Appreciating all that makes America special

Music: The Brill Building

From the 1930s through today, more pop hits may have been written in The Brill Building than anywhere else in America. Uploaded by

In the Brill Building, and a couple of other addresses down the block that housed the overflow, American pop music was written, arranged, recorded, and sold. “The Brill Building Sound” came to signify the sophisticated pop music, often with a slightly Latin sound, of the 1950s and 1960s.

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The Brill Building sits at 1619 Broadway in New York City, just north of Times Square. The building’s developer wanted to rent to bankers and financial houses, but the Depression forced him to take what he could get. What he got was music producers.

The songwriters who worked out of TBB are some of the most prolific in American history. They often worked in pairs: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Great American Things, March 20, 2010), Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. And there were influential writers who worked alone: Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro.

Literally hundreds of hits came out of the Brill Building for everyone from Elvis to the Beatles. They all came out of little cubicles in The Brill Building. Here’s how the great Carole King (Great American Things, March 28, 2010) described it: “Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific — because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: ‘We need a new smash hit’ — and we’d all go back and write a song and the next day we’d each audition for Bobby Vee’s producer.”

While The Brill Building is most often associated with that specific era in pop music history when rock and roll was being born, it’s still an important factor in today’s music business. Artists and songwriters such as Paul Simon, Kara DioGuardi, and Diane Warren all maintain offices within the building…


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