Mike Ragogna Huffington Post 07/09/12
A Conversation With Songwriters Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Mike Ragogna: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, thank you so much for the interview. You are my favorite songwriters on the planet. There I said it.
Cynthia Weil: Thank you!
MR: You’re very, very welcome. And though I am a big fan of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, when it comes to classic pop songwriting, especially during The Brill Building era, you guys have been important to me, and I thank you for all your great works.
Barry Mann: Well that’s great to hear! I’m honored.
CW: Try living with him now. (laughs)
BM: You know, the only thing is it’s kind of like a backhanded compliment almost, to be categorized as the Brill Building writers. We continued writing songs after The Brill Building, but I guess people have to kind of give you a label of some sort, you know what I mean?
MR: Sure, but you know what? It’s almost like you would say, “Why, it’s Academy Award-winning Clint Eastwood.”
BM: I guess you’re right. It’s changed. I think you’re right.
MR: Yeah, The Brill Building is revered.
BM: I guess it’s an iconic kind of expression at this point.
MR: Yeah, it’s a wonderful, romanticized era for songwriting, of course. But you’re right, I’m going to stop calling you Brill Building songwriters right now! (laughs)
BM: You can call me anything you want! (laughs)
CW: You can call me Al! (Laughs)
MR: Just don’t call me late for dinner?
MR: All right, because I’ve got the two of you on the phone and there are a million questions to get through, Cynthia, let me ask you about your daughter, VH1’s Dr. Jenn Berman and that project you’re working on together.
CW: Well, we wrote a children’s board book together called Rockin’ Babies, which has a music theme in that it compares kids to rock stars and how we revere our children the way we revere rock stars, and how they compare in the sense that rockin’ babies party in their cribs, and rockin’ babies trash their rooms… You know, all kinds of fun ways with illustrations by Galia Bernstein. It’s a very irreverent, and not a fluffy bunny kind of children’s book.
MR: Does it have a similar rebellious nature like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are?
CW: Yeah, in kind of a more contemporary way, in that these babies are very contemporary babies with tattoos and skulls and cross bones and all these cute things. They’re just adorable, and people seem to love the book, so I’m very proud of it.
MR: Might there be a musical companion to this?
CW: We’re talking about doing all kinds of things like merchandise and a musical companion and a lot of exciting stuff.
MR: Nice. After all these years, you both are still very active and artists continue to cover your material and have hits with it. You’ve had an incredible run since you left that place that will not be named.
BM: (laughs) You can call it The Brill Building. That’s fine, that’s all right!
MR: (laughs) Okay, so from The Brill Building and on, you’ve had a phenomenal run. But this is the moment of the show where I bring up “I’m On The Road” and “I Really Want to Know You” that The Partridge Family recorded. I think The Cowsills also did “I Really Want to Know You” if I remember correctly.
BM: You know something, I don’t remember. You probably know better than I do.
CW: You probably know our catalog better than we do!
MR: (laughs) I don’t know if I should take pride in that or be scared, I’m not sure…
BM: Since the internet hit, all of a sudden, I realized I have a lot of cover records I didn’t know I had. I never knew that Aretha Franklin recorded “When You Get Right Down To It.” I had no idea.
CW: We found a video on the internet.
MR: Ahem, yours truly did a cover version of “When You Get Right Down To It” as well.
BM: Really? Fantastic!
MR: Thanks. You’ve written some incredible standards, and you were also pals with fellow Brillsters, Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Is there a story from those old days that is particularly charming that makes you smile to this day?
CW: You mean in terms of our friendship?
MR: Friendship, or maybe something about the whole Brill Building experience, or just having written a particular song. Something from that era that really sticks with you to this day and is still important to you.
CW: Well, actually, I wasn’t the lyricist on this, but I remember when Gerry Goffin and Barry decided they wanted to write together, he came in with what he thought was a silly nonsense lyric, and I guess it was, but Barry loved it. And he wrote “Who Put the Bomp” and became the artist, and it was his hit in 1961, and Gerry kind of didn’t’ believe that it had really happened because he really wanted to write serious, heavy stuff. This was going to be just a joke, and it had a life that he never dreamed it would have.
MR: Barry, when it hit, did you feel like, “What just happened?”
