The Brill Building Sound

NYC's Powerhouse Brill Building Studio and the Music It Produced

New York's Brill Building
New York's Brill Building.

Brill Building (also known as Brill Building Sound or Brill Building pop) may be the only subgenre of pop music named after a building, for it was in that very building, a former monolith of New York City's Garment District located at 1619 Broadway, where producer Don Kirshner placed the best and brightest songwriters of the Camelot years.

Songwriters coming out of the Brill Building were early-Sixties mainstays, almost all duos, whose very names became emblematic of great pop songwriting: Lieber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Mann and Weil, Bacharach and David, Pomus and Shuman, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield.

The Brill Building Aesthetic

If you don't recognize the names, it's for sure you've heard their work, for the "Brill Building" sound —more an aesthetic, really — provided modern sounds steeped in classic New York "Tin Pan Alley" songwriting for the girl groups and teen idols of the day. In fact, some confuse the girl-group sound for Brill Building, but in truth, the Brill stuff was poppier, more laden with strings, giddier with romantic possibility than some of the earthier R&B stuff (or even the girl groups of Motown). There's also often a distinctly Latin feel, a theme common to the New York pop of the era. And their teen idol fodder was miles more honest and musically advanced than the pap that the Paul Anka's and Pat Boone's of the world had produced.

This was, in other words, sophisticated pop for teens in the first blush of love, and it's precisely that combination of classic songwriting technique and post-rock modernism that helped it get over and kept it fresh and exciting in the years since. In addition, the assembly-line mechanics of the Building could not have been lost on future labels: artists could get a song from one piano-stocked "office," go to another floor and pay for an arrangement, then go to yet another and get it published. A completely self-contained one-stop song shop for talent.

Best Known Examples

An early protege of producer Kirshner, Bobby Darin went on to sing "Beyond the Sea" after releasing his hit track "Dream Lover" in 1960. Another of Kirshner's early picks, Neil Sedaka, was a teen idol in his own right, but he knew the mechanics of pop songwriting. In his big smash "Calendar Girl," Sedaka found a new way to love his girl with every passing month— this coming after the commercial success of Connie Francis' breakout hit "Stupid Cupid," co-written with Howard Greenfield in 1958.

Goffin and King co-wrote Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care Of My Baby," which went on to inspire much of The Beatles' in-house songwriting that would break out in the music industry a few years later. Another Goffin-King track, "One Fine Day," was originally written as a follow-up to another of their hit tracks, Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion," but the Token took over and produced the track for The Chiffons (of "He's So Fine" fame) instead.

Legacy and Later Pop Influence

Roy Wood carried the genre into the 1970s with the creation of The Move, Electric Light Orchestra and the band Wizzard, transitioning the lighter notes of Brill Building pop into the psychedelic, glam rock movement of the Seventies. Many of the genre's composers and songwriters went on to great commercial success, even as late as the early 21st century.

To this day a version of the bubblegum, almost empty lyricism of Brill Bulding music persists in teen idols' hit records. Even Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga draw inspiration from the characteristic feel-good tunes of 1960s New York City.