From Publishers Weekly
The golden days of rock ÖnÖ roll flit by in this sprightly memoir by the celebrated songwriting duo. A couple of Jewish kids with a passion for black music, Leiber and Stoller started out as teenagers writing blues ballads, penned such early, genre-defining rock classics as Hound Dog and Stand by Me, then conceived a midlife obsession with aging chanteuse Peggy Lee, for whom they wrote and produced an album of ruminative torch songs. Along the way, they went through iconic music-biz rites of passage: hanging with Elvis; working at the Brill Building; getting into financial disputes with Phil Spector, Atlantic Records and the Mafia. As arranged by collaborator Ritz, the authors harmonize well in their alternating reminiscences; Stoller is the more reflective one, while the best anecdotes belong to the brash Leiber, who was challenged to a drag race by James Dean, choked by Norman Mailer and forced to trade his car for a pair of shoes. ThereÖs not a lot of deep insight into the creative process—the authors seem to have written most of their songs on 15 minutesÖ notice—just vignettes from pop musicÖs giddy youth, short and sweet and catchy. Photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The snappy, oral-history-style dual autobiography of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who brought Brill Building patter and production values to R&B chart supremacy in the early 1950s, probably owes much of its zing to longtime celebrity biographer and “with” author David Ritz. Their story appears in alternating blocks headed “Leiber” or “Stoller,” which can’t help suggesting the call-and-response structure of two of their hits for the Coasters, “Charlie Brown” and “Yakety Yak,” songs that lightheartedly sketched urban teen predicaments. Leiber and Stoller scored as big commercially as songwriters could at the time through their association with Elvis (they penned “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog”), but their arguably best songs were hits for black performers, including Ben E. King (“Stand by Me”), the Drifters (“There Goes My Baby”), and Big Mama Thornton (“Hound Dog” before Elvis whitened it up). Celebrated today mostly as R&B and rock hitmakers, in their extended heyday, they also wrote for MOR pop stars, jazz artists (Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”), and anybody who needed a well-crafted song. --Mike Tribby