Songwriter Gerry Goffin has died at the age of 75. Goffin was one of the most successful lyricists who labored in the Brill Building, whose name became shorthand for a whole approach to pop music that held sway in the early ’60s, defining the state of rock at a time when the music’s founding stars were dead (Buddy Holly), in the Army (Elvis Presley), or sidelined by scandal and legal problems (Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry). In addition to his own accomplishments, Goffin also developed footnote status to rock history by virtue of his marriage to his writing partner Carole King, one of the few Brill Building songwriters to launch a successful performing career.
Goffin, three years King’s senior, met his future partner in high school. Goffin was interested in Broadway-style showtunes, and asked King if she would be interested in putting music to his lyrics. She agreed, though she was more naturally drawn toward rock. They married in 1959, when King was 17 and Goffin 20; years later, long after their divorce, she would recall that he was her “first love.” A year later, they had their first hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by the Shirelles. It made it to No. 1 on the charts, becoming the first single by a girl group to achieve that feat.
In the early years of the ’60s, Goffin—usually in tandem with King—wrote a fair chunk of the classic songbook of pre-Beatles ‘60s rock, supplying a steady string of hits for a variety of artists: Barry Mann’s “Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp);” Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care Of My Baby;” the Drifters’ “Some Kind Of Wonderful” and “Up On The Roof;” the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss);” the Cookies’ “Chains” (later covered by the Beatles); Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion;” the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day;” the Righteous Brothers’ “Just Once In My Life;” and “I’m Into Something Good,” originally recorded in 1963 by Earl-Jean, but a bigger hit when covered a year later by Herman’s Hermits. They also wrote a couple of songs that King recorded herself, “It Might As Well Rain Until September” and “Road To Nowhere.”
Other notable Goffin-King songs include Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman”, the Animals’ “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley” and “Porpoise Song;” the Byrds’ “I Wasn’t Made To Follow;” and “I Can’t Make It Alone,” which was first recorded by P. J. Proby but later covered, in a titanic version, by Dusty Springfield on the album Dusty In Memphis. (Goffin and King also wrote “Goin’ Back” and “Some Of Your Lovin” for Springfield, who would cite the latter as her favorite of her own recordings.)
King divorced Goffin in 1968. The two briefly tried to maintain their professional partnership, but eventually stopped trying to write together. King’s solo career took off in 1971 with the release of Tapestry, which was widely hailed as a declaration of liberation from a woman whose professional and creative endeavors had always been tied up with the men in her life. (In between her work with Goffin and her solo career, King had started a band with Charles Larkey, who would become her second husband.) Nevertheless, Tapestry included three songs that King had written with Goffin, including “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Natural Woman.” (Nine years later, she would pay tribute to their collaboration at album length on Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And KIng.)
Goffin himself attempted a solo recording career, releasing the too-aptly titled It Ain’t Exactly Entertainment in 1973. After it tanked, he would have more hits with other collaborators, but never with the kind of consistency he’d enjoyed with King. He won an Academy Award for Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” and had a big hit with Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You,” both co-written with Michael Masser. In 1996, he released a second solo album, Back Room Blood, which included a couple of songs co-written with Bob Dylan.
Goffin and King were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1987, and into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990. Earlier this year, Goffen, who had once dreamed of writing a Broadway musical, became the subject of one: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical—which depicts the pair’s romance and working partnership, the breakup of their marriage, and King’s accession to solo stardom—opened in January, with Jessie Mueller as King and Jake Epstein as Goffin. Earlier this month, Mueller took home a Tony Award for her performance. Goffin was in the audience on opening night.