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Archive for June 19th, 2014

In Memoriam: Gerry Goffin (1939-2014)

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Gerry Goffin - Back Room BloodWhen this old world starts getting me down, a sure way to cheer me up is to play a Gerry Goffin lyric.  Songs like “I’m Into Something Good,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “The Loco-Motion” all are filled with youthful optimism and unfettered joy, qualities that Goffin could lyrically impart with abundant heart and craftsmanship.  These songs can raise the spirits (and the pulse!) in the way that only the most transcendent music can.  Goffin passed away today at the age of 75, but lived long enough to see his songbook – one that ranks among the finest in American popular music – justly celebrated in every conceivable medium including the Broadway stage.  The Tony Award-winning Beautiful is subtitled The Carole King Musical after Goffin’s first wife and most frequent songwriting partner, but it might as well bear the name The Goffin and King Musical.

Gerry Goffin was inspired by the Broadway greats of yesteryear, including Richard Rodgers’ first partner Lorenz Hart, when he set out with his young wife Carole King to write songs and in the process shaped the sound of pop music.  Forget those revisionists who claim that the terrain of popular song was a wasteland between the birth of rock-and-roll and the coming of The Beatles.  Between 1960 and 1963, Goffin and King turned out such songs as “Chains,” “Go Away, Little Girl,” “It Might as Well Rain ‘Til September,” “Hey Girl,” “One Fine Day,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” and a pair of breathtaking standards: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Up on the Roof.”  The former, the duo’s breakthrough and first chart-topper, showed startlingly unusual sensitivity.  Goffin wrote from the perspective of a teenage girl worried that her boyfriend won’t love her once she gives up the near and dear prize she’s been withholding.  It was a situation many young girls had doubtless experienced, given voice with eloquence, vulnerability, honesty and universality.  Though barely out of his own teen years, Goffin’s understanding of the human condition was already apparent.  His ever-developing maturity was never more apparent than in his lyric to “Up on the Roof,” a sophisticated yet dreamy ballad that stunningly romanticized the urban landscape.  Who hadn’t wished for a place for their cares to drift right into space?  Gerry Goffin’s lyrics transcended age, gender and status.

Something Good Carole KingGoffin found beauty and poetry in anguish. Think of the sublimely artful despair of “Hey, Girl,” “No Easy Way Down,” “Just Once in My Life,” “I Can’t Make It Alone,” “The Right to Cry” and scores of others songs that were as much soul as pop.  When The British Invasion hit American shores and The Brill Building scene began to wane, Goffin adapted, reinventing his lyrical style and taking inspiration from Bob Dylan and beyond.  “Porpoise Song” was trippy psychedelia and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was a scathing indictment of suburbia.  The evocative, haunting imagery of “Snow Queen” was light years removed from “Take Good Care of My Baby” but just as exhilarating.  The marriage of lyricist and composer between Goffin and King was a perfect one, even if their real-life marriage wasn’t.

Yet even as he battled personal demons in the later days of their union, Goffin was able to pen an anthem like “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” so memorably delivered first by Aretha Franklin and later by Carole King herself on Tapestry.  That epochal singer-songwriter album, incidentally, featured three songs with lyrics by Gerry Goffin including the atypically humorous “Smackwater Jack.”  Goffin reinvented himself yet again in partnership with writers like Barry Goldberg (“I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”) and Michael Masser (“Saving All My Love for You,” “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You”).  In 1995, Goffin released the solo LP Back Room Blood in which he co-wrote a pair of songs with none other than Bob Dylan.  What greater testament is there to Goffin’s artistic rebirth than to note that Dylan also served as sideman and co-producer?

As one of his lyrics goes, Gerry Goffin “wasn’t born to follow;” he carved his own path.  It goes without saying that his timeless and vibrant songs – including roughly sixty Top 40 hits – will live on, discovered by each subsequent generation.  No doubt the local rock group down the street is trying hard to learn a Gerry Goffin song.  I’d like to think Mr. Goffin is smiling down.

Written by Joe Marchese

June 19, 2014 at 21:45

Posted in Gerry Goffin, News

The Manhattans’ “Its Feels So Good” Comes To CD In Expanded Edition

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Manhattans - It Feels So GoodThe Manhattans took their name from a New York borough, had their roots in New Jersey, and found their greatest success with The Sound of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But thanks to the enduring success of songs like “Kiss and Say Goodbye” and “Shining Star,” the vocal quartet belonged not just to the Tri-State Area of the United States, but to the world. 1977’s It Feels So Good, from The Manhattans’ classic tenure on Columbia Records with Philly soul producer Bobby Martin, has finally arrived on CD in an expanded edition thanks to Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint.