BM: After the song was a hit, they asked me to cut an album, and I didn’t want to cut an album on the song because I knew it’s the kind of album that would never sell, unless I did an album that was a lot of spoof recordings, you know what I’m saying? So I did cut an album, and of course it didn’t sell. That ate into the royalties I would have gotten on the single. But you know, it’s really amazing. That song lasted. I go out on the internet and I see it up there. I have a Google alert, and every day or twice a day, that song will come up. It’s just amazing to me.
MR: “Who Put the Bomp.” It is one of the more fun songs of the time period, right?
BM: Yeah, it was. I enjoyed writing it and I enjoyed singing it.
MR: Fans or thosw who have been following your songwriting and recording careers know that there have been bootlegged or sketchy releases as far as your Brill Building days. There are all those demos.
BM: Oh, I know.
CW: It’s so awful, honestly. It’s not only awful because it’s illegal and people shouldn’t be doing it, but that you can do nothing about stopping it when it’s something that was not necessarily a song you like or are proud of, and there it is. It’s all over the place!
BM: I was shocked. About ten years ago, there was a three CD album that had fifty of my songs, and they were my demos that I didn’t even remember that I cut in the early sixties and late fifties even. I called my publisher, who published most of the songs, and they couldn’t do anything about it. It was very, very frustrating…
CW: …because these people do this kind of stuff, and then they fold up shop when people come after them and just open under another name.
MR: Right. And I believe the name of that three-disc set was Inside the Brill Building.
BM: It could have been.
CW: Yeah, I think it was. You’re right, you know your stuff!
MR: Well, I actually own it…
BM: You’re not the guy who put the album out, are you?!
MR: (laughs) I wouldn’t be that guy, nope. My mentors brought me up well. I was the protégé of Terry Cashman and Tommy West.
BM: Oh, wow! Oh that’s great!
MR: They were great. I love those guys. Tommy West especially went on to do all sorts of great production, Terry Cahsman did the classic “Willie, Mickey & The Duke.” But anyway, let me just throw titles out there for you and get a story or twelve. For instance, let’s start with “On Broadway.”
BM: “On Broadway” is very interesting. Cynthia and I originally wrote the song by ourselves with a different lyric. It was written for a girl’s group, and it had basically two verses, and it kind of had almost the same melody. Phil Spector cut it with The Crystals, and I think Carole and Gerry cut it with The Cookies too, but they never came out. With Spector, you’ll see it on some albums. At some point, I think Don Kirshner mentioned to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller–this is what Mike told me, by the way, Cyn–that we wrote a song that he thought was really good, but for Kirshner, it was really incomplete. So he asked if they’d write it with us. I didn’t even know that Kirshner had said that, and we went up there just to play him the song we thought would be good for The Drifters because they were about to record them. We played the song, and they said, “We really like the song a lot, but it’s really not for The Drifters. If you want to rewrite it, you can go home and rewrite it yourself, or if you want, you can rewrite it with us.” We jumped at the chance to write with Leiber and Stoller. I mean, they were our idols, so we all ended up writing the song, and it was a very exciting writing situation. Jerry just threw out lines. It was a totally different way of writing a song than the way Cynthia likes to write a song. Cynthia is very logical. She wants to write the first verse and then go onto the second verse or whatever, and Jerry, if he got stuck on the first verse would go onto the second verse and see what happens.
CW: He jumped all around.
BM: It was fantastic. It was a great experience and we learned a lot about that, and the song became a much, much better song.
CW: And we’re friendly with Mike to this day. We just love him.
MR: Beautiful. And speaking of The Drifters, there’s “Saturday Night At The Movies.”
CW: (laughs) Oh yeah. I don’t really remember that much about writing that. It was just a fun follow-up, and they had a different lead sing, so I think we kind of adapted it for his style.
BM: I think his name was Charlie. He was the lead singer. The thing I could remember about that was that it was totally different than the feel of the demo that I cut, and I wasn’t sure if it was good, and it really was. It was a terrific groove.
MR: Let’s jump ahead to “Somewhere Out There,” the Linda Ronstadt hit with James Ingram.
