In an age of ubiquitous music and countless new songs releasing every minute, the Great American Songbook endures. After all, the Songbook—that sprawling canon of popular songs, standards, and show tunes from roughly the 1920s through the 1950s—is a foundational text of American pop music. Rare indeed is the song that doesn’t in some way draw on this magnificent corpus, and rare is the person who hasn’t heard at least a few of its most enduring melodies.
Nonetheless, the Songbook is broader and deeper than most listeners can imagine, and on the margins, the question of whether this or that song should be included is the source of regular arguments among scholars and buffs alike. Attempting to plumb its depths can be a daunting prospect.
Enter Steven Suskin, who has been writing about music since the days that Rodgers, Arlen, and Berlin still roamed the streets of Manhattan. In this carefully curated and cheerfully opinionated guidebook, Suskin surveys 201 of the most significant selections from the Songbook, ranging from celebrated masterpieces to forgotten gems. Year by year, he puts songwriters and their contributions in their context, and explains what makes each song such a distinctive treat—whether felicitous melody, colorful harmony, compositional originality, or merely the sheer, irreducible joy of listening to it. Old and new favorites await all readers of this painstakingly compiled, enthusiastically written catalog.
Steven Suskin has led a well-rounded life in the Broadway theater on both sides of the footlights. He fifteen books include The Sound of Broadway Music, Second Act Trouble, Opening Night on Broadway, and Offstage Observations. He produced Forever Plaid and William Finn’s Falsettoland. He has written more than 1,000 columns, reviews, and liner notes for Playbill, Variety, and The Huffington Post, and is currently critic and founding editor of New York Stage Review.
A compelling read for those who care about the precious craft and legacy of American Popular Song! The anecdotes and stories perfectly complement the gentle and welcome analysis of these timeless musical treasures.
A celebration of American song! Steven Suskin has done a masterful job taking us through a collection of great songs. The very personal nature of the choices, and the essays, make the book unique. You’ll learn things, both historical and technical, and you will want to head for whatever mechanism you use to listen to music. Suskin reminds us what riches there are to be found.
I loved this book! Steven Suskin writes so eloquently about these songs that the book becomes as essential as it is entertaining. There is so much energy, discernment, and love in the way he attends to each choice that it’s impossible not to be seduced and immediately run for whatever device you get your music from. Not only that; for a book that’s about listening, it’s wonderfully pretty to look at, too. Who could ask for anything more?
“It’s terrific! As a pianist I've played many of these timeless classics, and as a songwriter I've been inspired by their heart and consummate craft. I thoroughly enjoyed Suskin's fascinating insights into the history of these songs, their creators, and the times in which they were written.”—John Bucchino
Musical theater critic and historian Suskin makes his own occasionally idiosyncratic but always informed choice of 201 of his favorite songs, mostly from musical theater and film, created between the 1920s and the 1960s. Many choices are familiar, and Suskin deliberately includes lost gems from the Golden Age of American song. Readers may find some of his choices puzzling: like “Another Autumn” from the Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon, instead of the production’s lyrical “I Talk to the Trees.” But every song has a reason, and no one knows this topic better than this author. One- to two-page entries balance musical knowledge with the appreciation of lyrics and the songs’ production histories. From A (“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”) to Z (“Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart”), this book will delight lovers of American pop songs.
'Old songs are more than just tunes,' wrote Ben Hecht, 'they are little houses in which our hearts once lived.' Steven Suskin takes us on a tour of 201 of these little houses; room by room, phrase by phrase, chord by chord. In each one, I felt as though I had come home.