(Songwriting duo Gerry Goffin & Carole King were honored with The Recording Academy's Trustees Award in 2004. The original version of the following tribute ran in the 46th GRAMMY Awards program book that year. Goffin died June 19 at the age of 75.)
Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote hits to order. If their bosses at the Brill Building in New York needed a follow-up for the Drifters, Goffin and King headed for their cubicle and got to work. After lunch, the assignment might be a hit for Bobby Vee, a breakthrough single for Herman's Hermits or a light social satire for the Monkees.
It was very much a commercial enterprise. Goffin and King weren't expected to create lasting works of art — much less a legacy. But, against all odds, they did. Many of their songs have become pop classics. "The Loco-Motion," the pair's most durable and lucrative creation, has been a hit in three decades — and will be revived as long as young people are looking for "a brand new dance." "Go Away Little Girl" and "Hey, Girl" have also made repeat trips to the Top 10. "One Fine Day" became the title song of a hit movie.
The best songs by Goffin and King made a deeper emotional connection than most pop hits of the era. Their first smash, the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," was remarkably honest for its time (1960) about sex and commitment. The Drifters' "Up On The Roof" was a tender expression of yearning, an "Over The Rainbow" for people who never got out of the city. Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" was a sensuous statement of a woman's identity.
King's demos for the team's songs were so well conceived that they were often copied note-for-note in the final recordings. In 1962 one was released commercially, which resulted in King having a Top 30 hit, "It Might As Well Rain Until September."
Since their collaboration wound down, Goffin and King have both logged individual successes. In 1973 Goffin teamed with Barry Goldberg to write Gladys Knight & The Pips' fiery "I've Got To Use My Imagination." He later teamed with Michael Masser to write Diana Ross' Oscar-nominated "Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)" and Whitney Houston's GRAMMY-winning "Saving All My Love For You." King, of course, became one of the top recording artists of the 1970s. Her 1971 classic Tapestry was one of the decade's touchstone recordings. It won a GRAMMY as Album Of The Year, while one of its tracks, "It's Too Late," was voted Record Of The Year and another, "You've Got A Friend," was named Song Of The Year.
This year, the songs of Goffin and King, and the story of their marriage, became the subject of a hit Broadway show, "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." The show, which received seven Tony nominations, depicts not only the years when Goffin and King were churning out No. 1 hits, but also the painful breakup of their marriage. Goffin and his wife were in the audience on opening night.
(Paul Grein, a veteran journalist and music historian, writes frequently for Yahoo Music. His Chart Watch blog runs each Wednesday.)