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On Broadway

by

The Drifters



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

"On Broadway" was a collaboration between the familiar songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and the also-successful team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. As such, it represents an especially distilled example of the "Brill Building sound." However, as Leiber and Stoller, and even such music scholars as Al Kooper and Ken Emerson, are hasty to remind us, the "Brill Building sound" actually came from 1650 Broadway as much as it did from 1619 Broadway (the address of the actual Brill Building). Weil and Mann worked out of 1650; Leiber and Stoller at 1619.
Pay attention to the instrumentals and vocals here. The Drifters were a cross-over from doo-wop to R&B, with the vocals striking a balance here. The music has a hint of soul with a large production number, and that intrusive guitar kicking in towards the end gives a nod to rockabilly. At this time, Motown was just firing up with its new soul sound, and Mike Stoller reports in Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography, "Some say Sam Cooke invented soul music in the fifties, and some say Ray Charles. Some say soul didn't come about until later, in the sixties, with the advent of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Others have told us that our productions for the Drifters began it all. Who can say?"

It's no surprise, then, that Berry Gordy came to see Jerry Leiber at his Brill Building office right before this song came out. Explaining that he wanted to make R&B more appealing to whites by softening the sound, he played some demo tapes for Leiber. Gordy then offered him a partnership. But Leiber turned him down, telling him, "You don't need me. You have everything you need. Just go back to Detroit and do it."
Phil Spector was an apprentice to Leiber and Stoller at the time, and he played the guitar solo on this. Spector learned many of his production techniques watching Leiber and Stoller produce The Drifters.
This was one of the last Drifters songs featuring lead singer Rudy Lewis, who replaced Ben E. King in 1961. Lewis died of a heart attack in 1964.
George Benson's cover version was a #7 US hit in 1978.
Gary Numan did a synthesizer-driven cover in 1979. Other artists to cover the song include Neil Young, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Bobby Darin and Sly & the Family Stone.
This song was used in TV commercials for Radio Free Europe in the early '60s. (thanks, Jim - boston, MA)
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Comments (10):

On March 5th 1978, "On Broadway" by George Benson entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; and on June 4th it peaked at #7 (for 1 week) and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #2 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
Between 1976 and 1985 he had fifteen records on the Top 100; with five making the Top 10, and "Give Me The Night" was his biggest hit, it reached #4 in 1980...
Mr. Benson will celebrate his 71st birthday in seventeen days on March 22nd (2014).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Neil Young does a nice cover of this song on Freedom.
- Wayne, Crockett, TX
Ben E. King does NOT sing on Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway." Peter Gabriel sings the quote from "On Broadway."
- Peter, Los Angeles, CA
Phil Spector was surely a very good apprentice; Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are a very talented
songwriting and producing team but I consider Phil Spector the best.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
IMHO, the best version of this song was recorded by the Dave Clark Five (I believe it appeared on the LP, "The Dave Clark Five Return"). Incidentally, the value of my opinions recently has increased to the point that, if I add an extra U.S.$2.00 to them, I can get a ride on the NY Subway System. Not bad, huh?
- John, Jersey City, NJ
When jazz guitarist George Benson would sing this song in concert, the audience would almost always cheer loudly after the line "'Cause I can play this here guitar".
- Ken, Louisville, KY
A Note From Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil site (http://www.mann-weil.com/songstories.html) :

On Broadway

We originally wrote "ON BROADWAY" for a group called The Cookies. Our friends Carole King and Gerry Goffin were writing for them and Gerry was producing and they were short one song. Barry had this concept of writing a "Gershwinesque" pop song and I, being a Broadway fanatic wanted to write a lyric about my favorite street and all it stood for. The ideas seemed to mesh so we wrote the first version of "ON BROADWAY". The Cookies and later The Crystals cut it but neither record was released. Then our publisher told us that Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were looking for songs for The Drifters. We played them our song and they thought we needed to make some changes for their group. They said we could go home and work on it or rewrite it with them. We idolized them and jumped at the chance to team up. Using the basic melody that Barry had written and my opening lines all we created the "ON BROADWAY" that went on to be a hit by The Drifters and George Benson.
- Cengiz, Istanbul, Turkey
With refernce to my contribution, the source documentary I quote should be "HITMAKERS: THE TEENS WHO STOLE POP MUSIC". - See it if you can, if not I'll send you a copy.

The 1 hour plus documentary includes extensive interviews with Mike Lieber, Jerry Stoller and many others.

It takes an in-depth and unprecedented look at a group of ambitious teenagers who became lasting legends. They were all Jewish, almost all from New York, and they all got their start or reached their peak in the Brill Building.

It tracks the transition from Tin Pan Alley to Teen Pan Alley. A creative revolution led by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller with Doc Pomus, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and others. A movement that weathered the British Invasion, Vietnam, Motown, Dylan, divorce, drugs, disillusionment, and still resulted in hundreds of classic pop songs.

You'll hear stories from over three dozen interviewees. Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler and engineer and producer Tom Dowd talk about the "kids" who used to come by after school, peddling demos for the R&B acts of the day. Don Kirshner tells of the humble beginnings of Aldon Music, where the careers of those "kids" - Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and many others-were launched. And the kids themselves talk about Aldon's family atmosphere, until changing times and corporate interests forced them to, in Gerry Goffin's words, "grow up."

You'll also hear the songs, over 40 of them, with rare and classic performance clips of the The Coasters, Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes, the Shangri-La's, the Shirelles, and plenty more. Never before seen home movies present a poignant look at both the personal and professional lives of the musicians and the songwriters.
hilton_teper@yahoo.co.uk
- Hilton, St. Albans, England
'On Broadway' was actually written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil who unsuccesfully tried to record it with a variety of girl-groups. They eventually took it to Mike and Jerry who made a few changes to the lyrics and music and recorded it with 'The Drifters'
(Source: Documentary - "The Kids who Stole Rock 'n' Roll')
- Hilton, St. Albans, England
George Benson's version of this song is simply electrifying...and its inclusion in the opening of "All That Jazz" is brilliant. This song, no matter who performs it, never seems to get old.
- Justin, Felts Mills, NY
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