You Oughta Know… Jerry Leiber
Today we celebrate the birthday of famed songwriter Jerry Leiber, and if you don’t know several of the songs that this man penned with his longtime collaborator Mike Stoller, well, you oughta know, because they penned the soundtrack to Smokey Joe’s Café and, indeed, a good chunk of the rock and soul released in the 1950s.
Born in Baltimore, Jerome “Jerry” Leiber first met Mike Stoller, who originally hailed from Long Island, in 1950. Both young men – along with their respective families – had made their way to Los Angeles: Leiber was a senior at Fairfax High, while Stoller was a freshman at Los Angeles City College. When they met, they discovered a mutual appreciation for R&B as well as a knack for writing songs together, and before the year was out, they’d had their first co-written song recorded and released by Jimmy Witherspoon. The song in question, “Real Ugly Woman,” may not have made the charts, but it certainly proved to be the start of something big between the songwriters.
Their first hit on the R&B charts was Charles Brown’s “Hard Times,” but Leiber and Stoller would, in relatively short order, soon be having plenty of good times on the pop charts, churning out a staggering number of songs which would subsequently turn into huge hits:
“Kansas City” “Hound Dog” “Jailhouse Rock” “Riot in Cell Block #9” “Charlie Brown” “Searchin’” “Yakety Yak” “Young Blood” “I (Who Have Nothing)” “Stand By Me” “Spanish Harlem” “On Broadway” “Ruby Baby” “There Goes My Baby” “Is That All There Is?”
To answer the musical question most famously posed by Peggy Lee, no, that’s not all there is: Leiber and Stoller either wrote or co-wrote 70+ chart hits, resulting in their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. They also produced plenty of hits as well, including a few that they didn’t write, most notably Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.”
Alas, Leiber passed away on August 22, 2011 at age 78, succumbing to cardio-pulmonary failure. When he went, though, it was with the knowledge that he was one of rock’s greatest songwriters…and if you’ve got to go, that’s a pretty good piece of information to take with you.