- Posted on Dec 30th 2010 10:30AM by Lonny Knapp
Kim came up in the tenements of Montreal, a humble guy who never studied music but penned some of the world's most memorable pop songs. Over the course of his four-decade career, Kim has topped the charts, been written off as a 'bubblegum' songwriter, and is now, through the support of younger songwriters like those helming Broken Social Scene, enjoying a renaissance. In a career populated with peaks and valleys, he's learned to enjoy the ride.
"Kevin [Drew] and the band are a real force in getting me back out there. They are picking me up on their shoulders and saying, 'I think this guy is cool,'" he tells Spinner. "For that, I'm speechless."
Thanks to an invitation from Broken Social Scene, Kim will finally get the chance to perform in front of a hometown crowd in Montreal later that night. He admits he's been gripped with some strong emotions leading up to the mid-December gig. "It's surreal. When I got to New York, I only knew two chords. Now in 2010, I'm on my way to Montreal to play that same two-chord song; that was a seed that was planted a long time ago."
In 1968, Andy Kim was a rock 'n' roll obsessed 16-year-old Montrealer convinced he had written a hit song. So with that song -- 'How'd We Ever Get This Way' -- in hand, he packed his bag and beelined for New York City's Brill Building.
From the 1940s through the late-70s, the 11-storey Art Deco building in Midtown Manhattan was a one-stop shop for the recording industry. It housed record labels, music publishers, recording studios and radio promoters while also serving as a sweatshop of sorts for songwriters.
It was the place where lyricist Jerry Leiber teamed with composer Mike Stoller to write hit songs such as 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'Stand by Me.' It's where future pop stars Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, and Carole King learned their craft, and where producer Phil Spector developed his infamous Wall of Sound recording technique. To Andy Kim, it was Mecca.
As was custom in those days, Kim hung around the lobby until he found someone willing to listen to his song. That someone was Jeff Barry, a producer and songwriter, who, along with partner Ellie Greenwich, wrote the hits 'Be My Baby' and 'Going to the Chapel' for the Ronettes.
According to Kim, Barry listened to his simple two-chord tune and offered some constructive criticism, before dismissing him as just another wannabe songwriter.
"He was already a superstar producer and songwriter. He gave me five minutes, and then told me he was late for a recording session," says Kim.
But Kim had never seen the inside of a recording studio and had come too far to let the opportunity pass him by, so he asked if he could tag along.
"He stared at me, and asked if I had had lunch, and I said, 'Yes,' but I hadn't," recalls Kim. "So we split a sandwich. He didn't say anything through lunch, and I followed him like a shadow to the studio. [And] there he was in the studio with Phil Spector!"
Along with Barry, he later co-wrote 'Sugar Sugar' for the fictional cartoon pop band the Archies. 'Sugar Sugar' went to No. 1 and sold millions of records worldwide, but was later eclipsed when his own 'Rock Me Gently' topped the charts around the globe. For a brief time, Kim was a star. He got his picture taken with Elvis, and hung out in the studio when John Lennon recorded his 'Rock 'n' Roll' album with producer Spector.
But the old adage rings true: what goes up must come down rings. Though he sold over 30 million records and had the likes of Wilson Pickett, Tom Jones, Ike & Tina Turner, and Bob Marley cover his songs, by the 1980s Kim had become closely associated with an outdated style of 'bubblegum' rock. He kept writing tunes, but labels were no longer biting. Soon he disappeared from the music industry altogether.
"I've been somewhat irrelevant. But I have never wavered from being a songwriter," he says. "You might not know my name, but you know my music."
A new generation of songwriters, including Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies and Ron Sexsmith, are now doing their part to ensure the veteran songwriter gets the credit he deserves.
Both Sexsmith and Robertson co-wrote tunes which appear on 'Happen Again,' Kim's first full-length album in two decades, released earlier this year.
"He's very direct and simple in his songwriting, he only knows two or three chords, but it's very instinctive. There is simplicity from that era, that is missing a bit today," Sexsmith told Spinner when he performed at Andy Kim's 6th Annual Christmas Fundraiser at Toronto's Mod Club.
Each December, Kim calls upon his friends and supporters to help raise funds for a local charity. This year, Rush's Alex Lifeson, Luke Doucet, Sexsmith, and members of Broken Social Scene and Barenaked Ladies, as well as others, were on hand to support the veteran songwriter.
Lifeson, who has performed at the event for a number of years, told Spinner that his band could learn a thing or two from Kim.
"There's simplicity in that pop music; it grabs you and stays with you. The lyrics, melody lines and arrangements pay off, and the listener always wants to hear those songs again," he said. "Many bands tend to overdo it -- and the band I'm in is certainly guilty of that."
Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning said that the fact people are still playing 'Sugar Sugar' is proof of Kim's prowess as a songwriter.
"You know you've written a catchy tune when it sticks around for four decades," he said.
For their part, Broken Social Scene invited Kim to perform on select dates during the band's recent Canadian tour, including that special Montreal concert.
"He's one of the loveliest people I've ever met," said Drew. "We are happy to have him part of the Social Scene."