What do I mean by “Songbook standard”?

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published on 8 March 2017, by ; latest edit, 2 July 2017

Songbook, 1927 header (1a)

What do I mean by classifying a song as a “Songbook standard”? Each term, “Songbook” and “standard,” needs to be defined separately:

What is the “Songbook”?

  • I tend to consider the word “song” to be limited to musical constructions which include words that are meant to be sung. A “songbook” is a book of songs. Therefore, to appear in a songbook a musical composition would require, by definition, at least one familiar lyric which is frequently sung when that musical composition is performed. This leads to the general exclusion of numerous jazz compositions and other pieces which are primarily instrumental works.*
  • The term “Songbook,” used as the title of this site, and as a musical category throughout the site, generally stands herein as shorthand for “book of classic American popular songs.” However, my idea of what constitutes a “classic American popular song” is somewhat broader than that of Alec Wilder, in his seminal 1972 book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, and that of the authors of the book cited below that deals with the classic American popular song of the second half of the 20th century. For example, I wouldn’t automatically exclude a song from the 1950s or later, that might ordinarily be classified as rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop, soft rock, “contemporary folk,” “easy listening,” etc., if upon consideration I find that the melody is a strong one that is not inferior to those of earlier classic pop songs, and is more important than the beat in conveying the essence of the song.
  • On the format of the “classic American popular song,” see the section “The Format of the “Classic American Popular Song,” circa 1950,” in the book Classic American Popular Song: The Second Half-Century, 1950-2000, by David Jenness, Don Velsey (2006), 2014 edition, pp. 25ff.
  • From the Jazz Era to the early 1950’s, the 32-bar form or AABA form was prevalent in the classic American popular song. Since roughly the mid-1950’s, the verse-chorus form has been predominant in many popular music genres including rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, rock, country, contemporary folk, smooth jazz, and various fusions of the same. I don’t consider either form inherently superior to the other, or the presence or absence of the AABA form, or a variant of it, necessarily a factor in determining whether a song in consideration is a classic American pop song.

What is a “standard”?

In music, a standard is a musical composition of established popularity, considered part of the “standard repertoire” of one or several genres.[1][2] Even though the standard repertoire of a given genre consists of a dynamic and partly subjective set of songs, these can be identified by having been performed or recorded by a variety of musical acts, often with different arrangements. In addition, standards are extensively quoted by other works and commonly serve as the basis for musical improvisation.[3] Standards may “cross over” from one genre’s repertoire to another’s; for example, many jazz standards have entered the pop repertoire, and many blues standards have entered the rock repertoire.

  • Although the classes of Songbook standards and jazz standards frequently overlap, they are not the same. Many jazz standards do not technically qualify as Songbook standards, and vice versa. Except for those which fall in the pages dealing with the Jazz Age and earlier, jazz standards which are not also Songbook standards have typically been omitted from this site.* On the difference between a standard and a jazz standard, see directly below.

What is the difference between a “standard” and a “jazz standard”?

JazzStandards.com, after comparing various external definitions on the page “What is a Jazz Standard,” arrives at the following definitions for “standard” and “jazz standard”:

A “standard” is a composition that is held in continuing esteem and is commonly used in musical repertoires.

And,

A “jazz standard” is a composition that is held in continuing esteem and is commonly used as the basis of jazz arrangements and improvisations.

It may be inferred from these two statements that the set of jazz standards is a subset of all standards, some of which are not jazz standards. Many songs which are jazz standards, are also standards in other genres (e.g. blues, pop, country), and beloved by people who may have little or no familiarity with the history of jazz interpretations of the same songs.

5 June 2009-a step backI had originally planned to begin my year overview pages with 1927, because it was the first year in which I’d found, from lists of popular songs and jazz standards published in that year, at least ten songs with which I was familiar enough to be able to hum the tune and recall at least some of the lyric. It was only a few months after beginning work on the site that I decided to go all the way back to 1890 (see my page 5 June 2009 — a step back, from my notes to the visitor, 2009-2012 index), though I compromised by doing decade pages for the first couple of decades, multiple pages on 1910-1919, and then beginning the annual pages with 1920.

