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Did Rock Die When Elvis Went In the Army? (NY Times)

Tue Nov 01, 2005 7:41 pm

Elvis figures into this discussion....
'Always Magic in the Air': The Bomp and Brilliance of the
Brill Building Era
, by Ken Emerson, Penguin, 2005

Leaders of the Pack: Who Says Rock'n'Roll died When Elvis Went Into
The Army? Not the Hitmakers of the Brill Building

Review by JIM WINDOLF, New York Times, Book Review,Oct. 30, 2005 ... ndolf.html

Rock 'N' ROLL died toward the end of the 1950's, when Elvis Presley got his G.I. buzz cut, Little Richard found religion, Chuck Berry was arrested, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash and Jerry Lee Lewis drove his fans away by taking his 13-year-old cousin as his bride (while still married to his second wife). The music that replaced the supercharged version of rhythm and blues made by those men was polished and faintly ridiculous, but it ruled the airwaves until the Beatles set things aright by scaring off all rock 'n' roll pretenders with their primitive-seeming mop-top energy.

That's how the myth goes, anyway. It's a version of the truth that the veteran music writer Ken Emerson punctures in "Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era."

Emerson's book tells the story of the New York songwriters who came up with "Be My Baby," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Stand by Me," "Up on the Roof" and "On Broadway," among many, many others. It makes a nice case for the distinctive sound these songwriters created in the interlude between Presley's sailing off to Bremerhaven and the Beatles' touching down at Idlewild.

The hitmakers of "Always Magic in the Air" worked in small offices at the Brill Building itself, 1619 Broadway, or else up the street, under the watchful eye of the hustling music publisher Don Kirshner and his business partner, Al Nevins, in an unnamed building at 1650 Broadway. Thirteen of the 14 songwriters considered here were born or raised in New York City (9 in Brooklyn, 3 in Queens, 1 in Manhattan). Thirteen were Jewish and they all knew from a catchy hook, even to the point of driving listeners insane (e.g., "Da Doo Ron Ron"). They got into music either because their mothers made them take piano lessons (Neil Sedaka) or because they wanted to transcend the rumpus of living in a cramped apartment (Doc Pomus).
Leiber & Stoller with Elvis

They formed seven songwriting pairs. At the Brill Building were the elder statesmen Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; the classically trained Burt Bacharach and his expert word man, Hal David; the blues-besotted Doc Pomus and his polymathic co-writer, Mort Shuman; and the more strictly pop-oriented husband-and-wife duo of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Working at Kirshner's stable were two more husband-and-wife teams: Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, as well as King's old high-school-days pal, the melody god Sedaka, and his lyricist, Howard Greenfield. Once they "became keenly conscious that they were writing records, not songs," as Emerson puts it, the majority of them doubled as producers and arrangers.

As New Yorkers, they had a musical palette perhaps broader than that of the wild men of rock 'n' roll's earlier days, drawing their inspiration not just from rhythm and blues but also from classical composers, Irving Berlin, "West Side Story," Hank Williams, doo-wop, bebop and, especially, the Latin music they danced to at the Palladium Ballroom (at 1698 Broadway). Doc Pomus called his work for the Drifters "Jewish Latin."

Although they worked in the manner of white-collar drones, their music was often as charged as anything else in pop, Emerson argues. And while their main goal was to hack out hit singles for teenagers, they created an enduring, particularly New York brand of rock 'n' roll. "They enriched it not only with a Latin savor but also with strings and echoes of classical music," he writes. "Working with black artists such as the Drifters, Ben E. King and Dionne Warwick, they helped create modern soul music and gave it an uptown urbanity."

The author has little patience for the "authenticity" argument. Citing two current acts who have recorded Bacharach-David songs, he writes, "However disparate their music, Clay Aiken and the White Stripes are equally pop." In the same vein, he notes that Presley himself scored No. 1 hits with songs ("Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock") written by Leiber and Stoller, and that, early on, the Beatles recorded Goffin-King's "Chains." Later British invasion bands, who, myth would have it, put an end to the Brill Building style, also made hits from material cranked out at 1650 and 1619 Broadway.

