24 Comments

  1. Caulfield stated an opinion as fact, then commented about separating opinion and fact. Frazz asked whether what he’d said was opinion or fact. Caulfield answered by stating a number of teams he thought were factually better…to be charitable he and Mallett might have realized that was undermining his point (Frazz’s comment is ambiguous, but seems to point that way, at least for Mallett), but…it really did. (I think I’d probably agree if I knew who Collingwood and Schlesinger or Holland-Dozier-Holland were, but still…)

  2. Building on what Kamino Neko said, Caulfield thought those teams were objectively best. Frazz shows that that’s just opinion by preferring one that Caulfield likely wouldn’t.

    BTW, I was at a total loss before KN’s post. Thank you.

  3. OK, googling, Frazz’s comment is a touch less out of the blue…Collingwood and Schlessenger are the main songwriters for Fountains of Wayne…so yeah, Frazz’s comment definitely feels like ‘well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man’, so I’m satisfied that Mallett is aware Caulfield’s cutting off his own legs here.

  4. Lennon& McCartney wrote more than 30 top ten hits. Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote more than 20 (most of the hits of the Supremes, Four Tops, and many others), as did John/Taupin, albeit over a much longer period. Collingwood and Schlesinger once wrote a song that almost cracked the top 20, but you’d have to be irrationally fond of “Stacy’s Mom” to even suggest that C&S are a better writing team than the others (or King/Goffin, for that matter). Nonetheless, C&S are recognized as good songwriters (and Adam Schlesinger in particular– how many songwriters have been nominated for a Grammy, Oscar, Tony, AND an Emmy?)

    So with that background in mind…
    Caulfield makes a claim that he expects a songwriter like Frazz to object vehemently to, but does so hoping its shock value will illustrate the real reason behind his own indignation. Frazz refuses to get riled, and responds with his own somewhat ridiculous response. Caulfield responds with the songwriting equivalent of “well, duh,” prompting Frazz’s sarcastic reply. I’m not at all surprised that Frazz (or Mallett) likes Fountains, but I’d be stunned if he really would think that C&S were better than L&M.

    Anyway, I found it funny, but I can understand why it would be a CIDU for others.

    Here are three rather diverse Adam Schlesinger songs:

  5. @beckoningchasm – inspired by your comment about hits of the 1060s and 70s, I can think of “Marrakech”, “I am William the Conqueror I Am” double-A side with “One In The Eye For Harold”, “Song Dynasty Blues”, and Omar Khayyám’s “365.24219858156 Days Without You Feels Like A Year”.

    (Apart from the Norman Conquest in England I am not all that au fait with 1060s and 70s history, so researched this comment in a not very successful attempt to extract some LOLs, and found that Marrakech was indeed founded in the 1060s and in 1079 Persian astronomer Omar Khayyám computed the length of the year to be exactly 365.24219858156 days, the most accurate calculation of his time.)

  6. I don’t think he’s necessarily a Fountains of Wayne fan. I think the point is that Collingwood and Schlesinger are obviously NOT the best songwriting team ever, despite it being stated, and the other three – who are much more serious contenders – show that.

    BTW: How about Rodgers and Hammerstein? I’m from the rock era, too, but popular music didn’t start with Elvis.

    And speaking of Elvis: Leiber and Stoller.

  7. Caulfield is attempting to troll Frazz, to make a point.

    The point he wants to make, however, is undercut by the fact that he’s chosen to apply his point to a category where it doesn’t really apply.

    Stating opinion as fact is a great American pastime, sometimes intentional, sometimes not, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.

    But some questions don’t have a single objective answer. By adjusting your assumptions a little, you can get different answers.

    To use the example given, is the greatest songwriting team the team that produced the greatest song, or the team that produced the best body of work? When if they split up or developed difficulty working together or one or more of them died prematurely? What if the “team” is really one guy, and someone else was in he room? Are Lennon/McCartney in the same category as Davies/Davies?

    And then.. what if the team did some great work, but put out some stinkers, too?

    The right answer to the question changes as you adjust your assumptions about what “greatest” and “songwriting” and “team” really mean.

    Finally, of course, there ARE people for whom their opinion is true fact, and anything that disagrees with their opinion is “fake news”.

