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Extra: New York Icons: The Brill Building


I'm Anderson and this is the studio three sixty podcast. The pop music industry really got going in the early nineteen hundreds in New York City in a few blocks known as Tin Pan Alley Irving Berlin and George George and Ira Gershwin and dozens of other composers and lyricists turned out tunes. The became the great American songbook on a the right time on. Allie was originally on West. Twenty Eighth Street in Manhattan but as rents increased it crept up town and by the late nineteen fifties the New York pop music. Epicenter was sixteen in Nineteen Broadway. This eleven story Art Deco Tower. The Brill building. It's the latest in our series on New York icons studio radio three sixties. Tommy Brazilian has the story. They famous Brill building. Broadway and forty ninth street headquarters for songwriters plugs singer Hispanic leaders and music publishers. All hopefully buying and selling next season's hit tunes man was filled. The building was built in nineteen thirty thirty one the same year as the Empire State Building in the midst of the depression. The building's owners lease cheap offices to whoever they could find which happened to be music. Publishers the agents and Musicians Seventy eight music publishers offices some owners of fast music catalogues many just a desk in someone else's waiting breath by the fifties. The Brill building was packed with music. Industry professionals. Many of them veterans of Tin Pan Alley. There were literally in the borough building dozens of publishers Mary. Roughing as a professor of communications at Boise State University musicians hanging around and there were a in our people. Oh you had people who represented a record companies you had booking agents can emerson is the author of always magic in the air the bump and brilliance of the Brill building era. You had small cheesy record studios where you could make a demo. Which euchre Dan shop almost every? Every facet of the hit making process was located at the Brill building and they all worked together like an assembly line. A factory churning out psalms these unknown in writers oftentimes would come through the doors at the BRO building. Take the elevator and start hitting the offices of publishers. Would you like to hear my song. Kind of holding eldest two you people would on the tenth floor the Brill Building and go down four by four and they would sell the same song ten times. That publisher publisher might then take it to managers of artists. Who should record the song? You can get your publisher. You could get your record company. You could get the cheap according to sell and and somebody was there to distribute it and sometimes that could happen in a matter of days. The building was all all music people. That's the late Ellie Greenwich. She's speaking with the record. Executive Joe Smith in nineteen eighty six Greenwich worked with her husband. The Lyricist Jeff. Berry in the Brill building from about nineteen sixty two to nineteen sixty four. There was such an excitement going on all the time that you walked in. I mean you were writing the elevators. You're writing a check Dempsey's next year it didn't matter. The atmosphere was just so conducive reduced to writing songs. The energy was incredible safe. All A eh Berryman was part of another married songwriting team with his wife the Lyricists Cynthia. Weil he's also speaking with Joe Smith in nineteen eighteen eighty six. We could write the song cut a demo of the next day. Get it over to the at the center of the oddest the damn thing. It'd be have three explain then shed. I remember must've written about fifty songs that year the first year of maybe forty songs just because we loved writing. The Brill building was already packed with industry people by the late fifties. The more and more aspiring publishers moved in a few satellite buildings popped up in the surrounding neighborhood. The most notable of these by far was located a block and a half north at at sixteen fifty Broadway. Historian Ken Emerson. Sixteen fifty Broadway was a more nondescript almost anonymous building and consequently the rent's were a lot cheaper and it was sort of the younger hip or building people. Talk about the Brill building. As as Genera as much as a single place and attendance of sixteen fifty Broadway were a huge part of that. The building was home to a publishing company called Alden Music. It was founded in nineteen fifty eight by industry veteran Al Nevins and young publisher assert named Don Kirshner L.. Nevins was a very experienced musician. Dawn was just an aspiring entrepreneur. who had real you feel for what could sell in one thousand nine hundred eighty eight Kirschner son opening in the music industry? A lot of the Titans of nineteen fifties rock enroll were really silenced. Presently no longer has that rock and roll beat up dude three or private Presley. Elvis Presley was. He's in the army. Truly Lewis was banned from the airwaves for marrying his thirteen year old cousin before he was formally divorced from his