"Always Magic in the Air" is a second rescue mission of sorts for Emerson, a former articles editor of The New York Times Magazine. His first book, "Doo-Dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture," traced the gnarled 19th-century roots of American pop music while telling the hard-luck tale of the underappreciated, politically inconvenient songwriter who gave the world "Oh! Susanna," "De Camptown Races" and "Old Black Joe."

Fascinating characters lurk in the narrative's periphery, among them the mad-genius producer Phil Spector, a pre-stardom Tony Orlando and Irving Caesar, the lyricist of "Tea for Two." Bob Dylan makes a funny cameo appearance. It takes place backstage at Carnegie Hall, in October 1965, after he had played a well-received show. Goffin, a lyricist who felt "like a dwarf" compared to Dylan, approached the rising singer-songwriter, "shook his hand and said, 'You've got a right to be very proud of yourself.' 'I do?' Dylan deadpanned."

A generous but sometimes plodding writer, Emerson takes flight when describing the cosmopolitan musical mixtures that defined the best work of the Brill Building set. When the Drifters' baritone Ben Nelson (soon to go solo as Ben E. King) presented his producers, Leiber and Stoller, with a song he had just written, "There Goes My Baby," Emerson reports, the Brill Building partners "heard something new that Nelson had never imagined. They heard strings." And not just any strings, but strings with a Russian flavor. They also heard a Brazilian baion beat as it had been used in the theme song to an Italian film, "Anna." Before "There Goes My Baby" was recorded, Emerson writes, "no one had ever been so audacious as to wed the Italian bastardization of a Brazilian samba to an ersatz Russian string orchestration on a rhythm-and-blues record by an African-American quartet."

With as many major players as "War and Peace," the author strains at times to squeeze them all into his 334 pages. His most vividly drawn character is probably Pomus, who was born Jerome Felder in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and stricken with polio at age 6. He played clarinet, alto saxophone and a baby grand piano that was "the only decent piece of furniture in the house," his brother, the celebrity divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, told Emerson. As a fat teenager on crutches, he underwent a superhero-like change into Doc Pomus one night in a Greenwich Village tavern, when he belted out Big Joe Turner's "Piney Brown Blues" before a late-night crowd. He later wrote a song recorded by Ray Charles, the mournful "Lonely Avenue," before teaming up with Shuman.

RCA/BMG in France issued this 2-CD compilation in 2000

"Always Magic in the Air," which gets its title from "On Broadway" (written by Mann-Weil and Leiber-Stoller), is full of new reporting. Emerson interviewed 10 of the 11 living Brill Building-era songwriters, as well as family members and friends of the three no longer with us (Pomus, Shuman, Greenfield). Only Carole King seems to have turned him down. Is this why Emerson gives short shrift to her remarkable transformation from second-billed songwriter to mega-selling singer-songwriter in the 1970's?

Until this book, the story of these interrelated songwriters had been told in piecemeal fashion, via memoirs, magazine articles and four separate documentaries for the A&E network's "Biography" series. Here we get the whole tale in a single entertaining package. The book has less drug taking, sex and money than the usual pop music history. But there's definitely more bowling, babies and mah-jongg.

Jim Windolf is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

Tue Nov 01, 2005 10:47 pm

First generation rock and roll was already dying by 1958.

But ROCK never died.

Thanks to the Brill building people ROCK was turning into POP or PAP if you prefer.

Fortunately the British revolution came along and gave ROCK the kick in the guts it needed.

Tue Nov 01, 2005 11:02 pm

the brits came, then rock 'n roll got screwed and turned into the folkie revolution.

i way much prefer the stuff of the early 60s motown/california beach/pop than the damn singer/songwriter hippie avant garde lsd-induced artsy fartsy you don't have to have a remotely decent singing voice to make music, etc... crap. :roll:

yes, i think the beatles were the ones that kicked the last nail in rock 'n roll's coffin.

it was the old guys in vegas and on tour that were the only ones left singing the real stuff. it may have been bloom in june or whatever, but that was what it originally was about. it didn't need messages. it was about the voice portraying the american dream--that yearning. back when how somebody sang the song actually had more importance than the song itself. the way it was put across.

can you tell i'm not a folkie?

