By Brian Ives
He was the former husband of singer/songwriter Carole King, and together they were one of the most successful songwriting teams of all time, penning hits including “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Chains,” “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” and “The Loco-Motion.”
The couple divorced in 1968, with King going on to become a superstar singer/songwriter after releasing the 1971 album Tapestry, which has sold 25 million copies worldwide (and which features three King/Goffin compositions, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Smackwater Jack” and “[You Make Me Feel Like] A Natural Woman.”)
Goffin remained a behind-the-scenes songwriter after the divorce, co-writing hits including “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” (recorded by Diana Ross), “Saving All My Love For You” (a hit duet for Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., later popularized by Whitney Houston) and “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” (a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips).
Earlier this year, Goffin, looking frail and using a walker, attended the Jan. 12 opening night of the Tony Award-nominated Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway; the Goffin/King relationship was a big part of the show. However, he was unable to attend the NARAS MusiCares tribute to King a few weeks later (many of their co-writes were performed at the show).
Carole King said in a statement: “Gerry Goffin was my first love. He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship. He will be missed by his wonderful wife Michele, his devoted manager, Christine Russell, his five children, and six grandchildren.
“His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say. If you want to join his loved ones in honoring him, look at the names of the songwriters under the titles of songs. Among the titles associated with me, you’ll often find Gerry’s name next to mine.”
She also posted a number of messages on her Facebook page: the first simply displayed a photo of Goffin as a young man; King wrote, “Gerry Goffin 1939-2014/There are no words.” Another showed a 15 second video clip of Goffin and King working out a detail to a song. On that post, songwriter Carole Bayer Sager left a message to King, saying, “He was one of the greatest lyric writers of all time and he impacted my life more than he ever could imagine. It was my honor and pleasure to know him and even get a chance to write a song with him.”
Below are some examples of his great, and timeless, songwriting.
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is one of the Goffin/King team’s earliest and most beloved hits, and has been covered by tons of artists, including Cher, Dusty Springfield, Bryan Ferry and even Smokey Robinson. Amy Winehouse, a student of the early ’60s pop sound, updated the song for the 2004 film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were fans and students of the Goffin/King songbook, paying tribute via a cover of “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” (recorded for the BBC and unreleased until 1994) and this song, “Chains,” which they recorded for their British debut album, 1963’s Please Please Me.
“The Loco-Motion” was originally written for Little Eva, a.k.a. Eva Boyd, who King and Goffin had hired as a babysitter. It’s been covered many times since – notably by ’70s stadium rockers Grand Funk Railroad. It also gave Kylie Minogue her first big U.S. hit.
“He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” was reportedly written about Little Eva, when King and Goffin found out that her boyfriend had hit her. Courtney Love memorably performed it on Hole’s episode of MTV Unplugged. More recently, indie rock darlings Grizzly Bear covered the song.
Possibly their most famous song, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is the song that divas go to to prove their chops: this is true for male divas as well: Rod Stewart tinkered with the lyrics for his version, “(You Make Feel Like) A Natural Man.” Aretha Franklin’s version is the standard, but it’s been covered by Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Kelly Clarkson, among others.
After his split from King, Goffin proved that he was still a great songwriter and collaborator, with this hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, co-written with songwriter/producer Barry Goldberg.