22 Songs that Write Themselves from The Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary

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Sammy Cahn was a songwriter in the classic American mold. Raised Samuel Cohen by Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York City, Cahn cut his chops as a musician in Bar Mitzvah bands, Atlantic City hotels, and Catskills resorts before penning the English lyrics for “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” a breakout hit for the Andrews Sisters. With collaborators Saul Chaplin, Jules Styne, and Jimmy van Heusen, he went on to write some of the best-known lyrics of the '40s, '50s, and '60s, including “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “My Kind of Town,” “All the Way,” “Love and Marriage,” “High Hopes,” “Come Fly With Me,” and “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”

He had a way with the vernacular and knew the difference between a rhyme and a singable rhyme. As he once said, “if the word orange is unrhymable, locksmiths is unsingable. And singability is the difference between a poem and a lyric.” He also said, “I am often asked, 'Which comes first—the words or the music?' I answer that what comes first is the phone call asking you to write a song.”

In 1983 Cahn decided to share some of his secrets with aspiring lyricists when he published The Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary. The dictionary is arranged by vowel sound and number of syllables. While usual rhymes like moon/June are scattered through the lists, the true genius of the book is in pairings like better half/telegraph. Even the mundane lists have some kickers mixed in: remember, December, September, November, dismember. The words are not arranged alphabetically, but by what seems to be the most suggestive plotline. The lists are essentially songs that write themselves. Here are 22 songs just waiting for a melody from Sammy Cahn’s rhyming Dictionary.

1. Vis-à-vis, Muscovy, eau-de-vie, c’est la vie, anchovy

2. Mildewy, St. Louis, chop suey

3. Anywhere, billionaire, debonair, Delaware, everywhere, millionaire, overbear, questionnaire, rocking chair, savoir faire, solitaire, thoroughfare, unaware, underwear

4. Percussion, concussion, discussion

5. Insulted, consulted, resulted, exulted

6. Chatterbox, paradox, orthodox, Goldilocks, chicken pox

7. Scuttlebutt, hazelnut, butternut, coconut

8. Undershirt, introvert, extrovert

9. Caliber, caliper, massacre, lavender, calendar, islander, pillager, villager, manager, voyager, challenger, passenger, messenger, scavenger, publisher, polisher, punisher, nourisher, Britisher, copier, connoisseur, amateur

10. Reproduce, introduce, Syracuse, charlotte russe

11. Sandbox, strongbox, jukebox, mailbox, pillbox, hatbox, smallpox, ham hocks

12. Avant-garde, bodyguard, boulevard, disregard

13. Iliad, iron-clad, ivy-clad, myriad, Leningrad, Trinidad, undergrad

14. Disbander, left-hander, Icelander, demander, expander, meander, philander, commander, withstander, Laplander

15. Bourgeoisie, chimpanzee

16. Annabel, Isabell, Jezebel, citadel, infidel, parallel, nonpareil, undersell, oversell, carousel, cockleshell

17. Dominoes, decompose, recompose, predispose, indispose, Irish rose

18. Shuffleboard, overboard, open-doored, unexplored, harpsichord, clavichord, overlord, diving board

19. Pentecost, Holocaust, double-crossed

20. Overjoyed, alkaloid, unemployed, asteroid

21. Myrtle, fertile, turtle

22. Vestibule, Istanbul, April fool, molecule, ridicule, Sunday school, swimming pool

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August 28, 2013 - 12:15pm
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