Tue Nov 01, 2005 11:28 pm

KiwiAlan wrote:First generation rock and roll was already dying by 1958.

But ROCK never died.

Thanks to the Brill building people ROCK was turning into POP or PAP if you prefer.

Fortunately the British revolution came along and gave ROCK the kick in the guts it needed.

Then you reject the work that Elvis did with such Brill Building writers
like Leiber & Stoller or Pomus and Shuman?

I used to buy into the idea that the early '60s were all pap, but lately
this idea is harder to defend. From an article I recently posted on the
Four Season by the New York Daily News' David Hinchley: ... 1411c.html

Somewhere in rock 'n' roll lore you can still find the remarkably wrongheaded notion that nothing happened between Elvis joining the Army on Aug. 4, 1958, and the Beatles singing for Ed Sullivan on Feb. 9, 1964.

In between, goes this view, real rock 'n' roll died and every song was sung by Fabian, who couldn't sing.

It's a tidy way to capsulize six years. But it's nonsense. The forces set in motion by Elvis, Chuck Berry and their fellow pioneers spent those years simmering and incubating. Artists like Paul Simon, Phil Spector and Bob Dylan and groups like the Beach Boys, the Temptations, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were working under the radar, getting good

So were the Four Seasons.....

And as the same author has pointed out before, so was
James Brown.

So it's not as simple as even "This Is Elvis" painted the arrival
of the Beatles in New York ...

Such shorthand probably is unlike the sampling of Perry Como's
"Hot Diggity" in the same movie and "Elvis '56" as a way to paint
anything before Elvis and before rock as patently uncool.

Don't get me wrong: both the Beatles but also the Stones really
brought back rock to its rootsier and basic origins and then
took it elsewhere, but it's a disservice to not appreciate the pop
of the early '60s. And make no mistake: nearly all rock is by
definition "pop" as well as making use of pop trends and inflections.
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Tue Nov 01, 2005 11:46 pm

It never died. It just evolved into a million different off-shoots. To say what came out of the Brill Building, finer than any post-Pepper pretension is pap, is a philistine. This was a rich and deep era and did NOT need saving by the British Invasion which launched more wimp rock acts on the world than even the teen idol era. That Herman's Hermits, gosh they were a buzz saw.

This was the era that saw Dion release "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer" among other classics. Even a love ballad by this guy could be tough as in "Little Diane" he promised to slap the girl's face. The Four Seasons, Beach Boys both started their career and made great records in this era and were far ahead of the British acts in terms of musical sophistication when those acts finally landed. Ricky Nelson kept rockabilly alive in the Top 40 with "Hello Mary Lou", "It's Late" and others. The Motown acts made their first appearances as well. And much of the early Motown stuff like the Contours "Do You Love Me" and Barrett Strong's "Money" was edgier musically than the more famous hit stuff. This was also the period when Ray Charles hit with "What'd I Say" and in very early 1959 "Night Time is the Right Time" two of the raciest records ever to hit. Charles also hit in 1961 with "Hit the Road Jack".

This was the birth of soul- Jackie Wilson, Charles, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Solomon Burke the Motown gang, the Drifers. It was the great era of rock instrumentals. It was also the great era of the New Orleans sound and doo wop. There were probably more hits in either style during these years than any other era in rock. Arguably, this was an era when the charts really did open to African-American performers. A number of blues artists like Bobby Bland and Etta James actually found their (admittedly well-crafted) records in the Top 40.

Plus there were all sorts of great one and two shots like Wilbert Harrison, Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford, Ronnie Hawkins, Bobby Lewis, the Fendermen, Wanda Jackson, Dee Clark. This isn't even bothering to include the rowdy US Bonds who had a series of hits or acts that later became superstars like the Isley Brothers who tore it up in 1962 with "Twist and Shout."

