Cover image for The poets of Tin Pan Alley : a history of America's great lyricists
The poets of Tin Pan Alley : a history of America's great lyricists
Furia, Philip, 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
ix, 322 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS309.L8 F8 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS309.L8 F8 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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From the turn of the century to the 1960s, the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley dominated American music. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart--even today these giants remain household names, their musicals regularly revived, their methods and styles analyzed and imitated, and their songs the bedrock of jazz and cabaret. In The Poets of Tin Pan Alley Philip Furia offers a unique new perspective on these great songwriters, showing how their poetic lyrics were as important as their brilliant music in shaping a golden age of American popular song.
Furia writes with great perception and understanding as he explores the deft rhymes, inventive imagery, and witty solutions these songwriters used to breathe new life into rigidly established genres. He devotes full chapters to all the greats, including Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstain II, Howard Dietz nd E.Y. Harburg, Dorothy Fields and Leo Robin, and Johnny Mercer. Furia also offers a comprehensive survey of other lyricists who wrote for the sheet-music industry, Broadway, Hollywood, and Harlem nightclub revues. This was the era that produced The New Yorker, Don Marquis, Dorothy Parker, and E.B. White--and Furia places the lyrics firmly in this fascinating historical context. In these pages, the lyrics emerge as an imporant element of American modernism, as the lyricists, like the great modernist poets, took the American vernacular and made it sing.

Author Notes

About the Author
Philip Furia is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Pound's "Cantos" Declassified and many articles on the relationship between American poetry and modern art and music.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

They really don't make songs like the standards of Tin Pan Alley anymore. The 32-bar "ballad" is the thing of an era that began with ragtime and ended with rock 'n' roll. It spawned myriad distinctive melodies and a body of sophisticated, vernacular verse as striking as the songs of Burns and (Thomas) Moore, as prosodically diverse as the effusions of cummings and (Marianne) Moore. Furia refers to both those modernist icons--implying pop-song influence upon them as he does--while analyzing the felicities of rhyme and diction in lyrics by Berlin, Hart, Gershwin, Porter, Mercer, and an array of lesser lights who collectively transformed the sentimental popular song of the fin de siecle into a form full of verbal and tonal wit. Taking their cue quite literally from ragtime syncopation, these lyricists "ragged" words for surprising and delightful effects that Furia takes equal delight in disclosing. The author's love and enthusiasm for his subject, and also the fact that you can't help humming while reading, make this the rare book of literary criticism that is downright enjoyable. Truly, "the age of miracles ha[s]n't passed." Notes; to be indexed. ~--Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

America's greatest tunes were composed by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers, among others, but, as this popular/critical survey demonstrates, those who wrote the words for these songs were equally important figures. Furia, a Univeristy of Minnesota professor of English, perceptively assesses the styles and careers of such masters of light verse as Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Howard Dietz, Yip Harburg and Al Dubin, and of two--Irving Berlin and Cole Porter--who were proficient in both words and music. He concludes with an anomaly, the country boy of Savannah, Johnny Mercer, whose blend of earthiness and elegant urbanity made him one of the few lyricists who could skillfully set to words the jazz melodies of Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Readers who can hum ``Puttin' on the Ritz'' or ``Anything Goes'' and who know the musicals Show Boat or Oklahoma will appreciate Furia's study of the lyrics of the ``great standards.'' These lyrics, he argues, contributed almost as much as the melodies to a ``golden age'' of popular song, spanning the 1920s to the 1950s. Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, and Cole Porter are among those whose work is examined, but because Furia tries to survey so many writers, we get only hasty glances at each, and the prose tends to bog down in laborious analyses of rhyme scheme, alliteration, and assonance, making this read like a Ph.D. dissertation.-- Paul Baker, CUNA, Inc., Madison, Wis. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Furia (English, University of Minnesota), author of Pound's "Cantos" Declassified (CH, May'85), looks here at American light verse as it is fitted to the patterns of music. Although not so comprehensive in his treatment, he does for words what Alec Wilder did for music in American Popular Song (CH, Nov'72). Covering 1900 to 1960, he chronicles in a well-written and interesting way changes from the Victorian sentimental ballad through ragtime and blues to the rigid 32-bar AABA format that persisted until the rock revolution in the 1960s. He emphasizes lyrics from stage and movie musicals and the work of ten lyricists: Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, Howard Dietz, Yip Harburg, Dorothy Fields, Leo Robin, and Johnny Mercer. He also gives briefer treatments of a dozen more and furnishes examples of each lyricist's verse. Endnotes include bibliographical references; the index restricts itself to names and titles. There are no illustrations. Although primarily a record of one aspect of show business, the book is a good history of American popular culture. Thus it will be useful in general collections as well as those concentrating on popular literature or music or the performing arts. -R. D. Johnson, SUNY College at Oneonta