It Feels So Good immediately followed Manhattans, which wasn’t the group’s Columbia debut but rather The Manhattans’ third album for the label. Edward “Sonny” Bivins, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Kenneth “Wally” Kelly, George “Smitty” Smith and Richard “Richie” Taylor began singing together on the streets of Jersey City, New Jersey in the days of doo-wop. In 1963, Lovett, Bivins and Smith recorded a single as The Dulcets for the Sue label, but their trio days were short-lived. Soon, all five men reconvened, and they were signed – as The Manhattans – by saxophonist and entrepreneur Joe Evans to his Carnival label. At Carnival, The Manhattans reached a high of No. 12 R&B (Pop No. 68) with 1965’s “I Wanna Be (Your Everything),” and went on to score numerous Top 30 R&B hits there.

From Carnival, the group migrated to King Records’ DeLuxe imprint, and between 1970 and 1973, The Manhattans scored further chart successes such as “If My Heart Could Speak” (R&B No. 30, 1970) and “One Life to Live” (R&B No. 3, 1972). Tragedy struck in late 1970, however, with the death of Smith from a subdural hematoma. Gerald Alston, less than 20 years old and the nephew of The Shirelles’ Shirley Alston Reeves, stepped in to replace him. Alston had befriended Smith when his group The New Imperials opened for The Manhattans, and the elder man actually gave the young singer his blessing to join The Manhattans. Alston’s soaring lead vocal on “One Life to Live,” in part, helped earn the group a spot on the Columbia Records roster. But just as The Manhattans were taking off on a national level at Columbia, Richard Taylor left the group. The four-person line-up made its debut with It Feels So Good, released on the heels of The Manhattans and its massive hit single “Kiss and Say Goodbye” (No. 1 Pop/No. 1 R&B, 1976).

The quartet had the good fortune of continuing its association with Philadelphia-based producer Bobby Martin, who had co-produced and arranged the group’s first three Columbia long-players (and would continue through 1978’s There’s No Good in Goodbye, his fifth album with The Manhattans). Martin was a key arranger at Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label, and brought the group to Sigma Sound Studios, incubator for all of that label’s hits. The services of MFSB – the studio’s “house band” – were also enlisted. Norman Harris, Bobby Eli, Roland Chambers, Lenny Pakula, Vince Montana, Ronnie Baker, Jack Faith, Don Renaldo, Earl Young and Larry Washington all, at one time or another, played on The Manhattans’ Philly-made records.

There’s more after the jump including the complete track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 19, 2014 at 13:05

It’s Got That Swing: Ellington’s “After Midnight” Recordings Collected By Legacy [UPDATED 6/19]

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After MidnightWhen this year’s Tony Award nominations were announced on April 29, After Midnight was among the most-recognized productions of the season with seven nominations including Best Musical. The critically-acclaimed show, which has been running at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre since October of last year, picked up one Tony for Warren Carlyle’s vivid choreography.  But After Midnight has recently announced a closing date of June 29.  With its departure from the Great White Way, prospects for an original cast album seem even dimmer than before.  Happily, Legacy Recordings has come along to partially fill in the gap with a collection of the vintage big band recordings that inspired the musical. On June 17, the label will release The Original Recordings That Inspired The Broadway Hit After Midnight from legendary composer-bandleader Duke Ellington (1899-1974), whose music is played eight times a week onstage by the Lincoln Center Jazz All-Stars.

The revue celebrating Ellington’s music and the rich legacy of Harlem’s Cotton Club was conceived by Jack Viertel in cooperation with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle.  With evocative snippets of text by Langston Hughes as connective tissue, the musical features the 17-piece All-Stars and a cast of 25 multi-talented performers (including a rotating guest slot that has so far included Fantasia, Vanessa Williams, k.d. lang, Toni Braxton, and currently, Patti LaBelle) to bring the Jazz Age to life via a variety of vocal songs, instrumentals, dance specialties, comedy and more.  Under Marsalis’ guidance, the band plays the classic period arrangements – as heard on Legacy’s new compilation disc in recordings made between 1927 and 1940.

Though born in the final year of the 19th century, few figures in 20th century music were as influential as the composer, arranger, pianist and bandleader. After Midnight features songs from one of the most creatively fertile periods of Ellington’s long and distinguished career. On December 4, 1927, he began his engagement at New York City’s Cotton Club, and he led the house band there until June 30, 1931. Ellington recorded over 100 songs during this period, gaining national exposure via both radio and recordings even as word traveled of his band’s incendiary live performances. By the time of his first ever long-playing album, 1951’s Masterpieces by Ellington, he was true American cultural royalty, well-established via films, Broadway musicals and the enduring now-standard compositions he gifted to the Great American Songbook.

In addition to composing his own music at the Cotton Club, Ellington arranged music by other great songwriters including Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, and Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. Songs from these talents represented in both the musical and on the companion disc include “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, “Stormy Weather,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Cotton Club Stomp”. The recordings here were made between 1927 and 1940; as Ellington recorded many of these tunes numerous times for various labels, Legacy has a vast archive of performances to draw upon.  The Original Recordings includes vocals by African-American trailblazers Ethel Waters, The Mills Brothers and Ivie Anderson; their spirits are all affectionately channeled onstage in the production.

After the jump, we have more including the complete track listing with verified discography, and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 19, 2014 at 09:52