Cape Gazette

Looking inside a decade of rock n’ roll music history

Ken Emerson reflects on the times at Saturday's library talk
By Henry J. Evans Jr. | Oct 12, 2012
Source: Submitted Ken Emerson, 64, lives near New York City and has written about American popular music and culture for Rolling Stone, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Village Voice, and other publications. He was contributor to “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll” and “The New Grove Dictionary of American Music.” Friends of Lewes Public Library are sponsoring Emerson’s appearance in Lewes.

Music from any era in America’s history reflects what it was like to be living during the period. Music from the 1950s through the early 1960s is no exception. Those wanting to know more about the history of rock n’ roll music – music that wasn’t supposed to last – might be interested in hearing author Ken Emerson talk about it at the Lewes Public Library at 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20.

Emerson will talk about his book "Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era." He will talk about the period’s songs, songwriters, performers and producers, and play examples of music.

The Brill Building is in midtown Manhattan. Inside and in and a nearby warren of offices is where black, white and Latino songwriter-tunesmiths melded before school desegregation.

What defined Brill-era music? “The classics that we remember from our youth or that youth remember from remakes that are soundtracks for movies – songs like “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway,” we hear so frequently that we take them for granted. I hope people will have a new appreciation for what these songs are about and what has made them so durable,” Emerson said.

In his book, Emerson’s analysis of the era goes deeper than the music, to take a look at the personal lives of the music makers – those who wrote, performed and produced.

“Almost all the songwriters that I talk about were teens. Several of them were married, although only one of the marriages has lasted to this day,” he said.

There are stories about musicians, songwriters and producers working together, Emerson said. He cited “Hound Dog,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. “They were also producers, extraordinary producers, for groups like The Drifters. They engaged Carol King, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman to write songs that they bought for The Drifters,” Emerson said.

King and then-husband Gerry Goffin co-wrote “Up On The Roof,” which was a hit for The Drifters.

Husband-and-wife team Mann and Weil co-wrote “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” with Phil Spector, another Brill-era luminary. Pomus and Schuman wrote “Save The Last Dance For Me” and “This Magic Moment.”

Burt Bacharach also has ties to the late ’50s Brill-era. In the late 1960s, Bacharach and lyricist Hal David, who had met at the Brill Building a decade earlier, co-wrote a string of hits for Dionne Warwick including “Walk On By.”

Emerson said Bacharach’s early material is his best because he had been working with numerous rhythm and blues, gospel and black performers.

“It gave his early work some muscularity and emotional strength that some of his later work, when he tended to work with more, shall we say white bread artists who did not have that depth, that his music became a little effete,” Emerson observed.

He also examines how politics during their childhoods and later the civil rights movement influenced the music.

Emerson said during the Brill era almost every artist, black or white, was cheated by the music industry.

“Look at Dion DiMucci, he was white and was shafted just as thoroughly as anybody else was. The record business was a pretty cutthroat business, and nearly everybody was exploited,” he said. DiMucci wrote “Run Around Sue” and “The Wanderer.”

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