And the original stars of rock did not disappear or at least completely. Elvis focused more on pop and ballads but still gave "Little Sister", "Return to Sender" and "Big Hunk O' Love". Chuck Berry in 1959 released the twin classics "Almost Grown" and "Back in the USA" and in 1960 "Let it Rock." Fats Domino had a string of hits including "Whole Lotta Loving", "I'm Ready", "Shu-Rah", "My Girl Josephine" and "Let the Four Winds Blow." The Everlys did "Walk Right Back", "Cathy's Clown", "When Will I Be Loved" and "Til I Kissed You." Even Jerry Lee made the Top 40 again with a fine remake of "What'd I Say". The Coasters came up with the VD classic "Poison Ivy" and two of their most wayout numbers in "Shopping for Clothes" and "Little Egypt" the latter a Top 25 single. Bo Diddley a pioneering rocker had his only Top 50 hits in this time- "Say Man" #20 1959 and "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover" #48 1962. He also did his wonderful "Bo Diddley is a Gun Slinger" album.

And to dismiss the Girl Group stuff is the height of sexism. This is the most well-crafted and emotionally resonant music in all of rock and roll. It could be vulnerable and innocent like "He's So Fine" which still retained a back beat or tough and sexy like the "Da Doo Ron Ron" with its pounding Hal Blaine drum fills and La La Brooks practically salivating on the line "Yes He looked so fine."

Even more this music was often in advance of the British music in terms of production and lyric style and sophistication. Look at Shep and the Limelites first rock opera carried on from some records leader James "Shep" Sheppard did with his first group the Heartbeats. Look at Spector sound or the harmonies of the Beach Boys or all of the above in the Four Seasons records.

None of this even mentions the singular vision of Orbison and Del Shannon whose legends are nearly completely locked in this era.

Without these sounds you definitely would not have a Bruce Springsteen.
Last edited by likethebike on Wed Nov 02, 2005 1:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 1:05 am

dion's runaround sue (one of my favorite non-elvis songs), various stuff of the supremes, the beach boys, the righteous brothers...

oh god, i love doo wop...coolest stuff ever.

and there were some amazing ballads too.

as i said, the british invasion killing the pap is a lie. they were the pap.

gimme the oldies classics that weren't touched by them--and quite a few of these well-known hits are the so-called "pap" years. phewy. that's the hippie folkies trying to make their heroes sound cooler. once they diss motown, beach music, soul, doo wop etc...they usually start to talk smack about elvis.

and yes, i like "it's my party" and such. that's the stuff i grew up on.
Last edited by Elvis' Babe on Thu Nov 03, 2005 6:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 2:04 am

You can gauge the quality of work done in that era by looking at only two factors. First is how much the songs from that era figured into the early Beatles and Stones playlist. "Anna", "Cry to Me", "Please Mr. Postman", "Poison Ivy", "Chains", "Twist and Shout", "You've Really Got a Hold on Me", "Baby it's You", "Fortune Teller" etc. Philly DJ and RB collector Raleigh James has often expressed the sentiment that the Beatles merely refried the American Pop and R&B of the previous 5-10 years and fed it back to us. Interestingly, many of the British Invasion would find immense chart success in the mid-60s with hits from this era that the audience missed the first time including' "I Like it Like That", "Do You Love Me", "Wonderful World", "Love Potion #9", "Twist and Shout" etc.

The second thing you can look at is the number of performers who came of age in that era who did not go belly up when the Beatles landed. The Miracles, James Brown, Gene Pitney, the Four Seasons, Brenda Lee, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, the Marvelettes among others all continued to score hits deep into the British Invasion with Top 30 entries as late as 1969. Sam Cooke was also a performer who rolled through the first year of the British Invasion without missing a beat. Unfortunately a bullet stopped him. This is not to say that the performers who did stop having hits were not worthy. But it does dispute the idea that the Beatles washed all the existing pop away. Even a minor talent like Bobby Vee, who was damaged by the British Invasion, was able to get it back together for a string of mid-60s hits.

