The 40th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner and show ‘ held last night at the Marriott Marquis ‘ put to shame forever its much loathed rival, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi

In a three-hour show produced with panache by Phil Ramone ‘ who also served as announcer ‘ a cross-section of pop, rock, R&;B and country songwriters and performers took the stage and made magic.

Among them: the reunited Rascals, a trio that long ago stopped performing together and couldn’t even be seated together. But Felix Cavaliere and the brothers Eddie and David Brigati managed to put aside their differences for the first time in years. They played “How Can I Be Sure” and “People Gotta Be Free” from their halcyon days on Atlantic Records and won standing ovations.

They weren’t the only reunited group. Crosby, Stills, and Nash saddled up for a haunting “Helplessly Hoping” after James Taylor serenaded the crowd with several of their songs including “Teach Your Children” and “Love the One You’re With.”

Jon Bon Bovi and Richie Sambora gave two of the best speeches of the night accepting their award and playing “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Bon Jovi summed up the night when he said, “The business has changed a lot, but one thing they can’t take away is the song.”

It was a sentiment echoed by songwriter Paul Williams, now head of ASCAP, and Welsh singer Tom Jones, who received a citation for performing other people’s songs. Awards also went to pop team Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, whose hits included “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again.” They may have been the surprise stars of the night as they knocked out their own “You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve Got Mine” as if they were pop singers, not writers.

Broadway was represented by the composers of “Hair” and “Godspell.” For “Hair,” Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. reprised their 1969 hit with the Fifth Dimension of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” with cast members from the current Broadway revival leaping onto the stage and into the audience. They’d just finished their nightly show down the street.

Andy Williams

Andy Williams

But the lump in the throat moment of the night really came when Andy Williams, who’ll be 82 this December, sauntered out to sing “Moon River.” Always a little square in the 60s and 70s, Williams has aged remarkably well. He was a little shaky when he first came out on stage, but within minutes he found his groove and sent “Moon River” sailing out over the audience. Even the hippest rock types couldn’t get over it.

And Motown was represented by the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the trio that wrote most of the hits by the Supremes and Four Tops. They left Motown in 1969 to start Invictus Records, where they had more hits with Freda Payne and the Honey Cone. At the time, their split from Berry Gordy was acrimonious. But time heals all wounds, so Gordy was there last night to toast them, and the guys ‘ Eddie and Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier ‘ were happy to accept. Bebe Winans stood up for them, delivering a soulful rework of “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

Just as Gordy finished his presentation, Richie Sambora, singer Gavin DeGraw, and writer Desmond Child led their table loudly in a spontaneous singalong to HDH’s “How Sweet it Is (to be Loved by You).” Very cool. Elsewhere in the audience I spotted the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine, as well as Revlon chairman Ron Perelman, and a smattering of record company execs.’ In a much hobbled economy, it was to the credit of Hal David and Linda Moran, who run the organization, that the Marriott ballroom was full.

Luckily, the night was long on music and short on speeches. Richie Sambora said that when he met Jon Bon Jovi, he knew he had “it,” whatever “it” was. Rob Thomas jokingly asked Jason Mraz, winner of this year’s Starlight Award for a new generaiton songwriter, “to stop working. You’re too young and too talented.”

Tom Jones ‘ who’s just turned 69 and has grandchildren, he says, in their 20s ‘ sang “It’s not Unusual” and “Green Green Grass of Home” with as much exuberance as if it were 1965 and no time had passed at all. He got some rueful laughs observing: “Without the song, we’d just be box boys at Ralph’s Market.”

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