Generally, it's considered that songs of social conscience didn't make their way into rock music until folk-rock in the mid-1960s. There were songs that touched upon such issues in rock music before that, though, and "On Broadway" is one of the outstanding examples. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who produced the tune and comprised half of the song's writers, were not strangers to social commentary; many of their songs for the Coasters had gone beyond romance, though usually in a comic way that poked fun at adolescence and popular culture. Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, the song's other writers, also sometimes went into pseudo-social commentary, as they did on another song they wrote with Leiber-Stoller, "Only in America" (a hit for Jay & the Americans). One might think that four of the Brill Building's top writers collaborating together might be too many cooks in the kitchen, but the result was a classic, dramatic early soul hit, reaching the Top Ten in 1963. Musically, "On Broadway" is dynamite, built around a crunching, strident descending two chord riff, played in the halting Latin rhythm common to many Drifters recordings. Rudy Lewis's lead vocal on the verses projects the right balance of defiance, resentment, and ambition in his tale of a guy who's poor and deprived now, but determined to make it on Broadway. The two-chord riff continues to anchor the verse, changing keys in a manner that's bluesy but not traditional 12-bar blues. The Drifters' contributions as backing vocals might be unobtrusive, but they're vital, softly murmuring "on broadway" often after Lewis sings that phrase, as if they're both acting as his subconscious voice, and mimicking the grandeur of the flashing neon lights of New York's most glamorous strip. The song keeps changing keys upward with each subsequent verse, a convenient device perhaps, but quite effective in making the track progressively tenser. The arrangement becomes more and more elaborate too, with additional backup voices coming in, and a choir, strings, mariachi trumpet, and bluesy rock guitar entering at the instrumental break. That guitar solo, incidentally, is by yet another major figure of the early-'60s Brill Building scene, Phil Spector. The social conscience of the lyrics, it should be said, only goes so far. It was unusual to have a poor and hungry figure at the center of a pop song in 1963, but he's determined to get out of his bind by becoming a star, not by changing the system that made him poor and hungry. That lack of explicit rebellion separates it from many songs of the last half of the 1960s, which made it clear that justice for all was desirable, not just justice for one individual who overcomes obstacles to gain success and stardom. It's not entirely clear how he's going to become a star, but he does point to his guitar as proof, indicating he has ambitions as a musician. Most likely the writers and performers only had a dramatic, compelling pop hit in mind when they constructed this, and in that they succeeded gloriously. The extended coda is also worthy of mention, as Lewis goes into a higher vocal register and offers some ad-libbed-sounding admonitions and promises about how he's going to get his name on lights in Broadway. Many artists have covered "On Broadway," but by far the most renowned cover was by jazz guitarist George Benson, who took a version (on which he also sang) into the Top Ten in the late 1970s. Benson's treatment is more jovial, with a clapalong rhythm and plenty of vocal scatting. Successful it was, but it angered some jazz purists who thought Benson, who'd been an established and critically respected jazz guitarist before moving into pop stardom, had sold out. It's also true that Benson glossed over the more dramatic simmering tension of the tune, making it into a more good-time ode to making good.