Paul Levinson writes songs that are catchy and colorful. With a storied career that includes working with songwriting legend Ellie Greenwich, Levinson released folk and pop gems in the sixties and seventies. Fans of Simon and Garfunkel, Del Shannon, Brian Hyland, Spanky and Our Gang, The Zombies, The Vogues, and Strawberry Alarm Clock will love listening to Paul Levinson. We asked him 3 questions. Here are his answers:
How did you get into songwriting and connect with legends like Ellie Greenwich?
I started writing songs - mostly lyrics but sometimes with music - when I was 16 years old in 1963. I wrote one of them- "The Park at Night," a hopelessly out of date doo-wop song even then, in 1963, with a guy I knew since kindergarten, Paul Gorman. His father believed in us and brought us into the studio to record a demo (with me singing lead). Here it is on Spotify.
A year later, Gorman and I formed a doo-wop group (still out of date), The Transits. (I wrote a short story about this - "The Harmony" - published in a bunch of places including here.) The group broke up when our lead singer Dave disappeared (like in Eddie and Cruisers).
I formed a folk-rock trio, The New Outlook, with two of the guys in The Transits - Stu Nitelkman and Ira Margolis. Stu and I soon started writing songs together. The New Outlook was singing in Central Park one sunny Spring afternoon in 1967, when a couple walked by, stopped, listened, and introduced themselves after a while - they were Ellie Greenwich and Mike Rashkow.
They took us into the studio and recorded a couple of of our songs - including one for which I wrote the lyrics, and Stu the music, If Leaves Fall Tomorrow, which you can hear here on Spotify. They changed our name to The Other Voices, signed us to Atlantic Records. We released two singles, which sold maybe one copy.
What is your songwriting process like?
Ideas come into my head all the time for lyrics - the same for stories and novels (I have seven novels and fifty stories published). I used to scribble them down on paper. Now I just make a note on my iPhone. Sometimes a tune comes up in my head with the lyrics - like with "Today Is Just Like You". Other times, it's just the lyric, or even the title.
In the case of "Looking for Sunsets (In the Early Morning)" I came up with the title, mentioned it to Ed Fox - this was 1969, The New Outlook had discbanded, and Ed and I were writing songs - and in the case of Sunsets, Ed sat down at the piano, I was standing next to him, and he wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics in about five minutes.
Other times, I'll send off complete lyrics to someone who writes the music - that's the way Alpha Centauri was writing (Peter Rosenthal wrote the music after I gave him the complete lyric - he played guitar on some of The New Outlook and all the recordings I made with Ed Fox). We wrote Alpha Centauri by the way, in 2000 - I sent Peter the lyrics in email, he sent me back the song with music the same way, and I finally got around to adding the vocal in 2010.
Do you have any favorite memories of being a working songwriter in the sixties?
Here's my favorite: I was writing a song - words and music - which began, "Hiding behind a raindrop, shyly opening her sweet milk chocolate eyes..." And I couldn't come up with another line. One day I was on a bus, fell asleep, and dreamed that Paul McCartney was sitting next to me. I sang him those lines. He said, here's your next line, man - "Sliding behind the same drop..." I woke up and wrote some more of the song. That was in 1969 - I still haven't finished it.
My second favorite story: Ed Fox was reading a newspaper, and headline of a story was "The Lama Will Be Late This Year". We looked at each other, and wrote the song (I wrote the lyrics and Ed the music). The great thing about songwriting is all you need is a word or two, and you're off and running/writing.