Friday, April 4, 2008

Lonely Lips Lead to Lyrical Longevity

On Wednesday, I began to chronicle the achievements of songwriter and producer Jeff Barry. Today, we’re still pinned to his recording career, via the B side of “Face from Outer Space,” “Lonely Lips” (RCA 47-7797). As with the A side, the song was co-written by Ben Raleigh and produced by Hugo & Luigi.

If you didn’t read the first part of this mini-bio on Wednesday, we’ll wait for you while you scroll down . . . ah, got it?

So, three-year-old caithiseach received this 45 for a nickel that he didn’t even have to spend, and the result was hours of sonic bliss. Let’s see, at five minutes per two-sided play, times 5000 plays, that would be 25,000 minutes of music, divided by 60, equals 416 hours I spent enjoying these two songs alone. And now that I have a CD of mp3s of about 200 recordings that Jeff Barry either wrote, sang or produced, I could pretty much stop listening to anyone else and still have a decent music collection.

But I won’t do that. Right now, I’m digging around to get as many songs from the 1890s and 2007 as I can. So the collection keeps growing.

“Lonely Lips” has a great piano part, nice guitar work, three key changes in the choruses, and everything else three-year-old caithiseach enjoyed. It would not be until 1970 that I noticed that Jeff Barry was writing many of the other songs I liked, but in the meantime, I was digging a lot of his work without knowing it.

After he produced Neil Diamond’s Bang recordings (you can hear Jeff and Ellie singing on “Solitary Man,” among others), Jeff was asked to take over production for the Monkees. This story will be told in more detail elsewhere, but the basics are that Jeff went to meet the Monkees, and he took a Neil Diamond demo with him. Three Monkees liked it, and one balked at it. They recorded it anyway, and “I’m a Believer,” with Jeff’s signature organ riff, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in early 1967. So much for that Monkee’s judgment.

A bit later, a kid named Andy Kim wandered into Jeff’s office after taking the train down from Montreal. We’ll look at Andy’s singles in May, as well as some of his writing/production collaborations with Jeff.

Jeff then created his own label, Steed, on which he released several Top 40 hits we’ll also see, in August. After that, he was hired to produce a talented pianist named Peter Allen for A&M, and Jeff told Peter about a lyric he had in his head: “Maybe I hang around here a little more than I should.” Peter started doodling on the piano, they wrote the lyrics and recorded a demo. Artie Wayne says he took it to Olivia, who wanted to record it despite some label execs’ misgivings. The Allen piano part was so perfect they didn’t re-record it. And that’s how we got “I Honestly Love You.” The result was the Grammy for Song of the Year for 1974. Add to that the 1969 RIAA Record of the Year for “Sugar, Sugar,” and you would have to say Jeff has created a superb writing legacy, even if you don’t consider that his overall sales put him in third place all-time.

A mutual friend knew how much I admired Jeff’s work, and when I mentioned wanting an address where I could write to thank him for his art, I got something better: a phone call from Jeff. The next time I was in California, Jeff and I met in May, 2006. I have learned a lot about his career, and from the people with whom he has collaborated, I’ve learned that he is also an exceptionally kind, generous human being. It can be a huge disappointment if you learn that your idol is not so nice behind the scenes, but I have the good fortune to know this talented man and the comfort of knowing he is loved within the music world.

And that’s that for now. Check out “Lonely Lips,” and prepare for a sonic spectacle you have NEVER heard before on Wednesday!

Jeff Barry, Lonely Lips

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