Barry Mann (songwriting, vocals, piano; born February 9, 1939), Cynthia Weil (songwriting; born October 18, 1940)
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are among the premier songwriters of the modern era. They’re also one of the longest-running teams in the music business, having been collaborators since 1960. Their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame occurred during the 50th year of their personal and professional collaboration. In addition to longevity, they’ve exhibited great stylistic range in their work, from epic ballads (“On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”) to outright rockers (“Kicks,” “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”). They are also among pop’s most prolific songwriters as well; Mann has nearly 800 and Weil nearly 600 works registered with Broadcast Music, Inc.
It’s estimated that Mann and Weil’s songs are responsible for the sale of 200 million records. They’ve received 76 “Million-Air” awards from BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), denoting airplay of 1 million or more. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the blue-eyed soul classic by the Righteous Brothers, is radio’s most-played song of all time, with 14 million airplays. It is also a Grammy Hall of Fame song and topped the list of BMI’s “100 Songs of the Century.”
It all began in New York City, where Cynthia Weil (born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan) teamed up with Barry Mann (born Barry Imberman and raised in Brooklyn). Before they began writing together, Mann partnered with other writers. He started with Jack Keller, and a few of their songs were cut by Neil Sedaka. The first hit song he wrote was “She Say (Oom Dooby Doom).” Written with Mike Anthony and recorded by the Diamonds, it reached #18 in 1959. With Hank Hunter, Mann wrote “Footsteps,” a #7 hit for Steve Lawrence in 1960. With Larry Kolber, he came up with “I Love How You Love Me,” which producer Phil Spector turned into a #5 hit for the Paris Sisters in 1961. Mann scored a sizable hit under his own name with “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp),” a spoof of doo-wop that he wrote with Gerry Goffin. This novelty tune entered the charts in August 1961 – the very month that Mann and Weil got married – and peaked at #7. A Barry Mann album, Who Put the Bomp..., followed, but his solo career would be put on hold in deference to Mann and Weil’s booming career as songwriters.
In the early Sixties, Mann and Weil settled into their writing partnership and married life. They worked in the Brill Building at Aldon Music - a hybrid of the first names of its founders, music-business legends Al Nevins and Don Kirshner. Alongside such fellow Aldon teams as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield – not to mention such songwriting colleagues as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector – they helped write many of the most memorable words and melodies of the Sixties, creating a veritable soundtrack for a generation. They were craftsmen, assembling songs rich in meaning and melodic detail.
Mann recalled those heady, chaotic days for writers Greg Shaw and Dawn Eden in their essay for The Brill Building Sound box set: “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,” noted Mann, “you couldn’t tell who was playing what.”
With Weil writing the words and Mann the music, they were not afraid to address serious subjects I pop songs, such as racial and economic divides (“Uptown,” a #13 hit for the Crystals), the perils of drug use (“Kicks,” a #4 hit for Paul Revere and the Raiders) and the trials and tribulations of trying to make it in the big city (“On Broadway,” a #9 hit for the Drifters in 1963). The original lyrics for “Only in America” tackled segregation and racism, making it rather too controversial for the Drifters, whose version of the song remained unreleased. A version with amended lyrics became a #25 hit for Jay and the Americans. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” a #13 hit for Britain’s Animals, became an inadvertent antiwar anthem when soldiers and protesters adopted it during the Vietnam era. (As a footnote, the song came to the Animals’ attention via a publisher’s demo, although Mann and Weil initially had the Righteous Brothers.)
Mann and Weil did some of their best writing for the Righteous Brothers. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” cowritten with Phil Spector, is a pinnacle of the rock and roll era - a perfect union of song, arrangement, production and performance that carried popular music to a new level of sophistication in the mid-Sixties. “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” – written by Mann and Weil and produced by the duo’s Bill Medley in a Spector-esque style – was nearly as good and also went to Number One. Other notable Mann-Weil numbers penned for Phil Spector’s stable of artists include “Walking in the Rain” (Ronettes) and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” (Crystals).
The hits kept coming as Mann and Weil continued to thrive in the Seventies and beyond. Working in a more adult-contemporary vein, they wrote “Here You Come Again,” which helped Dolly Parton cross over to the pop charts in 1977. That same year Mann collaborated with British singer Leo Sayer on “How Much Love” (#17) and with Canadian singer/songwriter Dan Hill on “Sometimes When We Touch” (#3). In 1978, singer/guitarist George Benson’s revival of “On Broadway” charted even higher than the Drifters’ original, reaching #7.
In 1983 Weil cowrote “Running in the Night” (#7) with superstar Lionel Richie. The Mann-Weil team helped launch R&B singer/pianist James Ingram at the start of the Eighties with “Just Once” (#17) and revive Aaron Neville’s career with “Don’t Know Much” - a duet with Linda Ronstadt that went to #2 - at decade’s end. Weil also cowrote “Wrong Again,” a chart-topping country hit in 1998 for singer Martina McBride. The breadth of Mann’s and Weil’s success spans six decades, with success in the rock, pop, soul, R&B and country fields – even movie and TV soundtracks “Somewhere Out There,” written for the film An American Tail, won Mann, Weil and cowriter James Horner a pair of Grammys in 1987, including Song of the Year.
Mann and Weil were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2000 Barry Mann released Soul and Inspiration - his first album since 1975’s Survivor - in which he performed some of the greatest Mann-Weil songs with assistance from such friends and colleagues as Carole King and Daryl Hall. In 2004 the musical revue They Wrote That? The Songs of Mann & Weil opened in New York. Mann sang and played piano, and Weil related stories about the songs and their personal history.