Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tribute to Jerry Leiber

When the night has come
And the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we'll see.
No I won't be afraid, oh I won't be afraid,
Just as long as you stand by me.
                        "Stand by Me" 1961
                        Lyrics and music by Ben. E. King,
                        Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller

Jerry Leiber and his friend and collaborator Mike Stoller were the songwriters who wrote the sound track of the 1950s and 1960s in America.

They were roommates in New York when they were first working together and one day Stoller said to Leiber, "Hey, take out the papers and the trash!" And Leiber, the lyricist, responded with, "Or you don't get no spendin' cash." And with that, the great music classic "Yakity Yak" was born. At least that is the story they tell.

The Leiber and Stoller catalogue includes:  "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Treat Me Nice," "Kansas City," "Don't Be Cruel," "Spanish Harlem," "Poison Ivy," "Love Potion No. 9," "There Goes My Baby," "Charlie Brown," "On Broadway," "Along Came Jones," and "Little Egypt," not to mention "Yakity Yak" and many others.

Performers from Elvis to the Beatles have recorded their songs--many of the records produced by Leiber and Stoller themselves. Ben E. King said when he stepped into the studio to record "Stand By Me" and heard the string section practicing, he almost turned around and left, thinking he was in the wrong studio. Strings.  On a Rock 'n Roll tune. And it sounds as beautiful now as it did half a century ago when it was released.

As music changed, so did the Leiber and Stoller team. They wrote "I am a Woman" and "Is That All There Is" for Peggy Lee, and produced "Ruby Baby," and "Stuck in the Middle With You."

In 1995 they turned their work into a smash Broadway revue, called "Smokey Joe's Cafe," that ran for more than two thousand performances.  When I saw it in New York, I kept saying to myself: "They wrote that too?"

I was sorry to read that Jerry Leiber died this week of heart disease. He left us an amazing legacy. And that isn't all there is: not as long as we can download the original versions of his tunes and there are new artists to record them again and again in the years ahead.

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Don Meuler said...

I like finding out stuff like this - that Leiber's passing matters to you. I don't think I have ever known anything about your musical tastes, or even if you were musical at all. I'm guessing "shower singer," but I hope I'm underestimating you. :o)

Robin Chapman said...

Oh dear. I might have to write a blog one day about my misadventures starring in my high school production of South Pacific ...

Don Meuler said...

Oh, please do! I bet you were "corny as Kansas in August."

Robin Chapman said...

It was Salmon Chanted Evening all right.

Don Meuler said...

Well, you've got to be carefully taught... (An ironically un-grammatical title.)

Robin Chapman said...

I've been carrying a cross a crowded room ever since.