May sound like a bad law firm…

… but this “gang of five” — Nelson Riddle, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Connick Jr., Natalie Cole and Diana Krall  — were the central characters in revival of the American Songbook that took place back in the 80’s, 90’s and into the early 2000’s … they were the foundational players in the Vocal Standards slow but inexorable return to popularity.

It’s easy, sitting here today, to forget that it was not that long ago that Pop music walked away from the Great American Songbook … turning it’s back on the icons that dominated the music and entertainment industry for more than three decades.

Today…

…the music that Frank, Dean, Sam, Ella and their many contemporaries drove to the apex of popularity from the 40’s on into the early 70’s is again a white-hot genre.

Classic greats like Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Jack Jones, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson, and Buddy Greco are still on the scene and they have been joined by Michael Bublé, Rod Stewart and a cornucopia of next generation, cross over and emerging artists … making the Vocal Standards/American Songbook genre a hugely popular and dynamic neighborhood.

But it was not always such a hospitable place for the vocal standards. The world changed while nobody was looking and what was cool and swinging during the Rat Pack years lost it’s mojo in the mid 70’s. The 80’s and 90’s were twenty tough years for the American Songbook with no assurance of ever again regaining the high ground of prominence and popularity … a long, hard path back to the spotlight.

Nature simply took it’s course…

There are a lot of reasons why pop music wandered away from “the standards”, but it really all boiled down to the natural process of entropy and evolution.

Things change … they always do. Listener preferences evolve, new technology emerges, performers age — their voices change, artists retire or die. It’s a “force of nature” thing … nothing remains static. No matter how great things are today, they will be different tomorrow … for the better or the worse we don’t know, but change nearly always arrives sooner than we expect or are comfortable with!

Even though many of the Rat Pack era greats still performed regularly into the 80’s, and the next generation of talented standards artists (Michael Feinstein, Frankie Randall, James Darren…)  stepped up to the plate to take their swing at pop music stardom, the Beatles, Elton John and their contemporaries changed the music game in the 70’s and redefined popular music for the next generation.

It’s an age old story … what’s popular today eventually becomes anachronistic to the next generation, and we saw that play out with the standards. The music that Frank, Ella and friends had driven to amazingly popular heights in the 50’s/60’s had fallen from the pinnacle and was considered uncool through much of the 80’s … really into the early-mid 90’s.

I’m absolutely NOT saying the music died … far from it. Classic era artists (Frank, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, Ella, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett …) continued on to various degrees of success and new vocal standards performers plied the American Songbook turning out wonderful music.

But sadly the audience had shrunk to a fraction of where it was in the glory days. This great music no longer resonated with the broad pop music listeners of the day.

But then something unexpected happened. Stop by Monday for part two of this article — The Way Back…

[Sorry for the multi-part rollout. There’s no intent to artificially build suspense. Rather what started as a nice tight topic blew up to a 2000+ word monstrosity on me, and I think it might be better consumed in 3 parts.]

 

 

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