation. It goes without saying that any professional or would-be lyricist ought to eagerly devour every page, but even those who pay more disinterested attention to the popular arts will be fascinated by this insightful analysis."--Steve Allen "A lovingly conceived, scholarly, and entertaining tribute to the great popular wordsmiths of this century. It is well researched and contains much fascinating information. I recommend it."--Michael Feinstein "The first scholarly study of the lyrics of Tin Pan Alley, placing these texts in the sweep of American literature, analyzing not only their overall poetic style but individual variations as well....Invaluable."--Charles Hamm, Dartmouth College

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