Goffin was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. He was in the Marine Corps reserve, and spent a year studying at the Naval Academy. That life wasn’t for him however, and he resigned from the Navy and went back home to Queens College, where he studied chemistry. That’s when things began to get interesting, because it was at Queens College that Gerry Goffin met a co-ed by the name of Carole King.
The pair began a songwriting collaboration, but their collaboration was not limited to songs. Goffin was 20 and King 17 when they married in 1959. Goffin went to work for a chemical company. Around this time King’s friend Neil Sedaka had a hit with a song called “Oh! Carole,” which he had written about her. Goffin crafted the lyrics to an answer song called “Oh Neil.” It wasn’t very successful, but it was enough to get Goffin and King a songwriting deal with Aldon Music, which was run by Don Kirshner.
It took a little time, and Goffin did some writing with other Aldon writers including Barry Mann, but eventually Goffin and King broke through when the Shirelles had a hit with their song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” The song was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1961. From that point on the hits rolled in like a tidal wave for Goffin and King. They included smashes like “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons, Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” and “Up on the Roof” by the Drifters.
Even the British Invasion artists took advantage of Goffin and King’s songwriting prowess. Herman’s Hermits met the world with Goffin and King’s “I’m Into Something Good,” and the Animals had a hit with their “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The Monkees hit with Goffin and King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and King even had a hit under her own name with the Goffin-King song “It Might As Well Rain Until September.”
Many people are surprised when they learn that the lyrics for songs that seems to come directly from the heart of a woman were, in fact, written by a man. Goffin not only wrote the lyrics for the aforementioned “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” he also penned the lyrics for a song that became something of an anthem at a time when women were struggling for equal rights, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Perhaps Goffin’s greatest gift as a lyricist was putting into words the things that many of us couldn’t express. His gift for crafting romantic poetry into song form was second to none. Consider how he encapsulated a young dreamer’s fight for love in a world that was spinning too fast in the Drifter’s classic “Up on the Roof”:
When I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet
I get away from the hustling crowds
And all that rat race noise down in the street
On the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof
Or this epic declaration of determination from the Righteous Brothers “Just Once In My Life,” my favorite Goffin lyrics.
Cause I couldn’t face the day if you weren’t here by my side
And if you went away then I’d be left without any pride
I’ve given up on schemes cause everyone fell through
I’ve given up so many things don’t ask me to give up on you
And baby, baby just once in my life
I’m gonna get what I want girl don’t let me down
Just once in my life
Let me hold on to the good thing I found don’t let me down
Baby say that you’ll be staying
These are not lyrics written by or for people who live in mansions and ride around in limousines. No matter how successful he became, Gerry Goffin never forgot where he came from, and it’s all there in his lyrics.
The Goffin-King marriage dissolved in 1969. King went on to have enormous success as a recording artist, and Goffin had hits with other writers including the theme from the film Mahogany, sung by Diana Ross, Whitney Houston’s smash “Saving All My Love For You,” and Peabo Bryson’s “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love,” all of which Goffin wrote with Michael Masser.
There has been a lot of talk over the years about Goffin’s mistreatment of King during their marriage. In her memoir, King wrote that Goffin suffered from manic depression brought on by drug use, and underwent electroshock therapy. No one can ever really know what goes on behind closed doors, but whatever it was, it was apparently water long gone under the bridge for the couple. When he died, King filled her Facebook page with videos of the songs she had created with Goffin, and wrote:
Gerry Goffin was my first love. He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship.
Gerry Goffin and Carole King were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, together, in 1990.