Carole King and The Brill Building: Another Special Place In Time

We are nearing the end of summer, always a sad time of year for me. I’m a great fan of daylight and soon there will be more hours of darkness in any 24 hour period. All those activities best suited to the great outdoors will be on hold for another year, and we’ll be tucked up inside keeping cosy. Oh no, that’s right, this winter we’ll struggle to keep cosy as the thermostats will be firmly turned down, but hey, that’s another post for another day.

I’ve run quite a few ‘series’ since starting this place but I’m all out of workable ideas at the moment, which is a bit annoying, because I don’t have anything to return to and augment. As we are nearing the start of September I thought a series of posts about months of the year could be something to focus on (September seems to pop up often in a song title), but it turns out some of the other months have not been as inspirational for songwriters. Inevitably, one of the first songs I stumbled upon was this one by a very young Carole King, It Might as Well Rain Until September from 1962.

It Might as Well Rain Until September by Carole King:

I’ve always liked the song, although it’s not really about the month of September at all, but about how the world is no longer a beautiful place because the singer’s love interest is not around. As far as they are concerned the fine weather of the summer might as well be replaced with grey, rainy days. Thinking back I was often of the same opinion when I was a teenager (and this song was definitely aimed at teenagers), as the routines of term-time were often replaced with lots of time spent on your own, as your friends were either off on holiday with their families, or scattered around the country, the new academic year not starting again until September. If you’d found romance during term-time, the summer break was often not your friend.

But of course the Carole King that wrote this song with her husband Gerry Goffin, is not the same Carole King that has appeared on these pages before. That would be the Carole who by the early ’70s had moved to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, and had massive success with her 1971 album Tapestry. No indeed, this Carole was the girl from Brooklyn who was a bit of a musical genius and at age 16 had turned up at the Brill Building in Manhattan with a bunch of songs oven-ready for the teen market.

I have often heard of the Brill Building as back in the early ’60s, after Elvis had enlisted (and they thought rock ‘n’ roll was over) but before the British Invasion had begun, it was the place where songwriting teams flourished, producing hit after hit record. The ground floor of the building was home to the Brill family clothing store, but the upper floors were rented out to people in the music industry. Music publishers like Don Kirshner were based there and offices were kitted out with cubicles, each containing a piano, a bench and a chair where songwriters could partner up, one person writing the lyrics and the other coming up with the music. This was songwriting to order, but the songs were aimed at the lucrative new teen market and they were given to some of the many girl groups that had formed in New York City at that time (the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes and the Chiffons) and also to many of the up-and-coming teen idols (Bobby Darin, Bobby Vee and Gene Pitney).

 The Brill Building is located at 1619 Broadway on 49th Street, in the NYC borough of Manhattan

Before starting this blog, I was often unaware of who had written a particular song as I had always been more interested in the artist who performed it. As time went by however the same names kept popping up, and many of those names were songwriting partnerships who first got together in the Brill Building:

Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield
Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry
Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

A lot of famous faces in that montage above and impossible to name them all individually. To finish off I’ll add another couple of clips of songs that came to life in the Brill Building. I know I was bemoaning the end of summer in the opening paragraph, but today has indeed been a very fine, sunny day here in the North of Scotland. I don’t think that’s the kind of fine day The Chiffons were singing about in 1963 but a perfect example of the kind of songs Goffin and King were writing for the girl groups of the Brill Building.

One Fine Day by The Chiffons:

As this post has predominantly focussed on Carole King, it would seem silly not to end with the song Neil Sedaka wrote about her. They had both gone to the same high school in Brooklyn and had briefly dated (when she was still a Carol without the ‘e’). Oh! Carol was Neil’s first big domestic hit and the song also reached the No. 3 spot in the UK Singles Chart in 1959.

Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka:

Yet again I’ve kind of gone way off piste on this one but once I’d listened to Carole’s September song I decided to find out more about that place in NYC which was a veritable music factory in the late ’50s/early ’60s. Most of us of a certain age have grown up listening to songs that we may or may not have known started life in The Brill Building. I like these posts where I actually take the time to find out geographically where these special places were/still are located. Right there in Midtown Manhattan it seems, just along from Tin Pan Alley where the sheet music of an earlier era had started life.

As for my series about songs referring to months of the year, I’ve not abandoned the idea yet, so if you do have any September songs you’d like me to write about, do let me know. For the record, the Earth, Wind and Fire one has popped up around here a couple of times before, but there will be others I’m sure.

Until next time…

It Might As Well Rain Until September Lyrics
(Song by Carole King/Gerry Goffin)

What shall I write?
What can I say?
How can I tell you how much I miss you?

The weather here has been as nice as it can be
Although it doesn’t really matter much to me
For all the fun I’ll have while you’re so far away
It might as well rain until September

I don’t need sunny skies for thing I have to do
‘Cause I stay home the whole day long and think of you
As far as I’m concerned each day’s a rainy day
So It might as well rain until September

My friends look forward to their picnics on the beach
Yes everybody loves the summertime
But you know darling while your arms are out of reach
The summer isn’t any friend of mine

It doesn’t matter whether skies are grey or blue
It’s raining in my heart ’cause I can’t be with you
I’m only living for the day you’re home to stay
So It might as well rain until September
September, September, oh
It might as well rain until September

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

24 thoughts on “Carole King and The Brill Building: Another Special Place In Time”

    1. So I discovered but he only used it as an album track. The single release of Carole’s version was really just a demo, and not a great quality recording, but it has really stood the test of time.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a great post, Alyson. I may be the biggest Carole King (and Gerry Goffin) fan in the world. Their music and that of their peers from 1619 Broadway as well as the actual ‘Brill Building’, located across the street at 1650 Broadway, defined the time when rock n roll became slightly more sophisticated. Lyrics mattered and the instruments used were more than guitars and drums. Additionally, women advanced both as performers and as composers and writers. Think of all the songs sung by ‘British Invasion’ artists that were composed by teams housed at either 1619 or 1650.
    I would like to offer a modest defense for ‘September’ given your comments. Could it be that the ‘singer’ sees September as the ‘goal’? When she/he arrives there, the pain and the loneliness will have passed as the love interest is back, presumably as school resumes.
    In the late 60s and early 70s, Carole King wrote both music and words, but in the early years, the lyrics, including “It Might as Well Rain” were Gerry Goffin’s. Folks are amazed by Goffin’s ability to put into words, so accurately, the emotions of young women. Listen to the Shirelles’ classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. Unfortunately, Goffin’s best years were the years he wrote with Carole King. He had some success with other co-writers but not to the ‘Goffin King’ level.
    Back around the turn of the century, my wife & I visited New York city with another couple. I was tasked with picking a couple of shows for us to attend. The first was ‘Titanic, A Musical’. This show came out around the same time as the James Cameron movie of the same name. In a two event contest, the musical ‘Titanic’, easily came in second best. To this day, I cannot remember a song from it.
    My second and more successful show choice, was ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’, a musical revue by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.(Leiber and Stoller were the ‘senior class’ at 1650). The songs were mostly familiar hit parade tunes made famous by the likes of The Coasters, The Drifters, Ben E King, The Clovers and others.
    The next day we had our picture taken in front of 1619 Broadway. Who knows where that picture is now.!
    Thanks for bringing back all the memories, Alyson

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As ever it seems as if you know more about the subject matter of this post than I do, but I only started researching it properly this week, so hope I’m excused. It all got a bit confusing what with 1619 Broadway but also the building across the road at 1650 which was a similar hotbed of songwriting productivity. Both buidlings came under the umbrella of the Brill Building Sound however, so I decided to keep it simple for this post.

