Jerry (born Jerome) Leiber and Mike Stoller have written some of the most spirited and enduring rock and roll songs: Hound Dog (originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1953 and covered by Elvis Presley three years later), Love Potion No. 9 (The Clovers), Kansas City (Wilbert Harrison), On Broadway (The Drifters), Ruby Baby (Dion) and Stand By Me (Ben E. King).
Their vast catalogue includes virtually every major hit by The Coasters, including Searchin’, Young Blood, Charlie Brown, Yakety Yak and Poison Ivy. They also worked their magic on Elvis Presley, writing Jailhouse Rock, Treat Me Nice and You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care) specifically for him. In total, Presley recorded more than 20 Leiber and Stoller songs.
As pop auteurs who wrote, arranged and produced countless recordings, Leiber and Stoller advanced Rock & Roll to new heights of wit and musical sophistication. They brought a range of stylistic flavour to their story songs, ranging from wisecracking, finger-popping hipster tunes to quieter love ballads. They even made a foray into Country & Western at Presley’s request, penning Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello.
Leiber, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, was born on 25 April 1933 and grew up on the edge of Baltimore’s black ghetto. Stoller, also born in 1933, was raised in Queens, learning the basics of blues and boogie-woogie from black kids at summer camp.
The pair met in Los Angeles in 1950 and immediately began writing together. Leiber served as the sharp-witted lyricist while the classically trained Stoller wrote the music.
In 1951 one of the duo’s early songs, That’s What the Good Book Says, was recorded by The Robins (who later became The Coasters) for Lester Sill’s Modern Records. In 1953, Leiber and Stoller formed their own label, Spark, which released classics like The Robins’ Riot in Cell Block #9.
After a string of similarly gutsy, groundbreaking records, Atlantic Records bought their Spark label and signed Leiber and Stoller to one of the industry’s first independent production deals.
After enjoying a wildly successful run at Atlantic in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Leiber and Stoller made their final and most successful attempt at running their own record label in 1964. Red Bird Records spotlighted the Girl Group sound.
Their unerring eye for talent brought great young producers and songwriters to Red Bird, and the company’s very first release – Chapel of Love by The Dixie Cups – shot to #1.
Of Red Bird’s first thirty singles, eleven made the Top 40 – including Girl Group classic Leader of the Pack by The Shangri-La’s.
In 1966, after selling their share of Red Bird Records, Leiber and Stoller headed for more experimental pastures. They wrote the Brecht-Weill-style hit Is That All There Is? for Peggy Lee, produced early-Seventies records for Procol Harum and Stealers Wheel (Stuck In The Middle With You) and worked extensively in movies and theatre.
In the late Eighties, their work included an animated movie feature, Hound Dog, which includes some of their classic songs, and a film of their life story, aptly titled Yakety Yak.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Leiber died in Los Angeles on 22 August 2011 of cardiopulmonary failure. He was 78.