Mostly whimsical reflections on life
You are tempted to say you’ve never heard of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, until you realize you’ve been hearing them as long as you can remember.
The songwriting duo can justifiably say on their website they have written the “soundtrack to our lives” with all-time favorites such as “Somewhere Out There,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” The latter, recorded by the Righteous Brothers, has been heard more often on radio than any other song with 14 million air plays.
Featured over the weekend on the CBS Sunday Morning show, Mann and Weil embody their own lyrics of “you’re my soul and inspiration” on a career that began more than 50 years ago and resulting in more than 600 recordings, 200 million records sold and 76 tunes that broke the 1-million sales mark.
Mann and Weil married in 1961 and began writing a series of songs that crossed the boundaries of age, musical taste and sensibility. They wrote songs for a diverse set of musical performers – Dolly Parton, the Ronettes, Lionel Ritchie, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Animals, Leo Sayer, the Drifters, the Crystals and Aaron Neville. They helped launch the career of James Ingram with the song “Just Once.”
Their songs ranged from basic rock to disco to ballads. The melodies Mann created kept up with the times, while the lyrics Weil wrote always rang true. That accounts for the incredible staying power of their immense body of work, which is listed alphabetically on several pages on their website.
It is hard to conceive that the same team that came up with “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” also produced Grammy-winning “Somewhere Out there,” performed by Linda Ronstadt and Ingram.
Playgoers who have seen “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” may have been echanted to see Mann and Weil portrayed as friendly, but fierce competitors (the actors who played Mann and Weil were nominated for Tony awards).
Mann and Weil told CBS’ Rita Braver the portrayal is true. “That was absolute truth,” Weil said. “It was the most conflicting relationship I think we’ve ever had with anybody. Because we loved them, we hated them, we were competitive with them, we cheered for them, we cheered for ourselves.” Mann and King’s husband-songwriting partner Gerry Goffin co-wrote “Who Put The Bop In The Bop Shoo Bop.”
As Mann describes it, these famous songwriting teams, plus others including Neil Sedaka, wrote music all day long in small cubicles next to each other, so sometimes one team’s sound intermingled with another’s.
“It was insane. Cynthia and I would be in this tiny cubicle, about the size of a closet, with just a piano and a chair; no window or anything. We’d go in every morning and write songs all day. In the next room Carole [King] and Gerry [Goffin] would be doing the same thing, and in the next room after that, Neil [Sedaka] or somebody else. Sometimes when we all got to banging on our pianos, you couldn’t tell who was playing what.”
One of Mann and Weil’s most enduring traits was a fearlessness in tackling sensitive topics. “Kicks” by Paul Revere and the Raiders dealt with drug use. “Uptown” recorded by the Crystals exposed social divides, “Only in America” addressed racism. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” became an anti-war anthem.
In their interview with Braver, Mann and Weil said success as songwriting was bittersweet. They said one hit brought pressure to write another. At one point, Mann turned to cocaine to cope with the pressure. Weil left him and Mann sought help to overcome the addiction and the couple reunited and resumed their prolific career.
For people who don’t listen to radio, you haven’t missed out on the combined talents of Mann and Weil. You, perhaps without knowing it, have enjoyed their songs in the movies from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” to “Muppet’s Treasure Island.”
Naturally so much of their story took place “On Broadway,” another of their famous and unforgettable show-stoppers.