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10 perfect Cynthia Weil songs

By Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 24, 2023, 6:23am

In a career that stretched more than half a century, Cynthia Weil wrote hits for girl groups, rock bands, country acts and soul singers. Her lyrics captured the many facets of love — its euphoric bloom and its agonizing demise — but also pondered family, friendship and the details of urban American life.

Weil, who died June 1 in Beverly Hills, Calif., at age 82, was best known as half of a songwriting team with her husband, Barry Mann, who handled the melodies and with whom she got her start in the early 1960s as part of the bustling pop-music scene based around New York’s Brill Building. Yet Weil — a member of both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame — collaborated widely over the years, exploring different genres and forging new creative partnerships.

Here, in chronological order, are 10 of her finest songs.

1. The Drifters, “On Broadway” (1963): Mann and Weil wrote this tale of showbiz ambition with a fresh-faced girl group in mind, and indeed the Crystals released an early version of “On Broadway” in 1962. But it was the Drifters’ slightly bluesier take — for which the couple tweaked their writing with help from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller — that became a pop staple. Fifteen years later, George Benson, covered the tune and scored a hit of his own.

2. The Righteous Brothers, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” (1964): Identified by BMI as the most broadcast song of the 20th century, the Righteous Brothers’ Spector-produced smash is the wailing lost-love lament against which all others have been measured for almost 60 years. “Now there’s no welcome look in your eyes when I reach for you,” Bill Medley sings — an image somehow made only lonelier by Spector’s quivering wall-of-sound strings.

3. The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (1965): The British Invasion slowed many a career associated with the Brill Building, yet Mann and Weil landed a Top 20 hit when the Animals cut this unflinching proto-garage-rock jam about quitting “this dirty old part of the city.” Later the song became an anthem among soldiers increasingly disillusioned by the war in Vietnam.

4. Dusty Springfield, “Just a Little Lovin’” (1969): Words of sensual wisdom from the opener of Springfield’s famously sultry “Dusty in Memphis” LP: “Just a little lovin’, early in the morning / Beats a cup of coffee for starting off the day.” Also check out Shelby Lynne’s slower-and-lower rendition from her 2008 Dusty tribute album of the same name.

5. Dolly Parton, “Here You Come Again” (1977): Parton’s bouncy pop-crossover hit is among the most charming singles in her enormous catalog, not least because of the yearning in her vocal performance as she greets an ex who’s returned “looking better than a body has a right to.” What a lyric.

6. The Pointer Sisters, “He’s So Shy” (1980): Another winning flirtation — “I’m so glad I took the time that I had to take to make him mine” — set to creamy keyboards and cheerful funk bass.

7. Quincy Jones featuring James Ingram, “Just Once” (1981): Ingram got his big break in music after Jones heard his voice on the demo for this tender R&B ballad and hired him to record it for Jones’ million-selling 1981 album “The Dude.”

8. Peabo Bryson, “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again” (1984): Weil’s early-’80s hot streak in quiet-storm soul music also included this stately Bryson number, which Weil co-wrote with Tom Snow and Michael Masser and which topped Billboard’s adult contemporary chart for four weeks.

9. Chaka Khan, “Through the Fire” (1985): Two decades after Weil, David Foster and Tom Keane wrote “Through the Fire” for Khan’s “I Feel for You” album, Kanye West remade the song as “Through the Wire,” his debut solo single, in which he rapped about a car crash while his jaw was wired shut.

10. Linda Ronstadt featuring Aaron Neville, “Don’t Know Much” (1989): Originally recorded by Mann himself for a 1980 solo record, this lush yet forthright soft-rock confession went to No. 2 as one of several duets between Ronstadt and Neville on her Grammy-winning “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.”