This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
JERRY LEIBER and MIKE STOLLER were from Baltimore and New York respectively, but met in Los Angeles where they went to college. They discovered they both had an interest in rhythm and blues and turned to writing songs in that vein (and others as well). Eventually they also produced records. They were the pre-eminent song writing team in the fifties.
The first song of theirs that made the charts was Hard Times sung by CHARLES BROWN.
Charles is a particular favorite of Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, which is a good enough reason to include him. Another good reason is that he's a wonderful singer and terrific piano player. It doesn't hurt that there's a distinct resemblance to Nat King Cole in his singing and playing.
The next song, recorded the same year by a whole bunch of people, was Kansas City. This didn't do anything much at the time but was successful for various performers at different times over the years.
The one who recorded it first was LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD. That was even earlier than Wilbert Harrison, who has the most famous version of the song.
Willie recorded it several times over the years, but this is the original version, originally called K.C. Loving, from 1952. It also has Mike Stoller playing piano.
A few years before Elvis made the next song a huge hit, BIG MAMA THORNTON recorded the definitive version.
Those well versed in musical trivia will know that I'm talking about Hound Dog. This was so successful that there were several "answer" songs, the most popular of which was Bear Cat recorded by Rufus Thomas.
Back in the day there was a really bland version of Lucky Lips by Cliff Richard. We pretty much went "ho hum". Then we, or at least I, got to hear the original by RUTH BROWN. I wondered why Cliff bothered; perhaps money was involved.
Ruth was a serious woman in the music industry, which I've gone into in other columns, today I'm being a bit frivolous with the songs.
THE COASTERS, unlike many similar groups, didn't take themselves too seriously.
They did perform straight songs, but are most noted for their tongue-in-cheek songs, mostly written by our songwriters today. One of their biggest hits was Along Came Jones. This was just one of 24 of theirs that got The Coasters on to the charts.
The early success of ELVIS was in no small part due to the songs he was given to record. A substantial number of those were from Jerry and Mike. Okay, talent and charisma had something to do with it as well.
There were many I could have included, so I thought I'd go for one I haven't used in a column before, Treat Me Nice.
THE DRIFTERS also benefited from their songwriting ability.
There was no better group in the early sixties and few surpassed them for the rest of the decade. One from that time is Dance With Me.
We really get into gospel territory with the next one - this will get you up and signifying (whatever that means). There are some really silly lyrics, but it doesn't matter, the song sounds so good. The singer who achieves that is LAVERN BAKER.
LaVern is Saved, at least that's what she sings.
During the best period of The Drifters, and boy, were they great, their lead singer was BEN E KING. He also wrote songs for them, for which he was not rewarded which was the main reason he became a solo artist.
He not only wrote for himself, but he also recognized that Mike and Jerry wrote songs for which his voice was admirably suited. One of those was Stand By Me, which he had a hand in writing. I shake my head at the quality of this one, only surpassed by Spanish Harlem, written by Jerry and Phil Spector. It was produced by Mike and Jerry though.
PEGGY LEE always claimed that when the lads wrote this next song she would have first dibs on it.
That's not quite how it turned out; the English singer Georgia Brown sang it first. The delightful Leslie Uggams recorded it first. However, it's now forever associated with Peggy. This is the great existential song, Is That All There Is?