The New York City Roots of Songwriting Duo of Gerry Goffin and Carole King

It’s the spring of 1958, during Carole King’s freshman year at Queens College, and her fellow classmate, Gerald (Gerry) Goffin, is asking her to do something she had already started doing in high school: write songs.

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“Writing songs, it wasn’t the question of whether I could write songs,” said King in 2012. “It was the question of whether anyone would care. I think the age I set forth on the journey to have people listen to my songs, I was probably 14, 15.”

Goffin, who was studying chemistry, and also an aspiring songwriter, asked King to help him write a musical. The two were married a year later in a Jewish wedding on Long Island when King was just 17. The couple had two children, Louise Goffin and Sherry Goffin Kondor, were divorced by 1969, and continued writing together for a short time afterward before King’s solo career took off in the 1970s. 

Born Carole Joan Klein on February 9, 1942, in Manhattan, King was writing songs by the time she was attending James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. As she was writing songs for her band, Co-Sines, she was also making demos with her schoolmate Paul Simon, and selling songs to publishing companies throughout the city.

Long before she met Goffin, King said she was writing a bunch of “bad” songs. “I needed help,” she said in a 2019 interview. “And God sent me Gerry Goffin.” 

Gerald Goffin was born on February 11, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, he began coming up with lyrics in his head as a young boy. After resigning from the Navy to study at Queens College, he soon set his sights on songwriting.

Tonight you’re mine completely / You give your love so sweetly / Tonight the light of love is in your eyes / But will you love me tomorrow?

These were the first lines Goffin and King wrote for their first No. 1 hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by The Shirelles in 1960. Working in and out of 1650 Broadway, across the street from the Brill Building, where Neil Diamond had also got his start as a songwriter throughout the 1960s, over the course of a decade together, King and Goffin released a collection of genre-crossing hits, covering pop and doo-wop, R&B, rock and soul—and even a few songs The Beatles would cover, including “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Chains.”

Together, the songwriting duo of Goffin-King wrote the 1961 Bobby Lee hit, “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” which went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “The Loco-Motion” a hit by Little Eva in 1962 —and later revived in 1987 by Kylie Minogue—and “Chains,” first released by The Cookies in 1962 and then The Beatles a year later. 

Other Goffin-King hits included The Everly Brothers’ “Crying In the Rain” (1962), “Up On The Roof” by The Drifters (1963), The Chiffons hit “One Fine Day,” Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Into Something Good” (1964), “Oh No Not My Baby” by Maxine Brown (1964), Dusty Springfield’s “Goin’ Back”  (1966), “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees (1967), The Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow” (1968), and the 1968 Aretha Franklin classic  “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” among others within their joint catalog.

In 1987, King and Goffin were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, followed by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

“I never knew what I wanted to do,” said Goffin of songwriting in the earlier days. “Neither did Carole, really. She never assumed she would make it. That’s the furthest thing from your mind when you’re a wannabe: actually becoming.”

Following their divorce in 1968, the two continued writing together before King ventured into her solo material with the release of her debut, Writer, in 1970, followed by her classic Tapestry in 1971, with hits “You’ve Got a Friend,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” and “It’s Too Late,” along with her own interpretation of The Shirelles’ classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”

Goffin also tested a solo career and released two albums in 1973 and 1996. He also co-wrote the No. 1, “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” recorded by Diana Ross for the 1975 film, with Michael Masser. Another Masser collaboration included Whitney Houston’s 1985 pop ballad “Saving All My Love for You.”

In 2014, the story of  King of Goffin came to life on Broadway in the hit musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which followed the couple’s marriage, career, breakup, and more.

Photo by Donna Santisi/Redferns

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