I would argue by the way that even in the case of a Ricky Nelson or Fats Domino that other factors were in play than the British Invasion. Most pop performers even great ones have a chart span of between 2-7 years. Only huge superstars generally escape that span. It's just possible that many performers were at the end of the span.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 3:02 am

Oh-h-h-h, LTB, your posts are RIGHT ON!!! I agree with them entirely. Those artists you mentioned are ones that I dearly love!! Beach Boys, Orbison, Four Seasons, Ricky Nelson, Fats, Dion, Coasters, the Motown group, Soul!!!!!! Absolutely wonderful, fantastic, satisfying, sensational sounds!! All of them!!!! I love writing here because I can use fragmented sentences and lots of exclamation marks and no one complains!!! LOL :lol: :lol: :lol:

Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:55 am

Some of you have trouble defining musical terms.

Rock and Roll
POP Rock

are four separate entities.

Rock and roll was dead by 1959 - ROCK or POP ROCK contiued.

To minimise the effect of the British influence including The Beatles and THe Rolling Stones is to deny reality.

Motown was in no way ROCK and ROLL.

Ricky Nelson was a POP ROCK singer - to include him with the ROCK and ROLL pioneers such as Haley, Berry, Little Richard, Elvis etc is ridiculous.

If anyone could be held to blame for the demise of ROCK and ROLL look no further than ASCAP!

Wed Nov 02, 2005 5:33 am

Your definition of rock and roll is too small.

John Fogerty and Bob Dylan have no problem with listing Nelson among the rock pioneers. He was virtually the only performer performing straight up rockabilly from 1958 onwards. The guitar sound James Burton developed on his records was amongst the most singularly influential in all rock music. He had one of the most respected bands in the business, his music drew heavily on Carl Perkins and the Sun sound. His music fits every one of the defining characteristics except rebellion and it was never just all about rebellion. Elvis and Chuck Berry etc. were rebels as much by definition as by choice.

To place rock music in such a straight jacket minimizes its cultural importance and frankly robs the music of much of its vitality. Even from "Earth Angel" on, it was never just white guys screaming with guitars.

The people who say that Motown was not rock and roll are the ones denying reality. On what grounds can you say it is not rock and roll? When these artists were making this music, the artists defined themselves as rock and roll artists. By what criteria are "Do You Love Me? or "Going to a Go Go" not rock and roll? It's funny the Rolling Stones make the same song and change almost nothing in the arrangement and it's rock and roll. There is a direct line between these artists and say Little Richard and the Clyde McPhatter Drifters. You're really splitting hairs.

To say what you are saying is to say that Bobby Bland was not a blues singer because he did not sound like Robert Johnson or Charley Patton. Since his music was so melodic and orchestrated it had to be something else.

No one is minimizing the impact of the British Invasion. However, it has often been overblown. Some people want to inflate the importance of the first music they listened to and other people would not like to have consider black artists when addressing the great works of the 1960s. The British Invasion brought an incredible shot in the arm to the business and ultimately changed the business but it did not SAVE rock and roll. Nor did it wipe out the existing American pop landscape as has so often been stated.
Last edited by likethebike on Wed Nov 02, 2005 7:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 5:50 am

Well... We have someone who is really happy here... :)

Wed Nov 02, 2005 12:45 pm

Elvis' Babe wrote:the brits came, then rock 'n roll got screwed and turned into the folkie revolution.

i way much prefer the stuff of the early 60s motown/california beach/pop than the damn singer/songwriter hippie avant garde lsd-induced artsy fartsy you don't have to have a remotely decent singing voice to make music, etc... crap. :roll:

yes, i think the beatles were the ones that kicked the last nail in rock 'n roll's coffin.

Oh away with you and take a valium or something!



Wed Nov 02, 2005 12:52 pm

Elvis' Babe wrote:as i said, the british invasion killing the pap is a lie. they were the pap.

Now I grant you that a band like Herman's Hermits deserve to be called "pap".

