At a time when songs by black R&B artists were classified as “race records” and had a hard time getting airplay on Top 40 radio stations, many of those songs were written by two white Jewish guys, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. They had a long list of songs that charted on the US and UK pop charts and on the R&B chart, both as a songwriting duo and as composers working with other songwriters, and artists as diverse as Big Mama Thornton, Hank Snow, Michael McDonald, and Elvis Presley had hits with their songs, many of which were covered by other artists and became hits for them as well.
Let’s get right to the music. Their first #1 hit on the R&B chart was “Hound Dog,” recorded first by Big Mama Thornton in 1953 and three years later by Elvis Presley. His version reached #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. This is the original, a live version by Big Mama. I have no idea who the members of her band are, but it’s one funky band, I’d say.
Next is “Is That All There Is?” It didn’t chart for Dan Daniels, the original singer who recorded it in 1968, but it reached #11 a year later for Miss Peggy Lee. Here’s her version.
I chose these two songs because I never knew that Lieber and Stoller had written them. There are probably lots of songs you didn’t know they had written, too, so do yourself a favor: go out to the list of their songs on Wikipedia, find the songs on YouTube, and just listen. They wrote some of the best-known and most popular songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and there’s plenty more where those came from.
Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, your Two for Tuesday, August 11, 2015.