  8. Lieber and Stroller is another great songwriting team.

    Rodgers and Hammerstein were a great writing team, but (at least to the best of my knowledge) but focused strictly on musical theater, I wouldn’t really consider them writers of popular music per se, but the certainly wrote music that was popular. Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, and Frank Loesser all had success in both the theater and in popular song. And then there are Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, …

  9. ‘Finally, of course, there ARE people for whom their opinion is true fact, and anything that disagrees with their opinion is “fake news”.’

  10. I wonder if Caulfield/Mallet aren’t also conflating hyperbole with opinion. I don’t think *anyone* not even Caulfield are of the opinion Collingwood and Schlessinger *are* the best songwriting team ever. If push come to shove, if asked, “Honestly, is it really your opinion that C and S is better than Rogers and Hart and Lennon and McCartney?” he’d have to answer “Well, no, but I personally like them better right now for personal reasons.”

    Or even if he does personally think they are better it’s more because the “greats” are so great he’s deliberately not looking at them like a fish doesn’t look at water.

  11. Over at GoComics, there are a variety of other pairs nominated.
    Just mentioning these will probably set tunes off in your heads:
    George and Ira Gershwin
    Moss and Hart
    Simon and Garfunkel (erroneously; Garfunkel didn’t write with Simon)
    Gilbert and Sullivan (the very model of a modern major duo)
    Rodgers and Hammerstein
    Lerner and Lowe
    Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn
    Becker and Fagen (Steely Dan)
    Rimsky and Korsakov 🙂

  12. I don’t see how “best songwriting team ever” can be anything but opinion. How do you measure it objectively?

    Do you count teams that had only a few collaborations, like Mozart and da Ponte, or only those who worked together for many years? (How many years? Enough to disqualify Lennon / McCartney?)

    Does it count if the lyricist is anonymous? Does Bach and whoever wrote the words to the B Minor Mass qualify? And what about Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis? Does that make it a menagerie a trois?

  13. Yes, that’s where Caulfield is wrong. Just because an opinion is obviously incorrect doesn’t make its inverse a fact.

    @ja: In the era of Porter and the Gershwins (and Hammerstein & Kern), musical theater was a vehicle for popular song. There really wasn’t a distinction between “music for the stage” and “popular music”. Almost every popular song of the era debuted on the stage. Only when swing bands and the big crooners (Crosby, Sinatra, etc) came along did radio and records become the primary vehicles for popular music.

  14. “Only when swing bands and the big crooners (Crosby, Sinatra, etc) came along did radio and records become the primary vehicles for popular music.”

    This is the type of thing media historians would know but I’d even say the swing bands and crooners didn’t lead the radio and records (there were of course records of cast recordings) as vehicles but that it took time for records and radios to saturate and reach vehicle status and when the did so was the age of swing bands and big crooners. Or more likely that acceptance of radio and record as vehicles allowed for the concept for name performers to be a thing.

    I have to admit I thought distinguishing “musical theater” from “popular music” was very strange.

  15. The point you made JP is one we’re always trying to make with our son. He likes to ask what’s the biggest (or smallest or best or most famous or any other -est) thing, and we have to explain that some of those qualifiers are opinion, and some (like biggest) depend on how you define it (tallest, longest, largest volume, largest area, etc.)

    I think that’s mainly the lesson Mallet was trying to convey here, too.

  16. @Powers & Woozy
    I agree that pre-WWII (or at least pre-“Showboat”) musical theater was largely just a way of putting together a series of popular songs (often lacking in thematic and musical cohesion and often even taken from multiple sources and writers).. And so it is not surprising that people like the Gershwins, Berlin, and Porter writing songs used both in and outside of musical theater. But that is not what the modern musical became after Rogers and Hammerstein raised the bar significantly with “Oklahoma.” And it is the reason why almost none of those pre-WWII musicals (save “Showboat”) are ever revived today.

