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Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs Paperback – October 1, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 279 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567923259
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567923254
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #883,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Zinsser's enthusiasm for his subject emanates from the pages of this study of "the golden age of American popular song," framed by "the musical Show Boat in 1927... until the rise of rock in the mid-1960s." "My book doesn't claim to be definitive," writes Zinsser, theater and movie critic for The New York Herald Tribune during the '50s, professional piano player and author of 16 books, including On Writing Well and Mitchell & Ruff; "it's just one man's tour of his collection, as idiosyncratic as another man's collection of stamps or coins or butterflies." Zinsser uses the biographies of major songwriting talents as centerpieces for his in-depth portrayal of the days when "every home seemed to have a piano and at least one member of the family who could play it." He includes chapters on sheet music, songs from WWII and the direct impact that vocalists, Hollywood stars (Fred Astaire) and movies (The Wizard of Oz) had on popular composers. Moving from the "agreeable world" of Hoagy Carmichael to "hit machines" like Harry Warren, to the ambitious works of Gershwin, Zinsser demonstrates their centrality in the sphere of American music. He discusses not only harmony, intervals and syncopation, but he also includes the humble stories of talents who strove for, stumbled upon or seized prominence. Despite Zinsser's personal enthusiasm, the work never veers into sentimentality. "My book is a celebration, not a funeral, and one of the miracles I'm celebrating is how powerfully the songs have become lodged in the nation's collective memory," Zinsser explains. His effort is worthy of his ambition. B & w photographs and illustrations. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Zinsser (On Writing Well, Mitchell & Ruff) profiles songwriters dating from the early years of the 20th century to the present, focusing on theater, film, and popular song composers and lyricists, as well as those singers associated with their work. In an endearing, personal style, which leaves the reader humming the tunes or wanting to hear the featured performers, he weaves short sketches of seminal figures such as Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, and many others. The reproductions of sheet-music covers and photographs of the artists at different stages of their lives are especially valuable and fascinating, and the author's annotations on recommended readings are very helpful. However, the "Songs by Category," while interesting, would have been more useful with page number references. Mostly reliable and up-to-the-minute, including events occurring in the summer of 2000, Zinsser's work is recommended for larger music collections as a pleasurable diversion from routine biographical sources. Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

William Zinsser, a writer, editor, and teacher, is a fourth-generation New Yorker, born in 1922. His 18 books, which range in subject from music to baseball to American travel, include several widely read books about writing.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, first published in 1976, has sold almost 1.5 million copies to three generations of writers, editors, journalists, teachers and students.

Writing to Learn which uses examples of good writing in science, medicine and technology to demonstrate that writing is a powerful component of learning in every subject.

Writing Places, a memoir recalling the enjoyment and gratitude the places where William Zinsser has done his writing and his teaching and the unusual people he encountered on that life journey.

Mr. Zinsser began his career in 1946 at the New York Herald Tribune, where he was a writer, editor, and critic. In 1959 he left to become a freelance writer and has since written regularly for leading magazines. From 1968 to 1972 he was a columnist for Life. During the 1970s he was at Yale, where, besides teaching nonfiction writing and humor writing, he was master of Branford College. In 1979 he returned to New York and was a senior editor at the Book-of-the-Month Club until 1987, when he went back to freelance writing. He teaches at the New School and at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is an adviser on writing to schools, colleges, and other organizations. He holds honorary degrees from Wesleyan University, Rollins College, and the University of Southern Indian and is a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library.

William Zinsser's other books include Mitchell & Ruff, a profile of jazz musicians Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff; American Places, a pilgrimage to 16 iconic American sites; Spring Training, about the spring training camp of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1988; and Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs; and he is the Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. A jazz pianist and songwriter, he wrote a musical revue, What's the Point, which was performed off Broadway in 2003.

Mr. Zinsser lives in his home town with his wife, the educator and historian Caroline Zinsser. They have two children, Amy Zinsser, a business executive, and John Zinsser, a painter and teacher.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Great information on great songs.
James E. Elsaas
If you love great music, particularly American standards and show music, you'll wanna read this book.
Timothy J. Bazzett
Easy to read, accurate and entertaining.
Patricia Macias

