Saturday Reads: Remembering the Soundtrack to the ’60s, and Other News

Husband and wife singer songwriting team Goffin and King rehearse during a recording session in a New York studio in 1959. (h/t NY Daily News)

Husband and wife singer songwriting team Goffin and King rehearse during a recording session in a New York studio in 1959. (h/t NY Daily News)

Good Morning

On Thursday we lost another 1960s music great; Gerry Goffin, who wrote lyrics to Carole King’s music died at 75. The talented couple wrote the songs that accompanied my teenage years–so much great music associated with so many memories.

From the Guardian Gerry Goffin: the poet laureate of teenage pop:

Gerry Goffin, a trainee chemist who became the poet laureate of teenage pop, specialised in coming up with a great opening line to grab the audience’s attention. Plenty of people will remember the first time they heard “Tonight you’re mine completely/ You give your love so sweetly,” from Will You Love Me Tomorrow, or “Looking out on the morning rain/ I used to feel so uninspired,” from (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. But he didn’t stop there.

Buried a little deeper in those wonderful songs are the lines that really touched his young listeners’ hearts. The words to the bridge, or middle section, of that first Shirelles hit from 1960 were almost like poetry: “Tonight with words unspoken/ You say that I’m the only one/ But will my heart be broken/ When the night meets the morning sun?” And when Goffin presented Aretha Franklin with the second verse of A Natural Woman – “When my soul was in the Lost and Found, you came along to claim it” – he gave countless ordinary lovers a way to express their deepest feelings.

Misleadingly, they are often called “Carole King songs”. She wrote the tunes, and later on she would sing them when, after Goffin and King divorced, she embarked on a hugely successful solo career. But whenever King sang her own, gentler versions of the Chiffons’ One Fine Day or the Drifters’ Up on the Roof, she was still singing Goffin’s words. They were written by the man she had met when she was 17 and he was 20, and with whom she had two daughters while they lived in an apartment in the Queens housing project LeFrak City – and with whom she travelled to work in Manhattan every day at their cubicle in the offices of Aldon Music at 1650 Broadway, where they pumped out hit after hit after hit.

Goffin King

From The New York Times: Gerry Goffin, Hitmaking Songwriter With Carole King, Dies at 75:

Mr. Goffin and Ms. King were students at Queens College when they met in 1958. Over the next decade they fell in love, married, had two children, divorced and moved their writing sessions into and out of 1650 Broadway, across the street from the Brill Building. (The Brill Building pop music of the late 1950s and ‘60s was mostly written in both buildings.)

Together they composed a catalog of pop standards so diverse and irresistible that they were recorded by performers as unalike as the Drifters, Steve Lawrence, Aretha Franklin and the Beatles. They were inducted together into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2004 the Recording Academy presented them jointly with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

The couple’s writing duties were clearly delineated: Ms. King composed the music, Mr. Goffin wrote the lyrics — among them some of the most memorable words in the history of popular music.

“His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say,” Ms. King said in a statement on Thursday.

A bit more about Goffin:

Gerald Goffin was born on Feb. 11, 1939, in Brooklyn and grew up in Jamaica, Queens. He began writing lyrics as a boy — “like some kind of game in my head,” he recalled once — but found he was unable to come up with satisfying music to accompany them.

He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School before enrolling at Queens College. He was three years older than Ms. King, studying chemistry, when they met in the spring of her freshman year.

He asked her to help him write a musical. She was interested in rock ‘n’ roll. They hit it off anyway, and she was pregnant with their first child when they married on Aug. 30, 1959.

Gerry Goffin

Gerry Goffin

After the couple divorced in 1968, King went on to become a singer and songwriter in her own right, although the two continued to collaborate and maintained a friendship. Goffin married again and and the couple had five children.

In addition to his wife, [Michelle] Mr. Goffin’s survivors include four daughters, Louise Goffin, Sherry Goffin Kondor, Dawn Reavis and Lauren Goffin; a son, Jesse Goffin; six grandchildren; and a brother, Al.

Goffin and King’s first hit was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which they wrote in 1960 for the girl group the Shirelles. After the song hit #1 on the charts in 1961, Goffin quit his job as a chemist and began working full-time as a lyricist.

Goffin’s lyrics deftly touch on the doubt that lurks behind all new romances. As sung by Shirelles’ leader Shirley Owens in unflappable manner, the song doesn’t skimp on the wonder inherent in any fresh coupling. But it’s also unflinchingly realistic about the possibility that the fairy dust will dissolve at dawn.

