Born in New York City in 1940, Cynthia Weil began writing hit songs in the 1960s and went on to have a long and diverse career as a composer. Her early singles include "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" for The Animals and "Walking in the Rain" for The Ronettes. She continued writing into the 1980s, however, and helped write songs such as "Running With the Night" for Lionel Ritchie. Many of her best-known songs were written in partnership with her husband and fellow composer Barry Mann.
Writing Songs in New York City
Songwriter. Born October 18, 1940, in New York City and raised on the Upper West Side, Cynthia Weil began her long and prolific songwriting career when she was in her early 20s. She started out working at Frank Loesser's music publishing company, but her remarkable ability to pen lyrics that went to the core of human emotion and experience eventually led her to Aldon Music. Aldon, a company whose name is a blend of its cofounders, Al Nevins and Don Kirshner, was a hot spot of songwriting in the early 1960s, producing hits that have since been proven to have decades-long staying power. Weil joined a team of fellow greats nicknamed the "Brill Building Writers," joining Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Phil Spector, Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller, and Howie Greenfield in challenging convention while taking pop music to new heights.
For Cynthia Weil, though, the most important songwriter in the Brill Building was Barry Mann, an immensely talented composer. The two became a songwriting team in 1960 and soon began churning out hits at the same time as their professional partnership became personal. Weil later remembered that an instant crush on Mann was actually the reason she joined Aldon Music: "While I was writing with Teddy, Barry came up with Harry Greenfield to play him a song. So I said, 'So who's the cute guy?' I asked who he was, and if he had a girlfriend and the whole thing. Judy Tannen, who was the receptionist there, said, 'Well he writes for a friend of mine named Don Kirshner. So why don't you go up there and maybe you'll see him and get him to ask you out.' I went up there, actually stalking Barry, and ended up with a career. But it all begins with lust!"
1960s Pop and Rock Hits
By 1961, the pair's relationship had blossomed into full-blown romance and they married in August of that year. The couple continued working at Aldon Music, writing hit after hit in the heady, chaotic and creative environment of the Brill Building: "It was kind of like songwriter's boot camp. You had to produce. You had to produce fast. You had to learn. You made a lot of mistakes, and you wrote a lot of crap. But it was all part of the learning process." Their best friends and biggest competitors were Gerry Goffin and Carole King, another husband-wife songwriting team at Aldon. Mann and Weil would go on to enjoy one of the most successful songwriting careers in history; the two are said to be responsible for the sale of 200 million records worldwide.
Mann and Weil enjoyed huge success through the 1960s, writing smash singles such as "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" for The Animals, "Uptown" for The Crystals, "On Broadway" for The Drifters, and "Walking in the Rain" for The Ronettes. Weil's lyrics helped shape the rebellious attitude that came to characterize the decade. She wrote about real people with real problems and wasn't afraid to tackle hot-button topics like racism, war, and urban decay. She was also one of the most emotionally honest and provocative lyricists of her time, writing love songs that resonated widely. "I was very fortunate," Mann said, "to have a writing partner that truly is brilliant with words and at the same time very soulful. Cynthia's lyrics always expressed the feelings people felt but they couldn't express themselves."
One of the duo's greatest songs was 1964's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," written for The Righteous Brothers. As Mann tells the story: "Phil Spector… played us a record by a new duo from Orange County: Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield… We loved what we heard, went back to the hotel, and wrote two verses and choruses of 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling.' We weren't sure how to end the chorus and thought the title wasn't strong enough. We called and played what we had over the phone for Phil. He told us that when we hit the line 'something beautiful's dying' it brought tears to his eyes… He went on to produce one of the most soulful, innovative and creative records ever made." BMI Music later named "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" the Top Song of the Century in 1999, honoring its status as the most-played song on American radio and television.
Crossover to Country and Movie Soundtracks
When the musical revolution of the 1960s waned as a new decade began, many of the hit makers and songwriters of the decade faded away as well. But Mann and Weil kept going strong, demonstrating an ability to stay current by adapting to new times and new styles. As Weil said, "We never consciously shifted styles. We wrote what sounded good to us and hoped it would find a home… We somehow managed to live through the trends without succumbing to them. When disco came in, we survived without writing a disco song."
Weil and Mann may have avoided disco, but they transitioned seamlessly from pop and rock into country, adult contemporary, and even musicals and movie soundtracks in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1977, Weil helped Dolly Parton cross over from country into pop music with the hit "Here You Come Again." Twenty years later, Weil wrote the chart-topping country record "Wrong Again" for Martina McBride. In 1983, Weil co-wrote "Running With the Night" with Lionel Ritchie and helped launch R&B singer James Ingram's career with "Just Once." Weil and Mann also co-wrote "Somewhere Out There" with composer James Horner. This song, performed by Ingram and Linda Ronstadt, became an unlikely hit on the soundtrack of the animated kids' film An American Tail. The song won Weil, Mann, and Horner two Grammy Awards in 1987, including Song of the Year. In the same year, Mann and Weil jointly won induction to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
Weil and Mann have continued to work together through recent decades. Weil, who had dreamed of a career as a dancer or actor as a young girl, was thrilled to get a chance to appear on Broadway. In 2004, she and her husband created a Broadway revue called "They Wrote That?" Mann sang and played their songs while Weil recounted stories from their career and personal lives. In 2006, Weil tried her hand at screenwriting, co-writing a picture called The Stranger Game that aired on Lifetime. In 2008, Mann and Weil wrote an original pop musical based on the movie Mask.
When asked what advice she would give to budding songwriters, Weil replied: "As William Goldman said about the film industry, 'Nobody knows anything.' It's the same thing in the music industry. A lot of guys spend their lives saying no because it's an easier way to keep your job. You just have to believe in yourself when you've got something, and just keep pounding on the door, because if you pound long enough, somebody is going to open it. You'll probably hit them in the face, but sometimes it's something you've got to do. What can I say? There is the great creative part of it. The writing is the best part. When you feel good about what you've written, there is just no high that is greater."
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