Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Always Magic in The Air

Second only to Hollywood, the music business has always fascinated me. And not just the singers and the bands and the producers but the thieves and mobsters and goons who keep the big jukebox running.

For several decades the Brill building in New York--and another building associated it--housed the likes of Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, Carole King and Bachrach and David, all of whom were writing songs for stars much bigger than themselves--the late `50s and early `60s stars of my generation.

Always Magic in The Air recreates that time with elegant ease. A lot of it is funny, a lot of it is crazy, and almost all of it shows how much a role coincidence plays in making hits.

One of the stories writer Ken Emerson tells with obvious glee concerns two songs written by rock legends Pomus and Shuman for the then-big Bobby Vee. But when it came to actually recording it with the singer they knew instantly that he was too laid back to put any fire into the tunes, "His Latest Flame" and "Little Sister." They made a demo and took it took their friend Bobby Darin. He recorded them but nobody liked them, especially Darin. He felt that rock and roll no longer suited his new image as movie and nightclub star. After a few other attempts, they were able to get the songs to Elvis. He loved them but the demo Pomus and Shuman had done scared even him off--too hot. He toned it down for mass consumption. The Brill building had a big week that summer. The song that Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffinwrote for Bobby Vee went to number one and the two-sided hit Little Sister and His latest flame went to 4 and 5 respectively.

If you like showbiz lore, this is the book for you.


Blogger Bill said...

I'm reading this book now, and I'm just at the part about those two songs being written for Bobby Vee. Great stuff. If it were 1959 again, I'd head straight for the Brill Building instead of college.

7:33 PM  

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