But The Beatles? Lady, you need your ears syringing. The Beatles saved popular music. Things were pretty dire in the years while Elvis was in the army, Little Richard had forsaken rock and roll for the ministry, Chuck Berry in prison, and Buddy Holly passed away.

The Beatles gave it a much needed shot in the arm and, during their career, lifted popular songwriting to unforseen levels of artistry.

If you don't like 'em, fine, but to deny the talent of not only The Beatles, but the likes of The Kinks, The Stones, The Who, et al, is somewhat shortsighted in my view.

Music is a broad church and there's room for all kinds! Don't go confusing music you don't like with "pap" - because it ain't neccessarily the same!


Wed Nov 02, 2005 2:57 pm

Rock music didn't die while Elvis was in the army.

But it changed.

The powers-that-be decreed that it needed 'sweetening'.

The basic beat remained, but more subtle, and everything had to be drenched with syrupy strings.

When Elvis returned, and brought out Stuck On You, a simple, straightforward, rocking song, with just the usual small-group guitar/bass/drums backing, it was like a breath of fresh air !

Nothing was going to change our boy !

This feeling was soon dissipated when he shifted into ballad mode with hits like It's Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight and Surrender, but at least he still resisted having those pesky strings !

Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:23 pm

Familyjules wrote:
The Beatles saved popular music.

Aren't we going a little overboard with that bit of hero worship? Saved popular music? C'mon. :roll:

Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:28 pm

Terrific conversation here...! I've learned that some of the better
discussions that I had put in "Off-Topic" really do belong over here,
even if Elvis is only part of the overall thread.

It seems various oxes are being gored, so I can see that personal taste
is entering into this now.

I have long leaned toward what Kiwi is saying in favor of the "British
Invastion" but LTB and Colin B point out, it's just not that simple
anymore -nor was it ever.

Objectively, they did "sweeten" the sound in the early '60s, but
as the article points out, these were largely New York Jewish
songwriters (Leiber & Stoller, Doc Pomus, etc.)
also had classical training AND had an ear to what
was going on then in the black and Puerto Rican community.
To combine that was pure genious and we have to "deal" with it.
One may not like the Drifters but you have to admit it was quite
a concoction.


I originally posted only the link to Ken Emerson's own op-ed piece, but
here it is in full:

Here's the link to the similiar piece in the LA Times just penned by Emerson himself called: ... -headlines

The rock 'n' roll bridge:

Great music between Elvis and the Beatles

by Ken Emerson
Special to Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2005

In 1957 and 1958, rock 'n' roll took a tumble. Elvis Presley entered the Army. Jerry Lee Lewis was banned from the airwaves for having taken his 13-year-old third cousin as his third wife before his second divorce became final. Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash, Little Richard got religion and Chuck Berry was arrested for "motor-vatin"' across state lines with an underage girl.

Understandably, this plunged American record companies into a state of serious consternation. Rock 'n' roll hadn't been around very long, but its potential was already clear: When Presley entered and dominated the charts in '56, record sales rose by roughly $100 million from the previous year's $227 million. The market: roughly 13 million teenagers.

But if the interruption of these rock 'n' roll stars' careers was worrisome, it also provided an opportunity. After all, early rock 'n' roll had been a little unruly -- a little too dangerous, a little too black, a little too unpredictable. If profits were to be maximized, record companies realized, the market had to be consolidated and the product "commodified."

"All the major labels had people on staff who produced records," recalls songwriter and producer Richard Gottehrer, explaining that most of them were so incapable of re-creating rock 'n' roll that they had to say, "Oh, get those kids from down the street."

As often as not, "down the street" was the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway in New York City and another, nameless building a stone's throw away at 1650. Here, huddled in cubicles, songwriters including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich routinized the creation and production of rock 'n' roll in the late 1950s and early '60s.

They smoothed the rough edges of black R&B performers to help them appeal to a white audience, and they roughed up white performers just enough to create a tousled titillation. Reining in the unruliness of rock 'n' roll made it safe for teenage America and profitable in the mass marketplace.

