In some ways, the Brill songs seem like a last gasp for pop innocence. But don’t bet on a happy ending: Brill boyfriends invariably die grisly deaths – in stock cars (“Tell Laura I Love Her”) and on motorcycles (“Leader of the Pack”). And the guys that survive prove to have very particular charms: for the Crystals, Goffin and King wrote “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”, with lyrics like, “He hit me . . . and I was glad”. It flopped, but, if OJ ever wants to turn his testimony into a musical, it’ll come in very useful. At such moments, you can hear these writers straining to say something different, beyond the staple Brill sentiments like “Go Away, Little Girl” and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova”. By now, Gerry Goffin was beginning to sound as if he did blame it on the bossa nova. “Am I going to have to write this s*** until I’m 32?” he agonised.
The high-point of Grace of my Heart is when Denise lets rip with “God Give Me Strength”, an intense shot of pristine pop melancholy by Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. No offence to Costello, but I wish it had been a new song by Bacharach and Hal David – one of the few songwriting teams to survive the Brill era. Bacharach and David’s songs, along with Goffin and King’s, Mann and Weil’s and those of the other Brill greats, are the rock era’s standards – recorded over and over, as Gershwin and Porter and Berlin are…
I’ve always thought of Burt Bacharach’s catalogue as “my mother’s music” (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” was her theme song, right until, unfortuntately, she met my future stepfather…), but I admire Bacharach’s title tune for The Blob enormously.
Can you imagine getting that assignment — then pulling it off so well?