In Memoriam: Jerry Leiber, 1933-2011


Say goodnight to the co-author, with Mike Stoller, of some of the best pop songs of the mid-20th century. Leiber and Stoller wrote music for Elvis, the Drifters, the Everly Brothers, and hundreds of other musicians, not to mention every lazy filmmaker who has used the song "Searchin'" to score a scene of a search. Here's four of my favorites:

That's the Robins, later known as the Coasters, singing "Riot in Cell Block #9," with additional guest vocals from "Louie, Louie" author Richard Berry. I suspect it's one of the tunes Stoller had in mind when he said, "We can't and won't claim credit as the inventors of rap, but if you listen to our early output, you'll hear lots of black men talking poem-stories over a heavy backbeat." I first encountered the song through the Flat Duo Jets' psychobilly remake, which was locally popular when I was a teenager in North Carolina in the '80s; fun as it is, I like the original better.

That's the Robins again, singing "Smokey Joe's Café." The Coasters later became a fixture on the nostalgia circuit; it's easy to forget how wild they could be in their prime.

"Stand By Me" was a hit in 1961 for Ben E. King, who co-wrote the tune with Leiber and Stoller; the version above was recorded by a global supergroup-of-sorts a few years ago. By the way, if you ever wondered what it would sound like if someone inserted a riff from "Stand By Me" into "Stand By Your Man," here's your answer.

Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" has a different flavor from Leiber and Stoller's rock'n'roll work, but it's no less great. It also feels like the right note to end on. Rest in peace.