- Posted on Aug 22nd 2011 4:45PM by Dan Reilly
David Livingston, Getty
The duo first met in Los Angeles in 1950, when both were still teenagers, and bonded over their passion for music. They started writing songs almost immediately, with Leiber mainly handling lyrics and Stoller penning the music, and they found success soon after. Among their early hits were 1952's 'Kansas City,' which went to No. 1 in 1959 with Wilbert Harrison's rendition, and 'Hound Dog,' originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton. Her version, also produced by Lieber and Stoller, went to No. 1 on the R&B charts, and the song became a smash hit for Elvis Presley in 1956.
Even with all that attention, Leiber was never truly fond of Presley's version, which changed several lyrics. "To this day I have no idea what that rabbit business is about," he said in 2009. "The song is not about a dog; it's about a man, a freeloading gigolo." The pair would collaborate on several more hits for the King, including 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'King Creole.'
After starting their own label, Spark Records, and seeing it acquired by Atlantic, the pair continued to rack up the hits. During that period, they wrote many hits for multiple acts, including the Coasters ('Searchin',' 'Yakety Yak') the Drifters, ('On Broadway') and the Clovers ('Love Potion #9). Phil Spector even worked for them for a time, lending guitar to 'On Broadway.' They continued working into the '60s and '70s, with one of their later hits being 'Stuck in the Middle With You,' as recorded by Stealers Wheel.
Naturally, the pair's amazing body of work has been consistently honored by the music industry. They won Grammys for 'Is That All There Is?,' a 1969 hit for Peggy Lee, and the cast album of 'Smokey Joe's Café,' a musical based on their songs. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years later.