Jerry Lieber (1933-2011)

I tend to not know the names of songwriters. So I did not know until he died recently that Jerry Lieber was behind the lyrics to so many of the greatest songs of my youth. An old interview on Fresh Air of Lieber with Mike Stoller, who wrote the music, played excerpts of one great hit after another. Here’s a sample showing their range.

The silly Yakety Yak by The Coasters:

The poignant On Broadway by The Drifters:

And the ultimate ennui song, Is that all there is? by Peggy Lee:


  1. Peggy Fitzgerald says

    Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is?” always sounded to me like inspiration to commit suicide!

  2. P Smith says

    There were numerous white pop songwriters from that era who were hitwriting machines for black groups – Leiber, Mike Stoller, Carole King, Jerry Goffin, Phil Spector.

    In the PBS documentary series “Rock and Roll” one singer (Ben E. King, IIRC) asked rhetorically how jewish songwriters knew so much about black experience. I doubt it had anything to do with ethnicity, more likely the fact that the five mentioned all grew up cheek-by-jowl with blacks in the same New York neighborhoods.

    Similar things were said in the same documentary by Steve Cropper and Robert “Duck” Dunn, the white half of Booker T. and the MGs (also backing band to the biggest hits of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin). These people grew up in the same neighborhood listening to the same music sharing the same experiences.

    The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is only sometimes true. More often, familiarity breeds contentment because people become accustomed to “other races” or sexualities and just see them as human beings. The public wouldn’t have stomached Dusty Springfield’s lesbianism in the 1960s, but music industry insiders had no problem with it.

    Does anybody talk about “white music” and “black music” anymore? Not that I’ve heard.


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