THE SINGER/SONGWRITER TRADITION

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The singer/songwriter genre flourished from the late 1960s, when popular music as a whole took on a softer cast, to the mid-1970s. These artists--generally performing their own material (Tom Rush, who interpreted the work of other contemporary singer/ songwriters, was a notable exception to this rule)--often appeared as soloists, employing either a piano or guitar for accompaniment. This spare mode of presentation helped facilitate an aura of directness which differentiated them from legions of other soft rockers.

Singer/songwriters for-the-most-part evolved out of two genres: Tin Pan Alley pop and post-Dylan folk music. The former category included Carole King, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, and Laura Nyro; the latter such notables as Rush, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Cat Stevens. Paul Simon straddled both camps.

The appeal of these artists was largely built on the cult of personality. The most successful singer/songwriters (e.g., Young, Taylor, Browne, Simon) were able to reflect change under pressure as well as a growing awareness of inner concerns. This self-absorption stood in stark contrast to the universal idealism of the preceding era's universal idealism. Many of the folk interpreters espousing the latter perspective appeared unwilling--or unable--to evolve into the confessional realm. Many of these artists--e.g., Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Gordon Lightfoot--lost career momentum when folk era values no longer held the attention of the mainstream pop audience. Other artists were unable to sustain a high level of conceptual creativity regarding the expression of personal feelings. Carole King and Cat Stevens both enjoyed extraordinary success in the 1971-72 period, but suffered a severe drop-off in popularity shortly thereafter. King, in particular, remained a first-rate tunesmith; she simply appears to have lost the ability to hold the attention of many fans who'd found Tapestry to be full of fascinating insights.

Most of the singer/songwriters who tasted early stardom, however, retained a sufficiently large enough following to continue to release new material at regular intervals. The genre's decline in popularity during the 1970s was largely a product of the shortfall in new talent.

 

Top Artists and Their Recordings

Jackson Browne--Jackson Browne (1972); For Everyman (1973); Late For the Sky (1974); The Pretender (1976)

Tim Buckley--Tim Buckley (1966); Goodbye and Hello (1967); Happy Sad (1969); Lorca (1970); Blue Afternoon (1970); Starsailor (1971); Greeting From L.A. (1972)

Cockburn, Bruce--Dancing in the Dragonís Jaws (1980); Humans (1980); Stealing Fire (1984)

Leonard, Cohen--Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968); Song From a Room (1968); Songs of Love and Hate (1970)

Nick Drake--Five Leaves Left (1969); Bryter Layter (1970); Pink Moon (1972)

Tim Hardin--Tim Harden 1 (1966); Tim Harden 2 (1967); This Is Tim Hardin (1967); Live in Concert (1968); Tim Hardin 4 (1969); Suite for Susan Moore and Damian (1970)

Ian, Janis--Janis Ian (1967); For All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967); Stars (1974); Between the Lines (1975)

Carole King--Now That Everythings Been Said (1969); Writer (1970); Tapestry (1971); Music (1972); Rhymes and Reasons (1972); Fantasy (1973)

Joni Mitchell--Joni Mitchell (1968); Clouds (1969); Ladies of the Canyon (1970); Blue (1971); For the Roses (1972); Court and Spark (1974)

Van Morrison--Blowin' Your Mind (1967); Astral Weeks (1968); Moondance (1970); His Band and Street Choir (1971); Tupelo Honey (1971); St. Dominic's Preview (1972); Hard Nose the Highway (1973)

Randy Newman--Randy Newman (1968); 12 Songs (1970); Live (1971); Sail Away (1972); Good Old Boys (1974)

Harry Nilsson--Harry (1972); Nilsson Schmilsson (1973)

Phillips, Shawn--Faces (1972); Bright White (1973); Furthermore (1974)

Tom Rush--Tom Rush (1970); Wrong End of the Rainbow (1971); Merrimack County (1972)

Carly Simon--Carly Simon (1971); Anticipation (1971); No Secrets (1972); Hotcakes (1974)

Paul Simon--Paul Simon (1972); There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973); Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)

Cat Stevens--Matthew and Son (1967); New Masters (1968); World of Cat Stevens (1970); Mona Bone Jakon (1970); Tea for the Tillerman (1971); Teaser and the Firecat (1971); Cat Bull at Four (1972); Foreigner (1973)

James Taylor--James Taylor (1968); Sweet Baby James (1970); Mud Slide Slim (1971); One Man Dog (1972)

Neil Young--Neil Young (1969); Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969); After the Goldrush (1970); Harvest (1972)