The music of the Brill Building era is often disparaged as a dormant period between the eruption of Elvis and the British invasion that the Beatles spearheaded. Bob Dylan has dismissed it as "pretty sleepy" and "filled with empty pleasantries." Paul Simon once said that rock 'n' roll got "very bad in the early '60s, very mushy."

Yet such "empty pleasantries" as "On Broadway," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Walk on By," "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "Be My Baby" have proved extraordinarily perdurable.

King and Goffin's "The Loco-motion" has been a Top 10 hit single as recorded by three different artists in three different decades. Mann and Weil's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin"' (written with Phil Spector) is the most frequently played song in the BMI catalog (which includes the Beatles' greatest hits).

If these composers cranked out tunes on an assembly line, many of their widgets turned out to be masterworks of popular music.

Most of these writers were born in Brooklyn, virtually all of them were Jewish, and they enriched rock 'n' roll by widening its sphere of reference to embrace classical music (Bacharach studied with Darius Milhaud, Stoller with Stefan Wolpe), the Great American Songbook (Sedaka hung out with Irving Caesar, the lyricist of "Swanee" and "Tea for Two") and Broadway musicals (West Side Story helped inspire Goffin and King's "Up on the Roof").

Infusing with the music of their elders the music of their own age, they added string arrangements. And, at the peak of Puerto Rican immigration to New York City, they gave a Latin twist to African-American R&B. Much of their music rocks or sways to a cha-cha, "baion" or bossa nova beat. An enduring appeal of these songs is their racial and ethnic integration -- and how irresistible they make such integration sound.

The British invasion, the advent of the singer-songwriter and the rise of black-owned record companies such as Motown brought the Brill Building era to an end in the mid-1960s, yet all these events owed considerably to the tunesmiths of midtown Manhattan. Goffin and King were models of songcraft to Lennon and McCartney. Records such as "Lovin' Feelin'," "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" helped define modern soul music, black as well as blue-eyed. And the social consciousness of songs like "Uptown" paved the way for the protests of Dylan and his acolytes.

The music of the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway may not last, like the lovers' bliss in Pomus and Shuman's "This Magic Moment," "forever 'til the end of time," but it reverberates to this day.

[size=9]Ken Emerson is the author of "Doo-Dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture" and "Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era."

Two footnotes of my own:

*Interestingly, Burt Bacharach (writer of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, sung by B.J. Thomas- who himself first hit with "I Just Can't Help Believin' "....) just collaborated with Dr. Dre in his first
ever political album which is openly anti-Bush administration.

**From the article: " Mann and Weil's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin"' (written with Phil Spector) is the most frequently played song in the BMI catalog (which includes the Beatles' greatest hits)."
I'd forgotten: this song as done by Elvis is another link of the King
to the "Brill" era!
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Wed Nov 02, 2005 9:49 pm, edited 3 times in total.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:41 pm

No one has mentioned Buddy Holly. He was changing the direction of rock music with strings and beautiful melodies that influenced the Beatles.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:42 pm

EagleUSA wrote:Familyjules wrote:
The Beatles saved popular music.

Aren't we going a little overboard with that bit of hero worship? Saved popular music? C'mon. :roll:

OK, maybe that was a little emotive, but popular music would have been much the poorer without their contribution.


Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:43 pm

JLGB wrote:No one has mentioned Buddy Holly.

...except me!



Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:48 pm

familyjules wrote:
JLGB wrote:No one has mentioned Buddy Holly.

...except me!


Got it! :) But before his death he was already making the music more "adult" softer, but more complex at the same time. He was very influenced by Elvis in his vocals before he died.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 9:47 pm

Was it artificial sweetening Colin or a natural evolution? There's an article in the off-topic section about rock music being dead now. Well the reason it wasn't dead then is because every few years it reinvented itself. I think this was just the first reinvention and a lot of people missed it. How long could you go on with the sounds of 1955/1956? Ten years later, the same thing happened with folk rock and the initial British Invasion yet no one ever said rock was dead during that time although the move from "Maybellene" to "Save the Last Dance For Me" is a lot shorter than the move from "She Loves You" to Abbey Road.

