The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller provided America with a vivid sonic palette throughout the 1950s and ’60s. A pair of Jewish men who shared a love of R&B, Leiber (the lyricist) and Stoller (the composer) joined forces in 1950 and penned hundreds of songs, including massive hits by the Robins, Elvis Presley, Ben E. King and the Coasters. With Leiber passing away Aug. 22 at age 78, we thought we’d highlight five of the duo’s best, with gratitude for one of rock’s lengthiest and most prolific songwriting careers.
(LIST: All-TIME 100 Best Albums)
1. Elvis Presley, “Jailhouse Rock”
The King’s initial foray into the Leiber-Stoller songbook was his cover of Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 single “Hound Dog,” but we’ll highlight a song Leiber and Stoller wrote for one of Elvis’ many movies: the legendary “Jailhouse Rock.” As seen in the movie, it’s an indelible part of rock history — though we still wonder where Jerry found a prison in which No. 47 could say to No. 3, “You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see”: co-ed, or just swinging?
2. The Searchers, “Love Potion No. 9”
This whimsical tale of a man whose meeting with a prescriptive Gypsy has excessive effects on his love life benefited from a British Invasion revival, as Liverpudlian Merseybeaters the Searchers took it to the Top 10 in the midst of Beatlemania. It’s one of the best examples of Leiber’s concise sense of humor, cop-kissing and all.
3. The Coasters, “Charlie Brown”
Leiber and Stoller’s most lasting creative association was with good-time legends the Coasters, many of whose best songs were penned by the duo: “Yakety Yak,” “Young Blood,” “Searchin’,” “Poison Ivy” and this ode to a rebellious kid who smokes in the auditorium, shoots craps in the gym and “calls the English teacher ‘Daddy-O.’ ”
4. Ben E. King, “Stand by Me”
“Stand by Me” is an utterly timeless pop tune — as evidenced by the many artists whose covers of it ascended the charts (Spyder Turner, John Lennon, Mickey Gilley). More recently, Sean Kingston used the song’s classic chord progression as the bed for his 2007 smash “Beautiful Girls.” But we’d like to focus on the definitive rendition, by Ben E. King, who co-wrote it; it was so good it became a hit twice. You can still hear it today with remarkable regularity in malls and dorms, around campfires and in New York City subways.
5. Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?”
We’re afraid that is all there is … at least for this post. The divine Ms. Lee, of “Fever” fame, scored an improbable late-career hit in late 1969 with this mostly spoken-word Leiber-Stoller song of disillusionment that stood in stark contrast to the pair’s earlier, more playful works.
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