It’s hard to believe that music that was considered dangerous, subversive and a corrupting influence on the youth of America were written a straight-laced looking guy named Jerry Leiber. In the photo above, he’s the square on the right, and the only one wearing a tie. The slightly hipper guy to the left of Elvis is Mike Stoller, Leiber’s friend since their late teens. Leiber and Stoller are rock songwriting legends, having penned some of the defining songs of 1950s and ’60s rock and roll.
Lieber died last week at the age of 78, and the music world is poorer for his loss. Requiescat in pace, Jerry. (And no, I don’t really think you’re a square.)
And now, some of my favourite tunes by Leiber and Stoller:
Performed by a number of people: “Big Mama” Thornton, a lot of country acts in the early ’50’s, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, Elvis and even El Vez, the Mexican Elvis (as You Ain’t Nuthin’ but a Chihuahua), this is a twelve-bar blues classic.
Best unintentional song about prison sex ever! But seriously — this was another Elvis hit, but for this tune, I’ve chosen to show its best use in film: the closing scene in The Blues Brothers, featuring Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and some of the finest blues/R&B musicians and singers ever.
If you watch only one Elvis film, it should be King Creole. It’s Elvis at his best — this is pre-army Elvis, a little wilder, and before they started sticking him in the campy, formulaic movies most of us know him for — doing his best acting and bringin’ the pimp hand on a whole lotta chumps.
Yeah, I know that Wilbert Harrison was the guy who made this song famous, but I’m a fan of the Fats Domino version. As of 2005, it’s the official song of Kansas City, Missouri. They play the Beatles version of this song after games where the Royals win, and the Wilbert Harrison version when they lose.
Stand By Me
Covered by a gazillion artists (and even sampled — this is where the sample that makes the backbone of Sean Kingston’s Beautiful Girls comes from — this song was named in 1999 as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century.
Is That All There Is?
Okay, so this one isn’t rock and roll. But it’s still a great song, whether it’s the background for the first bourbon or final dance of the night.
Love Potion #9
Where would cover bands be without this number? I’ve even done a parody: Web Browser #9, which I did at an Internet Explorer 9 event when I was still with The Empire. The version above is a pretty lively one — a live version by The Searchers, the band with whom the song is associated with. However, The Clovers were the band who put out the original single.
Stuck in the Middle With You
This is one that Lieber co-produced. Most of you think of the ear-cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs when you hear this tune, but it’s really Gerry Rafferty’s (Dang! I didn’t know he passed way until I looked him up) way of telling the story about being on the road, touring with his band Stealer’s Wheel and driking with comedian Billy Connolly.