Jerry Leiber (born April 25, 1933) and Mike Stoller (born March 13, 1933) are among the most influential songwriters and music producers in post-World War II popular music.
Their first successes were as the writers of such crossover hit songs as "Hound Dog" and "Kansas City". Later in the 1950s, particularly through their work with The Coasters, they created a string of ground-breaking hits that are some of the most entertaining in rock and roll, by using the humorous vernacular of the white teenager sung by a black group in a style that was openly theatrical rather than personal, songs that include Young Blood, Searchin' and Yakety Yak. They were the first to surround black music with elaborate production values, enhancing its emotional power with The Drifters in There Goes My Baby and influencing Phil Spector who worked with them on recordings of The Drifters and Ben E. King and went on to form his own company and create his famous "Wall of Sound". Leiber and Stoller went into the record business and, focusing on the "girl group" sound, released some of the greated classics of the Brill Building period.
They wrote successful and iconic hits, "Hound Dog", "Love Me", "Loving You", "Don't" and "Jailhouse Rock", among others for the "King", Elvis Presley. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Leiber came from Baltimore, Stoller from Long Island, but they met in Los Angeles in the 1950s, where Stoller was a freshman at Los Angeles City College while Leiber was a senior at Fairfax High. After school, Stoller played piano and Leiber worked in a record store and, when they met, they found they shared a love of blues and rhythm and blues. In 1950, Jimmy Witherspoon recorded and performed their first commercial song, "Real Ugly Woman." Their first hit composition was "Hard Times", recorded by Charles Brown, which was a rhythm and blues hit in 1952. "Kansas City," which was also recorded in 1952 (as "KC Loving") by Little Willie Littlefield, became a No. 1 hit in 1959 for Wilbert Harrison. In 1952, they wrote "Hound Dog" for Big Mama Thornton, which became a hit for her in 1953; It became a major hit for Elvis Presley in 1956, although in a bowdlerized version. Their later songs often had lyrics more appropriate for pop music, and their combination of rhythm and blues with pop lyrics revolutionized pop and rock and roll.
During this period they produced a recording of their song "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" on the white vocal group The Cheers. Soon after, the song was recorded by Edith Piaf in a French translation titled "L'homme A La Moto."
They formed Spark Records in 1953. Their songs from this period include "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "Riot in Cell Block #9".
The label was later bought by Atlantic Records, which hired Leiber and Stoller as independent producers. At Atlantic they revitalized the careers of the Drifters and continued to turn out hits for The Coasters. Their songs from this period include "Charlie Brown,", "Searchin'", "Yakety Yak", Stand By Me," and "On Broadway," among numerous other hits (for the Coasters alone they wrote twenty-four songs which appeared in the national charts).
In the middle '50's the team signed to produce records for RCA Victor, in an innovative deal that allowed them to produce for other labels. This, in effect, made them the first independent record producers. In 1956, Stoller survived the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria. After his rescue, Leiber greeted him at the dock with the news that "Hound Dog" had become a hit for Elvis. His reply was "Elvis who?"
It does not diminish the enormous cultural contribution made by Leiber and Stoller to note that Elvis Presley's version of "Hound Dog" was a near exact copy of a version by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys that was recorded in early 1955. The melody and much of the lyric of the song as sung by Big Mama Thornton was substantially changed in this version, by parties unknown. However, the Bell/Presley version of the song owes much to the Leiber and Stoller version. Elvis Presley went on to record several dozen Leiber - Stoller songs, many written specifically for him, many of which are among the finest songs in the Presley catalog.
In the early 1960s, Phil Spector served an "apprenticeship" of sorts with Leiber and Stoller in New York City, developing his record producer's craft while assisting and playing guitar on their sessions, including "On Broadway".
After leaving the employ of Atlantic Records, where they produced, and often wrote, many classic recordings by The Drifters and Ben E. King, they produced a remarkable series of records for United Artists' record wing. They produced hugely influential hits by Jay and the Americans ("She Cried"), The Exciters ("Tell Him") and The Clovers ("Love Potion #9", also written by L&S).
In the 1960s, Leiber and Stoller founded and briefly owned Red Bird Records, which issued the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" and the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love." After selling Red Bird they worked as independent producers, and continued to write songs. Their best known song from this period is "Is That All There Is?" recorded by Peggy Lee in 1969. Their last major hit production was "Stuck In the Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel in 1972. In 1975, they recorded an album of art songs with Peggy Lee, entitled Mirrors. A remixed and expanded version of this album was released in 2005 as Peggy Lee Sings Leiber & Stoller.
In the late seventies A&M records recruited Leiber & Stoller to write and produce an album for young British sensation Elkie Brooks. The album Two Days Away (1977) proved a major success in the UK and most of Europe. Their composition Pearl's A Singer became a huge hit for Elkie and remains her signature tune to this day. The collaboration proved so successful they produced another album for Elkie, Live and Learn in 1979.
They won Grammy awards for "Is That All There Is?" and for the cast album of Smokey Joe's Cafe, a 1995 Broadway musical based on their work. The musical revue was also nominated for seven Tony awards. They had previously written a musical version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (with a book by Mordecai Richler, adapting his own novel), which failed in Canada.
Mezzo-soprano Joan Morris and her pianist-composer husband William Bolcom have recorded an album of "other songs by Leiber and Stoller," featuring a number of their more unusual (and satiric) works (including "Let's Bring Back World War I", written specifically for them, and "Humphrey Bogart", a tongue-in-cheek song about obsession with the actor).
In 1982, Donald Fagen covered their song "Ruby Baby" on his acclaimed album The Nightfly.
Leiber and Stoller also have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mike Stoller currently lives in Long Island.
In the 1950's the music scene was in a time of change. Black music, the authentic rhythm and blues of the black entertainment world, up to now restricted to black clubs, was increasing its audience-share is areas previously reserved for popular music, and the phenomenon now known as crossover became apparent.
Leiber and Stoller affected the course of modern popular music in 1957 when they wrote and produced the crossover double-sided hit by The Coasters, "Young Blood"/"Searchin'". They released "Yakety Yak" which was a huge mainstream hit, as was the follow-up "Charlie Brown". This was followed by "Along Came Jones", "Poison Ivy", "Shoppin' for Clothes" and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)".
They wrote and produced There Goes My Baby, a hit for The Drifters in 1959 which introduced the use of strings for saxophone-like riffs and lavish production values into the already powerful black sound, and laying the ground work for the soul music that would follow. They continued their impact on rock and roll by producing successful and iconic hits, "Hound Dog" "Love Me" "Loving You" "Don't" and "Jailhouse Rock" among others, for Elvis Presley.
Few, if any, other songs credited to Leiber and Stoller bear the stamp of any other writers. In fact, the meticulous craft and high creativity they brought to rock and roll songwriting was the key influence on the rock and roll songwriters of the '60s, from the Aldon Music songwriters, such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, to the great Motown writers. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both paid tribute to the great influence Leiber and Stoller's songs had on the development of their own craft.