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Always Magic in the Air

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Four decades on, the list of malt-shop standards written in (or in the vicinity of) Manhattan’s Brill Building — ”Walk on By,” ”On Broadway,” ”I’m a Believer,” ”You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”’ — remains staggering. The young, predominantly Jewish writers who cranked out those songs (Carole King and Neil Sedaka among them) may not have been rebels, but they were intensely competitive craftspeople who deftly integrated Latin and country into their hits. Ken Emerson chronicles recording dates and chart positions, detailing how future classics like ”Stand by Me” were hurriedly cobbled together. But while we learn King was ”cocky,” Sedaka stuck-up, and the handicapped Doc Pomus a figure of genuine pathos, Emerson’s college-textbook prose doesn’t always do the tales and characters justice. Always Magic in the Air could’ve used a little more do wah diddy diddy.

Always Magic in the Air
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