previous wife the initial blast of rock and roll had passed and Don understood. I think how to slightly tame rock and roll how to domesticate it to make it safe a for this. Suddenly massive record audience of baby-boom teenagers. Kirshner was aggressive in going out and looking for writers and he he wanted young writers people who could speak to a younger audience out the news. It was an inspiration for Berry Gordy when few years after this. He created his own wildly successful. HIT FACTORY MOTOWN instead of waiting for songwriters to knock on their door. These companies did as much as they could in house with a stable of talented songwriters on staff. The first writers to be signed to the music where in nineteen year old Neil Sadaqa and his writing partner Howard Greenfield big your real means gene guy they wrote Aldo news first single stupid cupid for the singer. Connie Francis did well hitting number fourteen on the billboard charts charts in nineteen fifty eight. Set Me free stopping me Neil Sadaqa introduced Kirschner to another songwriter from arrival Brooklyn High School whom he had briefly dated Carole King. She was only seventeen gene but she'd already been knocking on. Doors at the Brill building for a few years carole king started out as a fourteen fifteen year old just going from Brooklyn into into the city and harassing song. Publishers and Right away met people like Ahmed hurt again. Atlantic records who saw is talent and her. Kirshner was blown away by Carole King. He signed her and her songwriting partner. Gerry Goffin to music in nineteen sixty. It was good timing timing Goffin and King and just got married and were expecting a child soon after Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil joined the team they both been bouncing around the Brill building scene but found a home with Don Kirshner al-Din Music Danny was like the father. Mother figure to all assault and Danny was only basically two years older than me and only want to do is please Donny Donny. Love their songs that day and made light. Kirshner was a master a motivating his staff of young writers. I just would come up and Kershaw close up as a kid Ed. Everley brothers are up. You know we call Caroline Jerry. Tell us we want to write for the Everley brothers. Literally they kind of run back to their cubicles and try to knock it out quickly and get back to ninety Kirshner as fast as they could. If you talked to anyone about the Brill building era you'll hear about the cubicles doubt in music. The songwriting teams often worked in one giant office space each in their own cubicle containing piano a chair in an ashtray they could hear each other. I I mean all of a sudden need here. Carol King next door playing the piano are Ellie Greenwich Down The hall. You continually hearing bring each other's pianos music so everybody knew when everybody else was doing and everybody borrow from what the others were doing. Yeah you'd have coming up again you know you didn't listen you would listen the competition. al-Din music was intense especially between between the married. SONGWRITING teams basically like sibling rivalry. We loved the we haven't just love hate relationship with with Caroline. Jerry and anybody that we will be waiting for Caroline Jerry embarrassed compatible to you as we were going in and there was this of course competition is all we going for the same record with the same group but outside of the office. There's there's no competition we've been thinking about Lebron Stoler or Otis Blackwell. You know we just thought competition was in the office and if we could get the record over somebody else in the office that satisfied us in the fall of nineteen sixty Kirschner asked his writers for a song for the Cheryl's Goffin and King won the job Will you let me tomorrow. Went straight to number one and was the first number one single by a girl group. When sold a million copies king? Goffin quit their day jobs to write full time. Uh with that album music off to the races good from nineteen sixty one to nineteen sixty three. They had hit after hit. Break the top one hundred. In in the Ogden writers all hitting their strides nineteen sixty one. Howard Greenfield is one of the oldest among them at age twenty five Carole King was nineteen but youth was that they had in common? I went to Madison High School in Brooklyn Flatbush. Carole King Madison High School. Our rival high school was was Lincoln High School Lincoln High School. Thank Ned Dresser. The Tokens went to Lincoln High School. Neil diamond went there and I think he switched over to harassers with Barbara streisand. Went there too for some reason that that area is so such a book on that just about the music industry and all the talent that game that area. I don't know why I think maybe it's I mean we're what a third generation Jews or something can emerson thinks. Maybe Jewish kids were taught to play the piano and took musical essence at higher rates rates by nature of their heritage and their upbringing. They were more knowledgeable about mainstream classical music than Many other white Americans that