Jerry Leiber: 1933-2011

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Jerry Leiber: 1933-2011

Rolling Stone reports that Jerry Leiber—who, along with writing partner Mike Stoller was responsible for countless rock ‘n’ roll classics that included “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” and “Yakety-Yak”—has died at 78.

Leiber met Stoller when he was a high-school senior in Los Angeles. The two would write songs in 12-hour sessions that took place at an upright piano at Stoller’s house. The duo wrote hit songs for Coasters, the Robins and the Drifters before Elvis Presley made “Hound Dog” a hit. Leiber and Stoller penned “Hound Dog” for a different act four years before Elvis’ success, and Leiber wasn’t happy with Elvis’ version or the liberties he took with it.

“To this day I have no idea what that rabbit business is about,” Leiber said in his joint autobiography with Stoller titled Hound Dog. “The song is not about a dog; it’s about a man, a freeloading gigolo. Elvis’ version makes no sense to me, and, even more irritatingly, it is not the song that Mike and I wrote. Of course, the fact that it sold more than seven million copies took the sting out of what seemed to be a capricious changes of lyrics.”

The duo’s career took a turn in the 1960s when the model of American record labels changed around the Beatles’ success, but the two continued to pen songs together. In 1972 they had their last huge hit with the Stealers Wheel version of “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Since then, they’ve been recognized in a Broadway musical that featured their songs. Their music was also featured in an American Idol special.

“When Jerry and I started to write, we were writing to amuse ourselves,” Stoller said in a Rolling Stone interview. “It was done out of a love of doing it. We we got very lucky in the sense that at some point what we wrote also amused a lot of other people.”

In 2006, Paste included Leiber and Stoller in a list of the 100 greatest living songwriters. Paste writer Bill Altman said:

“You say that music’s for the birds /And you can’t understand the words / But honey if you did, you’dreally blow your lid / ’Cause baby, that is rock and roll”  They began their partnership in the early 1950s as hip teenagers yearning to be part of the burgeoning R&B scene that was just showing up on America’s pop radar. By decade’s end, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had not only helped midwife the birth of rock ’n’ roll as the writers of hits for Elvis Presley, The Coasters and numerous others, but had changed the very nature of the music business as the industry’s very first “independent” producers. Leiber’s street- and pop-culture-savvy lyrics, composer Stoller’s ever-infectious melodies, and the duo’s uncanny knack for  arrangements resulted in such Golden Era classics as “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Love Potion #9” and literally scores of other hits that nearly half-a-century later are still hummed the world over. Mentors to Phil Spector, Carole King and virtually every noted songwriter to emerge from the Brill Building in the ’60s, Leiber and Stoller’s “We didn’t write songs, we wrote records” legacy remains a truly daunting one.