Brooks Arthur was always the coolest guy in the room...but he was also the nicest. A gentle giant of the music business, the producer-engineer died yesterday - but not before cementing a legacy of some of the most enduring sounds in pop history.
The Brooklyn native born Arnold Brodsky grew up alongside such friends as Neil Sedaka, Carole King, and Neil Diamond, all united in their dreams of making it big across the bridge in Manhattan. While in high school, he worked in the mailrooms of Decca and Kapp Records; studying at Brooklyn College, he was already engineering at such studios as Dick Charles (one of the busiest demo studios in town), Associated, and Mira Sound. Brooks' golden ears and sense of what kids his age wanted to hear led him to engineer a remarkable string of No. 1 singles between 1962 and 1965 including The Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back," Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion," The Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love," The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," and The McCoys' "Hang On, Sloopy;" Freddie Scott's "Hey Girl" and The Shangri-Las' "(Remember) Walking in the Sand" were among the other hits he engineered in those halcyon days of the early 1960s.
"Hang On, Sloopy" was released on Bert Berns' Bang label, and Arthur became a close associate of songwriter-producer Berns. (He would celebrate his late friend Berns as co-producer of the seminal 2016 documentary Bang! The Bert Berns Story.) He engineered Van Morrison's debut album Blowin' Your Mind (including the timeless "Brown-Eyed Girl") on Bang, and Morrison thought so fondly of Arthur that he recorded his masterwork Astral Weeks in the young engineer's own Century Sound Studio and invited him years later to remix his album Wavelength for release.
Bang also reunited Brooks with his old friend Neil Diamond where he engineered the classic string of records produced by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich that put the superstar on the map: "Cherry, Cherry," "Kentucky Woman," "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime," "Solitary Man," "Red, Red Wine," "Shilo," and the rest. Brooks would also engineer for Bobby Darin, Gordon Lightfoot, Richie Havens, and Grateful Dead. When future Boss Bruce Springsteen set up shop at Brooks' 914 Recording Studio in Blauvelt, New York for his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle, Brooks oversaw the work of his engineering discovery Louis Lahav. He also remembered being at the console alongside Lahav as the basic track for "Born to Run" was first brought to vivid life at 914.
A musical renaissance man, Brooks signed to Verve for two albums of classical-jazz-pop fusion as The Brooks Arthur Ensemble (1966's Sole Forms and 1969's Traces), earning a Grammy nomination for "MacArthur Park" off the latter LP. Before long, he transitioned into producing. The 1970s saw Brooks helm a trilogy of albums for singer-songwriter Janis Ian including Between the Lines which yielded the hit single "At Seventeen." He picked up a Grammy for engineering the album. Another nomination followed for the Broadway cast recording of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager's 1979 musical They're Playing Our Song. His association with Hamlisch and Bayer Sager was another fruitful one. Brooks produced all three of Sager's studio albums including the star-studded 1981 gem Sometimes Late at Night which he co-produced with Burt Bacharach, while his subsequent work with Hamlisch included the 1985 soundtrack to A Chorus Line. Brooks also produced solo sets for Debby Boone (Midstream, Debby Boone) and Bernadette Peters (Bernadette Peters, Now Playing), and saw long-lost albums revived as triumphs in the CD era. Peggy Lee's live 2 Shows Nightly was quickly withdrawn in 1968 but reissued to rapturous acclaim in 2010 while Dusty Springfield's beautiful Longing was recorded in 1974 but unreleased until 2001. Their times had come.
Brooks would carve out another niche of his career as a comedy producer, guiding Robin Williams to Grammy wins for the albums Reality...What a Concept (1979) and A Night at the Met (1988) and Jackie Mason to a nomination for The World According to Me (1987). It's no wonder that Adam Sandler tapped Arthur as Music Supervisor for his Happy Madison production company, a position he'd previously occupied for such films as all three installments of the original Karate Kid trilogy. Brooks co-produced Sandler's "Chanukah Song" and ultimately oversaw the music for The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Eight Crazy Nights, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and more. Loyalty was a major thread throughout Arthur's career, and he and Sandler shared that tight bond. Brooks even appeared in such Happy Madison productions as Eight Crazy Nights and Sandy Wexler.
Brooks Arthur never stopped looking to the future. But he was always willing to take the time to reflect on his extraordinary past. I was lucky enough to interview Brooks in connection with a number of projects, and he unfailingly gave the lion's share of credit to his collaborators. That's who Brooks Arthur was. He will be remembered for his legendary ears but also for his kindness, humor, and generosity. He was a true gentleman, and a genuine leader of the pack. We'll miss you, Brooks.