20 October 2007

The small print: Ed Goldman, writer of Billy You're My Friend

Last month I wondered about the writer of Billy You're My Friend, Gene Pitney's minor hit from 1968. It's one of those unique songs that you never forget, the one-off that comes out of nowhere and leaves you with few clues about its background story.

A couple of days ago Ed Goldman emailed me, after he'd read my post.

Ed tells me he wrote Billy You're My Friend when he was a piano major at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He’d worked in music publishing as a staff songwriter, usually working with a regular lyricist partner, but when producer Bob Schwartz was looking for a song for Gene Pitney, “a single that would bring him more into what was then the current style”, Ed ended up writing both words and music himself.

This is how it came about, as Ed tells it:
My partner at the time and I had interested a producer at Musicor Records in a kind of poetic, Sergeant Pepper's type tune called Poor Richard, which I demonstrated on the piano, improvising a fugue-like break.

The producer, Bob Schwartz, loved it, but it was already published by another company. He said Gene Pitney was going into the studio in a few days… and he wanted something in the style I had demonstrated on the piano.

The next day I sat down with my lyricist, but we couldn't see eye to eye (or ear to ear) on anything that day. I already had most of the tune and the first verse of the lyric, but he didn't relate to it, and he wasn't coming up with anything either, so I finished it on my own and brought it to Bob the next day.

Bob said, “That's it!” and went on to bring in an arranger... Joe Scott to soup up the break and arrangement into this big orchestral sound. He billed it as 'symphonic rock' and the record was made about a week later.

Although he was quite excited about the finished product, Ed comments on the interpretation and arrangement:
I felt to a degree that the song was made too grandiose for what it was, and who Gene was as a song stylist. My feeling about the song was that it was a kind of chamber piece that first expressed the innocence and trust a young man had for his best friend, then the anger he felt when he discovered that both his friend and girlfriend had betrayed him.
Ed Goldman’s heart was in jazz and the classics, and for many years he played piano around the New York area before returning to Juilliard in the 90s to study composition and orchestration. He has written music for TV soap operas and advertising jingles, but he now concentrates on writing and recording in his home studio, putting down all the parts himself - and he still writes his own lyrics. Ed’s current projects include a Broadway show, a CD of his own songs, and recordings of classical piano pieces including his own compositions.

On the uniqueness of Billy You’re My Friend, Ed comments:
My approach to that song, and most of those I wrote, was to be true to what the song itself seemed to want to say, even if I sometimes had to transcend pop songwriting conventions to do so. This is what I believe gave the song its individualistic flavour.
As a compulsive reader of the small print on record labels, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to have heard from (E. Goldman) and to be able to write about him here.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this song when it came out in late 1968. I was only 11 years old in Melbourne.

Looked for it for years and finally got a copy last year.

It is a fantastic song. Thansk for getting the background to it.

Shaheen J. Dibai said...

Great post! I always wondered about this bizarre record and the song's writer.

Anonymous said...

Love Gene and this song is a one of a kind that deserves to be more widely heard. Love the orchestral break!