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Who Wrote the Greatest Pop Songs?

I am tired of all the hype about today's songs by media hounds.These columnists and reporters like to sniff around searching for the scent of today's music scene and often drool over the "importance" of today's singing stars.  Many of these singers are either screamers or mumblers.  Often they are both! In many cases, their singing just isn't very good. They have no individual style or sophistication. Naturally there are exceptions, such as singers like Harry Connick Jr., Linda Eder, Diana Krall, and Michael Feinstein. Then there's the Grand Master of Pop Singers himself -- Tony Bennett. He continues to shine his considerable talents on songs from the Great American Songbook of Irving Berlin, the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter and many others.  

Contrary to what so many critics and columnists write today, it isn't the rock or other pop megastars who are the greatest songwriters and singers of the past. Certainly they have talent and have been very influential, such as Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and Paul Simon among them.

But it was the earlier songwriters before the rock era began (before 1955) who built the foundation for the greatest popular songs in America.

And these songwriters make up what has come to be known as
"The Great American Songbook."

And who are these talented songwriters and when were their songs written?

The majority of these great songs were written between the 1920s and 1950s.

Naturally there were songs written before that time that were also popular, like George M. Cohan's "Give My Regards To Broadway" and Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band."

When compiling my list, I decided to keep it to 20 songwriters and singers I most admire for their talents.

One of them is the late Jay Livingston who co-wrote most of his songs with his partner, lyricist Ray Evans. They received three Oscars for their songs:

"Buttons and Bows" (1948)
"Mona Lisa" (1950)
"Que Sera, Sera (What Will Be, Will Be)(1956)

When I spoke with him many years ago, he was kind enough to sign my copy of the sheet music to "Mona Lisa" -- his signature is in the top left corner of this sheet music cover:

These are the songwriters I consider the best of their kind, listed in alphabetical order with one of their many memorable songs:




Singers from the Past

I believe these are the songwriters and singers who should be celebrated for their considerable talents. Why?  Because they were among the best at what they did. Naturally others can be named as well but this is my list of essential songwriters and singers.

They wrote and performed songs about living life to the fullest, the joys and the sorrows. Songs like the poignant "I'll Be Seeing You" during World War II, or "You Belong To Me," the melancholy hit that was playing on jukeboxes in 1952.  

These older popular songs still evoke deep emotional responses from listeners of all ages, even in today's cold and cynical world.

So, let's continue to celebrate these great vintage songwriters, songs and singers from the past.

--Roger Hall, President, The American Tune Lovers Society

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"High Hopes" - A Centennial Tribute to Sammy Cahn


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National Carry A Tune Week 2001 - 2004


See the list of composers and songwriters
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Tunemaker Hall of Fame


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100 Essential American Songs of the 20th Century



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