CW: Our agent called and said that James Horner was involved in a film, a little animated film, and animation had been dead for a long time, but Steven Spielberg believed in this. He was executive producing, and James was interested in working with us. So, they needed four songs. We found out later that a lot of people had written for it, and they weren’t happy with any of the songs, and so we got together with James, and we wrote these songs, went up and played them for Steven Spielberg and the team at Amblin. Spielberg said when he heard “Somewhere Out There,” “I’m so glad you wrote a hit!” We had no idea that it was a hit. Barry kept saying, “It sounds like it could have been written forty years ago. How could this be a hit?” Obviously, Mr. Spielberg knows everything about everything because he was right! (laughs)
MR: And since we’re talking about Linda Ronstadt, of course, there’s another classic you wrote for her, (sings) “Don’t know much, but I know I love you…”
CW: Exactly. That lyric was written for my husband. It’s all about him.
MR: Wow, sweet.
CW: Yeah! “Look at this man so blessed with inspiration. Look at this man still searching for salvation.” Are you still searching, honey?
BM: I’m always searching! Absolutely.
CW: I know. That’s what makes you so interesting. It’s your constant search.
MR: Look at that, you guys are still in love with each other after all these years! How do you do this?
CW: Well, we fall in and out.
CW: We happen to be in an “in love” period right now.
BM: We’re in the best love period we’ve ever been in.
CW: Oh, I agree.
BM: I really think so.
CW: I was afraid to say it! (laughs)
MR: I’m honored to have caught you during your “in love” period.
CW: (laughs) Yes, I know we’re a pain in the ass when we’re not in love.
BM: We’ve gone through hard times as any married couple who has been married many years.
MR: I think that’s another interview right there! (laughs) Okay, let’s get back to the baby pictures. What have you got for “Kicks.”
CW: Oh, “Kicks.”
BM: “Kicks” really was written for a friend. We had a friend who was strung out on drugs, and we saw how it was destroying him, so we just wrote the song about him.
MR: “Here You Come Again.” We’ll go back and forth over the years.
CW: Ah, “Here You Come Again.” Barry wrote that melody first.
CW: And he put it on a tape recorder and I forget where you went.
BM: I went to a basketball game.
CW: Oh, okay. “Just Once,” you went to a basketball game, too. You should go to more basketball games and leave me melodies. (laughs)
CW: Actually, I can barely turn on the lights. I’m not very good with mechanical things and I couldn’t find the melody, so I wrote to what I remembered, and changed the melody a little bit by mistake and when Barry came back, he actually liked it.
BM: Yeah, she changed the opening line, which is really, (Barry sings) a great opening line, melodically.
CW: And so we were writing at the time for BJ Thomas, I think.
BM: Yeah, we were.
CW: And he recorded it and a couple of other people recorded it, and it never did anything, but Barry, did you record it?
BM: Yeah, I did record it. Exactly, yeah.
CW: Barry recorded it, and finally Gary Klein, I think, was producing Dolly Parton, and he heard it, and he loved it. Dolly, who was so gracious and adorable thanks us every time she sees us, for the song. At the time, she felt it might be a little too slick and might cost her some of her country fans. But she was talked into doing it and now she’s thrilled that she did.
BM: It became her first million-selling record.
MR: You mentioned “Just Once.”
BM: That’s just a great story. We were writing a song for George Benson. We heard that Quincy was recording George Benson, so we wrote the song “Just Once,” and we loved the song. I had always sung on all my demos, and I felt that this demo had an R&B quality about it, so I asked around our publishing company if they knew of any singers who could sing the song who was an R&B singer. They mentioned this guy James Ingram. We never heard him sing, and we hired him. Usually, we listen first, but for some reason, we just hired him. We cut a track, and he came in the next day, and I think I cut a piano/voice demo for him to learn the song. So he came in, he took the piano/voice demo and went into one of the rooms there. About a half hour later, he came out, and we were in the control room. He had the track up, and he walked in the studio, and…I talk about this and I almost want to cry, it’s so touching to me. He goes in behind the mic, and we turn on the tape, and the intro begins, and then he starts to sing. We nearly fell on the floor. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. He was so great. I stopped the tapes and said, “You’re just the greatest singer I’ve heard in the past thirty years!” The story goes on, and he kind of was very blasé about it. So after we were done, he asked if he could have the demo. We usually don’t give the demos to anybody until the song is recorded, but again, for some reason, we gave him the demo. Talk about blasé, he ended up waking his wife up at 2 o’clock in the morning saying, “You’ve got to listen to this! This is great!” We loved it, and then we sent it to Quincy hoping that he would see how great the song is for James. About an hour after we sent it to Quincy, Quincy calls up, and he says, “Man, I love this. Barry is singing his ass off!” He thought that was me singing, and we told him, “No, it’s this guy James Ingram.” He said he loved it. And that’s the story. It ended up with the Grammys opening up that year with James Ingram singing that song with Quincy Jones’ orchestra behind him. Then we found out, James told us years later, he had never sung lead ever.
