Two of the American music industry’s most popular songwriters passed away this week. Both of whom leave behind a legacy of popular tunes beloved for decades – and by millions the world over.
First, the name Jerry Leiber may not ring a bell, and even the partnership of Leiber and Stoller may also seem vague to many of us, but the songs themselves should strike an instant and familiar chord. Leiber’s the guy behind “Hound Dog”, “Stand By Me”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Young Blood”, “On Broadway”, and “Yakety Yak” for example, and he passed away Monday at age 78. Those who loved the movie Reservoir Dogs – specifically those now unable to associate “Stuck In The Middle With You” with anything else — also have Jerry Leiber to thank. In the 50s and 60s songwriting teams were plentiful; young creative types slaved away in relative obscurity until someone promising got a hold of their song and if all went well, everything changed. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller comprised such a team, scoring big with Elvis Presley as well as The Coasters and The Drifters. (Coincidentally, Neil Diamond was also one of those young songwriters in Manhattan toiling away who sold his tunes before making it big as a singer.)
I knew about Leiber and Stoller because in 1995 a a musical opened on Broadway called Smokey Joes Café that paid tribute to their songwriting library.Needless to say, the show was very popular. Plus, it was super-easy to love because unlike so many other musicals where you had to buy the CD, take it home and listen to it obsessively 50 times before meeting other people who were doing the exact same thing with Rent, these were tunes that everyone knew and loved. So RIP Jerry Leiber, you wrote a lot of tremendous songs that people still love.
Also to be fondly remembered today is Nick Ashford, one half of the duo Ashford & Simpson (Valerie Simpson was also Nick’s wife) who passed away at age 70. He and Simpson were both popular performers themselves (probably best known for their hit “Solid”) as well as the creative team behind a host of hits for others. Diana Ross brought their “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to prominence, as well as “Reach Out and Touch”. The pair also provided Chaka Khan with “I’m Every Woman” as well as penning hits for Ray Charles, The Supremes, The Temptations, and The Fifth Dimension, among others. Ashford & Simpson was inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame in 2002, and like Leiber, their legacy and influence remains enormous.
In other music news, this Sunday is MTV’s 2011 VMA Awards and there will of course be a tribute to the late, great Amy Winehouse. Later on in the week we’ll be talking about the VMA’s, and we’ll give all of you a chance to weigh in on the talent that’ll be performing. Stay tuned.
1. “Hound Dog”
2. “Stand By Me”
3. “Jailhouse Rock”
4. “Yakety Yak”