Styles & Forms | Sixties Pop Singer-Songwriters

The term ‘singer-songwriter’ tends to be applied to the kind of introspective, socially conscious artist who – in the wake of the folk-inspired movement that was kick-started by Bob Dylan in the early 1960s before peaking in the next decade – performs in a direct yet reflective manner, emphasizing the song’s message over style or calibre of presentation.

This is hardly an all-encompassing description, however. Following in the footsteps of 1950s luminaries ranging from Chuck Berry to Paul Anka, there have also been legions of more pop-oriented singer-songwriters, whose chief aim is to entertain rather than advocate ideas or indulge in self-analysis. Throughout the 1950s, singer-songwriters ranging from Paul Anka to Buddy Holly produced music whose primary aim was to entertain, and even if there was social commentary in the songs of Chuck Berry, self-analysis and radical ideas were never on the agenda. Accordingly, the early 1960s heralded yet another wave of pop-oriented singer-songwriters.

Having made the switch from writing ‘Stupid Cupid’ for Connie Francis to experiencing success in his own right with ‘Oh Carol’, Neil Sedaka started the decade with a string of solo hits, co-composed with Howard Greenfield: ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Calendar Girl’, ‘Little Devil’, ‘King Of Clowns’, ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’. Among the most saccharine material created by the teams of young composers housed inside New York City’s Brill Building, Sedaka’s songs consisted of memorably catchy melodies constructed around lyrics relating to the ups and downs of teenage love. Such concerns were perfectly suited to the pop market of the era, as proven by smooth, self-penned numbers such as Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid’, ‘Wonderful World’, ‘Another Saturday Night’, ‘Having A Party’, ‘Good Times’, ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ and ‘Shake’, as well as the more melodramatic work of another 1950s carry-over, Roy Orbison.

Numbers That Were Carefully Crafted

In 1960, when the Orbison/Melson composition ‘Only The Lonely’ was rejected by Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers (who had scored a hit with their rendition of ‘Claudette’, written by Orbison for his wife), the singer/guitarist who had struggled as a rockabilly artist decided to record the song himself. The result was a chart-topping single in the UK, which narrowly missed out on matching that feat in the US. Thereafter, ‘The Big O’ demonstrated his remarkable vocal range in a succession of heavily produced, often doom-laden ballads and mid-tempo numbers, which were carefully crafted to suit his powerful voice and mysterious image. Distinguished by sweeping strings and striking crescendos at a time when much pop music was fairly lightweight, songs such as ‘Running Scared’, ‘Crying’, ‘Blue Bayou’, ‘It’s Over’ and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ were Orbison co-writes, while ‘Leah’, ‘Workin’ For The Man’ and ‘In Dreams’ were his own solo compositions.

In 1963, Roy Orbison toured Britain with The Beatles, whose self-contained writing team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney subsequently made the transition from the boy-loves-girl/boy-loses-girl innocence of ‘Please Please Me’, ‘From Me To You’, ‘She Loves You’ and...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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