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By babs on October 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What a wonderful book! This is a book I wish I had written, if only to write the sentence "Seeing Guys and Dolls on opening night in 1950 was my nirvana as a musical comedy fan"! It's one long love letter to the great American songwriters, both composers and lyricists: the oft-written about Kern, Hammerstein, Berlin, the Gershwins, Porter, Arlen, Sondheim, Lerner, Loewe, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, and the less-written about Dorothy Fields, Harburg, Youmans, Schwartz, Dietz, Warren, Weill, Styne, Comden/Green, Loesser, Cahn, Van Heusen, Kander, Ebb, Bock & Harnick. Though Zinsser is a pianist himself, he keeps the technical discussion to a minimum. He's dug up photographs I've never seen before: Frank Loesser sweating on a New York park bench; Barbra sitting on Jule Styne's lap; Johnny Mercer recording (I didn't know he was popular singer as well as gifted lyricist.) And the sheet music! He's included b&w pictures of dozens of vintage sheet music cover art: the Art Deco "Roberta"; "Just in Time" with '50's linear design motifs; a Toulouse-Lautrec knockoff for a '20's Rodgers and Hart song. Zinsser very interestingly keeps the biographical info to a bare minimum, concentrating on the melodic structure of the tune, the "rules" of song structure and how the rules were effectively broken; and the lyrics which are central to his appreciation of a song. He has lovingly captured an era I was born too late for but which lives on.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Joseph L Burke on October 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
What enjoyment I find in this book!! It tells me all about the lives of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known...where they grew up, how they got into songwriting, what they wrote, who they wrote with, the movies and shows they did, and so much more. The era described extends from 1927 to the mid-sixties when rock arrived. During that period the greatest American songs were written. It is doubtful that the world will ever know another such a wonderful period or such songwriters. This is a book to treasure; to be read and reread if you remember the classic songs of that era.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mitchell Brown on July 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Zinsser has had a lifelong love affair with the music of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood. This book reflects that love. Rather than a scholarly treatise, what Zinsser creates is a casual but quite complete stroll through the catalogue of the Great American Songbook using the great lyricists and composers as jumping off points. Occasional sidebars on such related topics as the structure of the classic song or the importance of sheet music add to the enjoyment and the wide scope of Zinsser's historical approach. Filled with wonderful photos of composers, lyricists and sheet music, this book is a treasure to read through and look at
A wonderful, kind book
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Adventurous Reader on March 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
William Zinsser's survey of the American popular song is an exceptional work, it revists and evokes the lost world of the popular song - when songs bridged generations and spoke of love and loss with grace, joy, sorrow, and occassionally, grandeur.
Not only does Zinsser give us the lives of the composers and lyricists examined, but he places their work in the context of its time, and for those who lived through the great age of American songwriting, he recreates the meaning of that music to Americans, and for those unlucky enough to be born later, he offers a guide to its many delights and pleasures. A winner of a book on every level. A must read for anyone who loves American popular music pre 1960.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By krebsman VINE VOICE on September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an eccentric, highly personal appreciation of "The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs." It is an easy read, as it is composed of short chapters with titles such as "George and Ira Gershwin," "Anatomy of the Popular Song," "Sheet Music, "Writing for Fred Astaire," and "Made in Hollywood: `As Time Goes By' and `Laura'." I found it extremely informative and charmingly written. The lists at the back are fun and provocative. Zinsser provides extensive (and entertaining) notes on his sources as well as a thorough index. This is a very subjective book with a highly personal viewpoint, but I would nonetheless recommend it to anyone with an interest in American popular song. I enjoyed this book a lot.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth C. Eliasberg on January 9, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I CAN'T RECALL WHEN I HAVE ENJOYED A BOOK AS MUCH AS THIS ONE. IT SPEAKS TO A SUBJECT AND TO A PERIOD THAT ARE DEAR TO MY HEART - MY YOUTH AND THE MUSIC THAT FILLED IT. ZINSSER'S COMMAND OF LANGUAGE IS EQUAL TO HIS COMMAND OF THE SUBJECT MATTER, AND HIS OBVIOUS APPRECIATION OF THE SUBJECT JUMPS OFF THE PAGE TO TAKE YOU BACK TO A WONDERFUL PERIOD WHEN GERSHWIN, PORTER, KERN, BERLIN, YOUMANS, AND A HOST OF OTHERS FILLED THE AIR WITH WARMTH, MERRIMENT, AND A DELICIOUS REMINDER OF HOW MUCH FUN IT WAS TO BE ALIVE AND TO BE YOUNG WHEN THESE GUYS WERE BUSY BUILDING AN INDELIBLE MONUMENT TO MUSIC, MOVIES, AND THEATRE - WHEN NEW YORK WAS THE PLACE TO BE, AND WHEN NUANCE AND SUBTLETY STILL LEFT PLENTY OF ROOM TO CALL UPON YOUR IMAGINATION AND TO FANTASIZE ABOUT THE THINGS THAT MAKE LIFE WONDERFUL AND SO WORTH LIVING - JOY, PATHOS, AND LOVE. I AM INDEBTED TO MR. ZINSSER FOR USING HIS CRAFT TO MAKE THESE THINGS COME ALIVE AGAIN
KEN ELIASBERG
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Komarnicki on December 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In any rambling conversation regarding music, I instinctively comment on William Zinsser's book, Easy to Remember. It is a historic monument to nostalgia happily implanted in the memory bank of all who lived through the 20s -- 60s.
The knowledge and affection needed to compile this landmark, places it in a unique position for reference and research, as well as an easy decision on what to purchase for a like-minded friend. David komarnicki
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