Yesterday the world and specifically the world of music lost two fabulous songwriters.
Nick Ashford passed away at age 70 from throat cancer. Along with wife Valerie Simpson they wrote some of Motown’s best known hits and toured as the duo Ashford & Simpson.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” are just two examples of their songwriting prowess… and any Glee fans out there will surely know the first song, as it has been featured on the show.
That’s one half of a half… the other is Jerry Leiber who passed at age 78. Along with partner Mike Stoller, they wrote some of popular music’s greatest hits and contributed a song book on par with Lennon/McCartney, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
One of the best box sets I own is Atlantic Rhythm and Blues: 1947-1974. Leiber and Stoller are all over this collection, which is basically a history of R&B, on 8 discs full of incredible tunes. Another great way to get an overview of their genius is the Original Cast Recording of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. I saw this show at the Ahmanson in LA, and it was a fun, joyous and jumpin’ jukebox musical!
Some of my personal favorites of theirs are:
“Charlie Brown” – Written for The Coasters.
“Hound Dog” – Written for Blues legend Big Mama Thornton and made famous by the King, Elvis Presley. Koko Taylor did a great cover of this, too.
“Jailhouse Rock” – Written for… ummm… don’t tell me, I’ll get it…
“Love Potion No. 9” – Written for The Clovers, but became a hit for The Searchers.
“On Broadway” – Made famous by The Drifters. Leiber also wrote the gorgeous “Spanish Harlem” with the genius, now psychotic Phil Spector.
“Poison Ivy” – Written for The Coasters.
“Ruby Baby” – This song was written for The Drifters, became a hit for Dion and was recorded by many others including Ronnie Hawkins, The Beach Boys and my favorite cover version by Donald Fagen!
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” – Sung by Buddy Holly… wow… and The Coasters!
“Stand By Me” – Written with and for Ben E. King.
“Yakety Yak” – Written for The Coasters.
Looking at this list is the very definition of an “indelible mark.” Musical song sheets would be filled with the marks of Leiber and Stoller for years to come, and radio and recording would never be the same. It is somewhat ironic that on the day I started focusing solely on The Beatles and the songwriting legacy of Lennon and McCartney, that Jerry Leiber would pass. It is almost as if he is saying, don’t forget about me. No worries there, Jerry. The world will never forget about you, for the world will be humming your songs until the end of time… In fact, “Stand By Me” is now ensconced and playing in my head.
Thanks for the music. RIP!