Jerry Leiber, the lyricist half of the songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller, passed on to the next plane this week.
These guys wrote an insane number of great songs. The famous ones, like “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “On Broadway,” and “Stand by Me,” are just the tip of the iceberg. I own an amazing anthology of 50 songs by the Coasters, and Leiber and Stoller wrote 47 of them, from “Framed” and “Charlie Brown” to “Searchin’ ” and “I’m a Hog for You Baby.” Not to mention “Three Cool Cats,” of which the Beatles were quite fond, and “Down Home Girl,” which was covered by the Rolling Stones. Check out the Coasters’ version, which boasts an unbelievable combination of word-perfect detail in the lyrics and sick funk in the music:
But their pièce de résistance may have been “Is That All There Is?” After being recorded by such luminaries as Leslie Uggams, Guy Lombardo, and Tony Bennett, this song reached #11 when it was done by Peggy Lee in 1969. In contrast to the generally lighthearted tone of L&S’s work, it is as bleakly existential a song as you’re ever likely to hear on the radio. Here is a live performance by the estimable Ms. Lee, after which nothing more need be said:
Peggy Lee is awesome. Shamefully underated.