What do I mean by “Songbook standard”?
published on 8 March 2017, by; latest revision, 23 March
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?”
- from Wikipedia page on standard (music):
In music, a standard is a musical composition of established popularity, considered part of the “standard repertoire” of one or several genres. 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. 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”:
Therefore, 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.
I 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 were, I suspect, largely sparked 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, and Dean Martin each had popular weekly television shows that often featured standards.
The Nearness of You (m. Hoagy Carmichael, w. Ned Washington) — copyright © 1937, 1940 by Famous Music Corporation
Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand duet: medley “Get Happy”/ “Happy Days Are Here Again” from The Judy Garland Show, Episode #9, taped on 4 October 1963
On the various television programs, 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 in which 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.
Ain’t We Got Fun
All By Myself
I’m Just Wild About Harry
Second Hand Rose
The Sheik of Araby
Carolina in the Morning
Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)
Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goo’ bye
It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’
Who’s Sorry Now?
Yes! We Have No Bananas
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
Has Anybody Seen My Gal
Yes Sir! that’s My Baby
Are You Lonesome Tonight
Bye Bye Blackbird
Someone to Watch Over Me
Tip Toe Through the Tulips
Ain’t She Sweet
Me and My Shadow
My Blue Heaven
Side By Side
Strike Up the Band
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)
My Baby Just Cares For Me
She’s Funny That Way
When You’re Smiling
Happy Days Are Here Again
Puttin’ On the Ritz
Singin’ in the Rain
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 patriot 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).
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.
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.**
*The rule of omitting instrumental works has been bent at least a couple of 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”).
**See also “Early Morning Rain” (Gordon Lightfoot), a page which I intend to eventually expand.