classical background can be heard. All over the Brill buildings take on rock and roll like in the simple fact that the writers wrote on piano instead of guitar or in the strings that brill writers began to incorporate into their arrangements. As kids in the fifties. They were also shaped by some major news. Stories happening close to home. If you were of that age you were deeply affected by two important important events that touch Brooklyn. This is truly an historic day in Jersey City. A twenty seven year old Negro named Jackie Robinson is playing his first game for the dodgers farm club. First of all was the integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn dodgers that was an important landmark in racial consciousness in America and they were at the epicenter of that. Secondly was the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Julius Rosenberg and Morton Hobo convicted of repealing atomic secrets to the Russians and her the federal building in New York to hear their doom the rosenbergs were executed in nineteen fifty three for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. So defenders thought that they were victims of anti Semitism and cold war hysteria. Those events expanded their their racial consciousness awareness and also their political earnest's contests they were also picking up on on musical and cultural cues from the city around them. This was the height. The absolute peak of Puerto Rican migration to the United States. Emerson says that these young Jewish New Yorkers would have been hearing Latin music everywhere the second album debt. The Great Tito Puente it was Tito Puente live grocers the famous Jewish resort in the catskill the stance to this all the clubs and the beach clubs were full of this. It was ubiquitous Latin. Latin jazz was everywhere in New York. Jason King is a professor at the Clive Davis Institute of recorded music at Nyu. A lot of the Brill building writers and producers is brought those rhythms into the music that they made and it has to do with the fact. That New York was this fusion. Epicenter it was a place where all of these cultures were coming together the rhythms and sounds of Latin music are all over. Brill building songs. Sometimes is overtly like with the man and while song blame it on the Bossa Nova Britain Unicor man but other times more subtly the Brazilian by on beat a hallmark of Brill building. Arrangements and it can be heard on countless recordings the most famous Latin dance hall the Palladium Ballroom. which just a few blocks away? From the Brill building. At fifty third and Broadway every night artists like Tito Puente and machiko withdraw. Huge audiences of all sorts is almost as if that music could unite white and black audiences in appreciation of music. which itself is melding of white and black music in the spring of nineteen sixty two BERRYMAN and Cynthia? Weil landed a big hit of their own. Cynthia Weil got the idea for the song while walking around mid town the story goes that she was walking through the garment district and she took a look at this. You know good looking. African American can man pushing this hand cart full of clothing and was a hot day and his working hard. To think of this of this is ice like comes down here comes down. Tell me. And he's like nothing she goes up. Tammy must feel like something you know it starts off with this Flamingo. Guitar are and menacing gets up each morning and he goes down to where everyone's he's expose but then it sort of opens up to major record. When he comes home and different he comes up in the the uptown was performed by the crystals and produced by Phil Spector this pop song about class issues? Hit number thirteen on the go board charts. I think it's a powerful tune especially in nineteen sixty two because it really addressed these two worlds that had to be good. I African Americans Latinos Women. And then you could certainly argue that the way that it romanticized uptown life. It's not deep. It's not rocket science and yet by flipping uptown and downtown and the value ascribed to those particular locations in urban life. I think that it's actually kind of interesting. I think this is a story about New Yorker Vanity like a lot Abril building music uptown blended different styles and perspectives and it was able to unite listeners from different races and backgrounds. Jason King says that earlier in the twentieth a century you wouldn't have seen that people in the United States were segregated legally but also music was segregated black music as it was considered to be raced music music that was made by black people for Black People. That was the way that black music was conceived in the nine hundred thousand nine hundred thirty s one thousand four even into the nineteen fifties and beyond the Brill building represents this moment where whites and blacks are listening to very same music for a very short amount of time. Doesn't last that long. But it's it's a kind of golden moment in the early nineteen sixties. He's of a biracial pop culture. It did not happen before it. Just hadn't you know you say oh a couple