On Broadway (song)
|Single by The Drifters|
|from the album Under the Boardwalk|
|B-side||"Let the Music Play"|
|Songwriter(s)||Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller|
|The Drifters singles chronology|
|Single by George Benson|
|from the album Weekend in L.A.|
|B-side||"We As Love"|
|George Benson singles chronology|
Weil and Mann were based at Aldon Music, located at 1650 Broadway, New York City, and the song as written by Mann/Weil was originally recorded by the Cookies (although the Crystals' version beat them to release) and featured an upbeat lyric in which the protagonist is still on her way to Broadway and sings "I got to get there soon, or I'll just die". The song was played as a shuffle.
When Leiber/Stoller let it be known that the Drifters had booked studio time for the following day and were a song short, Mann/Weil forwarded "On Broadway". Leiber and Stoller liked the song but felt that it was not quite right; the four held an overnight brainstorming session that culminated in the better-known version of the song, now with a rock-oriented groove and with a more bluesy feel, which matched the new lyric in which the singer was now actually on Broadway and having a hard time.
The Drifters version
A young Phil Spector played the distinctive lead guitar solo on The Drifters' recording. The personnel for the Drifters recording were Joe Newman, Ernie Royal – trumpets; Billy Butler, Bill Suyker, Everette Barksdale – guitars; Russ Savakus – bass; Gary Chester – drums; and Phil Kraus, Nick Rodriguez, Martin Grupp – percussion. The instrumental arrangement was written by noted arranger Garry Sherman.
The recording by the Drifters was a hit, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963.
The Drifters' version of the song was featured in a 1971 television public service announcement for Radio Free Europe (RFE). The Hungarian expatriate announcer is shown entering the RFE studio announcing "On Broadvay", after which young Hungarians are shown listening to the "In sound from Outside".
George Benson version
George Benson's version of "On Broadway", from his 1978 album Weekend in L.A., hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the soul chart. Benson's version also has had substantial adult contemporary and smooth jazz radio airplay ever since. It won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance.
Benson's performance of the song was used in the 1979 film All That Jazz in a sequence that featured dancers on stage auditioning for a musical similar to Chicago. Benson also performed "On Broadway" with Clifford and the Rhythm Rats for the 1994 Muppets album Kermit Unpigged.
Other cover versions
- Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes released a version of the song on their 1977 album A Piece of the Rock.
- British electro pioneer Gary Numan began performing the song on his 1979 tour, which was later released on the live album Living Ornaments '79.
- Neil Young recorded a version of the song on his 1989 album Freedom.
- American composer and producer Kramer covered the song on his 2012 album The Brill Building.
- The Buddy Rich Big Band recorded a jazz version of this song (arranged by Dave Marowitz) on the Big Band Machine album on the Groove Merchant Record label in 1975
The song has also been recorded by many other artists, including the Coasters, the Dave Clark Five, Bobby Darin, Percy Faith, Tom Jones, Eric Carmen, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, James Taylor, Livingston Taylor and The Sweet.
In film and television
- An instrumental version of the song was used in the film American Beauty (1999) during the Spartanettes dance scene.
- Paul Shaffer presented a music video with the song on one of the final episodes of the Late Show with David Letterman. The video featured cameos from Lorne Michaels, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, David Sanborn and Darlene Love.
- Jennifer Hudson and Katharine McPhee performed the song in 2013 for the season two premiere of the television series Smash, also called "On Broadway".
- During an episode of Living Single, Synclaire sang the song to Overton's Uncle Tibby after the three of them returned home from showing him around New York City (annoying Uncle Tibby in the process).
- The song was included in the musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe (1995).
- It is featured in the Carole King musical Beautiful (2013), because Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann are characters in the show.
References to the song
- British progressive rock group Genesis referenced the song's lyrics and melody in their song "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", the eponymous title track from their 1974 concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
- Argentinian group Serú Girán referenced the song's melody — played by the fretless bass — in their track "Canción de Hollywood" ("Hollywood Song") from their 1979 album, La Grasa de las Capitales.
- Mick Brown. Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, p. 96
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 53.
- Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, A Piece of the Rock Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- "Kramer: The Brill Building > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved July 17, 2015.