Don’t Ever Change Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
Don’t Ever Change The Crickets (original, written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, 1961)
Don’t Ever Change The Beatles (cover version, 1963)
Few people outside of New York or the music business have heard of the Brill Building. Located at 1619 Broadway in New York City, just north of Times Square, the Brill was the place a great chunk of American pop music was written, arranged, recorded and sold, including ‘Don’t Ever Change‘ written by (Gerry) Goffin & (Carole) King, recorded by The Crickets (sans Buddy) in 1961, providing a Top 10 hit in the UK. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ confirms Bryan Ferry’s assertions that These Foolish Things was intended as a break from For Your Pleasure‘s darker themes and mood. Having cracked ‘Hard Rain‘ and the rare ‘River of Salt‘ (“I’m probably the only person in England with a copy of that”), Ferry decided next to go to the Classic Songwriter’s Songbook and pull down a cut from the famous writing team of Goffin & King – the jaunty ‘Don’t Ever Change’ comes up next and it’s a nasty piece of work, despite its early 60s jaunty beat. The music suggests sunny optimism but the lyric delivers tyrannical rule.
‘Don’t Ever Change’ was written on the top floors (“on the roof”) of the The Brill Building, a stunning art-deco masterpiece that stretched along Broadway between 49th and 53rd streets. A mecca for songwriting talent, the Brill contained 165 music businesses at its peak in 1962. The songwriters worked to order, crafting melodies and lyrics that would define the late 50s and 60s: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (Phil Spector, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil); Don’t Be Cruel (recorded by Elvis, written by Otis Blackwell); Do You Know the Way to San José? (the brilliant Burt Bacharach/Hal David); and so many more. Before Carole King become the mega-selling Carole King of ‘Tapestry’ (and the subject of the Broadway show Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) she was the teenager Carol Klein, married at 17 to 20-year-old lyricist Gerry Goffin. They got their break through their connection with Neil Sedaka, who knew Carole at High School and, in a last-ditch attempt at writing a hit before he was dropped from his contract, had composed and recorded a song called “Oh! Carol” (desperate, Sedaka studied the top singles of the day, mapped their melody, chord progression, lyrical styles and developed the ingredients of a hit single – he nailed it). Soon Goffin & King were writing compact, minor-miracle songs that sold by the truck-load – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles); “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva); “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin), and the fantastic “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (The Monkees).
In 1963, at the beginning of The Beatles rise to fame, John Lennon was quoted as saying that he and Paul McCartney wanted to become “the Goffin-King of England.”
‘Don’t Ever Change’ is one of Goffin & King’s lesser known songs, made to order like egg salad sandwiches at the local deli. Lesser-known in both status and (to be honest) tunefulness – The Crickets version did not chart in the USA – the song is nevertheless an interesting selection by Ferry who, presumably, had the budget and freedom to choose other Goffin & King songs, say, ‘On the Roof’ or ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (but not, thankfully, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’). Choosing to cover ‘Don’t Ever Change’ makes good sense in terms of These Foolish Things – it’s a breezy sing-along three tracks in – but there is something wrong with the song at root that Ferry cannot fix. His version is faithful to the original, with the benefit of being better recorded with deeper, fuller sound, but it neither detracts or adds to the original. The problem is not with Ferry’s take but the dishonesty of the song itself – ‘Don’t Ever Change’ pretends to be upbeat and idealist, but in truth it’s a mean song hiding behind a breezy disguise.
Carole King wrote in her memoir that her ex-husband Gerry Goffin – who she divorced in 1969 – suffered from mental illness following ingestion of LSD, eventually undergoing treatment with lithium and electroshock therapy, and later diagnosed with manic depression. Post-marriage Carole wrote her own lyrics, of which the mega-hit ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (1971) is in character with her thoughtful and warm work. Contrast this with ex-hubby Goffin’s lyrical mauling of male/female relationships and you get the sense that long-term matrimony wasn’t in the cards, not with Goffin writing songs like ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)’ or ‘Chains’ or even the party-ending ‘Everybody Go Home’. Goffin was talented, to be sure – his writing on the number 1 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” show a sensitivity to the complications of sexual maturity, and ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ has a killer lyric (“The local rock group down the street/Is trying hard to learn their song/They serenade the weekend squire/Who just came out to mow his lawn”) – but lyricist Goffin typically informs his songs with a controlling hand that sets an uneasy tone that ‘Don’t Ever Change’ cannot escape and Ferry does little to interfere.
