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The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty Hardcover – July 3, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (July 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061051
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #976,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sheed (Office Politics), who won a 1987 Grammy Award for Best Album Notes (for Sinatra's The Voice), spoke over the decades with many of these Great American Songbook creators and their families. In this book, he employs an informal, anecdotal approach as he looks back at the top tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood. Composer Arthur Schwartz recalled that he dashed off the tune in 20 minutes after lyricist Howard Dietz casually remarked, What is life but dancing in the dark? Beginning with Gershwin and Irving Berlin, Sheed quotes numerous lyrics throughout his lilting, witty profiles (of Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and others), plus brief comments on 57 more. Since Hurricane Katrina, Louis Alter's Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? has served as a national anthem, so the curt dismissal of Alter (more a swinging musician than a songwriter proper) is curious amid the many choruses of praise. Sheed soars on the wings of song with scintillating, lyrical writing. (July 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Although no musicologist, Wilfrid Sheed has been around the block. He has written acclaimed novels and nonfiction books, most notably on baseball and literature. Here, he displays a lifelong passion for jazz and recounts his interaction with some of the greats in this engaging, knowledgeable, opinionated, and occasionally-some of Sheed's more obscure references may lose the neophyte-aggravating look at the Golden Age of music in America. The House That George Built doesn't reach the status of, say, Alec Wilder's American Popular Song or Max Wilk's They're Playing Our Song, in part because it's not meant to be a coherent, formal history of the period. But Sheed's book is a testament to the rich work that comes from a lifetime of devotion.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

This book was a fun read but also a good reference book.
Lorraine Fox
English- born novelist, essayist Sheed shows great love for , and tremendous knowledge of American popular song.
Shalom Freedman
Sheed's main concern seems to be to prove to his reading audience that he is as clever as he thinks he is.
Alexander Ross

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a book about the composers of America's most popular popular music, the music that came into being from roughly 1920 to 1950. It is not a formal treatise or scholarly study but rather a kind of fan's notes ramble, an enthusiastic exuberant high- spirited riff. English- born novelist, essayist Sheed shows great love for , and tremendous knowledge of American popular song. He writes with worshipful insight of the two greatest of the founding fathers of this particular American genre, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Both of these children of Russian Jewish parents found in black Blues and American jazz a fundamental inspiration. Both inspired many others and Gershwin particularly was a magnanimous helpful friend to other composers. Sheed cares for the Music above all and gives preeminence to those who create it - the lyrics are significant but secondary. Sheed writes not only about the major figures, Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Cole Porter but also about fifty others. One special one for him is someone he knew personally , Harry Warren. Warren the composer of "I only have eyes for you' was a modest figure in the background but for Sheed a friend and great composer to whom he dedicates the book.
All the readers of this book I know of have spoken of what great pleasure they had in reading it. The songs of these great composers entered Sheed's heart and his writing is his song of appreciation back to them.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Chell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sheed is a witty, but not self-indulgently or distractingly so, prose "stylist," not a musician. In that capacity he's "like" a jazz musician riffing on a familiar theme (it's tough to come up with new material about the Great American Songbook and its composers) and of particular use to those readers who love the music and wish to express what it means to them as much as it expresses its meanings to them. Sheed is such a reader's "voice," and probably a more welcome one than that of the historians, musicologists, composers and lyricists.

I don't think he's disparaging the musicians by showing us their flaws and vices. A Charlie Parker or Miles Davis is certainly no less an artist to me because of his drug habit or even, as in the case of Bird, his selfish, childish, and exploitive ways. If anything, the unpleasant behaviorisms of artists ranging from Buddy Rich to William Faulkner make it easier to relate to them as well as to sustain interest. If they were any better as human beings, their overwhelming talent and, even genius, would simply be too much to bear. Sheed also knows that while it's misguided to judge a book by its cover, in the case of the creative artist the book would no doubt be entirely different, most likely inferior, were the cover not what it is.

As for the melody vs. lyric flap, he's right. The most recorded popular song in American music history--"Body and Soul"--has an embarassingly bad lyric ("My love a wreck you're making, My heart is yours for the taking"--"ouch!" many times over). What counts most in the language of music is the notes, not the words. A song has to be able to stand on its own, apart from the lyrics (and John Coltrane certainly felt that Rodgers' music for Hammerstein did just that).
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on August 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By tackling an almost impossible task...that of categorizing, rating and recounting the lives of songwriters in the first half of the twentieth century, Wilfrid Sheed has given us a book that is literally all over the map. While offering some fine insights, the author has delivered a hodgepodge of information. It's more than a little bewildering.

Written in a kind of gossip column style, Sheed gets off to a good start with chapters on Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Without these two men leading the way, it's hard to imagine that the songwriting of the 1920s and 1930s....the heyday of American musical culture... could ever have happened. Add in Cole Porter and you have the great triumvirate of composers. It's always a hard choice to know whom else to include in such a broad sweep of biography and Sheed makes some solid but some strange choices as well. Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen certainly, but Cy Coleman? It seems plausible that Coleman was added because Sheed knew him.

"The House That George Built" doesn't exactly drive a straight line from beginning to end. The book has a circular feel to it. There are very few dates listed and it more or less rolls around as if the author stayed too long at a Hollywood party. But it's Sheed's narrative style that can irritate. Just when you expect him to end a sentence he carries on....and on. Where crisp writing is due, he delivers oatmeal.

Sheed does do a service in comparing New York to Hollywood and why certain composers stayed in one place or the other...or tried one place and returned to the other. He points out that collaboration between composers and lyricists often didn't last long, which must make Rodgers and Hammerstein's time together seem like an eon. There are some good quotes....
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John A. Akouris on August 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Really well written! Great overview not only of Gershwin, yet giving credit to contempories that have not gotten the same press/recognition on their contributions to the great standards that we all enjoy today.
Kudos to the author! Keep this book within arms reach so as to be able to refer to it again and again.

Respectfully

John Akouris
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