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Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era Paperback – September 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Emerson (Doo-Dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture) enthusiastically chronicles the lives and careers of seven songwriting teams whose pioneering work from the late 1950s through the mid '60s ushered rock and roll into mainstream America. From Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman came enduring hits like "On Broadway" and "Yakety-Yak." Emerson follows their progress as competitors, lovers and collaborators, creating a hagiography of these ambitious, often classically trained (and often Brooklyn-bred) tyros, influenced as much by the great American songbook as New York City's Latin, soul and doo-wop sounds. Emerson also depicts a music industry in flux, shifting idols from Sinatra to Elvis and learning to cater to a lucrative youth market. Seldom short on gossip, this dense mix of biography, music analysis and social history offers an upbeat reading of rock history. It begs for a fuller discussion of the influences of Motown, the British invasion and payola, but Emerson's affectionate tone, delight in the songwriter's craft and extensive research are fortifying—much like the classics he celebrates.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Many of the early sixties' most memorable songs, such as "Up on the Roof," "Stand by Me," and "Walk on By," were penned in small offices in Manhattan's Brill Building, the midcentury version of the fabled Tin Pan Alley. Virtually all the songwriters were Brooklyn Jews who fell in love with black music and worked in duos, many of which were married couples. The first contingent, including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, were heavily influenced by R & B; the second, including Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David, were more pop-oriented. The era ended when the songwriters followed the industry to L.A., which lacked the urban edge that fueled their work in New York. The Brill Building may have been a music factory, but its sweatshop workers brought craftsmanship to teen music and added a distaff element to rock's boys' club. Emerson effectively evokes a milieu whose output remains fondly remembered--and frequently rerecorded--to this day. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037774
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Marc Flanagan on November 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Years ago I spent some time with Carole King, she used to come to the set of The Tracey Ullman Show and sit in with the band. I was a writer and producer on the program and as it is televison there is a lot of waiting around so I would chat up Carol, I was anxious to talk with her about her time in New York during that era. Ms King was modest about her contribution to that period in pop music, " For a lot of us it was just an afterschool job." Now close to forty plus years later, the tunes penned by Carole and her husband Gerry Goffin, Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus and of course, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, are now apart of the American Songbook. The author Ken Emerson has done a thorough job detailing the major contributors who were most associated with The Brill Building era . It was an exciting time in the music industry, dominated by AM radio( and payola) careers were won and lost in the blink of an eye. Those who toiled in the pop business were intent on writing not just a song, but a monster hit song and then writing an even bigger one . Most of them were just out of their teens, so they wrote about what they knew kids could relate to. If you are the kind of person who turns up their radio to sing along to, "On Broadway", "Save the Last Dance For Me", "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and all of the great pop songs of the early sixties,then you will be delighted to read these back stories and hum along with The Coasters as they "Yakety Yak, don't talk back." A very cool read.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Laura Pinto on December 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
'Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era' is an entertaining, comprehensive, and riveting study of seven legendary songwriting teams - Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman; Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller; Burt Bacharach/Hal David; Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield; Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil; Gerry Goffin/Carole King; and Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich. The time was the 1950's and 1960's - the Golden Era of rock and roll - and the place was New York City. The players were young, talented, and Jewish. They came from varying social and economic backgrounds. They brought with them their energy, enthusiasm, and artistry, and they left their collective footprints in musical history - and in our minds and hearts. More than just a biography of fourteen people, however, 'Always Magic...' is an all-inclusive study of the sounds born in two relatively unimposing buildings in Manhattan - the Brill Building, located at 1619 Broadway, and its near neighbor at 1650 Broadway. The roots of rock and roll in general are discussed, as are the Latin influences behind some of the songs brought forth by these talented scribes (one example is the *baion* drumbeat intro to "Be My Baby"); and the individual and collective backgrounds and lives of the principals, several of whom were interviewed for this book, are covered in depth. Their personal histories are fascinating to read about. In the case of the composers no longer with us - Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, and Howard Greenfield - author Ken Emerson drew on a wealth of biographical and historical information as well as contributions from friends, relatives, and other reliable sources. Emerson also utilized material from previously published and/or broadcast articles, interviews and documentaries in all cases.Read more ›
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on March 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Ken Emerson has given us a well-researched book on seven song writing teams during the late 1950's and early 1960's. It is a marvelous companion volume to the DVD set entitled The Songmakers, part of which is devoted to these songwriters in the portion called "The Hitmakers--The Teens Who Stole Pop Music". The fact that musical history was being created during this time period was lost on the talented writers and singers as they provided the teen buying public who had the buck to purchase the 45 RPM record. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller brought their considerable talents from California to New York in 1957 while Brooklyn in particular seemed to be a hotbed for those writers and singers who did their work in the Brill Building or at 1650 Broadway. All was not a bed of roses for these talented individuals, however. Stress in their private lives led to marital breakups as well as other problems. The DVD set has the advantage of letting you listen to these talented song writers talk about their experiences, and listen to snippets of songs they made popular, while this book has the advantage of going into more detail along with anecdotes about these individuals and how some experience would trigger an idea for a song. When the 1960's generation reaches nursing home status instead of listening to "You Are My Sunshine" and "Shine on Harvest Moon" they will be singing to "Leader of the Pack", "He's A Rebel", and other such songs. Jeff and Ellie, Carole and Gerry, Barry and Cynthia, Jerry and Mike, Neil and Howard, Doc and Mort, and Burt and Hal: There is more to history than wars, treaties, and presidents, and the American public is deeply indebted to you for adding so much to our cultural history.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By hyperbolium on December 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ken Emerson's detailed history of seven pairs of writers (Leiber & Stoller, Bacharach & David, Sedaka & Greenfield, Mann & Weil, Goffin & King, Pomus & Shuman, and Barry & Greenwich) is a detailed chronicle of the Brill Building's seminal place in the history of pop music writing. Unfortunately, Emerson's pedantic writing style and his inability to find narratives makes this a less than lyrical read. His collection of vignettes fails to lift the writers off the page or deliver a feel for the arcs of their careers. Most ironically, his university professor prose is riddled with ten-dollar words ("perdurable," "routinized," "auguries," "lamasery," "rumbustious," "subalterns," "roisterous," etc.) that are at odds with the vernacular exalted in these songwriters' work.

Worse yet are Emerson's writing tics, which his editor should have stamped out in the first draft. He repeats the phrase "the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway" throughout the book, rather than pointing out the importance of the sister building once and then using the colloquial "Brill Building." He rotates the attribution of the songwriting pairs -- "Goffin and King" on one page, "King and Goffin" on the next -- as if using the formal credit by which they're famously known would slight the second named partner. His prose is filled with distractions and the occasional pointless aside, and he supplements the academic treatment with 34-pages of end notes that source the quotes in the 270-page main text. That's 11% end notes that could have been posted on a website, rather than sold in paper to every casual reader of this book.

The presentation is a shame, because much of the research, both original interviews and reuse of existing materials, is excellent.
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