Standards Revisited

Brian C. Poole
29 min readJan 16, 2022

To call a song a “standard” conjures certain associations.

An instantly recognizable melody. Words everyone knows (or thinks they do). Songs that you hear many times, in many contexts, performed in a variety of ways.

The word “standard” might conjure images of songs from a prior generation; timeless gems from the big band era, 20th century stage musicals, or golden age film musicals. As musical styles have developed, changed and diffused, songs with origins in popular genres have achieved the status of standards, from the catalogues of rock icons like Elvis and the Beatles, Motown staples from the Supremes or Temptations, or the classic run of a Brill Building writer like Carole King.

These songs are probably being performed somewhere in the world at the moment. A bar singer with a guitar, a wedding band trying to pump up a crowd, or an amateur in a community talent show. A contestant on one of the numerous TV talent competitions. A famous performer throwing a song everyone loves into their latest set.

Standards permeate the culture. They turn up again and again different media. Performers keep coming back to them.

Following are some contenders for the status of modern standards.

“A Case of You”

ORIGINAL: Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)

Written by: Joni Mitchell

The beating heart of the landmark Blue, the LP that perfected the template for the singer/songwriter album, “A Case of You” has, over the decades, grown into a key work; other artists tend to regard “A Case of You” with something approaching religious reverence. Like many of Mitchell’s compositions, the melody is deceptively simple, with chord progressions and dynamic shifts so subtle that many listeners might not track them. The vocal arrangement requires familiarity with the conventions of jazz and blues as much as those of rock, pop and folk. And the lyrics are wistful and lacerating in equal measure, weariness married with unkillable optimism. It’s a standout even on an album regarded as a modern masterpiece, and while never a hit single, it’s become deeply respected.

Brian C. Poole

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting