Jeff Barry
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Black, White and Blues

The Many Colors of Jeff Barry
Jeff Barry mixed equal parts of skill, imagination, chutzpah, and genius to create a whole new sound - and the world is a better place for it.

Jeff Barry, c. 1976

by Laura Pinto

Jeff Barry has long been heralded as one of the fourteen legendary Brill Building songwriters from the late Fifties-early Sixties, all of whom were Caucasian and Jewish. But when listening to Jeff's R&B-influenced compositions and his gritty, soulful productions – not to mention his bluesy (and ballsy) singing voice - one almost has to wonder about his ethnicity. Just like his brethren Doc Pomus, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller, Jeff has shown an incredible affinity for a genre that has customarily been dominated by black singers and musicians. During his heyday, Jeff managed to place several recordings on the rhythm & blues charts as a songwriter (and once as a singer), beginning with Sam Cooke’s recording of "Teenage Sonata" in 1960. In so doing, Jeff also succeeded in cutting across demographic lines and creating a whole new sound, a fusion of the best of all worlds. He did this not by imitating what he’d heard, but by pioneering what had never been heard before. Jeff Barry is an inventor whose creations transcend the merely ordinary - they are mystical, magical, and extraordinary.

In the studio, Jeff was fearless. He wasn’t afraid to push the airplane off the hill to see whether it would fly. And it flew every time! Few other souls could’ve come up with the type of hooks Jeff did. Few could’ve served up such delicious helpings of production genius. Few could've brought forth such masterful arrangements, from instrumentation to vocals. And the combination of all of these skills was, and remains, a Jeff Barry trademark. "You're So Good To Me." "House Party." "Heavy Makes You Happy." "I'll Still Love You." "Hang In There, Baby." "Watcha Wanna Do." These examples, most of which Jeff composed as well as produced, are themselves sufficient to prove my point. Lend 'em your ears - the proof is in the listening. Jeff put the Barry in R&B, and the results were glorious!
In 1965, Jeff recorded "I'll Still Love You" for the Red Bird label.  Thanks to its funky arrangement and Jeff's deliciously soulful delivery accented by Motown-style female background vocals, the record seemed destined to be a hit on the Rhythm & Blues charts and quite possibly would have been a million-seller had it been covered by the likes of The Temptations or The Four Tops.  (Today, the single often appears in eBay listings with the designation of Northern Soul.)  Jeff also realized an R&B hit with Sam Hawkins’ recording of “Hold On, Baby” at around the same time.  Just a few short years later, after being crowned the Bubblegum King thanks to his tenure with The Monkees and The Archies, Jeff would once again show his true colors by virtue of his compositions and productions for other artists such as Andy Kim, Robin McNamara, and Bobby Bloom.
During those fruitful years of 1969, 1970 and 1971, as Jeff was wielding his brand of magic in the studio, I was a 'tweenager' living in Paterson, New Jersey, just a bus ride away from New York City and the laboratories in which Jeff mixed his magical musical elixirs.  I knew Jeff's name, mainly because of his writing and production for Ron Dante and The Archies, and I was starting to notice it showing up on the record labels of other artists such as Andy, Robin, Bobby, and The Globetrotters.  I was also beginning to develop a somewhat discerning ear, although I couldn't yet explain what I was discerning.  Now, in retrospect, I can identify the characteristic that many of the tracks by Jeff's artists shared: They showcase arrangements that were previously heard mainly on African-American-produced recordings.  That was the secret ingredient that made Jeff's productions stand out from the rest.  Perfect examples are Robin’s “I Got a Feelin'” and Bobby’s "A Little On the Heavy Side," and the Fifties-style doowop sounds Jeff injected into “You Little Angel, You” by The Archies – on which he provides bass background vocals – and “Rainy Day Bells” by The Globetrotters.  It’s impossible to miss it even if you don't quite know what "it" is.
Jeff wasn't limited by parameters, either real or imagined, established by his race, religion, or background.  And good enough was never good enough for Jeff.  The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" may have garnered RIAA Record of the Year honors for 1969, and Andy Kim's "Baby, I Love You" may have earned a gold record that same year, but Jeff was most assuredly not one to rest on his laurels.  Every award or accolade Jeff received was a silent challenge to top himself.  He never took a breather, nor did he ever stop reaching for the stars.  He added The Illusion and Dusty Springfield to his continually growing production roster, and he kept the hits coming.  With each subsequent release, Jeff continued to stand on his own gigantic shoulders and improve upon the perfection he’d perfected.  He brought in the entire cast of the Broadway musical Hair to sing backgrounds at Robin McNamara’s recording session, the session that produced the album Lay a Little Lovin’ On Me.  He recorded one instrument at a time (layering one track on top of another) for “Montego Bay” and other songs on The Bobby Bloom Album.  He produced the legendary basketball team turned recording stars, The Harlem Globetrotters, for Kirshner Records.  And he wrote songs for, and produced, the final Monkees album, Changes.  Soon Jeff would make some Changes of his own, relocating from New York to California, and the magic would continue with artists like The Persuasions, Nino Tempo, and April Stevens, as well as with Jeff’s own solo recordings for A&M.  His portfolio would expand to include movies and television.  And still, that funky R&B influence would manifest itself in his songs over and over again.  Listen to “Ooo-Wee Baby” or “Movin’ On Up” if you don’t believe me.

