Recording artists and wanna-be artists reach a point in their careers when they decide to tackle what's broadly called "The American Songbook." That is a genre or group of songs that seems to take off in the late 1920's with Broadway reviews, grew in the 1930's with Broadway and film scores, and reached its climax and ultimate decline with great interpreters like Sinatra, Ella, Nat King Cole, and other fine singers. But this was the era of change and rock and roll was poised to take over. A few classic songs were on the charts--"Unforgettable," one of the last songs with meaningful lyrics and beautiful styling, and re-makes of classics such as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, this time by the Platters. But there was a new King named Presley, not Cole or Sinatra, and in the next decade, the Beatles would assume the mantle. With our splintering popular taste there would never be another King or Queen of popular music. Lo, these many years later, pop music and idols have regressed to such lows that "lyrics" and singers are interchangealbe, and amazingly, dully the same. Singers like Willie Nelson and Barry Manilow have dipped into the American Songbook with varying success. Perhaps the nadir of this trend can be found in Rod Stewart's popular series "The Great American Songbook." One benefit of Stewart's gutting is a renewed interest in the songs themselves. People are discovering that they can be sung better, much better. MORE LATER.