In a comment on my review of THE B SIDE: THE DEATH OF TIN PAN ALLEY AND THE REBIRTH OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SONG By Ben Yagoda, Fred Blosser recommended Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era (2005) by Ken Emerson. I thought I had a copy of Always Magic In the Air and sure enough after a couple days of digging around in my basement, I found it and read it.

As Fred noted in his comment, Always Magic In the Air tells the stories of seven legendary songwriting teams: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Always Magic In the Air captures the time in America when Rock & Roll was just beginning. The Brill Building became like an assembly line for the thousands of songs that flooded the radio stations and record stores (remember them?).

Ken Emerson supplies the historical context for all of these songwriting teams and discusses what made their songs so successful and unique. If you’re a fan of this era in popular music, Always Magic in the Air will delight and inform you. Thanks for the recommendation, Fred! GRADE: A

Introduction p. ix
1 The Original Cool Cats p. 1
2 A Broadway Divided p. 17
3 Lonely Avenue p. 31
4 “My Daughter Bought It. What Are You Going to Do About It?” p. 51
5 Partners in Chutzpah p. 65
6 The Young Lovers p. 84
7 Putting the Bomp in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp p. 92
8 In the Garden of Aldon p. 104
9 “It Was Just Jewish Latin” p. 121
10 Baby Talk p. 141
11 At Work in the Elvis Atelier p. 155
12 The Magician and the Mensch p. 167
13 Selling Out p. 182
14 Seesaw p. 195
15 Double Trouble p. 208
16 Golden Girls p. 214
17 “Somethin’ Died” p. 225
18 Swinging London p. 238
19 From the Monkees to Thomas Mann p. 249
Coda p. 262
Acknowledgments p. 269
Notes p. 271
Bibliography p. 307
Discography p. 317
Index p. 321


  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    Lot of good songwriters there, although I have little use for Neil Sedaka. Seems like most of them had a rush of good songs then dried up quickly.

    1. george Post author

      Steve, as Ken Emerson concludes in ALWAYS MAGIC IN THE AIR, the style of music the Brill Building specialized in pretty much disappeared by 1969. But they had a lot of success for a decade!

  2. Deb

    I think I read this when it first came out (I love all the great music—and associated stories—that came out of the Brill Building), but it’s certainly worth a second look. Plus, how can a book published in 2005 be almost 14 years old? 2005 was last week!

    1. george Post author

      Deb, I bought a copy of ALWAYS MAGIC IN THE AIR when it was first published and then it got swallowed up in various stacks of books for years. I did manage to unearth it, but it took me a couple days to find it. Well worth reading! Now, I’m listening to Brill Building music!

    1. george Post author

      Patti, the dozens of songs discussed in ALWAYS MAGIC IN THE AIR brought back a flood of memories from the late 1950s and early 1960s when I listened to my transistor radio all day long!

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Whenever we’re in Midtown walking up Broadway, I always check out the Brill Building. You never knew who might be walking out!

    Like Deb, I read this one a while ago. Fascinating stories and connections. You think of the great teams but then you see how some songs were written by one member of a team with someone from a different team. For instance, Doc Pomus wrote with Leiber and Stoller and with Phil Spector. I first knew of his partner, Mort Shuman, through his work adapting Jacques Brel and bringing his music to off-Broadway. Howie Greenfield also co-wrote TV theme songs for BEWITCHED and GIDGET and THE FLYING NUN. He also wrote “Crying in the Rain” for The Everly Brothers with Carole King.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, you’re right about all the synergy in the Brill Building. All these creative people worked together and produced incredible music! I’m listening to “On Broadway” as I type this.

  4. Jeff Meyerson

    Checking back, I see that I read this in December 2005. Can’t believe it is thirteen years ago. My guess is that the recommendation came from Bill Crider.

  5. Prashant C. Trikannad

    While I listen to a lot of music, in fact, all kinds of music, I have never read about the people behind the music. But I can see why their stories need to be told, especially since singers and composers get most of the adulation.

    1. george Post author

      Prashant, you’ll find the origin stories of this great music compelling. These song writers all had struggles despite their musical successes!

  6. Rick Robinson

    There is a beautiful office building on Wilshere Boulevard in L.A. called…the Brill Building. Famous for it’s architecture, it has been used in many Forties hard-boiled films and often since. Also, not too far away, is the Capitol Records building, in the form of a stack of records.

  7. Elgin Bleecker

    George – Thanks for posting this. I’ve read a bit about that era – the artists and the record companies. The thing that kept jumping out at me was how young some of the artists were. A few were teenagers. When I was their age, I just wanted to pass chemistry.

    1. george Post author

      Elgin, you’re right: many of these great songwriters were young when they first got into the music business at the Brill Building. Their incredible talent and productivity amazes me today!


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