Born Jack Walter Keller, 11 November 1936, Brooklyn, New York
The son of a professional musician, Jack Keller belonged to a group of songwriters who are commonly referred to as the "Brill Building" writers, though the publishing company that employed him, Aldon Music, did not have its offices in the Brill Building (1619 Broadway), but at 1650 Broadway, an edifice without a name that hosted a large number of record labels and publishing companies. Aldon was formed in 1958 by Al Nevins (1916-1965, ex-Three Suns) and Don Kirshner (born 1934). The first writers they signed were Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, soon followed by Larry Kolber and his partner Larry Martin. Jack Keller was Aldon's fifth signing, in mid-1959, mainly on the strength of the demo he had made, with his co-writer Hank Hunter, of "One Way Ticket". This song was recorded by Neil Sedaka as the B-side of "Oh Carol". Before his Aldon tenure, Keller had already co-written quite a few songs, the most successful of which were "Just Between You And Me", a Top 20 hit for the Chordettes in October 1957, and "Three O'Clock Thrill", the B-side of "When" by the Kalin Twins.
Don Kirshner transformed songwriting into an assembly line process. The Aldon writers all worked as duos. Apart from Sedaka and Greenfield, the best known Aldon employees were Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Both teams were not only partners in song- writing, but also in marriage. (Mann and Weil are still married.) From ten till five the writers would be working in claustophobic cubicles, with little else than a piano and two chairs. The resulting songs were often very good (many have become classics) and Aldon became the most successful publishing company in the country, until its sale to Screen Gems (Columbia Pictures' recording and publishing subsidiary) in 1963, after which the company's offices were moved to 711 Fifth Avenue. When Neil Sedaka went on the road to promote his hits, lyricist Howard Greenfield was temporarily left without a partner. Kirshner asked Keller to work with him and for the next six years Greenfield and Keller would collaborate every Monday and Wednesday. The second song they wrote together became a # 1 hit. It was "Everybody's Somebody's Fool", origin- ally written as a slow number in 3/4 time, but Keller was flexible enough to rewrite the music in the style of "Heartaches by the Number", at the request of Connie Francis. The follow-up, "My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own", was again written by Greenfield and Keller and also went to # 1, making Connie Francis the first female singer ever to score two consecutive No. 1 singles. Their third collaboration for Francis, "Breakin' in a Brand New Broken Heart", peaked at # 7. Keller and Greenfield also wrote "Venus In Blue Jeans", a # 7 hit for Jimmy Clanton in October 1962. Jack also worked frequently with Gerry Goffin, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their most successful collaboration was "Run To Him", a # 2 hit for Bobby Vee. In 1962, the Everly Brothers recorded several Goffin-Keller songs, like "How Can I Meet Her", "Don't Ask Me To Be Friends" and "No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile". On another Bobby Vee hit, "Please Don't Ask About Barbara", Keller's unilikely co-writer was Bill Buchanan, of Buchanan and Goodman fame ("The Flying Saucer").
The Goffin-Keller composition "Let's Turkey Trot" (by Little Eva, # 20 in 1963) became the subject of controversy. The melody was a carbon copy of "Little Girl Of Mine", a hit in 1956 for the Cleftones, doo-woppers whom George Goldner had discovered and recorded. Goldner claimed to have co-authored the song with Herbie Cox, the Cleftones' lead singer, but he had signed over his interest in both his record companies and his publishing to Morris Levy. To avoid unpleasantness, the writing credit was changed to Goffin / Keller / Levy / Cox, a most unlikely collaboration. Aldon's sale to Columbia-Screen Gems was not unprofitable for Keller. The company secured a lot of film and television assignments for him and Howard Greenfield. In 1964-65 they co-wrote the themes for two long-running TV series, "Bewitched" and "Gidget". In fact, when Keller died in 2005, most obituaries mentioned that he was best known as the writer of the "Bewitched" theme. In 1966, both Greenfield and Keller moved to Los Angeles, which had gradually superseded New York City as the nationīs most important musical centre. Soon Keller was asked by Don Kirshner to work with the Monkees (a project into which Kirshner had heavily invested), after Snuff Garrett, Mickie Most, and Carole King and Gerry Goffin had all tried in vain to produce the unruly and not so talented group. Keller ended up co-producing the first Monkees LP.
In 1984 Keller moved to Nashville, where hardly anybody knew who he was. In spite of having to start at the bottom again, Keller enjoyed success on the country charts with songs recorded by Crystal Gayle, Eddy Arnold and Reba McIntire. After a brief battle with leukemia, Jack Keller died at the Vanderbilt Medical Centre in Nashville, on April 1, 2005.
Acknowledgements: - Ken Emerson, Always Magic in the Air : The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era. New York : Viking, 2005. 336 pages. Covers seven songwriting partnerships : Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole KIng and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Recommended.
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