Born in 1958, I became familiar with the popular music of the pre-1960s eras with which we are concerned here largely through film and television. During the 1960s and 1970s as I was growing up, for example, there were waves of media-driven interest in the culture, fashion, and music of the 1920s and 1930s. These vogues may have in part been sparked and/or propelled by the popularity of such films as Bonnie and Clyde (1966), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Paper Moon (1973), and The Great Gatsby (1974), that were set in the 1920s, the 1930s, or both. The popularity of such films, and of new recordings by established vocal artists, led to music of the period being frequently performed on variety shows, talk shows, and even injected into sitcoms set in the present time. Perry Como, Andy Williams, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, and Carol Burnett each had popular weekly television shows that often featured standards. (continued after videos)

Judy Garland — from The Judy Garland Show, Episode 26; taped on 13 March 1964 and aired on 29 March 1964

The Nearness of You (m. Hoagy Carmichael, w. Ned Washington) — copyright © 1937, 1940 by Famous Music Corporation

.

Get Happy (m. Harold Arlen, w. Ted Koehler) — introduced on Broadway by Ruth Etting in Nine-Fifteen Revue, which opened on 11 February 1930

Happy Days Are Here Again (m. Milton Ager, w. Jack Yellen) — copyright 1929

Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand — duet medley “Get Happy”/ “Happy Days Are Here Again,” for The Judy Garland Show, Episode #9, taped on 4 October 1963

.

On the various types of 1960s and 1970s television programs referred to above, the songs were typically performed by popular vocal artists such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Mel Tormé, Lena Horne, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jack Jones, Barbra Streisand, Diahann Carroll, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, and Carol Burnett. In sometimes lavishly decorated and choreographed numbers they would be performed by the hosts and/or guests of variety shows and, in sitcoms, by the actors themselves. This is how I became familiar with many of the songs in the following lists. By an early age, I was quite familiar with each of these songs, most of which are standards without as well as within the genre of jazz.

Since I was never a jazz aficionado, or a collector of recordings by popular vocalists such as those listed above, I wouldn’t have, during my youthful listening years, wherein my focus was usually far elsewhere, grown familiar with these songs and so many others of what I call the Songbook had they not been so pervasive on regularly scheduled television programs and TV specials of the 1960s and 70s, and in old films shown on TV during the same period.

My mother’s favoring of easy listening and golden oldies radio stations, played incessantly on a radio in either the kitchen or the dining room (between meals) as she went about her household chores, was another significant factor.

Selected from my 1921-1929 annual pages (1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926 (1), 1926 (2), 1927, 1928(1), 1928(2), 1929):

1921
Ain’t We Got Fun
All By Myself
April Showers
I’m Just Wild About Harry
Second Hand Rose
The Sheik of Araby

1922
Carolina in the Morning
Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)
Lovesick Blues
My Buddy
Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goo’ bye

1923
The Charleston
It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’
Who’s Sorry Now?
Yes! We Have No Bananas

1924
California Here I Come
Everybody Loves My Baby
I Want to Be Happy
It Had to Be You
The Man I Love
Tea For Two
What’ll I Do

1925
Always
Dinah
Has Anybody Seen My Gal
Manhattan
Yes Sir! that’s My Baby

1926
Are You Lonesome Tonight
Baby Face
Bye Bye Blackbird
Someone to Watch Over Me
Tip Toe Through the Tulips

1927
Ain’t She Sweet
Me and My Shadow
My Blue Heaven
‘S Wonderful
Side By Side
Strike Up the Band

1928
Button Up Your Overcoat
Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife)
I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby
I Wanna Be Loved by You
I’ve Got a Crush on You
Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)
Makin’ Whoopee
My Baby Just Cares For Me
She’s Funny That Way
When You’re Smiling

