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CRITICS' CHOICES

POP MUSIC
LYRIC APPEAL

Jack Yellen's lyrics for "Happy Days Are Here Again" helped to elect Franklin Roosevelt president in 1932 long before they helped to launch Barbra Streisand's career. His lyrics for "Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah, Ga.)" immortally introduced us to a woman so stony she liked to "pour water on a drowning man." Add to Jack Yellen's "Then I Wrote" list that old vaudeville weeper "My Yiddishe Mama," "Sweet and Hot," "Down by the O-HI-O" and "Ain't She Sweet."

Total it all up and you have one of the more raffish lyricists in American popular song. If Harold Arlen is, far and away, the most prominent pop music figure in Buffalo history, Jack Yellen isn't far behind. And now, to pay tribute to his music this weekend, we have that rarest of rare birds, Ian Whitcomb -- British pop music scholar, performer and enlightened lunatic.

Those with long memories (or a scholarly appetite as daft as Whitcomb's own) will remember his crazed falsetto on the 1965 novelty record "You Turn Me On," a No. 8 hit of the time whose title and heavy breathing actually caused it to be banned in some places. After two years of the rock life, Whitcomb got off the tour, wrote a classic book called "After the Ball -- Pop Music From Rag to Rock" and began his second life as one of the great performer/chroniclers of American popular music. He has, in his time, been a Los Angeles disc jockey, a record producer for the likes of Goldie Hawn and Mae West, and a character actor (he has a small role in "Contact"). The rare meeting of Whitcomb and Jack Yellen happens at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo State College's Rockwell Hall, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

-- Jeff Simon

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