of people here and there but not in the way it happened in that period of time like the audience the production process at the Brill building involved both white and black musicians but it still had issues. There is this tension there between the kind of ingenious fusion. Music that the Brill building produced and then also the the kind of asymmetrical power relationships that you see between white and black and men and women. There were some black songwriters in the Brill building. Scene like rose. Marie McCoy Coy a song. Writer whose career began a little earlier in the nineteen fifties on Mount Business. The hand nobody scared but for the most part the writers and producers behind these hits were white and the artists were black. There was a real division of Labor. At the Brill building and artists often didn't get paid in the same way That though songwriters and producers producers did partly because the nature of how the music industry works that songwriters and producers often get paid more than ours but also because there was a racial component to that too central to those complicated Brill Building Dynamics was Phil Spector Specter is of course the musical genius credited with creating the wall of sound production style but also monstrous in his personal life and currently in prison for second degree murder. There was something polarizing about him even back in those Bro Building Days I think Phil Spector's production section of so many black girl groups like the crystals the Ron Nets and others really does represent that kind of uncomfortable moment and where you have a white producer defining the sound and style and sentiment of black woman in the nineteen sixties where those women don't have a voice for themselves els accepts through their interpretation of lyrics written by men or white people whether they're men or women the most controversial song to come out of the Brill building era might be the crystals Kristol's he hit me and it felt like a kiss Carole King Gerry. Goffin wrote the song after their babysitter. The singer Eve boyd known as little either told them about an abusive boyfriend intended the song to convey outrage but Spector's arrangement made the abuse seem almost romantic but those performers didn't necessarily think the brick buildings dynamics inequitable in the nineteen ninety S. Mary Ralph thing had the chance to interview Eva Boyd about her experiences. In the Brill building system. She said I wasn't feeling exploited by that environment. I was a singer. I was not a songwriter. The writers gave her material and she gave voice to that material so without each other. None of this could could've happened. She really wanted me to to understand that. No remember saying write down. What am I favored? Images which is a little leave. Go to Youtube in emotional. Even by the ooh standing on a pedestal behind her are these white guys dancing behind her. They're like the Gogo dancers. Take how do you think it must have been a fifteen sixteen year old black girl nineteen sixty two and turn on the TV set after school. And see the Cheryl's or a little eva. Our story about the Brill building. We'll be back in just a minute. But first I wanted to remind you to subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts. Or wherever you listen. I remember writing in an electric car for the first time about a decade ago and it was weird the quiet and everything else but of course around that same time. podcast seem weird because they were new in fact they were called audio blogs logs back then but now people all over the world. Listen to podcasts. All the time on all kinds of devices and just like podcasts. Electric cars are normal. They've got longer ranges meaning. They're not just for commuting to work. You can take an electric vehicle on a short trip to the country on the weekend for instance or even on longer road trips they recharge faster than ever. So you don't have to wait around all day. Have your car battery charged up and there are more models to choose from sedans. SUV's and luxury vehicles and even motorcycles. So you can find one electric vehicle that fits your life with more affordable models and less routine maintenance. Electric cars may actually save you money as well as the planet electric cars their normal now learn more at normal now dot com and now back to the story to me Shit from nineteen sixty one to nineteen sixty three. The charts were dominated By Brill building writers and artists. It seemed like they had found the perfect recipe for efficient pop success but then When the British invasion came in for most of us we all sort of always independence speak sunrise? Panicked bit here comes the self contained groups. Here comes the era of the singer. Songwriter rider and we sat there. So what are we going to do. The entire industry changes and the focus is no longer. The kind of urbane polished rb music coming out of New York but suddenly all of the music. That's coming out of Britain. The Beatles were actually pretty big. Fans of the Brill building. Please please me included a cover of Goffin King Saul chains