Cover image for Songwriters : a biographical dictionary with discographies
Songwriters : a biographical dictionary with discographies
Harrison, Nigel, 1960-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, [1998]

Physical Description:
ix, 633 pages ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML102.P66 H47 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room-Reference-Music

On Order



Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter.... This is a comprehensive guide to 1,054 composers and lyricists (in English) from all the popular genres, including Tin Pan Alley, rhythm & blues, country & western, jazz, rap, and film and show tunes. Each artist's entry includes birth name (if different), date and place of birth, principal musical genre, main instruments played (if any), a short biography, a list of compositions, a list of long playing albums or CDs (with year of release, record label and peak chart position) and any noteworthy compilation albums. Artists are cross-referenced with musical group and co-writers, when applicable, and the final section of most entries is an alphabetical list of every known chart version of any song written by that particular artist since 1890 (when Billboard first compiled a pop chart).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Harrison pays tribute here to the people without whom there would be no songs to sing --1,054 composers and lyricists of popular nineteenth-and twentieth-century song in the U.S. and United Kingdom. Inclusion criteria are commercial or critical success, or influence on other songwriters or performers. Performance artists who write little of their own work are not listed. Alphabetically arranged by name, entries note dates and places of birth and death (if applicable), birth name (if it was later changed), and primary profession (e.g., rock producer, pop vocalist, C&W guitarist). Career summaries that range from a sentence or two to a lengthy paragraph give the essentials in an engaging manner. Composers from all genres of music are represented, including Tin Pan Alley, country, rhythm and blues, rap, rock, blues, jazz, and stage, among others. The longest part of each entry lists chart compositions by song title, date, and peak rank on U.S. and U.K. charts; albums by title, date, and rank; compilations; and hit versions of the subject's works by other performers. For some composers, such as Irving Berlin or Burt Bacharach, entries can run more than two pages. The real strength of this work is these chart listings; no other reference work provides such detailed information gathered under the original songwriter's name. For longer biographies of songwriters, patrons may be referred to David Ewen's American Songwriters (H. W. Wilson, 1987), or more general works, such as The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music [RBB Ap 15 96]. An excellent index to songs, albums, people, and groups mentioned within entries allows one to find who wrote Bird in a Gilded Cage, or to determine the front man for the group Simply Red. For all music reference collections.

Library Journal Review

This large volume claims to be "the first comprehensive guide to English-language composers and lyricists" of popular songs of the 19th and 20th centuries. Harrison, a former reporter for Billboard, compiles over 1000 entries with biographical information, discographies, and peak chart positions (both British and American). While covering a wide range of popular song (excluding instrumental music), including folk, country, R&B, gospel, blues, and jazz, he is strongest in the rock and popular music fields. The biographical information tends to be quite brief, with most entries consisting primarily of discographical information. Although there is some overlap with the second edition of the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (LJ 12/95), as would be expected, there are many entries here for songwriters not found in that set. Consequently, this would be a welcome addition to most music reference collections.‘Michael Colby, Univ. of California, Davis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Harrison's quirky, somewhat troublesome addition to the popular music reference shelf has entries for more than 1,000 composers and lyricists from the 19th and 20th centuries who have shaped popular music in the English language. "Popular" is interpreted broadly to include the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Chuck Berry, Steven Foster, Peter Seeger, and the multitude of Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths one would expect. Any such subjective compilation will miss songwriters that seem to meet the author's criteria of "those individuals or partnerships who have been either commercially successful, as well as those who have ... had an influence on other songwriters or performers." The author's attempt in the preface to define "popular music" and break it into subcategories is not an encouraging start. Mistakes, unsupported contentions, and sweeping statements in the introduction further put one on guard. Harrison's understanding of popular music's history and makers seems superficial. The biographical material for each entry is not extensive, in some cases even omitting dates, but the writer's principal coauthors are included. The bulk of each entry consists of each writer's "hits," both single songs and albums, including highest US and UK chart positions. The latter part is the most problematic, since no reliable chart information exists before 1950, unless one uses figures from Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, 1890-1954 (1986), whose data have been called into question. Songwriters might be worth using for occasional obscure who-wrote-that-song questions, but will not necessarily say who made a song popular. The book is not without merit but is to be used with caution. J. Farrington; Eastman School of Music