Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are living legends, one of the great songwriting teams from New York’s Brill Building. Although they wrote plenty of throwaway songs — a lot of which were huge sellers — they wrote a number of greats that are firmly engraved in the Great American Songbook.
First a roster of throwaways. Fun, but throwaway:
- Only in America
- He’s Sure the Boy I Love
- Blame it on the Bossa Nova
…the list of throwaways is pretty short, as you can see. And really, these aren’t bad songs, they’re just not as good as these offerings from Mann and Weil:
- You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling
- You’re My Soul and Inspiration
- On Broadway
- Just Can’t Help Believin’
- Somewhere Out There
- Here You Come Again
- Just Once
One Mann/Weil composition that slips most people’s minds is “It’s Getting Better,” and because it is seldom remembered, it fits the very definition of “Forgotten Gem.”
Cass Elliott was a great singer who left us too soon. She was unquestionably the most charismatic member of The Mamas and Papas, but did very little in terms of “lead” vocals for the group. Oddly enough, Denny Doherty is generally the least-known and least-charismatic member, but handled lead on most of the songs.
Cass did have one huge hit handling lead with the Mamas and Papas, on “Words of Love,” which peaked at #5 on the pop charts. Toward the end of the group’s run she recorded a ballad version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” which was released as a solo record and reached #12 on the charts.
The success of this new, slow version of a pop standard dating from the 1930s led to an album and an extremely successful career. We say “successful,” not that her records charted as well as the Mamas and Papas, but because Mama Cass Elliott found solo success as a “personality.” Previously considered the “charismatic” member of the group, it showed unquestionably when she was on her own. Nightclubs, Vegas showrooms, talk shows, game shows, sitcoms…Cass did it all. She was a larger-than-life superstar, a portly version of Cher if you will.
Two Mann and Weil songs resulted in hits for Cass during 1969, “It’s Getting Better” and “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” Both songs have sort of a cult following today; they’ve been used on soundtracks for hip tv shows.
“It’s Getting Better” was the first of the pair to chart. Surprisingly, the song did no better than #30 on the pop charts. On adult contemporary it fared much better, peaking at #13, but still not the level that the composition or the performance deserved.
The message is about a love between two people that “started quietly and grew.” The storyteller always expected love to come with “rockets, bells and poetry,” but that didn’t happen. It may have been disappointing at the time, but it’s turned out ok: “There’s something groovy and good about whatever we’ve got.” And of course, it’s growing stronger and getting better.
It’s a great song, Barry Mann’s melody is first rate and the lyrics by wife Cynthia Weil are thoughtful and intelligent. But what really makes the song work is Cass Elliott — it’s believable, and because of her personality (and size) you can accept that she wasn’t the type to fall head over heels gaga for someone, and vice-versa. And maybe it’s not like most loves, but it’s “groovy and good.” The instrumentation is a bit dated, unfortunately it sounds like 1968. But it’s certainly well done; the track includes guitar work by the legendary James Burton, drums by Hal Blaine, keyboards by Larry Knechtel, among others.
Add in vocals by Cass Elliott, and you’ve really got something. It may not be the best song from 1968, but you won’t find too many that really are better.