KIND OF A METAPHOR. Neil Diamond and nine other guys at the Brill Building, 1962
By DAVID HINCKLEY
Thursday, October 6th 2005, 1:11AM
Each night we meet and talk about you
We reminisce about the things
You used to do
We just sit around broken-hearted
‘Cause all of us are still in love with you
– “Ten Lonely Guys”
NEIL DIAMOND eventually made his way from Brooklyn to the pop music stratosphere – a path which for Diamond, as for a lot of other guys and gals, ran through the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, Manhattan.
The Brill Building of the early 1960s, when Diamond got there, was perhaps the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world. What the Fulton Fish Market was to fish, the Brill Building was to songs. Somewhere in its labyrinth of rooms in the heart of Times Square, a person could write a song, buy a song, sing a demo, sell a song or find a radio guy to promote a song. Brill graduates include Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Neil Sedaka, Paul Simon. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “Don’t Be Cruel” came out of the Brill Building. So did “Leader of the Pack.” The Brill Building powered early rock ‘n’ roll the way Tin Pan Alley drove the golden age of popular standards.
But time often splashes a veneer of glamour over these working-class enterprises, and even as Brill Building writers were turning out tunes that helped define an era, the average songwriter was just as apt to be underpaid and perpetually grumbling about having to compete against everyone else at 1619 Broadway, including close friends, for the tiny number of “hit” slots on the Billboard charts.
In songwriting as in life, the majority of players never cracked the big time. While the romantic image suggests hit songs wafting out of each room like tobacco smoke, King and Goffin next door to Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, the truth is that most Brill writers spent much of their time forming a fraternity of frustration.
“Listen to this song,” they’d tell whomever would listen. “This is a hit! But I can’t get it to Connie Francis!”
Publishers, on the other hand, had a buyers’ market.
And one day in mid-1962 they sent down the word that they needed a new song for Pat Boone. Something that could follow his top-10 novelty “Speedy Gonzales.”
As a kind of Brill Building in-joke, then, 10 grumbling writers decided to write one together.
‘TEN LONELY Guys,” they’d call it, a tale of 10 losers sitting around cursing the girl who dumped every one of them.
Oh yes, we’re ten lonely guys
With ten broken hearts
We thought that all your lies were true
Yes, we’re ten lonely guys
With tears in our eyes…
You could say it was kind of a metaphor.
THE LINEUP here included veterans and rookies. Jerry Goldstein and Bob Feldman had been singers in the ’50s and had written the theme for Alan Freed’s TV show. Lockie Edwards Jr. had written “Model Girl” for Johnny Maestro. But they could use a hit now, as could the others: Stanley Kahan, Eddie Snyder, Richard Gotteher, Cliff Adams, Larry Weiss, Wes Farrell – and a Brooklyn kid named Neil Diamond.
Diamond was actually under a writing contract elsewhere, though he had yet to write anything that made the charts. So for purposes of “Ten Lonely Guys” he renamed himself Mark Lewis. He also sang the lead vocal on the demo.
Eddie was the first one to hold you
Jerry was the first to taste your kiss
Then came Lockie, Stan, Richie,
Neil, Bobby, Wes and Cliff
And Larry was the last one on your list…
Pat Boone liked it and recorded it. The public was less enchanted. “Ten Lonely Guys” peaked at No. 45.
Nonetheless, Diamond for one was thrilled. Three decades later, when he finally met Boone, he told him what a momentous moment it had been to see his name on a record on the Billboard charts, even if it wasn’t his real name.
DIAMOND GOT to repeat that thrill with more than a few records under his own name, of course, and most of the other guys didn’t do badly, either. Larry Weiss later write “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Wes Farrell wrote “Hang on Sloopy” and the “Partridge Family” theme. Stan Kahan produced Gene Pitney, Cliff Adams went the easy-listening route with the Cliff Adams Chorale and Eddie Snyder wrote “Spanish Eyes” and “Strangers in the Night.”
Goldstein, Feldman and Gotteher would score a No. 1 hit with “My Boyfriend’s Back” for the Angels, and they would later form the tongue-in-cheek band The Strangeloves, who had a No. 11 hit with “I Want Candy.” Gotteher would become a partner in Sire Records and produce the Go-Go’s and Blondie.
But on that night in 1962, they were just 10 songwriters with the Brill Building dream, and the certain knowledge only that they weren’t the first or the last.
The footsteps at the door
Can mean just one thing
Someone else has been a fool for you
One more guy who wants to tell his story
One more guy
Who knows what we’ve been through…