      Yes, September really seems to be the ‘goal’ in Carole’s song and as I said above I remember well some of those summers when we all had to head back home from college for the summer months, which was tough if you’d made lots of new ‘friends’ over the academic year. It might have been summer but I was always looking forward to heading back in September.

      You are right of course, if Gerry took lead on the lyrics for those songs they wrote together, he did well to get into the head of a teenage girl – but hey, I suppose he had Carole next to him to keep him right and they were both still teenagers when they married.

      Sounds like you had a great time in New York seeking out the Brill Building and heading off to those shows. Yes, I think the Leiber and Stoller one would have been the one I would have enjoyed best too. They were the seniors as you say and didn’t necessarily write just for teenagers but they certainly provided Elvis with a lot of material.


    1. Ha ha – yes it feels as if it should be called that because they were all brilliant, but no, much more pedestrian, a business on the ground floor run by the Brill family.

      ‘A very informative post’ – Oh dear it sounds as if I’m about as entertaining as an encyclopedia but I do like finding out more about these places I’ve heard of by name but never took the time to seek out geographically.


    1. I’m still not sure if it will work as a series but time will tell.

      Thanks for the heads up about the October song by the Incredible String Band. They popped up on Rol’s Saturday Snapshots yesterday and although I’ve heard about this Scottish band I don’t really know anything about them. Would be a chance to find out more.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A new one on me Neil but I’ll seek it out. They really did churn out the songs like a production line but the quality didn’t seem to suffer. They probably inspired and competed with each other, and all raised their game.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ironically, it is believed that the Byrds fired David Crosby in part due to his resistance to recording non original material such as the two by Goffin and King that are on the album (Goin’ Back and Wasn’t Born To Follow). He favoured original songs only.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can believe that – good for us though in that he went on to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. Lots of brilliant original songs that might never have been written otherwise.


    1. I always think of Neil as that older guy who used to pop up on ToTP in the 70s but thinking about it now he must only have been in his mid 30s. It seems he was no longer signed to a label in the US but then Elton John took him under his wing and he signed to his Rocket label. A really successful period for him.

      I have just checked and Neil is still with us and he could be found doing mini-concerts online during the pandemic. Who knows? – He might still return to Nottingham yet and you might be able to tick that box at last.


      1. That early 70s period you describe – his comeback years – was very interesting; he’d pitched up in the UK with a shedload of songs but no band to play with. He somehow found his way to 10cc’s Strawberry Studios in Stockport whereupon they became his producer(s) and ‘house band’.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I spotted that. What a strange set of twists and turns took him from the Brill Building to working with 10cc and Elton John. He looked quite at home on ToTP and became quite the Anglophile for a while.

          Thanks for dropping by with this extra info.


  2. The nights are certainly drawing in. I’m trying not to think about the winter ahead. But I do think there’s a lot of mileage in your Months of the Year posts.

    I read the biography of Doc Pomus a few years back. Worth seeking out if you can find it, though his story is summarised pretty well in this song by Ben Folds (lyrics by Nick Hornby)…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just found out a bit more about him and his book. Quite a story and summarised very concisely in the lyrics to the song. Well done Nick and Ben on that project. I don’t think I’d ever noticed the name Doc Pomus before starting this blog but have now written about a couple of Elvis songs he wrote. I’ve learnt a lot these last few years.

      No, not looking forward to winter much at all but maybe my new Months of the Year in Song series will keep me distracted. Let’s see.


