And a late hello to you too.
No excuses for my tardiness (at least none that you'd like to hear) but summer is starting to take its toll on me and I'm counting down those last few days until school starts.
And I'm listening to music. Which is why today I ask the question: "Why are there so many 'music artists' (and I use the term 'artist' rather loosely) while there are so few songwriters?" In my humble yet rather pointed opinion the world doesn't need any more "artists" but in fact needs more "songwriters."
Maybe it's the American Idol mentality that says if your face is pretty enough and your voice is passable and you have enough trauma in your life to capture the fancy of the public then you too can be a full-fledged diva. As for me? I don't watch songs I listen to them. The music is everything which is why I'm going to get all mushy sentimental about how there used to be so many great songwriters back in my day.
And if you know of new masters that should rightly be added to the list please enlighten me because I'm afraid we're facing a famine here.
1. Paul Simon
I'm not listing these in any particular order but Paul Simon is probably number one on my list. Poor Mr. Garfunkle. While he could decently harmonize it really was Simon who got (and deserved) all the credit.
"Bridge over Troubled Water," "Cecilia," "The Boxer," "The Sound of Silence." His list of amazing songs is longer than my arm and each one I never tire of hearing--or singing along with in my crummy harmonizations. I think my favorite is "The Boxer" but as for strictly amazing lyrics that's a tough call. "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" is that perfect blend of humor and cheek that sticks in your mind forever.
2. Cat Stevens
Another hippy-era writer who deserves a mention (that's him above). While his career was somewhat short-lived before converting to Islam and disappearing into anonymity (now he calls himself Yusaf Islam--tuck that away for a night of Trivial Pursuit) Cat Stevens had time to whip out "Father and Son," "The First Cut Is the Deepest," "Morning Has Broken," "Moon Shadow," "Peace Train" and "Cat's in the Cradle."
Ah, it's like a retro trip through the 70s it is.
And as an interesting note, he was actually born "Steven Demetrios Somebody or Rather (insert Eastern European name here)" he seems to change his moniker more than his socks.
3. Cole Porter
I'm breaking with Woodstock here to mention the man who needs no introduction. If you haven't heard "I Get a Kick Out of You" or "Day and Night" then you just haven't lived.
In fact, I'd highly recommend watching the classic movie "Day and Night" which is a fictionalized biography of Porter, with Cary Grant as the mighty man himself. Though it's kind of funny, apparently the man lived a rather quiet life (unless you count going to war an epic thing, which it is) and they really had to stretch to make a film about him. It's really more of a showcase for his great tunes rather than a strictly observed story.
So take it for what it's worth: a great musical with Cary Grant. What more do you need when your husband is out of town on business?
4. John Denver
The man who came up with "Calypso," "Rocky Mountain High," "Annie's Song" and "Take Me Home, Country Roads" holds a spot in my heart.
As a bit of trivia (more trivia?) he was not only born in Roswell, New Mexico--probably raised by a pack of ferrel aliens--he was also the poet laureate of Colorado.
Who knew Colorado was so darn classy? If you think they're just about skiing and fresh air and swanky resorts you obviously got another think coming.
5. Andrew Lloyd Webber
Yes, I am a child of the 80s. And yes, I loved Cats. And yes, I would sing along with "Memory" as it played on my push-button cassette player and think in my little preteen-psycho way that my voice was a dead-ringer for Sarah Brightman.
Ah, how soon we learn.
But his career is long and illustrious with plays that in many ways represent a soundtrack for our times with Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and others. Hard to imagine 80s theater without him.
6. John Lennon/Paul McCartney
I mention them as a duo because in fairness I don't think either is the greater songwriter. They're the yin and the yang, the two sides of the coin, the two balancing forces that kept each other in the paths of genius. A perfect case of synergy. It's as if, once they separated, no one else had the guts to say "I'm sorry, uh, Mr. McCartney, but that there song STINKS!"
I kind of wondered why he formed Wings in the first place, I mean there was only one direction to go, you could not get higher than the Beatles so it was doomed to be inferior or did the man really think that the power of the Beatles was all in him?
And John--while I know I'll get rotten tomatoes thrown to say that his solo career was lackluster his anthem "Imagine" isn't as good a song as "Something." It's sappy and political and 60s so it gets the press but it's not as good as his earlier stuff.
