Forgotten pages from the Great American Songbook
March 26, 2010 3:08 PM   Subscribe

What obscure musical gems have you unearthed from the Great American Songbook genre -- Broadway show-tunes, cabaret and jazz standards from the 1930s-1960s?

By Great American Songbook, I guess I mean the kind of songs you'd associate with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Peggy Lee to Judy Garland to Julie London.

I often struggle to find new music that I like in this genre. When you buy a nostalgia collection by one of these artists, you often find standards that you've heard a thousand times before (I've Got You Under My Skin, As Time Goes By) or seemingly mediocre, paint-by-numbers tin-pan-alley tunes that haven't aged well.

Two examples of gems I've found. "If Love Were All", as sung by Elaine Stritch in At Liberty; and "A Cottage for Sale" as sung by Judy Garland on her TV show and mentioned in this AskMe thread. I mention the artist because in both these cases, I probably wouldn't have noticed what a good song if was if not for the incredible rendition.
posted by dontjumplarry to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I did George Gershwin's "Blah Blah Blah" in a cabaret show once, and it went over very well. Simple but fun.
posted by Madamina at 3:33 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

One untapped (undertapped?) writer who deserves entry into th GAS realm is Cindy Walker. She's associated (or maybe more accurately, segregated) with country music but her lyrics and changes on a lot of songs would be at home in the jazz world quite easily. By no means all of her songs but an easy way to check out a selection would be to pick up this collection.

If you were to grab only one, this song will break your heart: Going Away Party
posted by quarterframer at 4:08 PM on March 26, 2010

I Used To Be Colorblind was a song that didn't really knock me out in the movie all that much but I really enjoyed the folk accordian version that backs the opening part of this film.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:16 PM on March 26, 2010

I happen to love "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?" (performed here by Jane Powell and Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding.) Lots of fun.
posted by SisterHavana at 4:16 PM on March 26, 2010

Why stop at 1930? A lot of Jerome Kern's music is pre-1930. For instance, consider the old Princess Theater shows by P. G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton and Kern -- here's a compilation: The Land Where The Good Songs Go (Sylvia McNair and Hal Cazalet). You've probably heard Bill in Showboat (although it was written earlier (for Something Pretty?) and not used then); some of my other favourites are "The Land Where The Good Songs Go" (of course), "Go Little Boat", and "A Bungalow in Quogue".

Have you heard "For All We Know" (Coots and Lewis)?

And anything written by Dorothy Fields.
posted by phliar at 5:04 PM on March 26, 2010

Forgotten? Probably not, but I love Ella Fitzgerald's rendition of I Loves You Porgy. I get chills whenever I listen to it.
posted by lex mercatoria at 6:06 PM on March 26, 2010

"Frankie and Johnny" is a good standard. You can hear it done rough or more gently. Here's Pearl Bailey's version.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:27 PM on March 26, 2010

Also, I have just managed to forget "Ukelele Lady," a 1920s song that gets stuck in my head for days at a time when I listen to Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, which is a lot.

Although they're British, you might enjoy the music of the Temperance Seven, a self-conscious, note-perfect recreation of the jazz bands of the '20s.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:32 PM on March 26, 2010

You didn't mention Michael Feinstein--do the performers have to be women? If not, and you don't know about him, go out and buy all of his recordings right now. Mostly Gershwin but has recorded, I believe, with Jim Webb among others. I know Jim Webb is outside your period, but he is right in the spirit of it.
posted by Logophiliac at 2:09 AM on March 27, 2010

Incidentally, there is a Wikipedia article on the Great American Songbook that names 17 composers (or composer/lyricist pairs)as examples, and probably hundreds of individual songs. More resources listed there too.
posted by Logophiliac at 2:13 AM on March 27, 2010

Okay, you have to go find yourself some Wesla Whitfield. (Also sometimes known as Weslia Whitfield. I don't know why.)

She does amazing renditions of wonderful songs, many of which I've never heard anywhere else. (Sure, she also does "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "Just One of Those Things," but she does those beautifully, too.)

Some of my favorites: "You'll See" (obscure enough that I can't find the lyrics on the web!), "Photographs (Me in Love with You)" (which you can check out at her jukebox, "Let's Get Lost" (ditto), and "Rhode Island is Famous for You."

Here's an appreciation of Wesla by one of my favorite columnists, Jon Carroll.

When I Googled, I saw a few links to what appeared to be listenable tracks, so you can probably check out a few things elsewhere online too.

Now that I'm done gushing about Wesla, I should also mention Blossom Dearie.
posted by kristi at 10:10 AM on April 1, 2010

Funny that you talk about the Great American Songbook. I would highly recommend singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli. (I would recommend him to anyone anyway, but still...) His website - that was remodeled this week - used to have a quote of his that said something to the effect of, "People ask me about the return of the Great American Songbook, but as far as I'm concerned, it never left."

True, he does a lot of the standard standards - that's why they're named as such, clearly - but he also does some that you've likely not heard much - or at least not in the way he's recorded them.

I would recommend one of his more recent albums "With a Song in My Heart" which is a collection of Richard Rodgers tunes. JP is also known for his "Dear, Mr. Cole" and "P.S., Mr. Cole" albums that feature some of Nat King Cole's stock tunes. His newest album is a tribute to Duke Ellington - "Rockin' in Rhythm."

He has 20-some albums and has participated on countless others. He even has an album entitled "New Standards" which may be of interest.

To sum it up - you should check out John Pizzarelli.
posted by Kimothy at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2010

Found the quote:

"It's been rumored that the Great American Songbook is making a comeback. As far as I'm concerned, it never left."

-John Pizzarelli
posted by Kimothy at 8:13 PM on April 25, 2010

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