Wed Nov 02, 2005 9:59 pm

Good question. Writers like Ken Emerson seem to bristle at the
notion that use of strings inherently is somehow less "authentic."

Granted, these New York songwriters were no doubt self-styled
"uptown" types who by then could move comfortably in Manhattan,
but in reality most of them were from working-class Brooklyn and Queens Jewish backgrounds who knew or thing or
too about "the streets" and "real life." (Famously, Leiber & Stoller
did originally stereotype Elvis as a southern "good old boy" until
he opened his mouth about R&B...).

We end up playing into the idea that the south was full of
"noble savages" like Elvis or Carl Perkins or Rufus Thomas, guys
"natively" just "feel" the music but really "dont' have anything to say."
That's one of the pitfalls of the term "roots music" - it implies other
music either has no roots (it's adrift!) or is too "high-fallutin.'"
The folks working on Broadway may have had more technical (that is,
actual) musical training as traditionally known, but were quite
a few actually were
streetwise, R&B loving hipsters who didn't like pablum.

Mind you, I prefer the rootsier (namely, bluesy) material, but L & S,
Doc Pomus and even Bert Bacherach surely walked the streets like
everyone else and took it all in. They heard the latin beat showing up
Harlem, they heard the early sound of soul...some of them had
Russian-oriented classical training. It really
was the democratic ideal of ethnic and hybrid New York -more
so than even the American South, arguably.

That's some of Emerson's argument anyway. I find it persusive
enough that I'll have to revisit the music of this era with "new ears."

Wed Nov 02, 2005 11:09 pm

I think the reason that the Brill Building stuff doesn't get more respect is that it is primarily an urban style of music. Same with doo wop and the Girl Groups. People in the city have hopes and dreams and ideas too. I guess to primarily city born writers, the idea of the country bred noble savage is more appealing.

There are plenty of contradictions in the 1959-1963 dismissal. One is that the payola scandal made stations afraid to play rock and roll. Ironically, the artist most devastated by the payola scandal was Fabian, who was basically humiliated in front of a congressional panel. Wasn't Fabian supposed to be what replaced rock? And as for the powers that be- they actually produced very few of the teen idols. Of the major teen idols only Paul Anka recorded for a major label- ABC/Paramount and then RCA and ABC despite big money backing was a relatively fledgling major. Fabian and Frankie Avalon the most notorious idols recorded for tiny Chancellor Records. Bobby Rydell recorded for Cameo-Parkway another indie. Meanwhile Jimmy Clanton recorded for Ace, a primarily black label and Ricky Nelson recorded for Imperial, Fats Domino's label- before being signed away to Decca a move that virtually killed his career. RCA produced Rod Lauren whose career tanked after one minor hit.

That's just one puncture to the conventional wisdom. It's not like the behemoths came in and took over.

And it was the indies like Atlantic, Philles and Scepter that were leading the way in terms of the new found sophistication in production. With both the teen idols and the production was rock was expanding its base. The teen idols allowed the labels to make money by reaching an even younger audience and the strings were not an obvious commercial ploy but actually an extension of the work. Imagine "There Goes My Baby" stripped, it's just not as good. It couldn't stay 1956 forever.

Many of the era's great artists- Elvis, Jackie Wilson, Roy Orbison, Spector, Sam Cooke- loved the stuff they were doing. It's not like it was foisted upon them.

Thu Nov 03, 2005 12:31 am

likethebike wrote:Your definition of rock and roll is too small.

John Fogerty and Bob Dylan have no problem with listing Nelson among the rock pioneers. .

Exactly my point. Rock and roll is not rock!

Colin has put it very well.

There was no natural evolution to strings - it was foisted upon the industry by ASCAP members.

Look up the history between ASCAP - BMI - Rock And Roll - Payola.

I would suggest that Keith Richard had a much greater influence on ROCK as opposed to the country tinged soft rock of Ricky Nelson.

Thu Nov 03, 2005 1:55 am

i'm actually quite fond of ricky nelson's travelin' man. see as i said--this "pap" era produced much of my favorite growing up music.