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Stardust Melodies Hardcover – April 23, 2002

4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The American Popular Song is like a car full of clowns at the circus: from the outside it looks small and unassuming, yet you can't believe how much is contained inside," notes Friedwald in his introduction and, indeed, Tin Pan Alley and its environs have produced masterpieces that survive well beyond their time and context. While every reader will have their own list what better dinner conversation game? this dozen (chosen in conjunction with Friedwald's editor, Bob Gottlieb) should contain at least half of everyone's choices. But this is not a trivia book, and the joy of these short essays ruminative, but also filled with fascinating historical and social details - is in their intelligence and their always evident love of the music itself. Friedwald (Sinatra!; The Good Life, with Tony Bennett) can surprise, as when he lists similarities between Kurt Weill and No‰l Coward (in his discussion of "Mack the Knife") or unearths the connections between Show Boat (which features "Old Man River") and British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. But he is at his best elucidating how a particular song works its magic. His history of Johnny Green's 1930 classic "Body and Soul" introduced by Gertrude Lawrence, made famous by the notorious Libby Holman and become a jazz standard when performed by Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson is incisive, with illuminating details (he describes Tony Bennett's hand motions while singing). Friedwald performs similar feats with the other songs, including "As Time Goes By" (in which he praises Tiny Tim's late 1960s rendition), "The Saint Louis Blues," "I Got Rhythm" and "My Funny Valentine." In the end, the book is an important contribution not only to American musicology but also to the literature on popular culture.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The author of Jazz Singing gives an account of jazz songs, including "Summertime" and "Mack the Knife."
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (April 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375420894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375420894
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #723,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Did you know that Evelyn Walsh McLean, owner of the Hope Diamond and a backer of the production of 'Show Boat', was so aghast when its creators wanted to take 'Ol' Man River' out of the show during out-of-town tryouts that she bet them the Diamond that it would be the hit of the show? She didn't have to give up her gem, and this gem of a song was saved. Did you know that Stan Freberg recorded his own politically correct version of the song, retitling it 'Elderly Man River'? Or did you know that Herman Hupfeld, the writer of both the words and music for 'As Time Goes By' had only one other hit in his long career, and that was 'When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba'?
This book is not just a collection of trivia about twelve popular American songs, but it is filled with such oddball facts as these. Will Friedwald starts each chapter with the story of how the song came to be writen, gives a neat analysis of the technical details of the song, and then describes the major recorded versions of each song. This is indeed a treasure trove of information about these songs, and if nothing else, reminds us of the long and rich history of American popular song.
The twelve songs, each with its own chapter, are, in chronological order, 'Star Dust', 'The St. Louis Blues', 'Mack the Knife', 'Ol' Man River', 'Body and Soul', 'I Got Rhythm', 'As Time Goes By', 'Night and Day', 'Stormy Weather', 'Summertime', 'My Funny Valentine', and 'Lush Life.'
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Format: Hardcover
Stardust Melodies (A Biography of Twelve of America's Most Popular Songs) by Will Friedwald is an interesting account of twelve songs that have shaped and transformed the music world and then, often as not, been shaped and transformed by that very music world. The author's likes and dislikes are there for any one to see as he traces the performance history of a song, concentrating on jazz performers and Frank Sinatra while giving less space to other pop, cabaret or theatrical performances. For what he does cover, he covers well. The true test of a book like this is whether it makes one rush to listen to various interpretations of these songs, such as Louis Armstrong doing Star Dust or Ella Fitzgerald doing Mack the Knife (a personal favourite) or, even better, the more obscure gems the author relates. The book suceeds marvelously in this aspect as it will turn the reader into an eager listener as one moves between CD player and comfy reading coach. One does not have to agree with all of his conclusions (in fact, one is unlikely to) but the reader will enjoy the experience.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Will Friedwald probably deserves a medal for taking on this project, a 400-page analysis and performance history of twelve oft-recorded American lullabyes. Even some of us who swear by the Great American Songbook might opt for "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" if the alternative is listening to several hundred different versions of "Stardust" (as lovely as it is). Granted, a song biography has more going for it than, say, a performance history of Shakespeare's most popular plays, but still it's not exactly a compelling page turner.
Friedwald writes with hipness, esprit and engaging good humor, and he delivers provocative opinions, fascinating information, and a wealth of trivia. But the price of admission may be judged a bit excessive by some readers, mainly because the book contains no index, lists, or even discographies that would insure its value as a reference tool.
Every reader will no doubt find much to quibble about with a book such as this (admittedly no small part of its appeal). Frankly, I'm surprised the author makes no mention of the 1947 Lionel Hampton All-Star Concert recording of "Stardust" (with extraordinary solos by Charlie Shavers and Slam Stewart along with Hamp's introduction of the "Pretty Baby" motif, which Friedwald attributes to a later recording). And although a Paul Desmond version is mentioned, the Brubeck Quartet performance on the indispensable "Jazz at Oberlin" album (which evokes without stating the melody) is not. Finally, I'm surprised the author appears to accept "C" (as does Zinsser in his book) as the current standard key for the song.
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Format: Hardcover
What a great idea for a book. Very entertaining look at a handful of classic, mostly-American, pop songs. The origin of each song is described (that's the most interesting part) and then there's a pretty detailed run through of many of the recorded versions (that can get a bit tedious, especially if you're unfamiliar with the versions discussed).
What it lacks is an index, and a formal discography. It would have also been nice if the lyrics of each song had been printed, and maybe the actual written music as well. Friedwald often describes the structure of the song by using the lyrics as guide posts, and that left me high and dry sometimes since I was, I'm ashamed to say, unfamiliar with some of these songs--I couldn't even hum St. Louis Blues, let alone recall any lyrics. A companion CD--or CDs--would have been nice as well, but that idea may be a little impractical.
Those flaws aside, I'd recommend this to anyone with any interest in the subject.
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