Tin Pan Alley Artists And Times Of Change

Rock historian Ed Ward explains how New York City's Tin Pan Alley songwriters coped with changing times in the 1960s.

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TERRY GROSS, host:

The Beatles changed the paradigm of popular music. Bands started writing their own songs. For songwriters working in the old Tin Pan Alley system, this could have been disaster. Rock historian Ed Ward looks at how a number of these songwriters and songwriting teams coped with the new order.

(Soundbite of song, "I Have A Boyfriend")

THE CHIFFONS (Music Group): (Singing) I have a boyfriend, Met him a week ago, He's my forever, Last night he told me so, He's the boy that I adore, Never felt like this before, And I know I'll never let him go, I have a boyfriend…

ED WARD: By 1965, songs like this one sung by the Chiffons and written by the Brill Building songwriting team of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry were fading from the scene. A movement spearheaded by the Beatles, picked up by their countrymen the Kinks and the Animals and reinforced in America by the likes of the Byrds saw American teenagers opting for more serious subjects and more complex harmonies. The artists were writing their own material, so that song writers who had been used to showing up at a session with demo records of songs they'd written for the performers to choose from were becoming irrelevant. Or were they? Were all these new performers actually writing all their own material?

(Soundbite of song, "Every Time You Walk in to the Room")

THE SEARCHERS (Music Group): (Singing) I can feel a new expression on my face, I can feel a glowing sensation taking place, I can hear the guitars play lovely tunes, every time that you walk in the room…

WARD: On the face of it, the Searchers' "Every Time You Walk into the Room" was a pretty typical British Invasion record for the chiming electric 12-string guitars and the maracas used as percussion. The band was even from Liverpool, but the song was written a West Coast-based professional songwriter named Jackie DeShannon, who had also provides the four with their first hit, "Needles and Pins." Paul Revere and the Raiders were an American success story. Regional hits in the Pacific Northwest had led to a contract with Columbia Records and a television job with Dick Clark's replacement for "American Bandstand" called "Where The Action Is."

Sure, they wore hokey Revolutionary War outfits onstage, but hey, their keyboard player really was named Paul Revere. And in fact, in their previous incarnation as local wonders, they, like many of the other bands on that scene, were known for their instrumentals. When it came time for their vocalist, Mark Lindsay, to sing, he used other people's words.

(Soundbite of song, "Hungry")

Mr. MARK LINDSAY (Paul Revere and the Raiders): (Singing) Girl you got this need to know what I'm all about, well, there was something that you dig you can't figure out, well, now you want to know what moves my soul, and what ticks inside of my brain, well, I got this need I just can't control, and it's ah driving me insane, I can't take it, ow, because I'm, Hungry for those good things baby, Hungry through and through, I'm hungry for that sweet life baby, with a real fine girl like you, I can almost taste it baby, and it's sweet as wine, There's a custom-tailored world that…

WARD: The fact is, their two Top Ten hits in the 1960s, "Hungry" and "Kicks," were both products of the Brill Building team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who also wrote for the Chiffons, the Cinderellas, and Jean Pitney. And the Byrds? They had two songwriting dynamos, Gene Clark and David Crosby, and were famous for their electric versions of Bob Dylan songs, but even so, they occasionally availed themselves of the pros.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Doubt Yourself Babe")

THE BYRDS (Music Group): (Singing) Don't doubt yourself babe, Let your feet stand up for your beliefs babe, I know what's running through your mind, You think you ought to capture time, Make love walk the straight and narrow, Oh, oh, oh, Don't doubt yourself gal…

WARD: "Don't Doubt Yourself Babe" is another Jackie DeShannon song. The band knew her because she hung around the Troubadour Bar like they did. So when they needed material for their first album, she had it. The Byrds even raided the Brill Building itself once for song by perhaps its most famous team, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The song they got later took a the life of its own.

(Soundbite of song, "Wasn't Born To Follow")

Ms. DUSTY SPRINGFIELD (Singer): (Singing) Oh I'd rather go and journey where the diamond crest is flowing and, Run across the valley beneath the sacred mountain and wander through the forest, Where the trees have leaves of prisms and break the light in colors, That no one knows the names of, And when it's time I'll go and wait beside a legendary fountain…

WARD: Dusty Springfield's version, "Wasn't Born to Follow," the song the Byrds had put into the soundtrack in the film "Easy Rider," is based on another version of the song by a band called the City. The City, in fact, pointed in the direction which some of these songwriters went. It was fronted by Carole King. Although it didn't do very well, it gave her the confidence to record an album under her own name. "Tapestry" would go on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time. And then there were songwriters who weren't particularly successful, for whom performance might be a way out of the contract songwriting game.

(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Dancing Bear")

Mr. ALAN PRICE (Singer): (Singer) I may go out tomorrow if I can borrow a coat to wear, Oh, I'd step out in style with my sincere smile and my dancing bear, Outrageous, alarming, courageous, charming, Oh, who would think a boy and bear could be well accepted everywhere, It's just amazing how fair people can be…

WARD: Clearly someone who wrote songs like this, even if they could get them recorded by former Animals keyboardist Alan Price was too weird for the pop market. The young Randy Newman had connections in the film music business and was lucky enough to get a contract with Warner Brothers, which gave him a free hand. Eventually it was a pay off for both parties. But by then the word songwriter would have the word singer in front of it.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in the south of France. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, fresh.npr.org.

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