But at any rate, Lennon and McCartney were possibly the greatest duo ever. Although, interestingly enough the handful of songs written by George Harrison are probably my favorites. So somewhere in there is the shadow of George that needs a shout out.
7. Norah Jones
Kind of anticlamactic to list her after the Beatles isn't it? Sounds funny but she has to go somewhere and I'm afraid there are too few women represented on this list. So many of the "greatest songstresses" are the Liz Phair types who are angry and aggressive which, to me, is a turn-off. If I wanted to listen to Mr. T sing man-hating ballads then I'd do so. But I don't.
Ms. Jones, however, has the soul of Cole Porter or Hoagey Carmichael and not only has a great voice and a nice presence but she's a fabulous songwriter. "Come Away with Me," "Painter Song," "Don't Know Why" and other instant classics are the songs Sinatra would have sung if he were around today. Or better yet, Ella.
8. Dolly Parton
Another woman! Anything to get more female representation here.
But even without the female bias on this one her music transcends genres (which is a good thing because I hate country).
"Jolene" is what they call a "soulful" (that's the catchword you know) ballad and "Smoky Mountain Memories" along with "Coat of Many Colors" are about as American as you can get.
She's one of those strange celebrities that you never hear anything about. She's everywhere but her private life is pretty private--did you know she's been married to the same guy since 1966 and he runs an asphalt paving business? You don't get that in Hollywood.
Anyway, there's a reason she's the "Queen of Country" because her music speaks.
9. James Taylor
An interesting picture of Mr. Taylor--it almost doesn't look like him but he's there somewhere under those brooding eyebrows.
He's one of those guys who doesn't have too many songs that aren't hits--can't swing a dead cat and all that--but my favorite, hands down, is "Mexico" which makes you really feel as if you're on the beach, wandering among the waves and thinking about home.
"Fire and Rain," "Carolina on My Mind" and "Country Road" are acoustic delights and there's plenty more where they came from when it comes to Taylor.
10. George and Ira Gershwin
Again, I'm fudging and including a duo because, like the Brothers Grimm, you really don't know which is which and who did what so you just include them as a package because neither would be anything without the other.
Actually, Ira was the lyricist (and don't ask me which one he is in the picture, I haven't a clue) and George wrote the music. "Swanee," "Someone to Watch over Me," "I Got Rhythm," "Lady Be Good!" An American in Paris, Porgy and Bess and the absolute pinnacle of 20th century music, "Rhapsody in Blue" all came from the brothers' collaboration (though of course that last one doesn't have lyrics, so I'm kind of cheating there).
I need say no more, their works speak for themselves.
11. Neil Diamond
Yes, yes, I know it's like including Barry Manilow (pthewey!) on a list but stick with me here, you have to admit he's quite the man.
Before there was Smashmouth and a fat cartoon ogre there was Neil. His songs are catchy, they're beautiful and they'll be around forever. "Sweet Caroline, "September Morn," "I'm a Believer," "Kentucky Woman," "Cracklin' Rosie" and (my personal favorite, if yet unknown) "Porcupine Pie" never get old.
He seems like a genuinely nice guy, from what little I've seen and--more trivia--he originally started out his educational career as a biology/premed student in a lab when he was offered a job singing for change on weekends. That was all it took and the rest is history.
12. Billy Joel
My father will cringe on this one, I don't think he cares much for the Piano Man but I still have to give him the nod because if we're talking greatest songwriters you have to include the man who brought us "She's Always a Woman," "We Didn't Start the Fire," "My Life," "Movin' Out," and "Only the Good Die Young."
My personal favorite is "And So it Goes" which is absolutely beautiful and (I believe the word is) "haunting" but it's a hard pick against "Downeaster Alexa" which probably wins out by a nose.
Oh how I listened to Stormfront over and over my sophomore year at college. . . .
13. Howard Ashman
When you start to look at this man's career it's really startling how prolific he was in film. You can start with Little Shop of Horrors (which I don't really like, to tell you the truth but you must notice it nonetheless) and work you way into his Disney masterpieces and it starts to get kind of creepy how many tunes of his are running through my head.
If you're talking quality then you can't get much more than from what you get with the Little Mermaid. Clever lyrics, sweet melodies, emotion and drama wrapped in a cute package--that alone should get him the award but then you add Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and it gets downright spooky.
They don't make them like this anymore do they?
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Thursday, August 06, 2009
And a late hello to you too.