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Songwriters of the 1950’s

by Erika Cox

There were a number of popular and successful songwriting duos that helped rock and roll music flourish in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Many of these songwriters worked in or got their start working at the Brill Building located on 16th & Broadway in the heart of New York City’s music district.

The Brill Building was known to produce songs that changed the course of music in the 1950’s. The Brill Building was built in 1933 and named after the Brill Brothers who owned the building located between 49th and 53rd streets.

The building contained everything a musician needed. One could find a songwriter, cut a demo, promote the record, and cut a deal with radio promoters all within this one building.

The offices inside the building were small and cramped for a studio with just enough room for a piano, bench and perhaps a chair.

Similar to a regular office with employees working in small cubicles, there would be a number of songwriters sitting in small spaces writing songs, while next to them was the next songwriter writing away on another song.

Don Kirshner was a publisher and songwriter at the Brill Building who hired a number of songwriters to create and write catchy songs. Like a manager in an office setting, he would often state the need for the songwriters to come up with the next new hit for the various groups he was promoting.

Krishner had some of the best songwriters on hand. The first songwriting duo was Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote songs for various artists, created their own record label, Sparks Record.

Although Atlantic eventually bought Sparks, Leiber and Stoller continued to work as independent producers for Atlantic.

Phil Spector did sort of an apprenticeship with the duo, learning all the skills necessary to successfully produce his own groups. Leiber and Stoller wrote a number of hit songs.

For example, they wrote “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton, which later became a huge hit for Elvis Presley and “Stand By Me”, one of the most popular Doo-Wop songs sung by the Drifters.

Leiber and Stoller were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The next popular duo was Howie Greenfield and Neil Sedaka who wrote a number of pure pop hit songs.

Sedaka was a singer, but joined with Greenfield to produce a number of hit songs for himself and artists like Connie Francis.

The next successful duo was Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Like Sedaka, King was also a singer and married her songwriting partner, Goffin. Their songs were written mostly for and about teenagers.

The songs dealt with the typical themes; love, rejection, jealousy, and teenage experiences. A few of their songs were “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva, and “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Bobby Vee.

King and Goffin were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, another husband and wife songwriting team, were the most productive and talented duos at the Brill Building besides King and Goffin.

They had a string of successful hits throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s with various artists, and in 1987 the duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The last successful songwriting duo to mention is Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, another husband and wife duo, they also produced and wrote many of the teenage related songs of the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Greenwich and Barry were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1991. This wide range of talented songwriters were very instrumental in writing successful songs and contributing to the success of many groups.

The songwriters at the Brill Building brought professionalism, quality, and maturity to rock and roll and pop music and they also influenced future songwriters like John Lennon, Holland, Dozier and Holland just to name a few.

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