“Can I believe the magic in your sighs?” Owens pointedly asks her paramour. In the bridge, Goffin’s words flow like champagne even as they fear the possible hangover: “Tonight with words unspoken/You’ll say that I’m the only one/But will my heart be broken/When the night meets the morning sun.” King’s melody plays a big role in the overall effect, arching high in the verses and middle eight while accompanied by strings that elegantly trip across the proceedings like moonlight dancers, before coming back down to Earth for the interrogative refrain.

In other news . . .

At Salon, Simon Malloy writes about the multiplying Republican scandals: GOP’s sudden scandal-mania: Why criminal probes and infighting are taking over the party.

It’s fashionable right now to talk about the premature end of Barack Obama’s presidency. He’s fast approaching the second half of his second term, which is historically the beginning of lame-duck season. His poll numbers aren’t what anyone would call ideal, and Republicans (in concert with some excitable members of the press) are rushing to proclaim the Obama presidency dead. “I saw a commentator today say that these polls, what they reflect, is that the Obama presidency is over,” Sen. Marco Rubio said, referring to NBC’s Chuck Todd. “And I agree with that. I think it is, in general.” Speaker John Boehner told reporters at his weekly press briefing yesterday: “You look at this presidency and you can’t help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off.” ….The funny thing is that as Republicans team up with pundits to chisel out Obama’s epitaph, the Republican Party itself is falling to pieces right before our eyes.

Yesterday’s news that Scott Walker and Chris Christie sinking deeper into their respective scandals is as good a sign as any of the GOP’s political disintegration. After Obama crushed Mitt Romney in 2012, Republicans began casting about for their 2016 redeemer, and Christie and Walker were high on the list. They won conservative hearts with their antagonism toward unions, but they had also found a way to win in reliably Democratic states. If the GOP hoped to take on candidate-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, they’d need someone who could peel away some Democratic voters. Walker had talked about the need to nominate an “outsider” like himself in 2016.

Now Christie and Walker are implicated in criminal investigations. Prosecutors in Wisconsin placed Walker at the center of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate campaign spending with outside groups. In New Jersey, the investigation stemming from the George Washington Bridge scandal is reportedly closing in on Christie himself. For both men, once considered potential saviors of the GOP, the political future looks considerably dimmer.

Read Malloy’s take on it at the link.

At FiveThirtyEightPolitics, David Wasserman has a long article on “What we can learn from Eric Cantor’s defeat.” You really need to read the whole thing, but here’s a small excerpt that deals with the contribution of public distrust of Congress:

Cantor was only the second House incumbent to lose a primary this year (the first was Texas Republican Ralph Hall), but the warning signs of discontent were abundant: Plenty of rank-and-file House incumbents had been receiving startlingly low primary vote shares against weak and under-funded opponents, including GOP Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Lee Terry of Nebraska and David Joyce of Ohio. In fact, just a week before Cantor’s defeat and without much fanfare, socially moderate Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey received just 54 percent of the Republican primary vote against the same tea party-backed opponent he had taken 61 percent against in 2012.

Overall, 32 House incumbents have taken less than 75 percent of the vote in their primaries so far this year, up from 31 at this point in 2010 and just 12 at this point in 2006. What’s more, 27 of these 32 “underperforming” incumbents have been Republicans.1

In other words, while Congress’s unpopularity alone can’t sink any given member in a primary, it has established a higher baseline of distrust that challengers can build on when incumbents are otherwise vulnerable. And as the sitting House Majority Leader, Cantor was uniquely susceptible to voters’ frustration with Congress as an institution.

There’s much more interesting analysis at the link.

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George Will’s recent column on campus rapes is still in the news. From Talking Points Memo, George Will’s Latest: College Rape Charges Fueled By ‘Sea Of Hormones And Alcohol’.

Will explained that he took issue with the practice of adjudicating campus sexual assault cases by a “preponderance” of evidence, rather than hitting the bar of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. That flies in the face of due process, he argued, and ultimately harms young men’s future prospects.

“What’s going to result is a lot of young men and young women in this sea of hormones and alcohol, that gets into so much trouble on campuses, you’re going to have charges of sexual assault,” he said. “And you’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this — don’t get into medical school, don’t get to law school, all the rest.”

Four Democratic senators reached out to Will after his column was published to torch the conservative columnist’s “ancient beliefs.” Will said he wrote a letter back to the senators and laid out his rebuttal in the C-SPAN interview.

“What I say is that: A) I take sexual assault more seriously than I think they do, because I agree that society has correctly said that rape is second only to murder as a serious felony,” Will said. “And therefore, when someone is accused of rape, it should be reported to the criminal justice system that knows how to deal with this, not jerry-built, improvised campus processes.”