CW: And when Quincy called him, he thought he wanted him to sing background on the record. He couldn’t understand that anyone wanted him to sing lead. (laughs)
MR: So, basically, you guys discovered James Ingram.
CW: Yes. Actually, he says it every time he shows up for us and does something. He always says, “I owe you guys my career.” But you know, we owe him our hit because his performance was so extraordinary.
MR: Yeah, and actually Quincy’s production on that was amazing, and then it ends up on The Dude, one of the great contemporary jazz/pop albums.
MR: In addition to James’ vocal, that small trumpet answer on the chorus back was such a hook. I guess it just takes the right notes sometimes, doesn’t it.
BM: Yeah. That’s Quincy. He’s very tasteful.
MR: All right, so now I want to take you to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lullaby” with BJ Thomas.
BM: The only thing I can say about that is that I’m sorry I didn’t save the song for myself. (laughs) It was a great record, and I love the way BJ sang, but I had just cut my Lay It All Out album, and the only song I thought could possibly be a hit was “When You Get Right Down To It.” I think that “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lullaby” was just a hit song, you know?
CW: And it was also Steve Tyrell’s intervention with getting all these people to sing on it. At first, it was going to be Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, but then they changed their minds, so he got someone else who sounded just like them. Duane Eddy’s on the guitar. It really came together perfectly.
BM: It was a beautiful record, really beautiful record.
MR: It was a beautiful record. Now, you were just talking about the Lay It All Out album that, for me, is the counterpart to Tapestry by Carole King. I know that sounds ridiculous, but on the other hand, I honestly think it is.
BM: Thank you so much.
CW: Oh, that’s so kind of you, thanks!
BM That’s really very nice, thank you.
MR: You’re very, very welcome. And yeah, it would have been interesting if “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lullaby” had been on that album.
MR: The storyline is so simple and so beautiful. So Cynthia, you nailed it!
CW: Yeah, they should have used it for that teenage moms reality show!
MR: (laughs) While we’re talking about your classic songs, let’s do two for one here: The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and also “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” What are the stories behind those?
BM: Do you want to tell it, honey?
CW: Well, “…Lovin’ Feelin’,” Phil asked us to come out to L.A. to write with him, and so we packed up our German Shepard, and we came out to L.A., and we stayed at the Chateau Marmont because they would let us have the German Shepard and a piano, and nobody else would. When we got out here, Phil played us a record by these guys he had just signed called The Righteous Brothers, who had had a couple local hits with some up tempo songs. One was “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and the other was called “My Babe.” For some reason, my genius husband decided that it was time for them to have a ballad, so we went back to the hotel, and we started to write and when we were writing it, we just were using “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” as a dummy title. We thought it wasn’t strong enough, and when we called Phil and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll change the title,” we played him two verses and a chorus, which we couldn’t figure out how to end. He said–Barry, do your Phil imitation! What did he say about the title?
BM: You know, I’m blanking on it now.
CW: How you do Phil?
BM: He said, (impersonating Phil) “No man, that’s the title!”
CW: Then we went in to play it for The Righteous Brothers, and Barry and Phil sang it, and Bill Medley said, “I think it would be great for The Everly Brothers.” (laughs)
MR: Oh no!
CW: And Bobby said, “What am I supposed to do while the big guy is singing?” because Bill was singing the verse, and Bobby was just standing there. Phil Spector said, “You can go to the bank.”
MR: (laughs) Good one.
CW: So Phil had this feeling about it from the very beginning, and I just thought it was going to be another song, but he produced an incredible record and the guys did great performances. It was one of those magical meldings of song, producer, artist… Everything went exactly right.
