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The Leiber and Stoller Story, Vol. 1 - Hard Times


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Performer Notes
  • Personnel: Jerry Leiber (vocals).
  • Liner Note Authors: Randy Poe; Tony Rounce.
  • Photographers: Jerry Leiber; Johnny Otis; Mike Stoller; Tony Rounce; Billy Vera.
  • Although the first installment of this three-volume series covers a lot of ground in the early career of the famed R&B/rock & roll songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, be aware that it's not exactly a compilation of the best and most familiar interpretations of their compositions. Rather than focus on the most famous Leiber & Stoller covers, the compilers chose, as the liner notes explain, "to keep the 'obvious' content to a minimum and go for either versions of L&S songs that don't get reissued so often or, in some cases, the original versions of L&S songs that begat much better-known 'covers.'" As a consequence, some obvious highlights of their early catalog -- Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," the Robins' "Riot in Cell Block #9," and the Cheers' "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots," for example -- aren't here. As compensation, however, this 28-track anthology does include a lot of rare obscurities that will be treasured by both Leiber & Stoller fans and serious R&B/rock & roll collectors (and you can get the more famous covers, such as the aforementioned tracks, on other reissues). Too, it doesn't wholly ignore some of their more successful early endeavors -- the Drifters' "Ruby Baby" (covered for a big pop hit by Dion in the 1960s), Charles Brown's Top Ten 1952 R&B hit "Hard Times," and Little Willie Littlefield's original 1952 version of "Kansas City" (then titled "KC Lovin'," and made into a chart-topping rock & roll smash by Wilbert Harrison at the end of the '50s) are all here.
  • At this point in their development, Leiber & Stoller were writing very much in the jump blues/early R&B style, only making the leap to rock & roll on some of the final cuts on this disc. While their lyrical wit was in evidence from the start, tune-wise a good deal of this is on the generic early-'50s R&B side, lacking the melodic invention that would flower in their more rock & roll-oriented work of the late '50s and 1960s. Nonetheless, at the very least it's an instructive listen, with some of the better cuts verging on the risqu‚, like Jimmy Witherspoon's "Real Ugly Woman" and Big Mama Thornton's "I Smell a Rat." Also, there are some real intriguing oddities here, foremost among them Freddie Bell & the Bellboys' 1954 cover of "Hound Dog," which (rather than Thornton's original version) was actually the model for Elvis Presley's mega-hit interpretation; more pop-oriented covers of "Riot in Cell Block #9" (by Vicki Young) and the Coasters' "Down in Mexico" (by Ella Mae Morse), though these versions aren't nearly up to the quality of the more famous renditions; Larry Evans' "What About Me," which with some alterations would become the Coasters' "What About Us"; an Amos Milburn vocal version of the Benny Goodman-Lionel Hampton jazz classic "Flying Home," with new lyrics by Leiber & Stoller; and, weirdest of all, a French-language cover of "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" by none other than Edith Piaf! And for those very few collectors who might have most or all of this stuff already, there are the small added bonuses of previously unreleased alternate takes of Bobby Nunn & the Robins' "That's What the Good Book Says" and the Du Droppers' "Bam Balam." ~ Richie Unterberger
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