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Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

by Ken Emerson
 

Always Magic in the Air

Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era is an entertaining and comprehensive look into the lives and music of seven powerhouse songwriting teams  - Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman; Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller; Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield; Burt Bacharach/Hal David; Gerry Goffin/Carole King; Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil; and Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich.  The setting is New York City, the time is the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties, the Golden Era of Rock and Roll, when innocence and the American Dream were alive and well.  The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and the moon landing were a few years in the future.  Boomboxes hadn't arrived yet; teenagers listened to their music on transistor radios, which were often tucked into little cases with holes in them to allow their owners to listen without removing the radio from the case.  AM radio, with its Top Forty format, was much more popular than FM.  Boys wore their hair short; girls wore theirs in ponytails.  Compact discs and the Internet were still years away.  It was a different world and people had different expectations.  Yet the music brought forth by these fourteen brilliant scribes, and others like them, still holds up today.
 
In Always Magic..., author Ken Emerson examines the lives and backgrounds of the legendary songwriters who worked out of New York City's Brill Building, located at 1619 Broadway, and its no-name neighbor at 1650 Broadway.  Nearly all the surviving principals were interviewed for the book, and in the case of those no longer with us - Pomus, Shuman, and Greenfield - Emerson drew on historical and biographical information, previously published interviews, and recollections from friends, relatives and colleagues (such as Pomus's brother, daughter, son-in-law, ex-wife, and girlfriend).  The result of Emerson's tireless dedication to his topic is a book that is as riveting as a biography yet as informative as an encyclopedia.
 
Read the copy below to learn more about Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era.  Click on one of the links at the bottom of the page to read what people are saying about this wonderful rockumentary.  And to purchase the book, or to read more customer reviews, click on the title or one of the images on this page.

Always Magic in the Air is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle formats. Click on the graphic below to read a free sample from the book and to purchase from Amazon!

People are talking about Ken Emerson’s Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and the Brilliance of the Brill Building Era:

“Emerson’s affection for his subjects and the music they created permeates his narrative and makes me want to revisit every little 45 rpm masterpiece I own.”—John Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

“Superb…. Skeptical, witty, in love with the music, Emerson is the ideal companion….” –James Parker, Boston Globe

“Emerson's book is just about everything you could wish for. Love and clear-sightedness may be the most delicate of all critical balancing acts. For Emerson, it's his true north, the critical compass that makes you believe you're reading a man you can trust…. Emerson makes you believe you can hear the world in a pop song, even a world that's lost.”—Newsday

“Fascinating characters.… Emerson takes flight when describing the cosmopolitan musical mixtures that defined the best work of the Brill Building set…. Here we get the whole tale in a single entertaining package.”—Jim Windolf, The New York Times Book Review

“Again and again in "Always Magic in the Air," his engrossing account of the early days of rock and pop music, Ken Emerson puts you at the moment of creation…”—David Kirby, The Chicago Tribune  

And so is Ken Emerson:

Fans of these pages are among the select few who will recognize the origins of my book’s title and subtitle: the second line of “On Broadway,” first sung by the Drifters and written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; and the title and refrain of Barry Mann’s biggest (and only) hit as a performer, “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp),” which he wrote with Gerry Goffin.

Mann, Weil, Leiber, Stoller and Goffin are five of the great songwriters whose heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s I chronicle in Always Magic in the Air. The others are Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, Howard Greenfield, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.

Having written a book about pop songwriting in the middle of the 19th Century, Doo-Dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, I wanted to follow it up with a book about pop songwriting in the middle of the 20th Century that would describe how much and how little had changed.

My book is based on scores of in-depth interviews with songwriters, producers, engineers, publishers, attorneys, performers, ex-wives—everyone from Fabian to Shadow Morton who has insights, information and stories to tell about life in the Brill Building and nearby 1650 Broadway when writers huddled in cubicles there wrote a new chapter in the Great American Songbook and the soundtrack for the baby boom generation. Once you’ve read the stories behind them, songs like “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Kicks” will never sound the same. Who’d a thunk, for instance, that “Is That All There Is?” was all but cribbed from an 1896 short story by Thomas Mann?

I’ m eager to tell all and spread the word in interviews for print and on the air. If you’re interested, please contact me through Oldies Connection webmaster Laura .

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Check out Ken Emerson's appearance on Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight on WFUV from February 11, 2006 - just click here for the archives and scroll down to that date on the page.  Click on the date, and the stream will begin playing automatically.
 
Listen to Ken Emerson's interview on WFMU with Bob Brainen, from December 4, 2005
 
 
Reviews and articles:
 
 
Check out the cool book review by Frank Young on the Spectropop site.
 
To read a generous excerpt from the book, go to the London
Times Online website.
 
Denver Post book review
 
 
The New York Review of Books - Will You Love Me Tomorrow
 
Christian Science Monitor - Teenage Symphonies, 3 Minutes Long
 
The Boston Globe  - Rock Steady
 
 

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