The premise of the ‘Don’t Change’ reminds us of ‘Chance Meeting‘ – male menace thinly disguised. You never wear a stitch of lace, we’re told – And powder’s never on your face / You’re always wearing jeans except on Sunday – you’re a tomboy in other words. Oh please don’t ever change, he continues, I kinda like you just the way you are. The narrator ‘kinda’ likes you, so be sure to swear allegiance to his idealized view of you for all eternity.
You don’t know the latest dance
But when it’s time to make romance
Your kisses let me know you’re not a tomboy
In other words, I like you to be uninformed, awkward and sexually unthreatening – except when I’m having sex with you. And the final kicker: I know you would rather die than ever hurt me. ie. I know you would rather slit your wrists and bleed out instead of telling me what a jerk I am. And less we think that picking on songs written in the late 50s/60s is easy targets in 2019, we can hardly avoid the fact that the final sentiment of the song as a declaration of ultimate control. And for the tune itself – it would take the edge off perhaps if the music provided some respite from the high-handed rhetoric, but instead of sweetening its chorus, ‘Change’ hangs its hook on the descending riff “Sooo pleassse don’t everrr chaaange” that is in the chord of C#minor which in music theory contains the harmonic characteristic of despair, wailing, and weeping: “A passionate expression of sorrow and deep grief. Full of penance and self-punishment” (Ledgernote). Isn’t this supposed to be a love song? Run a mile girl, and then run another mile.
The Beatles recorded ‘Don’t Ever Change’ as part of a BBC session in 1963, and was not released until 1993 (just as Anthology was being compiled and the insatiable appetite for all things Fab Four was gaining force). Instantly forgettable in the Beatles catalog, ‘Don’t’ is notable only for the fact that it takes a rare Harrison/McCartney lead vocal. Perhaps we can see the song as an influence to solo-Lennon ‘Jealous Guy’, with its frank recognition of the failings of its controlling author John Lennon, and which Ferry, much to his credit, made his own in 1980 (“I guess I can relate to it”). You could never see the narrator of ‘Don’t Ever Change’ admitting that he never meant to hurt you, never meant to make you cry.
What is intriguing about ‘Don’t Ever Change’ is its pedigree as a production from the golden-age of late 50s early 60s song-writing partnerships. While ‘Change’ may not be the best of the Goffin & King canon – compare it to the uplifting ‘One Fine Day‘ – its appeal to Ferry during the selection process, in part, may be attributable to it being a part of America’s legendary Brill Building productions, and the idea of song-writing as craft, as a specialized art that required an apprenticeship and learned expertise.
Below Carole King describes the atmosphere at the “Brill Building” publishing houses of the period, a world perhaps that Ferry obviously wanted to acknowledge, promote, and – in contrast to his own brilliance-at-the-last-minute writing practices (see: ‘Mother of Pearl’ / ‘Love is the Drug’) secretly yearned for a Tin Pan Alley discipline of craft and professionalism that had been lost in the individualism of the singer/songwriter 1960’s and early 70s. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ – by the very nature of its title – may be a plea to never change, to return to a level of discipline that focused on the art of manufacturing hits for the youth market, a value and enterprise that Ferry himself discovered in 1973 with These Foolish Things and is still very much with us today as he recorded Bitter-Sweet (2019) with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, an album that re-makes Roxy and solo Ferry songs in a style that re-creates the nostalgia of the past in a manner that makes it feel ever more potent in the present:
Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific—because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: “We need a new smash hit”—and we’d all go back and write a song!
Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.
Credits: Brill Building drawing, New York Times; Goffin & King songbook/Brill Building exterior and interior; Goffin & King at the office, early 60s; Beatles and Crickets tackle ‘Don’t Ever Change’
Next: Ferry shoots for a Janis Joplin classic ‘Piece of My Heart‘ – you can’t fault him for brave choices!