Tue May 18, 2010 9:43 am
Monday, May 10, 2010
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are not names you hear all that much today. Come to think of it, you didn't hear their names much back in the day either. In the pop-rock world, most composers worked in anonymity. Unlike Carole King and Paul Simon, who crossed over from the Brill Building to the stage, Leiber and Stoller never were performers.
They wrote lots of songs that are still heard today, 40-50 years later. For an idea of how much they did write, hop on over to http://www.leiberstoller.com/Discography.html and take a gander. "There Goes My Baby" - that was them. "Hound Dog" - that too. "Spanish Harlem" - yup one more time. Oh, and "Jailhouse Rock" and "Stand By Me." That's enough for a career, and we've hardly just begun.
(Oh, by the way; this is not an obit. They are both alive and well and living in Los Angeles. I think it's a shame that the only time we hear about heroes of the past is when they die. Let us start a new trend right now.)
The eternal linkup in my mind was Leiber and Stoller with the Coasters. They wrote every Coasters song you ever heard, or ever remembered. They were "novelty" songs, the novelty being that the lyrics were intricate, dense and very funny. Whatever you can say about the doo-wop era, it just wasn't very funny. Leiber and Stoller were funny. In the songs they wrote for Coasters, they threw in obscure literary and pop culture references and old vaudeville gags.
Shall we take a few examples? Of course we shall, because you want these songs in your head for the rest of the day. "Well, Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, got nothing, child, on me; Sergeant Friday, Charlie Chan and Boston Blackie; no matter where she's hidin' she's gonna hear me a-comin', I'm gonna walk down that street like Bulldog Drummond."
Well, you could have knocked me over with a drum brush. When I wasn't being a teenage hoodlum, I was geeking over British mysteries and thrillers. I wonder what the crossover was between people who read Bulldog Drummond (or, for that matter, Boston Blackie) books and people who listened to the Coasters. It might be a very small number, but we were hooked.
"Take out the papers and the trash, or you don't get no spendin' cash, if you don't scrub that kitchen floor, you ain't gonna rock and roll no more - Yakety yak (don't talk back)." See, here was an aspect of teenage life not covered by all the syrupy love songs. They may be pining for their own true loves, but they're also burdened by parents and chores.
Here's another; note the framing device so that two stories are being told at once. "I plopped down in my easy chair and turned on Channel 2, a bad gunslinger called Salty Sam was chasin' poor Sweet Sue. He trapped her in the old sawmill and said with an evil laugh, 'If you don't give me the deed to your ranch I'll saw you all in half! And then he grabbed her (and then ...), he tied her up (and then ...), he turned on the band saw (and then, and then ...)"
Note that this story is being told in one stanza. Note also that the last lines are being told with increasing hysteria. And right after that last "and then" comes a strange, triumphant, guttural sound - "eh eh." I suspect it evolved in the recording studio, but it's so weird that it throws the story into another dimension.
As it should, because what happens next is, sing it with me, "And then along came Jones, tall thin Jones, slow-walking' Jones, slow-talking' Jones, along came long, lean, lanky Jones." See, now we're in a mythic universe, where sweet Sue is eternally in trouble and Jones (eh-eh) comes to save her, always and always, the same tale.
I realize I am slighting the music here, but I'm a word guy. Besides, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, like the man (or woman) said. "Measles make you bumpy, and mumps'll make you lumpy and chicken pox'll make you jump and twitch; a common cold'll fool ya and whooping cough can cool ya, but poison ivy, Lord'll make you itch!! You're gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion, you'll be scratchin' like a hound the minute you start to mess around - Poison ivy, poison ivy, late at night while you're sleepin', poison ivy comes a-creepin' around."
If you're singing this, remember that, in the chorus, both "ivy" and "around" have seven syllables.
He's gonna get caught; just you wait and see. Why is everybody always picking on me?
This article appeared on page E - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Tue May 18, 2010 9:47 am
Tue May 18, 2010 11:07 pm
Sun Feb 03, 2013 9:27 pm
Sun Feb 03, 2013 10:00 pm
Sun Feb 03, 2013 10:05 pm
Sun Feb 03, 2013 10:42 pm
mysterytrainrideson wrote:In the rock/pop world, Leiber/Stoller are up there with Lennon/McCartney as the worlds greatest songwriters. Someone said to me the other day that these two are probably richer than Lennon/McCartney...personally, i think thats doubtful, but they are certainly close.
Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:55 am
NumberEight wrote:mysterytrainrideson wrote:In the rock/pop world, Leiber/Stoller are up there with Lennon/McCartney as the worlds greatest songwriters. Someone said to me the other day that these two are probably richer than Lennon/McCartney...personally, i think thats doubtful, but they are certainly close.
Possibly, but 'were' would be more appropriate. Jerry Leiber died in August 2011.
Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:49 am
Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:36 pm
Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:35 pm
mysterytrainrideson wrote:Someone said to me the other day that these two are probably richer than Lennon/McCartney...personally, i think thats doubtful, but they are certainly close.
Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:40 pm
Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:50 pm
PStoller wrote:mysterytrainrideson wrote:Someone said to me the other day that these two are probably richer than Lennon/McCartney...personally, i think thats doubtful, but they are certainly close.
On the one hand, not all that close; according to Celebrity Net Worth (surely a reliable source!), Paul McCartney alone is worth US $800 million; and while I have never looked at the Big Balance Sheet, I can assure you that Jerry and Mike—combined and adjusted for inflation—were never worth anything like that. On the other hand, when we're talking about these sorts of numbers, they're more than close enough. Besides, there are other ways—arguably more important ones—to measure success.
Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:35 am
brian wrote:Part of McCartney's wealth comes from owning publishing rights to songs that aren't his as well as touring.
Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:36 am
drjohncarpenter wrote:PStoller wrote:Besides, there are other ways—arguably more important ones—to measure success.
Yup -- like creating music that will live forever.
Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:29 am
PStoller wrote:drjohncarpenter wrote:PStoller wrote:Besides, there are other ways—arguably more important ones—to measure success.
Yup -- like creating music that will live forever.
We can but hope!
Hosted by ElviCities