Gerry Goffin: Prolific songwriter whose work with his wife Carole King helped shape the course of popular music

‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ became one of the most-recorded songs ever

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The Independent Online

The husband-and-wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King was the most significant songwriting partnership of the early 1960s, their songs combining quality with commerciality. Their many successes included “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “Halfway To Paradise”, “Up On The Roof” and “Take Good Care Of My Baby”. When the Beatles started making hits, Lennon and McCartney’s stated long-term ambition was to become a British Goffin and King.

Goffin was born in Brooklyn in 1939. As a consequence of his father’s love for musicals by Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart, he was encouraged to write lyrics and poems, but during his teens didn’t find a fitting collaborator.

Graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School, he want to a naval academy, but within a year had left and enrolled at Queens College, intending to become a chemist. There, in 1958, he befriended a fellow student, Carole Klein, who planned to be a teacher. She knew Neil Sedaka and Paul Simon; all four had ambitions of writing hits for the publishing companies in and around the Brill Building. As Carole King, Klein recorded demos for other songwriters and released, without success, a few singles.

Goffin and King, married in 1959, were more interested in writing than studying. Al Nevins and Don Kirshner’s new publishing company, Aldon, gave them small advances. King left college when she was pregnant and they determined to become professional songwriters. One evening Goffin had gone bowling while King went to see her parents. When he returned she had left him a melody. He completed “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” in 15 minutes. The perceptive lyric was about the quandary of young love – if I give myself to you, will you respect me in the morning:  “Tonight you’re mine completely, / You give your love so sweetly, / Tonight the light of love is in your eyes, / But will you love me tomorrow?”

 

The Shirelles recorded the song with King’s arrangement and the record was an international hit in 1960. It has become one of the most recorded songs of all time and Goffin and King’s most valuable copyright.

Kirshner developed Aldon Music with such writing teams as Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and several others. Aldon Music was a few doors away from the Brill Building at 1650 Broadway, and their advantage was that the writers were young; they understood rock’n’roll and were the same age as the record-buying public.

Critics have said that Kirshner replaced one production line with another. The songs conformed to a formula – simply expressed boy/girl songs with catchy melodies – but this is to deny their skill. Goffin’s lyrics were literate, scanning and rhyming properly, with none of the laziness of having the third verse simply repeat the first. Goffin would sharpen his lyrics, while melodies were more instinctive for King. “Carole always said that they came from God,” he said, “but I’m not that pretentious to think that God’s going to send me a lyric.”

The Aldon writers wrote for a host of teenage stars and wannabes. Goffin and King had particular success with the sweet-voiced Bobby Vee, whose songs reflected the gallant loser: stars like Jerry Lee Lewis would never have sung “Take good care of my baby, Please don’t ever make her blue” or “If you found another guy who satisfies you more than I, run to him.”

“Take Good Care Of My Baby”, a transatlantic No 1, features a rare Goffin melody. Among the many Goffin and King songs Vee recorded were “Walkin’ With My Angel”, “How Many Tears”, “In My Baby’s Eyes”, “My Golden Chance” and “Sharing You”. King’s demo of “It Might As Well Rain Until September” (1962) for Vee was so strong that Kirshner issued it on his Dimension label, where it became a major hit.

Many of Goffin and King’s songs were covered by British artists and so Tony Orlando missed out with “Halfway To Paradise” and “I’d Never Find Another You” (both 1961) because of Billy Fury, while Steve Lawrence’s “Go Away Little Girl” was a UK hit for Mark Wynter.

The Aldon writers also serviced Phil Spector. Goffin and King wrote the high-pitched “Every Breath I Take” for Gene Pitney and the controversial “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” for the Crystals. After Spector created a deep, cavernous sound for the Righteous Brothers version of Mann and Weil’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, Goffin and King wrote the follow-ups, “Just Once In My Life” and “Hung On You”, both 1965. Aldon writers wrote for soul and R&B acts, and Goffin and King had particular success with the Drifters. The theme of “Up On The Roof” (1962) was hardly new but the lyric was developed in a novel manner: “I climb way up to the top of the stairs, / And all my cares just drift right into space.”

They wrote “So Much Love” for the Drifters’ former lead singer, Ben E King, and the ultra-soulful “Hey Girl” for Freddie Scott. The excellent “What A Sweet Thing That Was” for the Shirelles was another of their songs, as well as a hit for the Shirelles-soundalikes, the Chiffons, “One Fine Day”.

Goffin could be a witty lyricist and he worked with Barry Mann on a novelty hit commenting on musical trends of the day, “Who Put The Bomp (In the Bomp Bomp Bomp Bomp)” (1961). Goffin and King wrote the dance record “The Locomotion” (1962), which was recorded by their babysitter, Little Eva. Goffin and Keller wrote another hit for her, “Let’s Turkey Trot”, as well as the exquisite “No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile” for the Everly Brothers.

The Beatles recorded “Chains”, originally by the Cookies, for their first LP, and performed “Don’t Ever Change” (a hit for the Crickets) and “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” (Little Eva) on stage shows and in session for the BBC. But the wave of new groups writing their own material restricted Goffin and King’s outlets. Nevertheless, they did well through cover versions such as  “Oh No Not My Baby” (Manfred Mann) and “I’m Into Something Good”, a No 1 for Herman’s Hermits.

When the Beatles moved into more progressive sounds, Don Kirshner created a new group, the Monkees, for whom Goffin and King wrote “Take A Giant Step” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. They also wrote the nostalgic and perceptive “Goin’ Back”, which was blessed with fine versions by the Byrds and Dusty Springfield. The Byrds recorded “Wasn’t Born To Follow”, and in 1967 when Aretha Franklin’s producer, Jerry Wexler, suggested the title “Natural Woman”, they wrote the emotional “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for her.

Although Goffin and King divorced in 1968 because of Goffin’s infidelity, the couple continued to work together, writing “(That Old Sweet Roll) Hi-De-Ho” for Blood, Sweat and Tears and “Smackwater Jack”, which appeared on King’s multi-platinum album Tapestry (1971). That album included a skilful, slowed-down “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, which demonstrated that the lyric worked just as poignantly for a housewife stuck in an unstable marriage. Once his former wife became a major star, Goffin found it difficult to, as he said, “put words in her mouth” and he usually worked with other writers and performers.

During the 1970s he collaborated with Barry Goldberg (“I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”, recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and “It’s Not the Spotlight”, recorded by Rod Stewart) and Michael Masser, with whom he earned an Oscar nomination for the theme from the Diana Ross film Mahogany. In 1973 Goffin recorded a double album, It Ain’t Exactly Entertainment, but the very title revealed that he was unsure about what to write, while his singing voice was not distinctive enough. One song, “Everything And Nothing”, summed up his career and his problems with drugs: “The times in my life when I wanted nothing / Were the best that I recall, / I set no goals for my soul to reach for / So I had no place to fall.”

Goffin continued writing hits such as “Tonight I Celebrate My Love” (Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack, 1983) and the UK No 1s, “Saving All My Love for You” (Whitney Houston, 1985) and “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” (Glenn Medeiros, 1988). In 1996 he released another LP, Back Room Blood.

The 1997 film, Grace Of My Heart, dealt with the Brill Building and Eric Stoltz’s smug character was based on Goffin. He had been ill in recent years but attended the opening of the Broadway hit Beautiful – The Carole King Musical with his wife, Michele.

Gerald Goffin, songwriter: born Brooklyn 11 February 1939; married 1959 Carole King (divorced 1968; two daughters), secondly Michele (one daughter), one daughter with Jeanie McRea Reavis, one son: died Los Angeles 19 June 2014.

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