“Second, I take, I think, sexual assault somewhat more seriously than the senators do because I think there’s a danger now of defining sexual assault so broadly, so capaciously, that it begins to trivialize the seriousness of it,” he added. “When remarks become sexual assault, improper touching — bad, shouldn’t be done, but it’s not sexual assault.”

Well, we can’t have young men’s lives “blighted” by rape charges. Much better for young women to just suck it up and deal with a years of post-traumatic stress on their own and keep their complaints to themselves.

Whatever you do, don’t miss this TBogg post at Raw Story: Gentleman George Will is getting damned tired of having to explain rape to you guttersnipes.

Victorian gas-pipe and Her Majesty’s Curator of Rape To The Colonies, George Will, has just about had it up to here with you people — YES, YOU PEOPLE.

And especially you. Don’t think by closing your laptop he can’t see you, because he can.

Oh yes, he most certainly can, you loathsome wastrel.

t seems that, after explaining the ins and out of rape to you ungrateful curs, he was shocked and dismayed to discover that you promiscuous info-trollops on the intertubes are unable to comprehend the pearls of wisdom that he dispenses to the riff-raff gratis, courtesy of Ye Olde Washminster Poste.

Hush now, let Gentleman George condescend to speak down to you and try, fruitlessly no doubt, to explain once again that rape is what George Will says rape is

Now go read the rest at the link. You won’t be sorry.

This sounds like it could do some good: Google commits $50M to encouraging girls to code (CNet)

Google wants to see more women in technology, and it’s funding a $50 million initiative to encourage girls to learn how to code in an effort to close the gender gap.

Thursday night the company kicked off the Made with Code initiative here with celebrities former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and actress and comedienne Mindy Kaling.

Kaling, who emceed the event, said she has tons of ideas for apps but no idea to how make them work. She said she’d like to create a “What’s his deal?” app that takes a picture of guy and tells you whether he’s single, married, a weirdo, or what his car is like. Another idea is a Shazaam-like app for perfume.

“People my age have a million ideas for apps,” she said. “But we have no idea how to build them. Last week in the movies, I didn’t even know how to turn off the flashlight on my phone.”

Kaling isn’t alone. Women are woefully under-represented in the technology industry. Only about 20 percent of software developers in the US are women, according to the Labor Department. Last month, even Google admitted only 17 percent of its tech workers are women.

A bit more possible good news from the BBC: US sets up honey bee loss task force.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats.

Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.

A quarter of the food Americans eat, including apples, carrots and avocados, relies on pollination.

Honey bees add more than $15bn in value to US agricultural crops, according to the White House.

The decline in bee populations is also blamed on the loss of natural forage and inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases.

There has also been an increase in a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which there is a rapid, unexpected and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Two Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Songwriters Left Us Yesterday

Mike Stoller, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Leiber

Lyricist Jerry Leiber and his songwriting partner Mike Stoller wrote much of the soundtrack of my childhood and teenage years. The rest of it was probably written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, but that’s a story for another time.

When I was in junior high school, I started buying 45 RPM records, and I ended up with a huge stack of them over the years. On so many of them, the writing credit was “(Leiber and Stoller). I had no idea who those people were, but they sure made me and a lot of other kids happy back in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Jerry Leiber died yesterday at 78. Here’s an incomplete list of artists who recorded Leiber and Stoller songs: Big Mama Thornton, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Fats Domino, Aretha Franklin, the Clovers, the Coasters, and of course Elvis and the Drifters. They even wrote a song for Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?”

From the NYT obituary:

The team of Leiber and Stoller was formed in 1950, when Mr. Leiber was still a student at Fairfax High in Los Angeles and Mr. Stoller, a fellow rhythm-and-blues fanatic, was a freshman at Los Angeles City College. With Mr. Leiber contributing catchy, street-savvy lyrics and Mr. Stoller, a pianist, composing infectious, bluesy tunes, they set about writing songs with black singers and groups in mind.

In 1952, they wrote “Hound Dog” for the blues singer Big Mama Thornton. The song became an enormous hit for Elvis Presley in 1956 and made Leiber and Stoller the hottest songwriting team in rock ’n’ roll. They later wrote “Jailhouse Rock,” “Loving You,” “Don’t,” “Treat Me Nice,” “King Creole” and other songs for Presley, despite their loathing for his interpretation of “Hound Dog.”

In the late 1950s, having relocated to New York and taken their place among the constellation of talents associated with the Brill Building, they emerged as perhaps the most potent songwriting team in the genre.

Here are some of my favorites:

Okay, so I love the Drifters….

Here’s one of my all-time favorite Leiber and Stoller compositions, Wilbert Harrison singing Kansas City.

This one was a huge hit when I was a kid.

Carole King, who also worked in the Brill Building back in the day “took to Twitter to pay her respects.”

