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The Brill Building (built 1931 as the Alan E. Lefcourt Building and designed by Victor Bark Jr.) is an office building located at 1619 Broadway on 49th Street in Theater District, Manhattan, New York City, just north of Times Square and further uptown from the historic musical Tin Pan Alley neighborhood. It is famous for housing music industry offices and studios where some of the most popular American music tunes were written. The building is 11 stories and has approximately 175,000 square feet (16,300 m2) of rentable area. The "Brill" name comes from a haberdasher who operated a store at street level and subsequently bought the building. The Brill Building was purchased by 1619 Broadway Realty LLC in June 2013 and is undergoing a significant renovation.
The "Big Band Era"
Even before World War II it became a center of activity for the popular music industry, especially music publishing and songwriting. Scores of music publishers had offices in the Brill Building. Once songs had been published, the publishers sent song pluggers to the popular white bands and radio stations. These song pluggers would sing and/or play the song for the band leaders to encourage bands to play their music.
During the ASCAP strike of 1941, many of the composers, authors and publishers turned to pseudonyms in order to have their songs played on the air.
The "Brill Building Sound"
The Brill Building's name has been widely adopted as a shorthand term for a broad and influential stream of American mainstream popular song (strongly influenced by Latin music, Traditional black gospel and rhythm and blues) which enjoyed great commercial success in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Many significant American and international publishing companies, music agencies and recording labels were based in New York, and although these ventures were naturally spread across many locations, the Brill Building was regarded as probably the most prestigious address in New York for music business professionals. The term "The Brill Building Sound" is somewhat inaccurate, however, since much of the music so categorized actually emanated from other locations—music historian Ken Emerson nominates buildings at 1650 Broadway and 1697 Broadway as other significant bases of activity in this field.
By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses: A musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building. The creative culture of the independent music companies in the Brill Building and the nearby 1650 Broadway came to define the influential "Brill Building Sound" and the style of popular songwriting and recording created by its writers and producers.
Carole King described the atmosphere at the "Brill Building" publishing houses of the period:
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.— Quoted in The Sociology of Rock by Simon Frith
The Brill Building approach—which can be extended to other publishers not based in the actual Brill Building—was one way that professionals in the music business took control of things in the time after rock and roll's first wave. In the Brill building practice, there were no more unpredictable or rebellious singers; in fact, a specific singer in most cases could be easily replaced with another. These songs were written to order by pros who could custom fit the music and lyrics to the targeted teen audience. In a number of important ways, the Brill Building approach was a return to the way business had been done in the years before rock and roll, since it returned power to the publishers and record labels and made the performing artists themselves much less central to the music's production.
Many of the best works in this diverse category were written by a loosely affiliated group of songwriter-producer teams—mostly duos—that enjoyed immense success and who collectively wrote some of the biggest hits of the period. Many in this group were close friends and/or (in the cases of Goffin-King, Mann-Weil and Greenwich-Barry) married couples, as well as creative and business associates—and both individually and as duos, they often worked together and with other writers in a wide variety of combinations. Some (Carole King, Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart) recorded and had hits with their own music.
- Burt Bacharach and Hal David
- Bert Berns
- Sonny Bono
- Boyce and Hart
- Neil Diamond
- Haras Fyre and Gwen Guthrie
- Giant, Baum, and Kaye
- Gerry Goffin and Carole King
- Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry
- Marvin Hamlisch
- Kander and Ebb
- Andy Kim
- Artie Kornfeld
- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
- Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
- Shadow Morton
- Laura Nyro
- Claus Ogerman
- Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore
- Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman
- Tony Powers
- Beverly Ross
- Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield
- Paul Simon as Jerry Landis
- Phil Spector
- Eddie Snyder
- Bobby Susser
- Steve Tyrell
Other famous musicians who were headquartered in The Brill Building:
- Elvis Presley
- Bobby Darin
- The Drifters featuring Ben E. King
- Connie Francis
- Lesley Gore
- Haras Fyre
- Darlene Love
- Liza Minnelli
- Tony Orlando
- Gene Pitney
- The Ronettes
- The Shangri-Las
- The Shirelles
- The Sweet Inspirations
- Doris Troy
- Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
- Dee Dee Warwick
- Dionne Warwick
- The Delicates
Among the hundreds of hits written by this group are "Yakety Yak" (Leiber-Stoller), "Save the Last Dance for Me" (Pomus-Shuman), "The Look of Love" (Bacharach-David), "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" (Sedaka-Greenfield), "Devil in Disguise" (Giant-Baum-Kaye), "The Loco-Motion" (Goffin-King), "Supernatural Thing" (Fyre-Guthrie), "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (Mann-Weil), and "River Deep, Mountain High" (Spector-Greenwich-Barry).
The following is a partial list of Studio Musicians who contributed to the Brill Building sound:
- Arrangers/Conductors: Teacho Wiltshire, Garry Sherman, Alan Lorber, Jimmy Wisner, Artie Butler, Claus Ogerman, Stan Applebaum.
