Jerry Leiber Dies aged 78

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Jerry Leiber Dies aged 78

Post by andrew666 on Tue Aug 23, 2011 6:41 pm

Jerry Leiber was one of the koolest kats of all, as part of songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller. Jerry wrote the lyrics, and Mike the tunes that defined the golden age of rock'n'roll and made Elvis Presley a cultural phenomenon. Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, Yakety Yak, Hound Dog Stand By Me and On Broadway and even more recently, Stuck in the Middle with You. Everyone knows these songs and everyone always will.

Not many people know this but English was actually Jerry's second language - Yiddish being his first. His achievement therefore in producing wry, amusing lyrics full of double entendre is even more surprising. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney stated that Leiber and Stoller were a big influence in their own musical development.



Drawn to Marxist politics as a young man, Jerry always relished the whiff of subversion in his lyrics, the rebellion, the challenging of authority that still defines rock music to this very day. He also cared little for pop music icons, even the ones he helped to create, famously criticising Presley's recording of Hound Dog as "terribly nervous, too fast – and too white". He much preferrred Big Mama Thornton's version.

Mike and Jerry wrote quickly - sometimes churning out as many as five songs in one afternoon: famously, Yakety Yak was written in the time it took Leiber to boil a kettle to make tea. While Stoller was riffing at the piano, Leiber "just started yelling: 'Take out the papers and the trash!'" Typical of his ability effortlessly to come up with lyrics - and the words for Spanish Harlem (1960) came to him at his town house on the Upper West Side while Stoller was in the kitchen grilling a hamburger. Hound Dog was written in fifteen minutes but will last a millennium.



Leiber admitted that his songs were "not really terribly thoughtful. They're basic primitive expressions." Thus, defining what we all recognise as the heart of rock'n'roll!

But the guys had intellects too. They understood the rhythm of the baion, a peculiar Latin American rhythm that came to define the Drifters for a generation. Classic songs from Save The Last Dance for Me to Under the Boardwalk employed the technique. The complexity of their overdubbing was also a major influence on their apprentice for two years, Phil Spector, who took it, and developed it into the wall of sound.

In 1953, Leiber and Stoller formed the Spark record label to release material by the doo-wop quartet, The Robins (later The Coasters), describing the songs they wrote for the group as "playlets"; The records, a phenomenon in terms of developing the simple lyrical riffs of pop songs at the time, included Smokey Joe's Café, Riot in Cell Block 9 and Framed, all of which The Robins recorded.



Hound Dog - the Presley version - was their first monster hit. Based on this success, Leiber and Stoller were hired to write more songs for Presley, as well as write the music for his film Jailhouse Rock. Incredibly for the time, Jerry was able to sneak a 'gay' verse into the theme tune without anyone accept hardcore fans really noticing. "Number forty-seven said to number three/You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see/I sure would be delighted with your company/Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me. "By 1957 Leiber and Stoller had moved to New York as independent producers, setting up an office in the famous Brill Building.

A string of hits, edging closer to the blues followed, including some notable work for Ruth Brown, heavily influenced by the lingering and developing sound of New York doo-wop as it shifted into city soul and funk. By 1964, they had set up the Red Bird and Blue Cat record labels on which, among other songs, they released The Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack - perhaps the most heavily-soul influenced white girl band of the decade.



By the end of the British invasion, however, the sound of Leiber and Stoller was in semi-retirement. In the 1970s, they bounced back with songs for Steeler's Wheel and Elkie Brooks and developed Only In America, a stage show featuring 30 of their songs. Another musical based on their compositions, Yakety Yak, was also staged in London.

Finally, another musical based on their work, Smokey Joe's Café, was a Broadway hit, running from 1995 until 2000 before going on a nationwide American tour.


andrew666

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