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

Favourite Reads and 1971, the Start of the ‘Rock Era’

I know there are quite a few of us in my little blogging circle who prefer to write anonymously using an alias. It gives us an enormous sense of freedom as we can write about our daily lives, our innermost thoughts, and even hark back to the days of our youth, telling the tales of those times. Of late however, for one reason or another, a few more people in the real world have found out about this place than I might have liked, and although I’m sure they have better things to do than trawl through these pages, it does kind of affect the openness of the writing.

I’m mentioning this because I finally bit the bullet this week and shared the domain name with my course tutor. Regulars around here will know I joined the student body of my local college a couple of years ago, and the new semester has just begun. It got to the point I had mentioned my elusive ‘web-diary’ so often it was getting silly, so to offer up an explanation I sent her a link. As that link will land on the homepage, the pressure is on to make this next post a good one, which is a bit of an oxymoron, as when it comes to writing, pressure and quality never seem to go well together.

Ok, so I’ve had a bit of a wordy lead-in to this one, but I just wanted to get it out there that my course tutor Sara might drop by, and it’s making me nervous. Also, I haven’t really mentioned the fact it’s ostensibly a music blog that’s just grown arms and legs over the years, so it might come as a bit of a surprise.

Last time I wrote about all the great telly shows we’ve been fortunate enough to have at our disposal during these tough times of lockdown and restrictions. Prior to that I shared some of the pictures I’ve been taking on our daily walks and created a little montage. Another of my lockdown pastimes has been reading. Yes, lots and lots of reading, because that’s what students do isn’t it? (Do you think that’s enough to convince Sara?).

The background of choice for many a Zoom call, but have they all been read?

As it turns out, just like music, reading is for many of us as essential to life as the air we breathe, so simply part of our daily routine. Since starting my course, I’ve been keeping a record of what I’ve been reading, and like last time I’m happy to share my lockdown list. Again I’ll highlight my favourites, just in case you trust my judgement.

The complete works of Jenny Eclair (yes, another string to her bow), The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen, Why the Dutch are Different by Ben Coates (explains a lot!), Broken Greek by Peter Paphides, The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills), The Dressmaker’s Gift by Fiona Valpy, Department of the Peculiar… Goes Pop, 1&2 by Rol Hirst and Rob Wells (the latest comic book series from our talented blogging pal and his mate), Final Demand by Deborah Moggach, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Queen Bee by Jane Fallon (Ricky Gervais’ other half), Tidelands by Philippa Gregory, The Switch by Beth O’Leary, Uncommon People and 1971, Never A Dull Moment both by David Hepworth.

A very rich and varied selection there and although maybe more aimed at a female market, I have been mighty impressed with Jenny Eclair’s output over the last few years and look forward to whatever she may publish next. On my list are a few books relating to the world of rock and pop, and Pete Paphides’ autobiography about growing up as part of a Greek family in 70’s/80s Britain, really resonated with me. Not because of the Greek part, but because he was a bit of a ‘rock and pop nerd’, and his relationship with radio chart shows, TOTP, and new albums, very much mirrored my own.

The two books below were in my Christmas stocking, and I’ve now finished both. David Hepworth is a fabulous writer and between these two books and the one by Pete Paphides, I have added more new words to my ‘new word notebook’ (it’s a thing), than from all the other books put together. In Uncommon People, the premise is that the era of the rock star came along in the mid-fifties but faded away in the last decade of the 20th century. There is a chapter for all of these ‘uncommon people’, starting with Little Richard in 1955 and ending with Kurt Cobain in 1994. As we often say around here, the 21st century has produced a totally different kind of artist what with the lack of physical product to covet and hold; the committee approach to making hit records; the importance of choreography; and, the mystique-destroying internet.

As for 1971, Never A Dull Moment, David reckoned that for a music fan like himself, having been born in 1950 was the equivalent of having won the winning ticket in the lottery of life, as he turned 21 at just the right time. On New Year’s Eve 1970, Paul McCartney issued a writ in London to wind up the Beatles, thus ending the ‘pop era’. The following day was 1971, and the first day of the ‘rock era’.

In the book, David chronicles those 12 months and it soon becomes clear that it was indeed an exceptional year. Many of those who first achieved stardom in 1971 – David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Joni Mitchell – went on to have long careers, and looking at the Top 100 albums of the year, many have truly stood the test of time and are still being purchased 50 years on. Songs from some of these albums have on occasion found their way onto this blog and all of them from way before my peak time as a consumer of vinyl, but now just part of our musical heritage:

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story
Carole King – Tapestry

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Nick Drake – Bryter Layter
The Faces – A Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Man
Joni Mitchell – Blue
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
John Lennon – Imagine
The Carpenters – Carpenters
Isaac Hayes – Shaft
Cat Stevens – Teaser And The Firecat

etc, etc, etc…

For once, I’ll not get all wordy about the artist or the song, as if you’re reading this you probably already know more about them than I ever will. I’ll simply select three of my favourite songs from a few of the above albums and leave it at that. Hope you approve of my choices.