1929
Ain’t Misbehavin
Happy Days Are Here Again
Puttin’ On the Ritz
Singin’ in the Rain
Stardust
You Do Something to Me

In contrast, while building the pages on the top standards of the early jazz era (1917, 1918, 1919, and 1920) I found that I was completely unfamiliar with most of the numbers, the exceptions being “pop” standards such as “For Me and My Gal,” “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” and “Swanee,” and the patriotic anthem “Over There.” In fact, for each year of the period 1890-1920, I was seldom familiar with more than one or two songs and instrumental numbers among the lists of popular music published in that year that I found in various sources (see my page pre-1920 popular music resources).

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Other comments:

When I began building this site in February 2009 I thought it odd that while various lists of jazz standards, including ranked lists, are readily available, it seemed impossible to find a comprehensive list of standards** which is not exclusively composed of jazz standards. As of March 2017 I still haven’t found a such a list, and I don’t plan on attempting to compose such a list any time soon.

With the help of a visitor, @Robert Silvestri, I found such a list within a week of publishing this page, and provided a link to it in a 23 March 2017 comment at the bottom of the page.

Songs originally and ordinarily classified as “country” or as “contemporary folk” may occasionally be included if they’ve achieved significant crossover popularity, but in order to simplify things I’ve generally omitted such songs. “Long Black Veil” and “Someday Soon” are two notable exceptions from the field of country music that I’ve published feature pages on. Also, in publishing pages in 2016 on the Pete Seeger song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and a couple of early Bob Dylan songs (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “One Two Many Mornings”), I’ve opened to the door to the possibility of including more “contemporary folk” music on the site.***

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*The rule of omitting instrumental works has been bent a few times on this site with respect to film themes (“Laura” and “Stella by Starlight”) and other compositions which have lyrics that are seldom sung in performances and recordings. If I decide to include more examples of such material, I may place them in a separate category. In addition to the aforementioned film themes and the Ellington standards “Rockin’ in Rhythm” and “Take the “A” Train,” there are also exceptions to this general rule in my featured standards from the Swing era (“Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Sing, Sing, Sing”), from bebop (“‘Round Midnight”), and from cool jazz (“In Your Own Sweet Way”).

**The term “standards” is too vague. What I mean here is more like “American popular music standards of the 20th century,” or perhaps “American pop standards,” though I’ve yet to define the word “pop.”

***See also “Early Morning Rain” (Gordon Lightfoot), a page which I intend to eventually expand.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robert Silvestri
    Mar 21, 2017 @ 07:55:36

    Hi Doc,
    I often use this site when researching jazz standards;
    http://www.jazzstandards.com/overview.htm, is a website dedicated to the preservation of information for the musical compositions known as Jazz Standards.
    The information at this site has been assembled from hundreds of reference books and historical documents with additional commentary by jazz performers, historians, and musicologists.

    There is a good deal of information on many of the songs in this genre.
    Of course your site is priceless, and I’ve used it as well.It surely took much work and dedication to put what you have here together, and it is greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for all you do.

    Reply

    • doc
      Mar 21, 2017 @ 14:07:26

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks. JazzStandards.com has been a very important source of information for me. It was especially helpful during the early years of constructing this site, certainly one of the more significant sources I used, particularly for the period 1890 to about the mid-1950s. When I published this page on 17 March it included a link to the “What is a Jazz Standard” page, from the Overview section that you linked to above, and that link was present when yesterday I published the post alerting followers to the new page. I removed the link temporarily some time last night while working on the present revision, so you might have missed it.

      The latest revision is considerably expanded from the original page. Do you think I should send out another post to announce the revision?

      Regards,
      doc

      Reply

  2. Robert Silvestri
    Mar 21, 2017 @ 17:08:22

    Hi Doc,
    Thanks for your reply. I would send a post announcing the latest revision.

