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Book Review

 

 

THE SONGS OF HOLLYWOOD
by Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson


Oxford University Press,
Hardcover, 2010.
Paperback, 2012.
270 pages + x

 

This is the one of better books available discussing how songs were used in Hollywood films over the years. They are basically divided into two categories, which the authors classify as: integral songs and performance songs.

With an appealing colorful hardcover dust jacket the book is packed full of factual information, yet at the same also very readable and extremely well organized. It is thoroughly researched, with notes and full credits given in the back of the book.

Yet there are a few quibbles I have to mention.

My first one would be the many black & white illustrations included within the text. They are much too tiny (only about one inch each way). And there are lots of them -- about 200. Why print them so small? It would have been more useful and appealing to have a few pages of full, half or quarter page pictures including maybe a few in color. Besides, many of the illustrations in THE SONGS OF HOLLWOOD are from well known Hollywood musicals so they can be seen elsewhere. It was unwise to include these small black & white pictures which are smaller than found on most film web sites.

The second one, common among books having more than one author, would be to ask -- which author wrote what part of this book? Philip Furia, a professor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, has written several well received books on American songs, including biographies of Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin and Johnny Mercer. It states on the book jacket that for the other author, Laurie Patterson, professor in the Department of Computer Science at the same university as Furia, this is "her first book." What did she contribute to the writing of the book? I don't think there need be any shame or embarrassment to fess up to who wrote what part of their book. But, in any case, this does not detract in any way from the perceptive and polished style of the writing. Both authors have done an outstanding job in the preparation of the book.

As far as the book itself, it is made up of chapters titled after well known Hollywood songs.

Roughly half the chapters are devoted to films from the late 1920s (Chapter 1: You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet) to the end of the 1930s (Chapter 7: Over The Rainbow). This may seem like too much space given to a relatively short time span, but less has been written and is known about the early years of Hollywood music, especially the 1920s, so it is justified to devote more space (153 pages) to the 1920s and '30s. I believe the most interesting chapters are the ones about the Busby Berkeley Warner Bros. musicals (Chapter 4) and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals at RKO (Chapter 5).

There are also an ample amount of song lyric excerpts and quotes from those who knew the songwriters. For example, a revealing quote from song lyricist Al Dubin's daughter speaking about her father working with songwriter, Harry Warren. She is quoted as saying that they,

"were loyal to one another, accepted each other's faults, foibles, eccentricities, and pecularities...neither of them ever spoke a bad word about the other, and, although they did not meet socially, they stood tight against the injustices and inequities of the studio and quickly learned to defend themselves as best they could." (page 79)

The remaining three chapters cover a lot of territory.

Chapter 8 (Blues in the Night) covers the 1940s, while the 1950s are covered in Chapter 9 (Singin' in the Rain), and also in Chapter 10 (Something's Gotta Give).

That leaves Chapter 11 (All That Jazz) to cover the Hollywood songs from the 1960s till the present day -- and all in a mere 22 pages! Obviously, that is not enough space to adequately cover so much music. The fast run through mentions a few films from the 1970s (AT LONG LAST LOVE), 1980s (PENNIES FROM HEAVEN), 1990s (EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU) and more recently (WALL-E from 2008), but they only skim the surface from these decades which, though not milestone years for Hollywood songs, still deserve more space. It might have been better to end the book in the 1950s or perhaps go to the end of the 1960s. After that, Hollywood songs became much less memorable, at least until being revived in the Disney animated films like THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which oddly are hardly even mentioned.

The paperback edition is essentially the same book and unfortunately those black & white illustrations are still the same small size and none of them have any captions. I assume they were used to break up the text on the pages but instead the illustrations are more distracting than appealing.

For any movie or music fan, THE SONGS OF HOLLYWOOD is a good read and sure to provide much worthwhile information, more for the early years than the more recent Hollywood songs.

--Roger Hall, 21 April 2010/revised 21 February 2013

THE SONGS OF HOLLYWOOD
by Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson

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