On Broadway (song)

"On Broadway"
Single by The Drifters
B-side "Let the Music Play"
Released 1963
Format 7"
Genre Soul
Length 3:05
Label Atlantic
Writer(s) Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
The Drifters singles chronology
"Up on the Roof"
"On Broadway"
"Rat Race"

"On Broadway" is a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in collaboration with the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.


Weil and Mann were based at Aldon Music, located at 1650 Broadway, New York City, and the song as written by Mann/Weil was originally recorded by The Cookies (although The Crystals' version beat them to release) and featured an upbeat lyric in which the protagonist is still on her way to Broadway and sings "I got to get there soon, or I'll just die." Additionally the melody was in compound time and the backing riff modulated between the root and the 2nd minor.

When Leiber/Stoller let it be known that The Drifters had booked studio time for the following day and were a song short, Mann/Weil forwarded "On Broadway". Leiber and Stoller liked the song but felt that it was not quite right and the four held an overnight brainstorming session which culminated in the better-known version of the song, now in simple time and with a backing riff that modulated down to the flattened 7th, giving it a more bluesy feel which matched the new lyric in which the singer was now actually on Broadway and having a hard time. A young Phil Spector played the distinctive lead guitar solo on The Drifters' recording.[1] the personnel for the Drifters recording is Joe Newman, Ernie Royal - trumpets; Billy Butler, Bill Suyker, Everette Barksdale - guitars; Russ Saunders - bass; Gary Chester - drums; Phil Kraus, Nick Rodriguez, Martin Grupp - percussion; Members of ? - violins; Members of ? - cellos. The instrumental arrangement was written by noted arranger Gary Sherman.


The song was a hit for The Drifters in 1963, reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been covered by many artists such as The Dave Clark Five, George Benson, The Chipettes, Eric Carmen, Bobby Darin, Percy Faith, Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, James Taylor, Gary Numan, Tito Puente, Lou Rawls, Buddy Rich, Paul Rodgers with Jeff Beck, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sly & the Family Stone, Livingston Taylor, Neil Young, and Widespread Panic. David Bowie quoted from the song in his 1973 track "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)". The song was covered jazz-style by Ray Brown, Jr. on the album Stand by Me. The lyrics of the song also make a brief appearance at the end of the song "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by Genesis from their album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

George Benson's version of "On Broadway", from his 1978 album Weekend in L.A., was an even bigger hit than The Drifters' original, hitting #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and getting substantial adult contemporary and smooth jazz radio airplay ever since. It won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance. The song appeared in the films Big Business and American Beauty. George Benson's performance of the song was used during the opening credits of the 1979 film All That Jazz, which featured dancers on stage auditioning for a musical similar to Chicago. George Benson also performed "On Broadway" with Clifford and The Rhythm Rats for the 1994 Muppet album Kermit Unpigged.

Argentinian group "Serú Girán" referenced the song's melody — played by the fretless bass — in their track "Canción de Hollywood" (Hollywood song) from their 1979 album "La grasa de las capitales".

An instrumental version of the song was used in the film American Beauty during the Spartanettes dance scene.

The song was included in the musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe".


  1. ^ Mick Brown. Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, p.96

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