Thursday, 25 August 2011

RIP to Jerry Leiber

Exhibit A;
"Hound Dog" ~ Big Mama Thorton w/ Buddy Guy;

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were the greatest songwriters of the early rock & Roll/R&B era bar none. Their catalog reads like a how-to list for everything Rock & Roll, was, is and always should be. Which it is.

Exhibit B;
"Jail House Rock" ~ Elvis Presley;

How it took a couple of nice Jewish kids from New York to figure out how to take the the raw sounds of blues and doo-wop and modernize them for an new audience of white kids is one of those great unanswerable questions of pop culture history but Leiber and Stoller were there even before Phil Spector, Alan Freed, Bill Haley or Elvis. If not Sam Phillips. But while Phillips was a producer with a fine ear, he was no songwriter Leiber and Stoller were.

Exhibit C;
"Love potion number 9" ~ The Searchers;

The list of songs in their catalog includes no less than a hundred chart hits for a bewildering array of artists including, but not limited to;
The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Walker Bros, Rolling Stones, Ben E King, Drifters, Coasters, Wilbert Harrison, Beach Boys, Dion, Billy Thorpe, Searchers, Little Richard, The Crystals, Drifters, Brenda Lee, Bad Company, Tony Sheridan, The Hollies, Diamonds, Cheers, Freddie Bell, Big Mama Thorton, Jimmy Witherspoon, The Kinks, Lords, Groupies, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr.Feelgood, Otis Redding, Mickey Gilley, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Burnett, Gene Vincent, Albert King, Koko Taylor,Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann, Paramounts, Del Shannon, Animals, Merle Haggard, Link Wray, Frankie Lymon, Carl Perkins, Wayne Fontana, Ventures, Freddie & The Dreamers, Sha Na Na (of course) and ...ummm...Alvin and the Chipmunks, several times.

Exhibit D;
"Poison Ivy" ~ Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs;

The Duo started out in the 1950's as writers with hits for such blues and R&B figures as Big Mama Thorton, Wilbert Harrison and Jimmy Witherspoon before they were surprised to find one of those songs, "Hound Dog", become a hit for a young largely unknown white kid named Elvis. They would write a series of other hit song for him including "Love Me", "Loving You", "Don't", "Jailhouse Rock" and "King Creole". However most of their time would be writing numerous hits for black artists like the Coasters and Ben E King throughout the 1960's.

Exhibit E;
"I'm a hog for you" ~ The Lords;

They would also also branch out into owning record label Red Bird Records, which issued the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" and the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love" which they did not write however. As producers they also acted as mentors to the young Phil Spector. They also won a ton of awards.

Exhibit F;
"Kansas City" ~ The Beatles;

As time went on their tastes went to more elaborate pop songs that would lead to hits for Edith Piaf and Peggy Lee. They would continue into the 1970's with hits for Stealer's Wheel, Earth Wind and Fire, Elkie Brooks, George Benson, Steely Dan and Mezzo-soprano Joan Morris and her pianist-composer husband William Bolcom, which had little to do with rock and roll.

Exhibit G;
"Ruby Baby" ~ Dion;

However they also lived to see their early Rock and R&B hots are still covered down to the punk era by the likes of Dr.Feelgood, The Lambrettas, Los Straitjackets, Mink DeVille, El Vez, Queen, Mötley Crüe, Brownsville Station, Patti Smith, ZZ Top, Twisted Sister, The Cramps, AC/DC, MDC, White Stripes, Flotsam & Jetsam, Motorhead, Pennywise and The Blues Brothers (This version was the ending song of the movie, performed with other musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway), even Negativeland and John Oswald. They were usually good sports about that, if somewhat bemused.

Exhibit H;
"Searchin'" ~ The Coasters;

Jerry Leiber died at the age of 78 on August 22, 2011, from cardio-pulmonary failure.

Exhibit I;
"Stand by me" ~ Ben E. King;

Exhibit J;
"There goes my baby" ~ The Walker Bros.;

Exhibit K;
"Stand by me" ~ John Lennon;

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Amy Winehouse R.I.P.

The death of Amy Winehouse somehow managed to be both completely predicable (you just know the media had the obituaries ready to go) and yet still a little shocking. But mostly sad of course. The usual distasteful orgy of manufacture grief shouldn't detract from that.

Of all the comments made in the media about what a waste of talent and the loss of potential music that was sure to come there is another point I'd like to mention.

Amy Winehouse was that rarity, a true crossover artist. Her appeal crossed a shocking number of boundaries. Of course the American Idol Pop crowd liked her. But they like anything popular by definition. Winehouse was also popular with the urban/dance crowd, again no surprise. But she was also taken seriously by people who take their music seriously, fans of 1960's mod, R&B and girl groups, fans jazz vocals, even punks liked her, especially girls. And off course the critics loved her.

Exhibit a) Coldplay ~ "Rehab" (live);

There was a time when crossovers happened all the time. In the early Rock and Roll era Elvis managed to score the remarkable feat of scoring simultaneous hits on not only the Rock and Pop charts but also the R&B and Country charts. Although there were no Adult Contemporary charts yet is a safe bet that his ballads would have charted there as well. The only charts he didn't dominate in the late 1950's were the Jazz charts, and that's only because he never tried. I imagine that if he had tackled some jazz vocals (as Brook Benton did) those would have been successful as well. Elvis was not even unique in this, Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lewis and believe it or not Pat Boone also scored this hat trick, albeit it less often.

Exhibit b);
The Jolly Biys ~ "Rehab";

Later tastes would become ever more segmented, the wave explosion would clear enough space to allow a thousand flowers to bloom and an array of niche genres that would have never been heard a generation earlier. This is all for the best of course, but sometimes it is nice to see someone who is able to bridge normally strict boundaries based on sheer talent, and Amy Winehouse did that.

Thought that was worth a mention.

Exhibit c)
Amy Winehouse/Guns n' Roses mashup by DJ's From Mars~ "Rehab";