MR: Right. Now, “You’re My Soul and Inspiration” has some of my favorite intervals with those major 7ths (demonstrates). That stuff is just wonderful.
BM: Oh, great. Thank you!
CW: That’s my husband!
BM: Yeah, you know, that song, we had started to try to write a follow up to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and we just had some of it. We didn’t complete it. I don’t remember why, but we had played a little of it for Bill Medley, and then about six months later, he split from Phil’s label. The Righteous Brothers ended up going to Verve.
CW: And we had said to Phil, “We don’t really want to write this. It sounds too much like “…Lovin’ Feelin’,” and Phil then said, “Okay,” and wrote with Carole and Gerry, so we ended up having this little song lying around for a while.
BM: So then, Bill called me up once they switched labels, and he said, “What ever happened to that song you played me?” And I said, “We didn’t want to complete it. It sounded like a poor man’s “…Lovin’ Feelin’.” He said, “No, I love that song! Please, complete the song, we’d love to record it.” So we ended up completing the song, and they ended up recording it.
CW: And he cut an amazing record. Bill Medley sounds like Phil Spector.
BM: That became a #1 record.
MR: It’s a great record, and one of my favorites. In fact, I heard Rita Wilson sing one of your songs recently, and…
CW: Isn’t she amazing? I never knew she could sing like that!
MR: Oh, you know what I’m talking about, I was about to say “Walking In The Rain”…
CW: Yeah, exactly, we were there!
MR: How did that work?
CW: Well, it was produced by a pal of ours named Fred Mollin, and once they had the concept, she just picked all of her favorite sixties and seventies songs, and this happened to be one of them.
BM: The concept of the album is that half were AM records and the other were FM records. This was part of the AM version.
CW: Yeah, she has just an amazing innocence in her voice that is very touching.
BM: You know who Rita Wilson is, right? You said as if you don’t know. I guess you don’t.
CW: She’s an actress.
BM: She’s an actress. She’s Tom Hanks’ wife.
MR: Aw jeez, THAT Rita Wilson? Duh! But she’s an actress, you know?
CW: Yes! I mean, when you hear this, you just don’t associate it with her, but that’s her. She’s multitalented.
BM: And she produced My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
MR: Yeah, that I knew…about ACTRESS Rita WIlson! (laughs)
CW: Talented actress. She’s gorgeous. I could smack her around a little bit! (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Spoken like a true New Yorker. You know, were all ex-New Yorkers on this call, although one can never be an “ex-” New Yorker.
BM: Yes, I know.
MR: Barry, your recording career, we’ve got to talk about it some more. Almost every time I play one of your records for someone, I go, “Okay, who’s this?” People don’t know, but they almost always answer, “Who is that? He’s great!” Someone once guessed you were Billy Davis Jr. from the 5th Dimension.
BM: Yeah, he’s good. A very good singer.
MR: Barry, how is it possible that you never turned the corner on being a big recording artist?
BM: I can only say, now that I’m looking back at it, I don’t think I ever really went for the throat, you know what I’m saying, where you end up picking ten songs that any one of those could have been a hit record. I think that was one reason. Another reason was that I was trying to be so esoteric in the late sixties and early seventies when I cut Lay It All Out, which is a very good album. Oh no, it was the album after that. I ended up cutting another album.
CW: It was so esoteric it never came out! (laughs)
BM: Yeah, it was so esoteric that Clive Davis gave me a release. That was one of my mistakes.
CW: But I also think, Barry–and you’ve mentioned this before–that you never really knew who you were as a singer. As a writer, you could be so diverse that you thought you could do the same thing as a singer. You never really zeroed-in on what your image was, who you were. Your records where kind of all over the place.
BM: Yeah, I think so. I think the last record that I cut, the Soul & Inspiration album, I have an identity as an artist. It really comes through, to me.
MR: Yeah, I agree with you. And I think that everybody who ended up on this album with you accentuates what you do. It’s not about them.
BM: Yeah, exactly.
MR: And it was a beautiful album. Look at the songs on there. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”…oh, I forgot about that one. What is the story behind “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”?
