Today brings news of the death of Andy Williams at the age of 84. I suspect most of those saddened by this news are near Williams' own age, but I liked Williams' singing and more generally have always enjoyed the American popular music that preceded and for a while coexisted with what became rock music. The obituaries rightly note Williams' association with the great Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini song Moon River and the popularity of his Christmas specials and music. One of the Christmas albums my parents enjoyed playing when I was growing up was Williams' 1974 Christmas Present, a lovely album featuring almost exclusively religious carols. But Williams sang much more worth listening to, such as a vocal version of Hugo Winterhalter's hit from the '50s, Canadian Sunset, itself reminiscent of the great Big Band music of the 1940s.
Today, of course, no one sings like Andy Williams, and no one writes songs like Moon River or Canadian Sunset. Which is a shame. The tsunami of rock has flattened all before it, obliterating music that is simply pleasant, as Williams' was. Or perhaps drowned it out. Rock music is often liked because it is loud, and many of those who go to rock concerts have learned to bring earplugs with them, something that would have astounded all previous generations of concertgoers There's a reason Spinal Tap wanted speakers that go to 11. What passes for popular music today, from rap to Lady Gaga, scarcely qualifies as music, and many of today's top stars cannot sing and barely pretend to, relying instead on various forms of technical wizardry to transform their meager talent into something at least some people can listen to. Give me an Andy Williams any day over that.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.