In this warm and affectionate book, William Zinsser, author of the best-selling classic On Writing Well, describes his lifelong love affair with American popular song and the American musical theater. These are the words and melodies that are as familiar to us as the flag, so firmly ensconced in our mental topographies that they have become part of our standard literature, songs adopted and adapted by generations of performers, jazz singers, and musicians, deeply lodged in the memory of everyone who has ever heard them.
All the Things You Are, Star Dust, Over the Rainbow, Laura, Stormy Weather, Some Enchanted Evening, Someone to Watch Over Me, My Funny Valentine — the tunes are as “easy to remember” as breathing, but how were they written? What stars and what shows were they written for? Who were the men and women who wrote them? What makes the songs so good? Zinsser answers these questions. Starting with Show Boat in 1927, he provides a comprehensive overview, telling his story through the lives and careers of the great composers and lyricists: Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren, Jule Styne, Frank Loesser, Stephen Sondheim, and many more.
Zinsser writes from an intimate knowledge of the songs, as a scholar of the American musical theater, and as a pianist-performer himself. The result is a book unlike any other in its authority, insight, and detail. Written with the author’s usual elegance and humor, supported by lyrics that instantly bring back the songs and their emotional associations, Easy to Remember is handsomely illustrated with rare photographs of the songwriters and with sheet music covers of the songs they wrote — one of America’s gaudiest forms of poster art. With indices, song lists, and an extensive bibliography for show-tune aficionados, this is going to be the standard bedside reference for anyone who has ever found themselves seduced by this great American art form.
Visit the author’s website at WilliamZinsserWriter.com
Praise for Easy to Remember
The main reason to read this ‘one man’s tour’ of the subject is that Mr. Zinsser is an engaging tour guide. He is not a trained musician, though in that regard he is in good company, if you think of self-taught songwriters like Irving Berlin, who could play the piano in only one key, Fiction-sharp. Mr. Zinsser learned to play his beloved songs by ear. He still does not read music. He’s a genuine fan who sweeps you along with his enthusiasm for songs like ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,’ the best remembered moment, he notes, of the Judy Garland film ‘The Harvey Girls.’ As always, Mr. Zinsser, who may be best known for his widely used books on writing, is a beguilingly plain-spoken writer.
—Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
Illustrated with sheet music art and photographs, the book eloquently testifies to why the great American popular songs are so beloved: they are easy to remember.
A lovely book about the Golden Age of American popular music and song. I keep it on my piano and dip into it now and then for inspiration. The sheet music covers alone are worth the price of admission.
—Frank Conroy, author and pianist
William Zinsser is the author of On Writing Well and fifteen other books. His many writings on music include Mitchell & Ruff, an acclaimed profile of the pianist Dwike Mitchell and the bassist Willie Ruff that is a masterpiece of jazz reportage and informal biography. He teaches at the New School in New York city, where he lives with his wife, Caroline Zinsser