BM: Well, that’s a great story. I ended up cutting a demo on that song, and it was a great demo. At the time, I was on Leiber and Stoller’s label, and George Goldner, who was running the label, loved it. It was about to come out. That demo was about to come out as my next record. We found out that The Animals ended up cutting the song, and it was #2 in England! Kirshner told us that it was #2 in England. So that, of course, killed my record.
MR: This is like the Jackie DeShannon story, a little, too.
BM: What’s her story?
MR: Well, other people covered her material, sometimes beating her to the punch on having hits. The late, great Dobie Gray too. He’d have a record ready to come out, and someone else would beat him to the punch about four or five times.
CW: Right. That happened with this song for Barry. Another important thing about the song was the role that it played in Vietnam, and Barry, want to tell about the letter you got?
BM: Yeah, I wish I could read the whole letter to you.
CW: Well, I’ve got it here.
BM: Oh, you do?
MR: You do?
CW: Well, it’s an awfully long letter, but hang on. I’ll get it.
BM: While she’s going to get it…we ended up doing a show Off Broadway called They Wrote That? One of the people in the audience who happened to be a nurse in Vietnam ended up sending this letter to our administrator. She was trying to send it to us, but she didn’t have an address. Do you have it Cyn?
CW: Yeah, I do.
BM: It’s incredibly touching.
CW: “I attended the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil show They Wrote That? last week in New York City. It was a wonderful evening. One of the reasons I went was because they wrote the music and lyrics for ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place.’ I would like them to know that although they may be aware that their mid-sixties hit became and remains the anthem today for all of us, military and civilian, who served in Vietnam. One of the happier memories of my year in Vietnam was a party at the nurse’s quarters in the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing Hospital in Cameron Bay in the Fall of 1969. The highlight of the evening was everyone bellowing at the top of their lungs, ‘We gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do!’ That refrain echoed for all of us time and time again as we slogged through our tours here. Today, at the DMZ to Delta Dance held every year the night before Veteran’s Day in Washington DC and at Vietnam vet reunions all over the country, the halls reverberate to numerous choruses of ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place,’ bellowed on by aging vets who sing this song as an anthem and as a symbol of a bond of camaraderie that will link us together for the rest of our lives. It is indeed the soundtrack of our lives.”
MR: Oh my God.
BM: That makes me feel that songwriting can be a real noble profession.
MR: Not only a noble profession, but you have supplied a significant soundtrack to a piece of their lives. But you know, a lot of young people know that song as well. I believe to this day, that is one of their anthems.
BM: Did you see what happened last week or a week and a half ago? (Note: This interview took place about a week after South By Southwest.)
MR: You’re talking about South by Southwest, when Bruce Springsteen did the footnote speech. Yes, I was there, and I was so touched when he said what he did. I was cheering you on, like “Yeah! Barry and Cynthia!”
CW: Yeah, Steve Van Zandt clued us into it, and I really almost fainted when I watched it because I just love Springsteen’s work so much, and his lyrics are amazing to me.
MR: Have you guys ever reached out to some of your heroes to try to co-write with them?
CW: No, we really don’t. We’re both a little shy about that.
MR: But I imagine though that people have reached out to you to co-write with you, right?
BM: Yeah, a lot of people have done that.
MR: Barry, Soul and Inspiration, I look at your track list, and I just can’t help believing–so to speak–that there weren’t leftover songs. Were there?
BM: Oh, sure. There’s “Kicks,” there’s “Hungry.”
CW: Barry just picked the songs that he felt, in a sense, suited him the best.
MR: Will there ever be a Soul & Inspiration 2?
BM: I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m really not sure. I’d have to think about it.
MR: Do you still like to record?
BM: I think I like recording more than anything. Even more than performing. You just have a lot more control.
MR: Right. Do you get out and perform every once in a while?
BM: Every once in a while. I tried to do something with Lamont Dozier and Jimmy Webb, all three of us going on the road, you know? We tried something, and we just couldn’t get the right response. Lamont had to leave the group, and then Paul Williams took his place. So me, Paul and Jimmy ended up doing a date in Dayton, Ohio. It went really well, it was really terrific. A lot of people don’t know how to sell us.
MR: Yeah, I know what you’re talking about, and yet you’re a few of the greatest songwriters of all time. That’s your billing!
