On Broadway

Album: Greatest Hits (1963)
Charted: 9
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  • "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.
  • According to Cynthia Weil, this was written with a girl group in mind (the original version, in fact, was first recorded by The Crystals in 1962). She told NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross: "It was about a girl coming to New York and dreaming of Broadway and stardom. It was much more kind of escape from a small town and I'm going to make it. When we met with Jerry and Mike and played this for them, they said, you know, we're doing The Drifters, so it would need a whole other perspective. You can go home and do it yourself, or you can write it with us. And these guys were our idols. We thought they were great and it would be a fantastic opportunity to work with them. So we ended up reworking the song together."
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jim - Boston, MA

Comments: 19

  • Ronk from Sequim, WaA long version of On Broadway by Drifters or Benson? Heard it in 90's
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyA little addition to the post below, on April 23th, 1978 George Benson' "On Broadway" peaked at #2 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart, and exactly fifteen years earlier on April 23rd, 1963 the Drifters' original version of "On Broadway" was in its first of two weeks at #9 on the Billboard's Top 100 chart, and that would also be its peak position on the Top 100...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1978 {April 23rd} George Benson's covered version of "On Broadway" peaked at #2 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart, for the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for those two weeks was "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams...
    At the time "On Broadway" was at #25 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, six weeks later it would peak at #7 {for 1 week}...
    Between 1975 and 1998 the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native had twenty five records on the Hot Soul Singles chart, ten made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Give Me The Night" for three weeks in September of 1980 and "Turn Your Love Around" for one week in January of 1983...
    In addition, he had four records make the Top 20, "Never Give Up A Good Thing" {#16 in 1981}, "20/20" {#15 in 1984}, "Kisses In The Moonlight" {#13 in 1986}, and "Shiver" {#16 in 1986}...
    One of his twenty five charted records was a duet with Aretha Franklin, "Love All The Hurt Away", it peaked at #6 in 1981...
    George Washington Benson celebrated his 77th birthday one month ago on March 22nd, 2020...
    * "On Broadway" was George Benson's second of two of his records to peak at #2, his other #2 record was "The Greatest Love of All" for two weeks in September of 1977...
    * And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of the Hot Soul Singles' Top 10 on April 23rd, 1978:
    At #3. "The Closer I Get To You" by Roberta Flack with Donny Hathaway
    #4. "Bootzilla" by the Bootsy's Rubber Band
    #5. "Take Me To The Next Phase" by the Isley Brothers
    #6. "Dance With Me" by Peter Brown
    #7. "Flash Light" by Parliament
    #8. "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees
    #9. "Stay" by Rufus with Chaka Khan
    #10. "The Grooveline" by Heatwave
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaWonder if anyone can tell me who the musicians were who played on all those old Brill Building tunes? Have never been able to find out. Also have read recently that Phil took guitar lessons but was a failure at it, that is why it strikes me as strange that he played that pretty guitar solo.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaLoved the guitar solo and that deep reverby sound on this song.
  • Babbling Babette from Tulsa OkA great hit for The Drifters in 1963. I learned about The Drifters hits & other R&B hits of the Sixties when I inherited my late brother's extensive singles collection in 2011. I wasn't born until 1994. Such great harmonic music as compared to the current rock & R&B music.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 20th 1880, Broadway in New York City was lighted by electricity for the first time; thus earning its nickname, 'The Great White Way'...
    And eighty-three years later on March 17th, 1963 the Drifters' "On Broadway" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #83; five weeks later on April 21st it would peak at #9 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 10 weeks...
    It reached #7 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1954 and 1966 the super group had thirty-six Top 100 records; five made the Top 10 and one reaching #1, "Save the Last Dance for Me" for 3 non-consecutive* weeks on October 11th, 1960...
    * Between "Save the Last Dance for Me"'s 1st and 2nd week at #1, "I Want to Be Wanted" by Brenda Lee, was in the top spot.
  • Moanin' Lisa from Chillicothe Mo.When "On Broadway" was riding high on the charts in '63, my oldest brother had this 45 rpm single in his collection. I loved hearing it & envisioning life on Broadway in New York City. Then some of my younger brothers kidded me & told me that Broadway was full of sin & hookers. Still, I've loved the song & The Drifters all these years. I recently got a Drifters' Greatest Hits CD compilation and this hit wasn't included, but I had to have the CD anyway. This hit, "Under The Boardwalk," and "Up On The Roof" are my favorites from The Drifters. Ooooooooo!!
  • Roy Clough from UkThe Cystals did release it on a album in 1962. Cookies version eventually released on CD Complete Cookies in 1994.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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).
  • Wayne from Crockett, TxNeil Young does a nice cover of this song on Freedom.
  • Peter from Los Angeles, CaBen E. King does NOT sing on Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway." Peter Gabriel sings the quote from "On Broadway."
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumPhil 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.
  • John from Jersey City, NjIMHO, 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?
  • Ken from Louisville, KyWhen 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".

  • Cengiz from Istanbul, TurkeyA 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.
  • Hilton from St. Albans, EnglandWith 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 from 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')
  • Justin from Felts Mills, NyGeorge 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.
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