RIP Gerry Goffin

June 20, 2014 • 9:47 am

Oh dear. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll know Gerry Goffin as one of the famous “Brill Building” songwriters in New York, who, with Carole King, penned many of the pop hits of the early Sixties. This was the music I grew up with, and now I’m told by  the New York Times that Goffin passed away yesterday at age 75. He not only wrote with Carole King, but married her:

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.

Here are some of the songs Goffin wrote with Carole King, taken from the catalog on Wikipedia:

Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (1960, the Shirelles)

Take Good Care of My Baby” (1961, Bobby Vee)

Chains” (1962, The Cookies)

Go Away Little Girl” (1962, Steve Lawrence)

One Fine Day” (1963,The Chiffons)

Up on the Roof” (1963, The Drifters)

You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (1967; Aretha Franklin)

Here’s two he wrote with others:

“Run to Him” (1961, Bobby Vee)

Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)” (1961) Barry Mann

My favorite of all his (and King’s) songs is “Will you love me tomorrow?”, released in 1960 by the Shirelles, and the very first “girl group” song to hit #1 on the American pop charts. It’s a beautiful tune, exceptional for its time, and even more exceptional for its theme: a woman about to have sex with a man seeks reassurance that he really loves her and that she isn’t just a sex object. Now that was racy for 1960! But people barely noticed the message, so lovely was the song.

And so, as my tribute to Goffin, I’ll put up two versions of that song. The first is by the Shirelles themselves, a rare live performance from that era:

The song became a hit the second time when Carole King performed it solo with piano on her “Tapestry” album (1971), one of the best-selling albums of all time. (You remember, don’t you, that there’s a cat on the cover of that album?) Here she performs it live with James Taylor at the Troubador in 2010:

Goffin and King (so young!):

Gerry Goffin and Carole King at the RCA recording studio in New York around 1959. Credit Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images (from the NYT)

And with their friends/competitors, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, another dynamite songwriting duo from the “Brill Building” group:

Mr. Goffin, far right, with, clockwise from top, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann and Ms. King in 1961. Credit William “PoPsie” Randolph (from the NYT)

Finally, for grins, here’s the cover of Tapestry, an album everyone had in the Seventies. Can you spot the cat?


30 thoughts on “RIP Gerry Goffin

      1. She’s tremendous, isn’t she? She still is one dynamic, beautiful person at the age of seventy-two!

        Though I can’t make out the nightjar, I do believe I spot some properly positioned loo rolls (not Lou Rawls!). 🙂

  1. Just watched Carole King at the White House a couple of nights ago (taped last year). Love the Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow, but this Brook Benton version (which I only had on audio tape till I found this YouTube version) is possibly even better (but then I’m a woman who loves listening to this guy’s velvety tones;-)

  2. The NY Times obituary says that
    “’Up on the Roof’ was a beach music standard.”
    Does anybody know what qualified that song for the beach as opposed to numerous other songs?

    1. Well, it’s not literally about the beach, but it sure seems like a summertime kind of song to me.

    2. I’ve no doubt that the Carolina beach music shag dancer purist would have a problem with that song qualifying as “beach music.”

      On the other hand, I “confess” that I don’t listen to Carolina beach music.

  3. We saw James Taylor and Carole King perform “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” live in Las Vegas a couple of years ago!

  4. One aspect of this personal obit points up a marvelous tic many rock songwriters have used: asking questions in their lyrics. Just recently I wrote a short satire using some of the great rock ‘n’ roll questions, which in a purported deposition, I asked of Michel de Montaigne. I drew his answers from his actual essays.(One question, of course, was “Will you still love me tomorrow?” His response: “That boiling rapture is no good at all.”) Montaigne was forthcoming in his answers to most of the questions but he got thoroughly pissed off when I asked him, “Who put the bomp” etc. And he walked out.
    I’m very very fond of all those lyrics. They were social markers containing surprising wit that goes beyond the genre.

  5. I’m rather fond of Really Rosie. I’m a southern boy whose kids moved to Brooklyn.

    You have me wondering who wrote the lyrics, besides Sendak.

    My kids listened to it and were apparently converted.

    1. In the White House tribute, they had Billy Joel singing The Locomotion, which would not have been my first choice of performer for that song…

        1. Yup – Billy Joel pounding on the piano and belting out Locomotion. I think there were some backup singers, too, but it seemed a strange choice.

              1. I couldn’t stop myself from clicking on that…

                Actually, not as bad as I’d feared–great sax!–but watching Joel just reinforces how old we’ve all gotten (we who remember it on AM radio at the time!).

                When I hear Locomotion I want to be able to forget that! Not to mention, dance. They should’ve cut the audience lights and let ’em all work out.

  6. Mr. Goffin wrote the lyrics — among them some of the most memorable words in the history of popular music:

    “He hit me, and it felt like a kiss”

    Even when the gender politics are too fucked up to think about, the guy could deliver a line as sharp as Raymond Chandler’s razor.

  7. Everybody had Tapestry. Each song golden.

    I’m sure my copy is up in the attic with all my old LP’s.

  8. Wonderful to appraise once more the work of Goffin and King, and that song in particular. I remember “Will you still love me tomorrow?’ when it first came out and strived to hide the lump in my throat from the hearty London lads standing around the café jukebox with our greasy motorbikes outside.
    It is, of course, a rhetorical question. Most of us were quite sexist in the fifties and sixties, and that song raised in my mind the first possibilities of young women having delicate feelings about relationships which I had to address. For me it represents early feminism. And I took some years to address it. Perhaps thirty years and several relationships. And with that song playing upon my conscience.
    It was said that Carol Klein (King) was seventeen or just eighteen when she wrote the tune, although it had to be ‘arranged’ and developed for the recording by the Shirelles, who complained that the original tune was ‘too country’ and so they added those soaring strings. The song still has the power to stop me in my tracks as the authentic voice of young women when first in love.

    1. Yes, my all-time favourite pop song, with very moving lyrics. For years I assumed that Carole King had written the lyrics, since they represent such an intensely female point of view. Gerry Goffin was really ahead of his time and old for his years to be able to write such beautiful lyrics. Like you, that song has been in my conscience ever since. I love both the Shirelles’ version and Carole King’s, (of course I’ve got “Tapestry”), and the duet with James Taylor is just lovely as well.

      Thank you for this tribute, Professor Ceiling Cat. Gerry Goffin was, in my opinion, the best pop lyricist of the 20th century.

  9. Oh yeah, gonna dig out my copy of Tapestry now and just listen. I had no idea that King and Goffin wrote “Up on the Roof.” Wow.”Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is just, well, iconic.

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