Always Magic In The Air
by Ken Emerson
(Viking Books, 2005)
book review by Laura Pinto
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 and Mort Shuman; Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield; Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Gerry Goffin and Carole King; and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. The time was the late 1950's and early '60's, the Golden Era of Rock'n'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. They left their collective footprints in musical history, and in our minds and hearts. More than just a biography of fourteen people, however, Magic is an all-inclusive study of the hit 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'n'Roll in general are discussed, as are the Latin influences in many of the songs these talented scribes wrote (for example, the Brazilian baião drumbeat intro to The Ronettes' "Be My Baby"). The individual and collective backgrounds and lives of the principals, most of whom were interviewed for this book, are covered in depth. Their personal histories make for fascinating reading! With the exception of Carole King, all those still living were interviewed by author Ken Emerson, and in the case of the composers no longer with us(Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, and Howard Greenfield), 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. The result is a thorough and generously annotated book, well-researched with a comprehensive bibliography. It's a must-have for Rock historians! They'll want to add this delightful and informative book to their collections, and so will those who are simply fans of what has become known as the Brill Building sound.
Always Magic in the Air (the title comes from a line in the Drifters' hit "On Broadway," by the way) is an absolute pleasure to read! It's fun and interesting, a study of people as well as music, and it never lets up. From Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" to The Drifters' "Save the Last Dance For Me" . . . from Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" to Jackie DeShannon's "What the World Needs Now" . . . from The Shirelles wondering "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" to The Dixie Cups goin' to the "Chapel of Love" and The Righteous Brothers crying over how "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," the sounds of the Brill Building era are as much a part of our lives as the air that we breathe. Ken Emerson's rockumentary is itself a breath of fresh air, and it's always magical, from start to finish.