Cynthia Weil obituary

cynthia weil obituary

Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Unusually, the lyricist Cynthia Weil’s husband, the composer Barry Mann, came up with the line – “You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips” – that began a song destined to become one of the most beloved of all 1960s pop classics. She completed the thought: “And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips.”

Intoned by the sonorous baritone voice of the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley at a dead-slow tempo over the echoing canyons of a Phil Spector production, that dramatic opening drew attention so effectively that You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in February 1965, going on to become the most played song on US radio of the 20th century.

For Weil, who has died aged 82, and Mann, it was one of a string of hits that placed them among the hottest songwriting teams of the era. From their cubicle in the offices of a New York music publishing company came On Broadway for the Drifters, Walking in the Rain for the Ronettes, We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place for the Animals, I’m Gonna Be Strong for Gene Pitney, Just a Little Lovin’ for Dusty Springfield, It’s Getting Better for Mama Cass, and I Just Can’t Help Believing, a hit for BJ Thomas before becoming a staple of Elvis Presley’s repertoire.

Weil and Mann were one of three young New York couples in competition to produce hits for the artists of the day. They and their friends Carole King and Gerry Goffin were located at 1650 Broadway, the office of Aldon Music, down the street from the Brill Building, where the third pair, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, were quartered. The Weil-Mann marriage was the only one to outlast the decade and would be lifelong, despite a two-year hiatus in the 1980s when the experience of living and working together became suffocating.

Weil was born into a comfortably off family living on the Upper West Side of New York, the daughter of Dorothy (nee Mendez) and Morris Weil, the owner of a furniture company. Educated at the private Walden school, she spent a year at the University of Michigan before transferring to Sarah Lawrence college, a liberal arts institution in Westchester County. There she studied theatre, hoping for a career in Broadway theatre.

A meeting with Frank Loesser, the composer of Guys and Dolls, gave her the chance to pursue an interest in writing lyrics. While supporting herself with a job at a fashionable midtown boutique, she collaborated with several young writers. Soon she was setting her cap at Barry Imberman, a talented and charismatic 22-year-old from Flatbush, who had already co-written I Love How You Love Me for the Paris Sisters, a gauzy Spector-produced ballad that reached the Top 5 in 1961. As Barry Mann, he enjoyed his own top 10 hit that year with Who Put the Bomp, a witty take-off – with a lyric by Goffin – of the doo-wop songs he had grown up performing.

“My whole career really started because I was stalking Barry,” Weil would tell an interviewer. They married in October 1961, the month that the first hit song they wrote together, Bless You, made the Top 20, sung by the 17-year-old Tony Orlando. Weil had accepted Goffin’s advice to favour a direct appeal to a teenage audience over the verbal sophistication of the Broadway wordsmiths she so admired.

Nevertheless the words she put to Mann’s melodies often went further than might have seemed commercially necessary, telling stories about the yearnings and dissatisfactions of urban youth. While writing the lyric of On Broadway, she would have been looking out on the sidewalks of the Great White Way, where the protagonist of the song – originally a female, since it was first recorded by the Cookies before being adapted for the Drifters – contrasts her dreams of stardom with the reality of pockets containing just “one thin dime”.

In Uptown, written in 1962 for the Crystals, another Spector group, the singer mourns her boyfriend’s plight: “He gets up each morning and he goes downtown / Where everyone’s his boss and he’s lost in an angry land … ” In Magic Town, the Vogues examined a similar situation and asked: “Where’s the good life they said could be found?”

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was created when Spector sequestered the couple in a suite in the Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard, needing a song for his newly signed duo of blue-eyed soul singers, Medley and Bobby Hatfield.

The writers came up with a ballad to which Spector added the features – slowing it right down from the medium tempo they had stipulated and adding an emotional call-and-response section – that made it so distinctive. Those additions stretched it out to almost four minutes, a risky length for a disc aimed at pop radio stations. Spector’s solution was to print labels for the copies sent to radio DJs giving the length as just over three minutes. Once it had been heard, no deception was needed.

Adapting to changing fashions, Mann and Weil would write for a wide variety of artists, including Dolly Parton, who won a Grammy for Here You Come Again in 1977. Weil occasionally teamed up with other composers, collaborating with Tom Snow on He’s So Shy for the Pointer Sisters in 1980 and with Lionel Richie on Running With the Night in 1983.

Mann and Weil were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and in 2010 they received an award from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They contributed separately and together to many TV shows and films, and in 2007 they wrote and starred in a Broadway show based on their songs and called They Wrote That?

Although Mann continued to make records under his own name, Weil declined the opportunity to build a performing career of her own.

She and is survived by her husband, their daughter, Jenn, and two granddaughters.

• Cynthia Weil, songwriter, born 18 October 1940; died 1 June 2023

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