Bert Berns is one of the underappreciated songwriters and producers of of the 1960’s Brill Building scene. Berns had the beginnings of a formal musical education at Juilliard and a rare ability to meld American pop with Latin-inflected music (for which he acquired a love while working in pre-Castro Havana) as well as country and soul.
Among the many fine songs which he co-wrote are “Twist and Shout,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” Among the artists with whom he worked are the Isley Brothers, the Drifters, Gene Pitney and Neil Diamond. His close working relationship with Solomon Burke resulted in Burke’s most notable recordings on Atlantic.
He wrote “A Little Bit of Soap” for the Jarmels and the magnificent “Cry, Baby” for Garnet Mimms. He worked up “Here Comes the Night” for Van Morrison and Them. Indeed, Morrison originally came to the United States from Belfast at Berns’s invitation and had his first hit on Berns’s Bang! label, although Morrison’s relationship with Berns was at the least highly ambivalent. In the video above, Morrison performs “Here Comes the Night” in the mid-1970’s live with the Caledonia Orchestra, one of Morrison’s most engaging instrumental ensembles.
Berns died at age 38 in 1967. Today is the anniversary of his birth and a good occasion to take a look back at his impressive catalogue. The Allmusic capsule biography of Berns by Richie Unterberger concludes with a footnote related to Morrison’s liberation from Bang! following Berns’s death:
[C]ontrol of the label had passed to Berns’ widow Eileen, who agreed to release Morrison from his contract if he gave them publishing rights for an album’s worth of new songs. Morrison complied, in letter if not spirit, with about 30 compositions that are little more than extemporized ditties, some of which seem to blatantly satirize Berns’ taste for “La Bamba”-like patterns and rhythms, and Bang!’s pressure to deliver commercial material. These tapes were eventually issued in the mid-’90s on European compact discs, as a perverse postscript to the Berns legacy.