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The Brill Building

The Brill Building, located at 1619 Broadway in the heart of New York's music district, is a name synonymous with an approach to songwriting that changed the course of music history. After its completion in 1931, the Brill's owners were forced by a deepening Depression to rent space to music publishers, since there were few other takers. The first three, Southern Music, Mills Music and Famous Music were soon joined by others. By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses.

The story of the now legendary Brill Building songwriters began in folkloric fashion: a kid from the Bronx finds an opening in the marketplace, sets up shop, and mass-produces enough quality product to fill that niche. The kid in question this time was named Don Kirshner and the product he supervised was some of the finest rock and roll music ever created.

Kirshner's first experience of the music industry had been an unsuccessful songwriting partnership with Robert Cassotto (who later changed his name to Bobby Darin.)

Kirshner decided to take the energy of rock music and re-apply the old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley disciplines of craft and professionalism to the art of marketing hits for the youth market. Kirshner sensed a great need for songwriters in the booming rock market, and to that end, he eventually hired eighteen of them, who would sit in their cubicles at his offices, and churn out love songs (and, occasionally, dance and novelty hits) for the teen masses.

Because the Brill Building was also home to arrangers, producers, managers, etc., it was the perfect place for songwriters to ply their craft. With new partner Al Nevins, Don Kirshner formed Aldon Music. One of their first signings was the songwriting duo of Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield whose "Stupid Cupid" was a huge international hit for Connie Francis in 1958. Among their other composers who have since become household names: Carole King-Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil-Barry Mann, Toni Wein, Carol Bayer-Sager, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka-Howie Greenfield, and Burt Bacharach. It's a testament to the craft of those songs that they had the power to bring lovers together even before they were recorded: the three greatest songwriting teams to emerge from the Brill Building were married couples who met while working there: Gerry Goffin and Carole King (Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? The Locomotion) Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (Leader of the Pack) and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling).

Describing conditions in the Brill Building, Mann said, "Cynthia and I work in a tiny cubicle, with just a piano and a chair, no window. We'd go in every morning and write songs all day. In the next room Carole and Gerry are doing the same thing, with Neil in the room after that. Sometimes when we all get to banging pianos, you can't tell who's playing what."

Aldon Music wasn't the only publisher in and around the Brill Building. Successful songwriting teams Leiber and Stoller, Pomus and Shuman, Bacharach and David, as well as individuals like Phil Spector and Gene Pitney could all be found at the Brill or very nearby.

The three biggest breakout pop artists from the Brill Building songwriter brigade were Neil Diamond (who paid tribute to his time there with 1993's Up on the Roof, written by Goffin-King), Neil Sedaka and Carole King.

Sedaka's string of late 50's-early 60's hits included "Oh Carole," "The Diary," "Stairway to Heaven," "Calendar Girl," "Next Door to an Angel," and "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen." "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," a number one hit in 1962, was probably his best-known tune. The song became a hit again (as a ballad) in the 70s when Sedaka signed with Elton John's Rocket Records. His best known songs from this comeback are "Laughter in the Rain" and "Bad Blood."  

With Goffin, Carole King,(the inspiration for Sedaka's "Oh Carole") also wrote the classics "One Fine Day," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Save The Last Dance For Me" and "(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman."  In 1971, she released her groundbreaking solo album Tapestry, which stayed on the charts for over six years and was the best-selling album of the era on the strength of hits like "You've Got A Friend," "So Far Away," "It's Too Late," and "I Feel the Earth Move," 1971's Music”featuring "Sweet Seasons" --also hit #1. Her hit streak continued with Rhymes and Reasons (1972) and Wrap Around Joy, which contained the #1 hit "Jazzman."

© 2004