- Bass: George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, Russ Savakus, Bob Bushnell, Joe Macho Jr, Al Lucas, Dick Romoff, James Tyrell, Jimmy Lewis, Lloyd Trotman, Wendell Marshal, Chuck Rainey.
- Guitar: Al Gorgoni, Carl Lynch, Trade Martin, Bucky Pizzarelli, Everett Barksdale, Bill Suyker, Vinnie Bell, Al Caiola, Al Casamenti, Art Ryerson, Eric Gale, Ralph Casale, Charles Macey, Hugh McCracken, Wally Richardson, Don Arnone, Charles McCracken, George Barnes, Allan Hanlon, Sal Ditroia, Kenny Burrell, Mundell Lowe, Cornell Dupree.
- Piano/Organ: Ernie Hayes, Paul Griffin, Leroy Glover, Frank Owens, Bernie Leighton, Artie Butler, Stan Free
- Drums: Gary Chester, Buddy Saltzman, Sticks Evans, Herbie Lovelle, David "Panama" Francis, Al Rogers, Bobby Gregg, Sol Gubin Bernard "Pretty" Purdie
- Saxophone: Artie Kaplan, Frank Heywood Henry, Phil Bodner, Jerome Richardson, Romeo Penque, King Curtis, Seldon Powell, Sam "the Man" Taylor, Buddy Lucas (musician).
- Trombone: Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Saracco, Benny Powell, Wayne Andre, Tony Studd, Micky Gravine, Urbie Green, Frank Rehak.
- Trumpet: Jimmy Nottingham, Ernie Royal, Jimmy Maxwell, Bernie Glow, Irwin "Marky" Markowitz, Jimmy Sedlar, Dud Bascomb, Lammar Wright Jr, Burt Collins, Joe Shepley.
- Percussion: George Devens, Phil Kraus, Bobby Rosengarden, Willie Rodriguez, Martin Grupp.
Many of these writers came to prominence while under contract to Aldon Music, a publishing company founded ca. 1958 by aspiring music entrepreneur Don Kirshner and industry veteran Al Nevins. Aldon was not initially located in the Brill Building, but rather, a block away at 1650 Broadway (at 51st Street). A number of Brill Building writers worked at 1650 Broadway, and the building continued to house record labels throughout the decades.
Toni Wine explains:
There were really two huge buildings that were housing publishing companies, songwriters, record labels, and artists. The Brill Building was one. But truthfully, most of your R&B, really rock & roll labels and publishing companies, including the studio, which was in the basement and was called Allegro Studios, was in 1650 Broadway. They were probably a block and a half away from each other. 1650 and the Brill Building.
1619 Broadway (Brill Building)
- Aldon Music
- Action Talents agency
- Bang Records
- Bell Records, Inc.
- Buddah Records, Inc.
- Capezio Dance Theatre Shop
- Diamond Records
- Gamble Records, Inc.
- H/B Webman & Co.
- Iridium Jazz Club
- Princess Music Publishing, Corp.
- Scepter/Wand Records
- Web IV Music, Inc.
- We Three Music Publishing, Inc.
- Just Sunshine Records
- Allegro Sound Studios (later called Generation Sound Studios)
While not a music company, Ellen's Stardust Diner, a diner, is also located in the ground floor of 1650 Broadway.
The 1996 movie Grace of My Heart is in parts a fictionalized account of the life in the Brill Building. Illeana Douglas plays a songwriter loosely based on Carole King. In Sweet Smell of Success, J.J. Hunsecker and his sister Susie live on one of the upper floors of the Brill Building. This is unusual since it is not a residential building. The title of the 2014 New Pornographers power pop album Brill Bruisers is a reference to the 60's-era Brill Building studio sound.
- Gray, Christopher, "Streetscapes: The Brill Building: Built With a Broken Heart", The New York Times, December 30, 2009
- New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, "Brill Building", New York City, March 23, 2010
- "Don Kirshner". The Daily Telegraph (London). April 18, 2011.
- Frith, Simon (1978). The Sociology of Rock. ISBN 0-09-460220-4.
- Covach, John Rudolph. What's That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock and Its History (2nd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.
- Anderson, Stacey (September 5, 2014). "New Pornographers Debut New Album at The Legendary Brill Building". rollingstone.com. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
- Emerson, Ken (2005). Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era. Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-03456-8. Reviewed by The New York Times here.
- Postal, Matthew A. (2010). "The Brill Building" (designation report). New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission. LP-2387.
- Scheurer, Timothy E., American Popular Music: The Age of Rock, Bowling Green State University, Popular Press, 1989. Cf. especially pp. 76, 125.
- AOL Music—Pop Artists in the Brill Building—AOL Music
- Interview with Toni Wine, Songfacts
- Regarding Claus Ogerman & his music publishing companies located at The Brill Building
- Brill Building Is Named a Landmark
- "Half Empty but Full of History, Brill Building Seeks Tenants", New York Times, 24 July 2013
- The Brill Building—The Official Brill Building Website
- Brill Building—The History of Rock
- About.com: Brill Building—about.com
- Times Square Attractions
- Brill Building at the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Spectropop's Brill Building
- The Brill Building Songwriters
- New York Architecture Images- Brill Building