on them and they McCartney has he said he and Lennon they're model was Gerry Goffin. Carole King that's who they wanted to be. They wanted to write songs. That good another nineteen sixties. Phenom wasn't so enamored with the Brill building. Sound unlike most of the songs nowadays are being written up town and Tin Pan Alley as most most of the folk songs come from nowadays. This this is a song written up there written somewhere down in the United States. Gerry Goffin thought everything he had written. After he heard Dylan was total crap. They were devastated in many ways. Carole King and Gerry Goffin felt that Dylan had shown them up and at one point they even gathered together some demos that they had made and smash them into spare. You did go with my dorm window right now. It wasn't just the Beatles and Dylan were good. was that the way they made music. Challenge the entire Brill building model. The Beatles showed how much more money a performer could make by writing their own music music and the whole economic model for rock and roll. SONGWRITING and production began to change artists. Like Bob Dylan Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and others represented and a new kind of pop music. Autour who self contained. And the Brill building model. Wasn't the hot model anymore. It has to have been terrifying in a way. The market shifted to where it's almost all written and performed by the same people as the economics of rock music changed so did the types of people making and listening to it. When the Beatles came it really re segregated rock and roll it became weird talk about African Americans as even performing rock and roll? It became this real white. Form the priorities of the music industry changed completely and it becomes Kind of refocus away from this biracial pop moment to a much more segregated Wave listening to music. The it's a great moment but it doesn't last long Don. Kirshner sold out and Music to Columbia pictures in nineteen sixty three in many ways at the peak of its success. Some real writers were able to transition well into the new era chap well God and again Ellie Greenwich and Jeff. Perry enjoyed their greatest success. In the mid sixties with number one hits like leader of the pack and Chapel of love some Carole L.. King were able to catch the singer songwriter. Wave beat the Kings nineteen seventy-one album tapestry. Won Four grammys. There's one of the best selling albums of all time But others had a harder time finding their feet without the structure community and commodity of the Brill building. I think in some ways. The Brill building. Songwriters didn't always realize how great their music was awesome. And maybe that's something that Don. Kirshner almost made them feel in a way after all it was in Kirchner's financial interest to make his writers field dependent upon him. We never thought the songs we wrote. We're GONNA GONNA be standards or they're going to be talked about twenty years later. You know. Those songs will be here one hundred years. That's Diane Warren. She's one of the most prolific songwriters alive today and has written number one hits for artists like selene. Dion aerosmith and Brandy in my world. That's I appeal to me of of great pop songwriting. Those were just the best. You know the best songs and songwriters of all time. Warren grew up listening to Brill building. Music as a kid in the nineteen sixties and a help set her on the path to becoming a songwriter. I feel like even now. I almost carry on that tradition. I have a little cubicle. I go to every day I I just don't have don kirshner outside my door. Saying right me ahead. You know I do that to myself today. Half of the Brill building is leased by the startup. We work work. It's a workspace for GIG economy freelancers who don't have a company office they can go to. And that's kind of how pop songwriters operate these days to MHM instead of a centralized building there in home studios collaborating online. You don't have to worry about someone banging on the piano in the cubicle next door But something else might be lost. There was a camaraderie that made you right so politically back. Then look us. I mean it felt good even when things were going on it still felt good. You know it was feeling it was a general feeling was terrific to me. I almost didn't think of it as a publishing company when I look back at a school. It was a great school for songwriters. Sir Tommy Bavarian produced that story. The Brill building is still home to some big entertainment industry businesses. Paul Simon's Publishing Company has offices there. So does Saturday night. Live Creator. Air Lorne michaels production company Broadway. Video the recordings you heard of Ellie Greenwich and Berryman are courtesy of the Joe Smith Collection at the Library of Congress. Additional archival tape was provided by WNYC archive collections. New York icons are made possible by a grant from the Booth Ferris Foundation. Thanks for listening in. And you can subscribe to studio three sixty wherever you get podcasts.

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