Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jerry Leiber, 1933-2011

l to r: Mike Stoller, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Leiber; image from rollingstone.com

August 22, 2011: Jerry Leiber, one of the most important songwriters in rock history, died of cardiopulmonary failure at age 78. He generally wrote lyrics while Mike Stoller, his songwriting partner for 60 years, typically handled the music. Among the artists for whom the pair penned songs were Elvis Presley, the Coasters, and the Drifters.

Leiber was born in 1933 to Jewish immigrants from Poland and grew up on the edge of the black ghetto in Baltimore. Leiber was a high school senior when he met Stoller, a Queens-born New Yorker who shared Leiber’s love of boogie-woogie and the blues. Before they were even 20, they’d penned “Hound Dog”, which became a #1 R&B hit for Big Mama Thornton in 1953. Three years later, Elvis Presley’s cover of the song would become one of the biggest songs in rock and roll history. Elvis recorded more than twenty Leiber/Stoller compositions, including the #1’s “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t”.

They were also noted for most of the hits for the Coasters, which the Songwriters Hall of Fame called “the court jesters of rock and roll kingdom”. Leiber & Stoller wrote “Searchin’”, “Young Blood”, “Yakety Yak”, “Charlie Brown”, “Along Came Jones”, “Poison Ivy”, and “Smokey Joe’s CafĂ©”. As Stoller told Rolling Stone in 1990, “we were writing to amuse ourselves…We got very lucky in the sense that at some point what we wrote also amused a lot of other people.” RS

They also were successful as producers. After a successful run with Atlantic Records in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, they launched their own label, Red Bird Records, in 1964. They helped shape the girl-group sound with classics like the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” and the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack”. Their last major hit as a producing team came with Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” in 1972.

Other artists to record songs by the famous writing team include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and the Comets, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Johnny Mathis, Joe Williams, Count Basie, John Mellen-camp. Lou Rawls, Tom Jones, Edith Piaf, Bobby Darin, Chet Atkins, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, B.B. King, and Otis Redding. SH

Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” are all featured in the DMDB book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999. They are DMDB top 1000 songs along with Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”, the Coasters’ “Searchin’”, and the Drifers’ “On Broadway” and “There Goes My Baby”.

Dave’s Music Database rates Leiber as one of the top 1000 music makers of all time and one of
the top 100 songwriters of all time. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter Hall of Fame.

According to the DMDB, these are the top 20 songs with Jerry Leiber writing credits:

1. Elvis Presley “Hound Dog” (1956)
2. Ben E. King “Stand by Me” (1961)
3. Elvis Presley “Jailhouse Rock” (1957)
4. Wilbert Harrison “Kansas City” (1959)

5. The Drifters “On Broadway” (1963)
6. The Drifters “There Goes My Baby” (1959)

7. The Coasters “Searchin’” (1957)
8. Big Mama Thornton “Hound Dog” (1953)
9. The Coasters “Yakety Yak” (1958)
10. George Benson “On Broadway” (1978)

11. Ben E. King “Spanish Harlem” (1960)
12. Aretha Franklin “Spanish Harlem” (1971)

13. The Coasters “Young Blood” (1957)
14. Elvis Presley “Don’t” (1958)
15. Peggy Lee “Is That All There Is?” (1969)

16. The Coasters “Charlie Brown” (1959)
17. Sean Kingston “Beautiful Girls” (2007)
18. The Coasters “Poison Ivy” (1959)
19. The Clovers “Love Potion No. 9” (1959)
20. Mickey Gilley “Stand by Me” (1980)

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