    The modern musical requires a number of techniques and skills that are not necessarily required for writing pop songs. The lyricist is either also the librettist or must work with the librettist to achieve a continuity and consistency in the story. While there are certainly songs that are meant to stand out with melodic and lyrical hooks, there are other songs that are mainly intended to advance the plot and aren’t intended to be the tunes you walk away humming (not entirely unlike how opera uses arias and recitatives). Musical motifs are used and repeated, often serving as themes tied to characters. There is incidental music that serves to enhance the drama and emotions not unlike movie music. And often, the same general melodic structure is used for songs from two different characters and then woven into a duet.
    In the modern (that is, post-WWII musical (not necessarily the contemporary musical). Furthermore, the songs of a musical are intended to be dramatically presented, and the drama and acting is part of what makes the song compelling.

    In writing a pop song, you don’t (typically) have to worry about any of that. The song structures that are used are often different as well (although that was less the case for the first half of the 20th century). In a pop song you tell your story in the course of a song. It’s a different mindset. At least it is to me (an amateur songwriter, who has least played around with the idea of writing a musical). Now of course, there are crossovers. There are concept albums by pop musicians that try to tell a story. We have writers for musical theater who try to use pop forms. Some of these crossovers are more successful than others.

    And pop music goes back way before even the advent of recordings or the start of musical theater in the late 19th and early 20th century. By the middle of the 19th century, marketing music to the masses was a big business that involved not only the publishing of songs and sheet music, but also the creation of musical instruments that simplified playing music. Some of Stephen Foster’s songs had sales in the millions of copies of sheet music. Music stores and even department stores employed song pluggers who would perform pieces to promote them, and play pieces at the demand of customers so they could hear what the sheet music they were considering buying sounded like (I believe both Gershwin and Kern got their start as song pluggers). And then we have minstrel shows. vaudeville and burlesque. And coming from the other direction we had operettas. All of these things influenced the eventual development of musical theater as something more respectable than minstrel shows and burlesque but less highbrow than operettas.

    And the crossovers continue today. Due to the ever-increasing costs associated with producing a Broadway show, and the risk associated with trying something entirely new, we’ve seen the rise of the “jukebox musical”– a musical constructed to take a group of related pop songs, and combine them with enough a narrative to create a story (e.g., “Jersey Boys,” “Beautiful,” etc.).

    I’ve babbled long enough. I wasn’t trying to say that other people shouldn’t think of writers for the musical theater as popular songwriters– i just see it as a different type of writing process both musically and lyrically. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rogers and Hammerstein, but if you asked me to come up with a list of the greatest writers of popular music, I probably would not even consider listing them. But that’s just me. However, if you ask me about the best writers for musical theater, and they would be at or near the top of the list.

  17. Yes, but Caulfield didn’t say best popular music song writing team. He just said best song writing team. It wouldn’t even occur to me to limit it to one sort of song over another. If anything I’d think of theater music songs before I’d think of popular songs because they have legs.

  18. The Objective Right Answer™ is Ashford & Simpson. (Though I will nod non-judgmentally at McFadden & Whitehead).

  19. @woozy
    I’m not limiting by type of song– I’m limiting by type of writer and the writing process.

    “Songwriting” (at least to me) generally connotes a relatively informal writing process. Things are seldom written in notation– the output is often just a lyric sheet with chords, and maybe a scratch recording for future reference (I think I read somewhere that Lennon & McCartney made a deliberate decision to NOT record their initial versions: if the melody of the song wasn’t memorable enough for them to remember it a week or two after writing it, it wasn’t good enough).

    Writing for musical theater during its golden age was a much more disciplined and formal type of writing. From a musical standpoint, I see it closer to formal composition than it is the typical songwriting process.
    What Richard Rogers did strikes me to be more similar to composition than it is to what I think of as songwriting. He is closer to Mozart than he is Bob Dylan (based on the writing process and type of work produced; this is not in anyway supposed to be a judgement of artistic value). And Hammerstein is closer to a playwright than he is a pop lyricist. What R&H did together wasn’t merely songwriting, it was something more. At least to my way of thinking.

    That distinction is fuzzier today, but even so, if PBS had a special program that was a songwriters’ circle featuring some of the greatest living songwriters talking about songwriting and swapping songs, I would be extremely surprised to see Stephen Sondheim or Steven Schwartz in the group. But “Send in the Clowns” and “Corner of the Sky” are definitely great songs…

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