    I presume you may have visited these 2 sites when searching for a
    “list of standards which is not exclusively composed of jazz standards”:

    100+ Top American Rock Standards
    http://100americanrockstandards.blogspot.com/
    and
    100+ Pop Standards in America from around the World
    http://100foreignpopstandardsongsinamerica.blogspot.com/

    ~Robert

    Reply

    • doc
      Mar 21, 2017 @ 23:31:42

      Robert,

      Thanks. Rock standards are not appropriate for this site. I have included herein a few songs by bands that may be classified in some circles as rock bands. However, I don’t consider songs such as “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” and “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful to be rock songs. And my pages on early Elvis Preley and Little Richard hits are in acknowledgement of their roles as heralds of some of the changes that shook American popular music and culture in the mid-1950s. I consider the Elvis and Little Richard pages to represent alternative contemporaneous trends, even if they became mainstream trends.

      The second one you mention is a bit more interesting to me, and might be useful if I decide to do a page on songs that became hits in the US after being introduced in other countries, but it’s nothing like what I was referring to in this page.

      Some examples of a what a “comprehensive list of standards which is not exclusively composed of jazz standards” consists of could be the following:

      1. A list of all standards, including those in the blues, jazz, country, pop, rock, etc. genres
      2. A list of classic American popular song standards that includes jazz standards, and other songs that may not be considered jazz standards
      3. A list of classic American standards in a genre that isn’t jazz

      The second is what I have in mind. Since most jazz standards are also “pop” standards, a list such as the top 1,000 jazz songs numbers that JazzStandards.com presents, would still include several hundred standards if you removed every number that is only a standard in the field of jazz. Instrumentals written by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc. that became jazz standards are typically standards only in the field of jazz. These would be excluded from the list I propose, not only because they aren’t standards outside of jazz, but also because they aren’t songs. A song, as I use the term, has at least one familiar lyric (i.e. set of lyrics) that is frequently sung when that composition is performed. Also omitted would be compositions in other genres that either don’t have a lyric, or that have a lyric that is seldom sung when the number is performed.

      Additionally, some songs that have remained popular for decades, yet aren’t considered jazz standards, might be included. This would include, for example, numerous “pop” songs from the late 1950s on, including songs written by Goffin & King, Bacharach & David, Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Paul Simon, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Paul Williams (as co-songwriter primarily), and many others.

      ~doc

      Reply

      • doc
        Mar 21, 2017 @ 23:42:04

        One of the first big hurdles will, again, be determining if we can adequately define the terms we intend to use. If you want a good laugh, have a look at the “Definitions and etymology” section of the Wikipedia article on “Pop music.” It’s just a jumble of various conflicting definitions thrown together.

        Reply

      • doc
        Mar 23, 2017 @ 16:01:06

        I feel rather trapped by the definition of “songs” that I have stuck to until now, with a few exceptions as noted above, because there are many instrumental compositions that I love and would like to eventually include. There may come a time when I ditch the rule against instrumental compositions.

        However, if I do so, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to more jazz compositions among my feature pages. I’d be more likely to choose from film and TV themes, or pop, surf, and bossa nova instrumentals.

        Reply

      • doc
        Jun 02, 2017 @ 16:23:19

        I could be in denial regarding rock songs on this site. I’m sure others would count more than I’ll admit to.

        Reply

    • doc
      Mar 23, 2017 @ 10:08:50

      Robert,

      The first list you mentioned, “100+ Top American Rock Standards,” has (among the top 100 — I haven’t yet checked the 150+ which follow that) a dozen or more songs that I would consider including on the site, six of which are already on the site. Due to an allergy to the word “rock,” with regard to considering potential songs for this site, I hadn’t at first taken the time to look through the entire list. However, the same author, Robert Hall, has published another page which is more relevant to this site, though I question any ranking system that would put “My Way” in first place: 100 American Pop Standards. Despite the title, it actually ranks 200, and adds more than 50 others under “Honorable Mention.”

      ~doc

      Reply

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