In 1963, an early interview with one of the greatest songwriting duos of all time – John Lennon and Paul McCartney – had the pair talking up their ambitions for the future of The Beatles. They wanted the band to be driven by immaculate songwriting, aspiring to emulate the “ditties” of New York’s Gerry Goffin and his songwriting partner, Carole King.
Trying to do an accomplished and timeless lyricist justice by offering words of commemoration on their death is something of a challenge. After all, who could top the writing flair and lingual ingenuity of a man who once observed the power struggles in male and female relationships and wrote about it from the perspective of a vulnerable, cheating girlfriend admitting her infidelity to her one true love, who sounds like a total bastard: “If he didn’t care for me, I could have never made him mad/But he hit me… and I was glad” (from The Crystals’ ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’)?
The best method of celebrating the life of US songwriter Gerry Goffin, responsible for such classic American songbook moments as ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ (recorded by The Drifters) and the original Macarena, ‘The Loco-motion’ (first sung by Little Eva) is via his very own words, as pertinent today as they were then. Only just this week the title track of Lana Del Rey’s freshly released ‘Ultraviolence’ borrowed directly from that Crystals hit. “Jim told me that he hit me and it felt like a kiss,” she sings about a cruel lover who’s never satisfied by her. Controversies surrounding Lana Del Rey’s pandering to old stereotypes aside, the fact that the most modern of superstars still looks to Goffin for guidance is the truest mark of pop cultural transcendence. His words will simply never die. Here are just some of his songwriting highlights.
'Some Kind Of Wonderful – The Drifters
The fact both Marvin Gaye and – uh – Aled Jones together with Cerys Matthews covered this 1961 original shows just how a good, simple tune never goes out of style. Simple pop is the most exquisite and hardest to nail. Produced by Jerry Lieber (half of Lieber & Stoller), of course, for Atlantic Records (another recently gone, but never forgotten music great), these geniuses pulled that feat off too many times for it to be coincidence.
'You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman' – Aretha Franklin
In its most famous incarnation, sung by the inimitable Aretha Franklin, ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ is a perfect example of Carole King’s skill for stunning, heartfelt melody. It’s Goffin’s lyrics, though, that tug those heartstrings that bit further: “Looking out on the morning rain, I used to feel so uninspired…” Simply put: falling in love makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning.
'It Might As Well Rain Until September' – Carole King
“My friends look forward to their picnic on the beach, everyone loves the summertime/But you know darling while your arms are out of reach, the summer isn’t any friend of mine.” You know when you miss someone so much that even a sunny day cannot kill your saddened disposition? Goffin nails it again.
'Up On The Roof' – The Drifters
A very basic song about having a rough day, coming home, and ascending to the tops of the city to watch the hustle and bustle of the world below go by. Absolute brilliance that will have you running for the Fire Escape of your nearest building asap.
'The Loco-motion' – Little Eva
I first heard ‘The Loco-motion’ as an avid 3-year-old Kylie Minogue fan. The best version is clearly Little Eva’s original. A nonsensical song about a silly dance that sounds so irresistible you can’t help but bop along to it like a fool. In fact, as a tribute to Gerry Goffin I suggest we all go out tonight and “give it a chance now”.
Gerry Goffin passed away June 19, aged 75 in Los Angeles, California.