During the 70's and 80's, Jeff added yet another shade to his musical pallette - he went country.  Actually, this wasn't a long trip; country has always been Jeff's own personal favorite genre of music.  He grew up in a household where it was always being played over the radio, and as a child he was a big fan of cowboy movies and culture, a fondness that continues to this day.  Diehard Jeff Barry fans are already aware that the very first song Jeff ever wrote, while he was still knee-high to a grasshopper, was a country tune!  (Of course, Jeff hasn't been knee-high to anything for a good number of years now.)  Once he began composing professionally, Jeff touched on the genre with songs such as "I Left My Heart In The Balcony," recorded by Linda Scott, and "Here It Comes (And Here I Go)," by Jerri Bo Keno (written with Phil Spector and released on Spector's own label).  In between, Jeff also penned a playful ditty called "Whoopee Tie Ai A" for The Archies - recorded with a twangy guitar and a somewhat rinky-dink piano accompaniment, this fun tune is the ultimate singalong song if you know all the words, which are easy to pick up thanks to Ron Dante's flawless diction.  The first verse alone alludes to a horseshoe, a ten-gallon hat, and a pretty gal in "calico and lace."  Just as he'd done as a child, Jeff was once again showing the world where his true passions lay: horses, cowboys, and girls!
In 1975, Jeff officially jumped in the saddle with "Out of Hand," a Top Ten country hit for the late Gary Stewart.  Two years later, Jeff followed this up with "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye," by Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius, which reached #2 (this song had also been recorded the previous year by Lisa Hartman for her self-titled album, which Jeff produced).  In addition, Brown and Cornelius had a hit with Jeff's "If It Ain't Love By Now" and went on to become Country Duo of The Year.  Also in 1977, Lynn Anderson had a Top Twenty hit with "He Ain't You."  And, in 1985, Jeff again enjoyed a stay at the #2 country chart position with a song co-written and recorded by The Bellamy Brothers, "I'd Lie To You For Your Love."  The fourth writer of the song, Frankie Miller, recorded "Lie To You" a year later for his album Dancing In the Rain.
Before any of this took place, however, Jeff was to singlehandedly compose a song that would turn out to be one of his finest masterpieces in a career filled with them.  In 1973, during his tenure at A&M Records, Jeff wrote and recorded "Walkin' In the Sun."  This beautiful and inspirational tune has since been released by such diverse artists as Chaka Khan, Percy Sledge, Gene Pitney, Glen Campbell, and most recently Barb Jungr - several of these singers made it the title track on their albums.  Jeff's recording, however, is the definitive one, and it's one of life's great mysteries as to why this magnificent record wasn't a #1 hit on the charts although it's definitely #1 in the hearts of many.
As a songwriter, arranger, and producer, Jeff is without peer. Others might have been able to compose, arrange or produce just as competently, but nobody could do all three of these things quite the way Jeff did. Personally, I would give ten years of my life if I could astrally project myself to the time and place where I could sit in on some of those sessions with Jeff and his artists as they created those timeless works of art in the recording studio. Those days may never come again, but they live on in the memories of those who lived them - and those, like us, who enjoy the results. I don't know exactly how Jeff did it all, but I’m sure glad he did.
Jeff’s music isn’t one-dimensional; it cannot be categorized or comparmentalized.  It shows the influence of many different genres.  It encompasses all nationalities, all races, all styles; the total masterpiece is much larger than the sum of its parts.  Jeff Barry is truly a man of many colors.

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Please visit Laura's Oldies Sites for a list of other sites I run, including those for The Dixie Cups and Ron Dante of The Archies.

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