Reason To Believe by Rod Stewart:

I Feel The Earth Move by Carole King:

Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I kind of got into my stride by the end of this post and forgot that people from the ‘real world’ might drop by. Whenever I’ve been in this position before, I soon regain my confidence, as it seems our family and friends are generally a lot less interested in what we write about than we might suppose. Just as well really.

As for my reading list above, hope I’ve given you a few ideas, as I was in turn by another blogger who frequents this place (he knows who he is). I’m always a sucker for rock and pop related volumes and autobiographies, and would thoroughly recommend the ones mentioned. For the record, a few examples of the new words added to my ‘new word notebook’ are as follows (every day’s a schoolday):

salmagundi – a pot pourri; a miscellaneous collection
gimcrack – cheap or showy ornament; a knick-knack
athwart
across from side to side; so as to be perverse or contradictory
bowdlerised – material removed from a text if deemed ‘improper’ making it weaker or less effective
ululating – a howl or wail as an expression of strong emotion (Yoko Ono was at times prevented from appearing on stage, for fear of her potential ululating!)


Do you wish you’d been born in 1950 in order to have experienced the music of 1971 at age 21, or are you happy with how the die was cast? Although 1971 was a remarkable year that gave us all these monumental albums, I’m personally happy with my own era, and still have the advantage of being able to continually make new discoveries. I think we probably all feel a bit like that, and long may it continue.

Until next time…

Reason To Believe Lyrics
(Song by Tim Hardin)

If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

Someone like you makes it hard to live without
somebody else
Someone like you makes it easy to give
never think about myself

If I gave you time to change my mind
I’d find a way just to leave the past behind
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe

Someone like you makes it hard to live without
somebody else
Someone like you makes it easy to give
never think about myself

Student Life, Carole King and “It’s Too Late”

Following on from my last post, I mentioned that 1979 was my last disco-dancing year as around that time I met a boy and morphed into a full late-70s student. We dressed in interesting clothes from charity shops (they weren’t called vintage in those days), hung around dingy bars and listened to “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” (in between attending lectures of course). Looking back, the tracks of my years had up until then, revolved around what was on Top of The Pops, what was played on BBC Radio 1 and the music from film soundtracks so this was a whole new branch of music that I hadn’t really experienced before. Artists like Cohen didn’t release singles that would appear in a chart show run-down, but whole albums of songs to be listened to late at night, in a soporific condition with preferably, a significant other.

leonard

Also, the great thing about meeting a boy who flat-shared with an older brother, was that you immediately had access to their record collection as well. Being of the opposite sex and having a few more years’ worth of vinyl, his collection was vastly different to my own and so it came about, that in late 1979 I discovered and formed a relationship with Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Mr Cohen mentioned above, and last but not least, Carole King.

One of the albums we listened to a lot at that time was “Tapestry” which had been Album of the Year in 1972 and went on to sell over 15 million copies. I wasn’t that familiar with Carole King until this time but a lot of the tracks on the album were indeed familiar, as she had been part of that amazing team of Brill Building songwriters who prolifically churned out songs for ’60s artists such as Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles. She wrote, or co-wrote, all of the songs on Tapestry and in doing so created a truly amazing body of work, most of the songs becoming standards in their own right. I think my favourite is It’s Too Late, a really sad song about the end of a relationship and of course by this time King’s marriage to Gerry Goffin, her songwriting partner and high school sweetheart was over, so bittersweet. Interesting also that during this intensely successful period of her career, Carole King had moved to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and was hanging out with the likes of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. I have mentioned Laurel Canyon before in relation to The Eagles, Jackson Brown and Linda Ronstadt – Must have been quite a place back in the day.

It’s Too Late by Carole King:

Not really a coincidence that it’s Tapestry I’m writing about today however – I noticed earlier on social media that it’s the 45th Anniversary of its release. Any artist releasing an album today will have to wait until the year 2061 to celebrate the same anniversary. What will our world be like then? Who knows but I am optimistic that good music will still be around and perhaps we may still enjoy listening to the dulcet tones of Carole King, and Tapestry!

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It’s Too Late Lyrics
(Song by Carole King/Toni Stern)

Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
There’s something wrong here, there can be no denying
One of us is changing, or maybe we’ve just stopped trying

And it’s too late baby, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it

It used to be so easy living here with you
You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do
Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool

There’ll be good times again for me and you
But we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it too
Still I’m glad for what we had, and how I once loved you