A debut encyclopedia celebrates famous and obscure pop songwriters of the 1960s.
Dunbavan, a British musician and songwriter, wants to applaud the writer’s craft rather than the singer’s. He therefore includes only songwriters who mainly did not perform their own work but did pen tunes that made it into the Top 40 charts in America or Britain. Applying these criteria to the ’60s, when the singer/songwriter came to dominate music, leads to a somewhat haphazard selection that leaves out Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and many other luminaries of the era to focus on a dwindling number of professional pop composers. (The Beatles do get in thanks to a handful of forgotten tunes they wrote for other bands.) But there’s a good roster of legendary songwriting teams, including Burt Bacharach and Hal David, scribes of jaunty classics like “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”; Carole King and Gerry Goffin, authors of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and other anthems of teen-girl yearning; Motown mainstays Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier; and Phil Spector, who had his thumb as co-writer or producer in countless ’60s hits. The tireless Dunbavan also unearths unsung figures like Phillip Goodhand-Tait, who managed to get three songs onto the British charts, topping out at No. 6 with 1968’s “A Day Without Love.” Each entry includes lists of the songwriter’s charting hits, covers, and rereleases and biographies of several pages, with detailed accounts of how successes were composed and recorded. These thoroughly researched, gracefully written essays contain a wealth of information for scholars and aficionados, including anecdotes from the hit factory in Manhattan’s Brill Building, where songwriters plonking away in their cubicles could barely hear their own tunes above the din of others’, and well-judged critical appreciations. (The author toasts Bacharach’s “unconventional and shifting time signatures, polyrhythms, asymmetrical phrasing, and complex harmonies which stretched even the most accomplished vocalist.”) Fans of hits from the sublime (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ”) to the ridiculous (“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”) should have their memories jogged and their interests piqued.
An intriguing and informative compendium of lore about a great pop-music canon.