Having produced all of the Ella Fitzgerald song books (Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser and others) and researching hundreds of songs, I have a pretty good idea of what the great songwriters created.
I should like, therefore, to comment on a point that Charles Champlin made in his paean to Jerome Kern ("Remembering a Master of Melody: Jerome Kern," Feb. 2).
With all respect to Kern as a great melodist, I submit that he is not in the same class as George Gershwin in quality--and certainly not in quantity. Even when he had Ira Gershwin as lyricist, his songs were not as strong as George Gershwin's.
Incidentally, one good way to judge a song harmonically as well as melodically is to see how many jazz musicians choose a tune to improvise on (variations on a theme), and the Gershwins' music is favored by far over Kern's.
Thanks to Charles Champlin for his mention of the Jerome Kern album containing songs by Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter. However, his reference to the album as "not for sale" is incorrect. In addition to being included in a five-record set distributed by the Welk Music Group, the album is available separately under the title "Sing Me a Kern Song" at local record stores.
Dodd Records, Studio City
LIKE AN INSULT I was insulted by John Hiatt when he said in PopMeter that Tom Kelly and I should be put in jail for having written "Like a Virgin" (PopMeter, Jan. 27). I have been writing songs for 16 years and "Like a Virgin" is one of my favorites.
I have a challenge for Mr. Hiatt: I will submit five songs on cassette to PopMeter, and I will include lyric sheets. If he will do the same, your panel of judges may then compare and rate the songs.
Hiatt says he actually said the writers of "Like a Virgin" should be put in "songwriter jail"--as in Albert Brooks' line in "Real Life": "What are they going to do, put me in movie jail?" Nevertheless, he accepts Steinberg's challenge, under the condition that since it is musical material, not the performance of it, that is at issue, he would want the submitted songs to be ones covered by other artists. Steinberg couldn't be reached at press time, but Robert Hilburn himself already is assembling the panel.