Brooklyn-born Gerry Goffin fashioned so many kinds of lyrics, the newest one so deeply different from the last, you could be forgiven for thinking the man had Multiple Personality Disorder. He could portray the top of a tenement building as the perfect place to stare at the stars, in the Drifter’s romantic hit, “Up On The Roof” or conjure up the comic commands of a kickass dance number, Little Eva’s immortal “The Locomotion.” And when snarky hippie sentiments about the suburbs were all the rage, Gerry responded with the fantastically-nasty Monkee’s smash, “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Goffin, who died yesterday at the age of 75, could also break your heart with the longing-for-childhood paean, “Goin’ Back,” have you pulling for the poor boy in The Righteous Brothers’, “Just Once In My Life” and feel Gladys Knight’s desperate determination in “Imagination”. The former-husband and songwriting partner of the equally-gifted Carole King, will be remembered for all sorts of songs.
But, when the hits are all counted, the tributes written, Goffin may best be remembered, lyrically-speaking, as The Man Who Loved Women. As a guy who understood (as we used to say) where they were coming from. And all because of two tunes.
So very long ago, in the era of the two martini lunch, when cigarettes were still thought of as digestifs, Goffin wrote a lyric for his wife’s melody called, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” a #1 hit for The Shirelles (possibly the best “Girl Group” ever). In addition to a sprightly string arrangement and a vulnerable vocal by lead singer Shirley Owens, the song was remarkable for several reasons. First, there was the subject matter. In the most innocent and diplomatic way possible, the song dealt with premarital sex — not exactly a hot topic on 1960’s hit radio.
But the delicacy of the Owens’ vocal made the subject so gossamer-light, it flew over the censor’s heads. Or maybe they were so swept away by the song’s sincerity, they happily let it fly. However, maybe the most amazing thing about the whole production was its lyric. It wasn’t just written with wit and amazing grace, it was written by a man: Gerry Goffin, who somehow got so deep into a woman’s need for both sex and commitment, that it struck a chord with women everywhere. And has, ever since. With housewives, women’s libbers and Riot Grrrls.
Goffin managed to work his eerie empathy again seven years later, when R&B producer Jerry Wexler suggested Gerry and Carole write a song about a “natural woman.” They did, of course. And with the sexual revolution and the need for women’s equality in full swing, the couple came up with a ballad for Aretha Franklin that was both touching in its gratitude and sexy as hell. If ever a song better-mixed the sentiments of “Thank you for loving me (and loving me) so well,” we’ve never heard it. Goffin wrote the lyrics.
It’s no secret that Goffin suffered from Bi-Polar disorder, followed by lots of self-medication. Perhaps his mental illness, as painful as it was, was what allowed him to enter the mind of the “other” so brilliantly. Goffin had that double-edged gift. It must have been hell for him. But we listeners were very lucky to have him around.
After they divorced, King became a huge solo star. But Goffin managed to keep co-writing hits. In addition to Gladys’s “Imagination,” there was also “Theme from Mahogany” and a little number for Whitney Houston called “Saving All My Love For You.” Again, songs that women could easily call their own. Still, there’s that partnership with Carole King and those songs they composed. When “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” barely named, were already dirty words. Still, who cared, when Lennon and McCartney sang your praises, saying someday they hoped to be as good as you.
Yet, as unforgettable as the melodies are and although they’re usually known as Carole King songs, next time one comes on, dig those words. The city cat standing on the rooftop proclaiming, “At night the stars put on a show for free.” The punk in the suburbs braying, “The local rock group down the street is trying hard to learn that song.” Then, put on the Shirelles. “So tell me now and I won’t ask again,” sings (the now named) Shirley Alston-Reeves, “Will you still love me tomorrow?” Just one time, make the object of your affection, Gerry Goffin. The answer will be instantaneous. An easy, unqualified, emphatic, “Oh hell yeah!”
Goffin is survived by his five children and his wife.