Saturday, September 17, 2005

Strouse and Adams, Book I

I keep planning to write a post about the songwriting team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy, Superman) and why they are my favorite songwriters of the "second generation" of Broadway composers and lyricists that emerged in the mid-to-late '50s. It's a generation that included Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Cy Coleman, Kander and Ebb, Bock and Harnick, and so on, and so on; a crop of talent worthy to succeed the Old Masters like Rodgers, Hammerstein, Berlin, and Porter.

Strouse and Adams may have been the very best of that generation when it came to songs that instantly stick in the mind and touch the heart, songs that are comparable to Berlin's or Rodgers and Hammerstein's in their direct, universal appeal. Almost every song in Bye Bye Birdie is like that, and there has never been a more beautiful ballad in a Broadway show than their "Once Upon a Time" from All American. They didn't have many hit shows, and in fact Strouse's biggest hit show was written without Adams (Annie, a good score, but written with a lyricist, Martin Charnin, whose work doesn't compare to Adams's). But they were, and are, one of the great songwriting teams.

As I said, I keep meaning to write a long post about their career, but I haven't had time yet. In the meantime, here is the text of an online chat with Lee Adams where he talks some about his and Strouse's work, and gives a surprising choice as their best score. And here are some more excerpts from the lyrics from the show that, in my opinion, is their best score, Golden Boy (here is some background information on that show). First, the first refrain of one of the moodiest, saddest songs ever written, the hero's "Night Song":

Summer, not a bit of breeze.
Neon lights are shining
Through the tired trees.
Lovers, walking to and fro,
Everyone has someone and a place to go.
Listen--hear the cars go past.
They don't even see me,
Driving by so fast.
Moving, going who knows where.
Only thing I know is,
I'm not going there.
Where do you go
When you feel that your brain is on fire?
Where do you go when you don't even know
What it is you desire?
Listen -- laughter everywhere.
Hear it -- life is in the air.
As the night comes
And the town awakes,
Sounds of children calling
And the squeal of brakes.
Music -- but a lonely song,
When I can't help wondering,
Where do I belong?

And from later in the show, one of the most sheerly happy songs, a song about intangible joy (not an easy thing to write about in anything resembling concrete images, but Adams does it), "Can't You See It":

Can't you see it?
It's clear as it can be;
It makes a sunny beam of light
That seems to follow me.
Can't you hear it?
Sopranos ev'rywhere,
A chorus of the choicest voices
Singing in the air.
It makes the soot underfoot flash like diamonds,
And ev'ry cop dances by like Fred Astaire.
Can't you see it?
It's blazed across the sky!
If you can see it,
You're as happy as I.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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