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Gerry Goffin: An appreciation

It’s understandable that Gerry Goffin was long ago overshadowed by his 1960s writing partner and ex-wife Carole King, but when he died yesterday at 75, she was quick to acknowledge his personal and professional significance.

Cover of "Goffin & King" compilation CD.
Ace Records

“Gerry Goffin was my first love,” King said in a statement. “He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship.”

With King, Goffin wrote scores of classic hits for the likes of the Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), Bobby Vee (“Take Good Care of My Baby”), Steve Lawrence (“Go Away Little Girl”), Little Eva (“The Loco-Motion”), The Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), The Chiffons (“One Fine Day”), The Drifters (“Up On the Roof”), and The Animals (“Don’t Bring Me Down”), to name just a few. Indeed, these and other songs are among the most enduring of the “Brill Building” New York pop songwriting era, commonly hailed by many baby boomers yesterday as providing the “soundtrack of our lives.”

"His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn't know how to say," King said.

They’re forever known as Goffin & King, and for music business legend Seymour Stein, who worked in the Brill Building prior to founding Sire Records, “it was hard to separate them.”

“They were incredible writers,” he said, recalling how Don Kirshner, the Brill Building publisher of Goffin & King along with contemporaries including the teams of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, held a competition for The Shirelles’ follow-up to their hit “Tonight’s the Night," which Goffin & King won with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”

“They were great at doing follow-up songs,” says Stein. “They also wrote songs for people who had great taste—Phil Spector, most important of all, and Gene Pitney, and when everybody was trying to get songs done by The Drifters, they had at least three of them. But they also discovered and produced artists like Little Eva and Tony Orlando, and their hits got covered, like Earl-Jean’s ‘I’m Into Something Good,’ which was covered for a hit again by Herman’s Hermits.”

In her memoir, King said Goffin suffered from mental illness,

“He was a sweet guy who was plagued with problems, but when he was on the medicine he was very calm and nice to be around,” says veteran music publisher Irwin Robinson, who worked with the late Kirshner. “He was the lyricist—and he was right on point: He knew how to tell a story in three mintues or less, and the fact that he wrote the lyric for [Aretha Franklin’s 1967 Goffin & King hit ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ shows how special he was to write from a woman’s point-of-view.”

BMI VP of writer-publisher relations Charlie Feldman also worked with Goffin, when he worked for Goffin’s publisher Screen Gems-Columbia Music Inc.

"Gerry was gentle around me,” says Feldman. “He was very sweet and almost like a young boy--a man of few words with a blank stare at times, but he still had his powers. It is obvious by his lyrics from the late ‘50s and ‘60s that he was brilliant at the craft of songwriting. Let us not forget that after he appeared to be losing his grip he gave us ‘Saving All My Love For You,’ ‘It’s Not the Spotlight’ and ‘I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,’ to mention a few.”

Goffin cowrote both Rod Stewart’s “It’s Not the Spotlight” and Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” with pianist/composer Barry Goldberg.

"Gerry was one of the greatest lyricists of all time and my true soul brother,” Goldberg said in a statement. “I was privileged to have had him in my personal and professional life."

Producer Russ Titelman also co-wrote with Goffin.

“We had gone to see A Hard Day's Night, and immediately after we went back to the apartment I shared with Jeannie--Earl-Jean McCree, lead singer of the Cookies--and her sister Darlene in East Orange, N.J.,” says Titelman. “We wrote ‘Yes I Will’ very quickly in the style of ‘If I Fell,’ but luckily for us Carole cut a demo of the song, which The Hollies pretty much copied. Her amazing sense of what was right probably made it a hit.”

Goffin, continues Titelman, “blessed my life as a writer and producer with his unique, passionate, poetic understanding of how to create those teenage movies we made back in the ‘60s, and raised what little talent I had as a songwriter and producer to a place I never imagined I could get to. When he suggested we write together, I couldn't believe my good fortune. He was my mentor in the beginning of my career, and I was in awe of him but his sense of humor, his kindness and generosity made it easy to just do the work, and what I learned from him stayed with me and influenced everything I did going forward.”

“He once said to me, ‘I never wrote any poetry,’” says Titelman, invoking a lyric from “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

"I responded by telling him that others would disagree. After all, he had written these lines: ‘When my soul was in the lost and found/You came along to claim it/I didn't know just what was wrong with me/Til your kiss helped me name it.’ He was a dear friend, and I loved him very much.”

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil tweeted: “Now that Gerry Goffin is gone a part of us is gone 2. But we still have his great lyrics & our great memories. We'll miss him.”

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