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Songs of Love, or Lions or Licorice ...

September 17, 2002|JIM PATTERSON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — It happens every time Jeff Green and his wife go out to listen to music. They hear an unfamiliar song, exchange a look, then pull out notepads and pens.

"Some people collect cuckoo clocks," Green said. "Some people collect movie posters. We collect songs, and then classify them."

Green and Lauren Virshup publish "The Green Book of Songs by Subject." It's a more than 1,500-page monument to obsession that's as fun for music fans to breeze through as it must have been tedious to produce.

We're talking more than 35,000 songs divided into more than 1,800 categories. Love songs alone take up 147 pages, sorted into subgroups such as "Crushes" and "Don't Want to Break Up."

The book--used by disc jockeys, libraries, public speakers and basic popular-music geeks--has sold more than 20,000 copies since the first edition was published in 1982. The fifth edition ($64.95) was published in May through Green and Virshup's Professional Desk References company.

"Aside from its absolutely inestimable value in tracking down all manner of music information, this tome appeals to people--like Jeff Green and me--who have a lifelong tendency toward records trivia," said Adam White, a public relations executive at Universal Music International.

Parts of Green and Virshup's home south of Nashville are dominated by "The Green Book." (Backups of the database are kept at "a secure location" in case disaster strikes their home.)

One room is packed with computers and notes about songs, and boxes of "The Green Book" are stacked in the garage.

Green, an executive editor at the Radio & Records music industry trade magazine, dashes about the room flush with nervous energy. A pack rat, he still has loose-leaf binders full of song lists from the days he kept records by hand.

"I used to go into Tower Records at Columbus and Bay [streets] in San Francisco, and I would actually copy down names of records," Green said. "Then I'd go to the library and listen to the songs, and figure out where they fit."

"The Green Book" was born the day the king of rock 'n' roll died. Green was at the microphone at KSFS radio station at San Francisco State University on Aug. 16, 1977.

"Word came over the wire that Elvis Presley had passed away, and we only had one record of Elvis in the college library," he said. "I found a greatest hits album, and after I played it I still had another hour and a half to go.

"So I started thinking about everything about Elvis: Vegas and Memphis and Cadillacs and doughnuts and songs that people had done about Elvis. I played everything I could think of, and then ... people started calling in and making suggestions. I was able to find a number of those songs."

A fellow deejay asked for suggestions for a show featuring car songs, and another list was born. Green has been compiling song lists ever since. He married Virshup in 1993, and she got seriously involved in the book in 1997.

"It started on recipe cards," Green said. "At that time a computer was way out of my league, financially.... It worked its way into a binder, and then a lot of binders."

Green considers each lyric, and frets about misinterpretations. Peter, Paul & Mary's "Puff, the Magic Dragon" was listed under the "Drugs: Marijuana" category, but Green later removed it after determining that this popular assumption wasn't shared by songwriters Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton.

There's also the sheer volume of songs. Green concentrates on prominent artists and songs but invariably goes astray.

"There's more in the database than there is in the book," he said. "We just couldn't physically cram more pages into it without going to a really expensive printing process.... We have 147 pages of love songs. It could have been 14,700.

"But we wanted to at least give people a place to start. If they want to find a song to dance to at a wedding, they can go to devotional love songs. There are 200 there to choose from."

Envisioned as a book for music industry professionals, "The Green Book" has become popular in other fields.

"We sold a copy to the San Diego Padres, National Public Radio and ABC News," he said. "Public libraries and schools have been good customers. Then there's the ministry angle. A number of churches want to use secular music to reach their congregations. Music therapists have bought it, and mobile deejays who do parties and weddings. Many teachers find it useful."

Green would like to bring the database to the Internet for a subscription fee, or a CD-ROM, if it can be protected from piracy. His Web site is at www.greenbookof songs.com.

"There are thousands of albums released every year, so we never really will catch up," he said. "In a sense, I don't have to worry

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