CW: Well, I think Paul and Jimmy enjoy the road and have worked it for a long time by themselves, but they were excited about the idea of the three of them getting together, and they really worked so well together. You never know what will happen. One day, someone will get you out of the old folk’s home, honey, and say, “You’re going on the road!”
BM: That’s right!
MR: Speaking of the old days, do you ever get together with some of the folks you may have known from that building that shall not be talked about?
BM: We just had an anniversary–Bill Medley was there and Carole King was there and James Ingram was there. Who else…Dan Hill couldn’t make it. Mike Stoller was there. Russ Titelman. You know who Russ is?
MR: Absolutely, one of my favorite producers, I interviewed him.
BM: So every once in a while, we get together.
MR: When you look back at your body of work–and this is a loaded question–what do you think about this legacy of songwriting that you’re still contributing to?
BM: If we looked at the list of the songs we wrote, going back even to the sixties and the seventies, say we look at a list of a hundred, we’ll look at the first twenty-five that weren’t so good, then all of a sudden number twenty-six, number twenty-seven and number twenty-eight and twenty-nine were really terrific songs. And then we went down again. Not every one of our songs were great songs, but at that point, we were learning. It was kind of a school of songwriters. But what does strike me because of the internet, I see a lot more of the songs that I’ve written that were very diverse. Our songs were not just in one genre. We wrote all different kinds of genres. It kind of floored me. It really floored me. I kind of felt good about that.
MR: Well, you know who also wrote diversely and benefited from it, and I was lucky to interview him recently, Lionel Richie.
CW: Oh yeah, I’ve worked with Lionel.
MR: We were talking about his latest album, and I said, “You’ve got this country thing going on,” and he replied, “To me, it’s just music.”
CW: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I saw a little television thing about his new album, in which he covered his hits with country artists. I thought it was amazing.
MR: Yeah. I think you have had your fair share of songs that have stuck with people over their whole lifetimes. How do you feel about that?
BM: That’s a thrill. It really is a thrill. To know that we’ve had an impact like that is wonderful, really wonderful.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BM: Cyn, you want to take that one?
CW: My advice for new artists would be in these days, you have to kind of learn how to do it all, and I’d suggest that new writers learn how to produce. Network really well. Think outside of the box.
MR: Nice. Barry, come on, chirp in!
BM: I can only give advice to songwriters, and Cynthia kind of covered that. Singers? That’s a whole other kind of ball game.
CW: (laughs) Find out who you are.
BM: Yeah. But most singers, they know.
CW: Real recording artists know who they are.
BM: Yeah, Lionel Richie knew who he was. He really did. Carole found out who she was with Tapestry, and she stuck to that. So I think Cynthia really basically answered the question.
MR: Yeah. And going forward, we talked about yours and your daughter’s project, Cynthia. Are there any projects you guys are working on that you’re into right now?
CW: Well, Barry is working on his memoir, and I’ve written two young adult books that I’m trying to find a home for. But the past couple of weeks, we’ve gotten back into songwriting, and we have ignored it for a while, kind of taking a break. Now it’s a lot of fun to work together.
MR: I wonder if there are artists out there that would love or need a whole album of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil songs.
CW: Well, you never can tell.
BM: You don’t know if it would sell or not, or if our names mean enough. It means a lot to people within the industry. They definitely will know who we are, but a lot of the record buying public don’t know who we are because I never really made it as an artist. They’ll know who Carole King is because she made it as an artist, and they’ll know about her as a songwriter too because of that.
MR: Oh, I almost forgot to mention your friend, the late Ellie Greenwich.
CW: She was very talented. She was a great record maker.
BM: Yeah, her and Jeff (Barry). They made some really great, great records.
MR: Barry and Cynthia, I’m so happy that you gave me this interview. This really has been a beautiful experience for me, and I so appreciate your time. Do you have any more words of wisdom?
CW: Well, I think we gave our words of wisdom about songwriting. Now, my words of wisdom about relationships. Forgive, forgive, forgive. (laughs)
BM: That’s a hard one, baby! It’s a hard one, but it’s important. It’s very important.
CW: Yeah. And marry your best friend.
BM: That’s great.
MR: Oh man. Again, I do appreciate your time, and thank you so much.
CW: Thank you, Michael!
BM: Yeah, thanks Michael.
Patiently Transcribed by Kyle Pongan