  3. Lovely post, Alyson and you put across the info in such an easy, engaging way I feel you could open up a new career option for yourself in penning some official biographies… or maybe writing and narrating some music documentaries should you fancy it (podcasts, maybe?!) Carole King always comes across as a warm and gentle person as well as being immensely talented, I read too that she’s an environmentalist – all good in my books. The Brill Building is such a memorable name (albeit by chance) and I love that album cover montage in the top left. Funny how there was such a fashion at the time for pasting in those cut-out heads of artists!
    Indeed, the days are drawing in as we descend into Autumn and we’ve really noticed how early it gets dark, even down here. It’s a bit disconcerting because it’s still so balmy and warm during the day so it sort of plays tricks on the mind. Also the trees are really shedding their leaves, it looks like Autumn in places – mainly down to the drought, poor things.
    I like the idea of a Months of The Year series too. I have a favourite song for this month – ‘September Gurls’ by Big Star… an all-time fave of mine in fact, just a slice of perfect pop to my ears. Series are always a good way to help keep a blog going regularly too, of course… (note to self)


    1. Kind words about my post but I don’t think anyone will be asking me to write a biography any time soon! As Damian pointed out above there were two buildings on Broadway where these songwriters were based and only one was called the Brill Building so my post doesn’t bear close scrutiny, but good enough for a short blog post like this one. As for a podcast, if we were starting out now, we wouldn’t be writing music blogs, we would be making a podcast, but as you will remember from my short-lived contribution to the Radio 4 schedules, I end up talking at 100 miles an hour and repeat myself a lot. A tough thing to do I imagine.

      Yes, Carole King would be just your kind of person I think and a very different person from the young Brill Building songwriter of the early 60s. She now lives in Idaho and I hope is still doing well. These stars of the early 60s are all octogenarians now which is quite a thought.

      I really need a new series to get my teeth into and the ones that have followed the annual cycle (moons, seasonal festivals etc) have been really enjoyable to put together. I’ve learnt so much – and hopefully you have too! Thanks for the heads up about the song – a new one on me so will give it a listen.


    2. Just noticed I hadn’t replied to your comment in the correct box but started a new thread – sorry – fixed now.

      I meant to say earlier, it’s tough listening to some of these lyrics nowadays as they were written 60 years ago when life was very different, for women especially. In the One Fine Day lyrics, the girl is just longing for the day their love interest will put behind him his days of ‘running around’ and make her his girl. They will wait patiently until that day!! I was in two minds about sharing that clip then I listened to Neil’s song and the boot was on the other foot. He is treated cruelly, is hurt and made to cry but he would always love them and be there waiting for them – a dysfunctional relationship if ever there was one. These were really popular songs at the time but they couldn’t be made as feel-good pop songs today (despite these scenarios still existing of course).


  4. That was a fabulous read, Alyson, with some wonderful accompanying images and of course Brill(iant) music. Similar to my reflections on Lamont Dozier recently, I was immersed in the music of Carole King throughout my childhood and early teens before I really took notice of the people behind the words and music and began to appreciate what an incredible body of work she’s produced.

    I like the idea of the themed series. It’s the last day of the month, so I’m just about in time to give a shout out to The The’s beautiful August & September from Mind Bomb in 1989.

    Elbow did a passable version, too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by Khayem – in case you are wondering why your comment didn’t pop up instantly it’s because the WordPress people hold comments with more than one link in them for approval. Understandable but makes people wonder where their comment has gone sometimes. That said, thanks for sharing the clips, a very beautiful song and I will hold on to any suggestions I get for the months ahead (I’m too late for an August post now I think).

      Despite being a fair bit younger than me (I think) you are obviously a scholar of music and know all about what went before ‘your time’, so to speak. A lot of the music I share around here is from when I was just too young for it first time around but I love looking into the backstory to it, and the Brill Building has popped up so often when I’ve done research for songs, I knew it was time to find out about it properly. As for Carole she certainly has produced a massive body of work but I think that was always on the cards for her as she sounds as if she was a bit of a child genius, as were so many of her peers from Brooklyn at that time. Something in the air obviously or was it just the competition between them and the fact they were so close to Manhattan and these special places in time, like the Brill Building. I’ve also written about Laurel Canyon around here which was probably the next big ‘special place in time’ after the style of songs written in the Brill Building went out of fashion. Carole of course was at the forefront there too. Glad she’s had a long life and will leave us this incredible body of work.


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