“Farewell, Jerry Leiber: a legend, a friend, and a major influence on Goffin and King. Rest in peace.”


Motown songwriter Nick Ashford also died yesterday at age 70.
Ashford and his writing partner (later wife) Valerie Simpson wrote songs that were recorded by Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and many more great artists.

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson

From The New York Times:

Nickolas Ashford was born in Fairfield, S.C., and raised in Willow Run, Mich., where his father, Calvin, was a construction worker. He got his musical start at Willow Run Baptist Church, singing and writing songs for the gospel choir. He briefly attended Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, before heading to New York, where he tried but failed to find success as a dancer.

In 1964, while homeless, Mr. Ashford went to White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem, where he met Ms. Simpson, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate who was studying music. They began writing songs together, selling the first bunch for $64. In 1966, after Ray Charles sang “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a song Ashford & Simpson wrote with Joey Armstead, the duo signed on with Motown as staff writers and producers.

They wrote for virtually every major act on the label, including Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime”) and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (“Who’s Gonna Take the Blame”).

The Guardian had a great article today on songwriting duos by Laura Barton: From Leiber and Stoller to Lennon and McCartney: the alchemy of the duo

Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford: may they rest in peace. The best way to pay tribute to them is by remembering their music. Please post your favorites in the comments, if you’re so inclined.


Forty Years Ago Today, Jim Morrison “Broke on Through to the Other Side”

Forty years ago on June 3, 1971, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, died in Paris at age 27. He was buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery. Two former members of the band were at the grave site earlier today to mark the occasion.

“James Douglas Morrison, 1943-1971,” reads a plaque on the gravestone erected in the 1990s by the singer-poet’s father, who added a Greek phrase often interpreted as “true to his own spirit”.

Band members Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist, and guitarist Robby Krieger, lit candles at the grave of Morrison, who was known by the nickname the “lizard king”.

Fans of Morrison also paid homage at his grave by leaving flowers there. Some wore black T-shirts with a white drawing of Morrison’s face and the words “40th anniversary.”

I discovered The Doors first album when I was in college in 1967. I had never heard their music and simply bought the record on a whim because I liked the spooky cover art. I went home and put it on my turntable and listened. I was completely blown away. It honestly isn’t over the top to say that the music changed the way I experienced the world. It was that powerful for me.

So here’s to Jim and the great music and performances he shared with us during his brief time on this earth. Here are a couple of my favorites.

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Clarence Clemons Dies from Complications of Stroke

From The New York Times:

Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, whose jovial onstage manner, soul-rooted style and brotherly relationship with Mr. Springsteen made him one of rock’s most beloved sidemen, died Saturday at a hospital in Palm Beach, Fla. He was 69.

The cause was complications from a stroke, which he suffered last Sunday, said a spokeswoman for Mr. Springsteen….

Clarence Anicholas Clemons was born on Jan. 11, 1942, in Norfolk, Va. His father owned a fish market and his grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher, and although he grew up surrounded by gospel music, the young Mr. Clemons was captivated by rock ’n’ roll. He was given an alto saxophone at age 9 as a Christmas gift; later, following the influence of King Curtis — whose many credits include the jaunty sax part on the Coasters’ 1958 hit “Yakety Yak” — he switched to the tenor.

“I grew up with a very religious background,” he once said in an interview. “I got into the soul music, but I wanted to rock. I was a rocker. I was a born rock ’n’ roll sax player.”

Mr. Clemons was also a gifted athlete, and he attended Maryland State College (now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore) on a scholarship for football and music. He tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns, but a knee injury ended his hopes for a football career.

Rolling Stone summarizes the apocryphal story of the night Clemons and Springsteen met and began to play music together.

So much has been said and written about the stormy night in Asbury Park in 1971 when Clemons met Springsteen that it’s hard to separate fact from myth. At the time, Springsteen was a struggling musician playing the New Jersey bar circuit and Clemons was a former college football player who spent his nights playing sax in clubs along the shore. “It was raining and thundering like a motherfucker,” Clemons wrote in his memoir. “When I opened the door it blew off the hinges and flew down the street . . . Somebody introduced me to Bruce, everybody knew everybody, and he asked me if I wanted to sit in.”

Clemons soon became part of Springsteen’s backing band (not yet known as the E Street Band), and when Bruce recorded his debut LP Greetings From Asbury Park in the summer of 1972, Clemons was brought in for the sessions. Over the next two decades, Clemons became the most recognizable member of the E Street Band – for his massive size, equally huge personality and his onstage role as Springsteen’s foil.

May Clemons continue to make music and tell tall tales in Rock’n’Roll Heaven.