In 1958, I was first really hit by pop music and the radio. That is when I first heard Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue, at the tender age of five. There are other tunes from around that period of my life that I remember–Gypsy Woman, Little Star, Sorry, I Ran All the Way Home, Come Softly to Me–but at that age I also played with army men and cowboys and well, I did not own a radio. Not to mention the radios we did have were controlled by my parents.
But, it was in the summer of 1962, when I was 10 and we were at a family camp near Lake Tahoe, I heard the incredible machine gun drums and droning saxes of what was the huge hit that summer, The Locomotion for the first time, and if Buddy Holly was the first nail of my rock and roll coffin, that moment was second.
The Locomotion was penned by Carole King and her then husband, Gerry Goffin, and was the first hit for their Dimension record label, but in reality, the team of Goffin and King had been cranking out hits as members of the Brill Building for years.
The Brill Building was the songwriting haven for luminaries that included Lieber and Stoller, Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, all of which is documented beautifully in the book Always Magic in the Air by Ken Emerson.
The Locomotion led to a request for a radio for the bedroom I then shared with my brother, and that Xmas we were given a white Packard Bell. As if that were not enough, our family also got a Motorola phonograph which played all speeds–16, 33.3, 45, and 78 RPM–of records.
We also got a copy of The First Family album, a political parody of the Kennedy family that was a huge hit at the time, and that started me on my path to collections of records and CDs along with a room full of musical instruments and playing in bands and pretty much a lifelong love of music in all forms. It started me on parodies, too.
Though I would have probably been hooked by music pretty soon anyway (I’m thinking had it not been The Locomotion, it would have been the Rockin’ Rebels Wild Weekend a few months later).
Wild Weekend was not written by Goffin and King, but it was a seriously rocking aong and one that hit me at the time like my mate Steve here notes KISS hit him. Don’t forget, I was just 11-years old then.
But, back to Goffin and King, among the wonderful hits the pair wrote are:
- Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (The Shirelles)
- Take Good Care of my Baby (Bobby Vee)
- Might as Well Rain Until September (The Shirelles/Carole King)
- One Fine Day (The Chiffons)
- Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees)
- Up on the Roof (The Drifters)
- I’m into Something Good (Herman’s Herrmits/Earl-Jean)
- Don’t Bring Me Down (The Animals)
- (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin)
Now, you have to remember that at the time a lot of the rock and roll was laughable by today’s standards. The wonderful and visceral and sexual Little Richard, for example, was sanitized by the awful Pat Boone for white kids (remember too this music was burgeoning around the time of the Civil Rights movement in the early).
But, much like Hip Hop was developed by the African American community, and the form was then “appropriated” for even broader commercial exploitation (and believe me, I am not talking the Beastie Boys here) earlier, rollicking rhythm and blues was swiped a la Richard to Boone.
At the time, though, Tutti Fruitti as performed by Little Richard was akin to Jimi Hendrix humping his Strat-O-Caster, or Wendy giving Prince a quasi blow job in the Purple Rain film (she does play a Rickenbacker, though), or anything current from Beyoncé on out.
Still, pop music, which was not necessarily rock and roll, was similarly tamer, and more orchestrated, an off-shoot of Broadway and tin pan alley largely still without the dominance of the electric guitar. Though that was indeed coming.
And, whether it floats your boat or not, or if the songs sound horribly dated and silly, the tunes of Goffin and King, I think, are still just lovely little masterpieces, much in the same league of Phil Spector. In fact, John Lennon noted that he wanted his songs with Paul McCartney to of the same ilk as those of the Dimension duo.
I still feel Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is among the sweetest of love songs.
One of the things that always nailed me about this production is the beautiful tremoly rake of the electric guitar on the “one” of each measure. Such a simple and sweet effect, and one that has impressed me to the tune that I try to employ it often when I am playing rhythm guitar.
By the time Pleasant Valley Sunday hit it, the Beatles had come and guitars were happening and even Hippies were here, criticizing the plastic life of the suburbs, so Goffin came up with this:
Oddly this is a song I always kind of wanted to cover in some band or another.
So, last week, Goffin passed away at the age of 75.
Though I have been so remiss at contributing here at the site–it is hard once my work week begins to find time for much else, but, well, 185 more calendar days–I could not let his passing go without honoring and thanking just a great songwriter and influence on my life.
So, I will close with one other tune from the pair, and the one that introduced me to the voice of Carole King:
Thanks Gerry. Peace out.