The legendary songwriter passed away at 82
When Cynthia Weil passed away this past Friday, she left behind a legacy of songs that ranks among the great musical catalogs in the whole of popular music.
Along with her husband, Barry Mann, she became part of the Brill Building stable in the early ’60s, providing classics that remain familiar favorites.
The list seems endless — “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” a co-write with Phil Spector, and “Soul and Inspiration for the Righteous Brothers; “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” for the Animals; “Hungry” and “Kicks” for Paul Revere and the Raiders; “Shades of Gray for the Monks; “Make Your Own Kind of Music” for Mama Cass Elliot; “None of Us Are Free” covered by Ray Charles, Solomon Burke and Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Blame It On the Bossa Nova” for Edie Gore,” “Don’t Know Much,” covered by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt; “I Can’t Stop Believing” by Elvis Presley and B.J. Thomas; “”Walking in the Rain” by The Ronettes; “Only In America” by Jay and the Americans; “Here You Come Again,” one of Dolly Parton’s rare outside covers; “Running With the Night” for Lionel Richie; and, perhaps most famously, “On Broadway,” covered by too many artists to mention.
Indeed, few other songwriting teams can claim a breadth of material with such varied appeal, a catalog that encompassed rock, jazz, MOR and even folk, the latter courtesy of Peter, Paul and Mary recording the Weil-Mann composition “Sweet Survivor” for their Reunion album.
That latter song seemed to sum up Weil’s career in total. She and Mann were there at the birth of rock and roll and yet, never stopped turning out the hits. Few composers can claim credits that stretch from Elvis to Hanson or Edie Gorme to Cyndi Lauper.
Nevertheless, that was the versatility that the pair possessed. Rivaled only by the team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, they became a veritable institution, a symbol of the pure pop pedigree that defined radio throughout the ‘60s and much of the ‘70s.
Ironically, Weil’s early background seemed to defy the whole notion of popular success. She was born into a conservative Jewish family and originally intended to be an actress and a dancer. However her musical muse overtook her and after the two married in August 1961, their residency at New York’s famed Brill Building, home to the era’s best songwriters for hire, made them one of the most prolific songwriting teams of that iconic era. Their efforts eventually expanded to include film and even a theatrical stage show, They Wrote That?, a musical revue that showcased their songs on Broadway.
It’s little wonder then that the accolades quickly followed, among them, numerous Grammy Awards, several Academy Award nominations, entry into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and, quite naturally, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which bequeathed the pair with the prestigious Ahmet Ertegun Award, making Weil the first woman to receive the honor.
Not surprisingly as well, Weil accepted the award tongue planted firmly in cheek: “From the bottom of my heart and with the greatest humility,” she said.”I thought you guys would never ask.”
Yet despite their popular appeal, Weil and Mann were never content to simply churn out fluff for the sake of garnering hit records. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” became a popular anthem used to express opposition to the Vietnam War. The enduring emotions expressed in “On Broadway” summed up the difficulties of finding success in the show biz environs. Their ballads managed to convey feelings that were expressed in ways that were easily relatable, bringing out raw emotion with an almost painful accuracy. How better to express the ache that comes with the end of a relationship than that which was shared in the classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
AUDIO: The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”
That said, the duo didn’t shy away from making statements about society. Their song “Only In America” was originally intended for the Drifters but deemed too controversial.
“Only in America, land of opportunity
Can they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me
Only in America, where they preach the Golden Rule
Will they start to march when my kids go to school?”
“Most people don’t know who we are,” Mann told the Los Angeles Times in a 2016 interview. “They know our songs.”
Indeed they do.
Cynthia Weil was 82.