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‘Jailhouse Rock’ songwriter Leiber dies at 78
Mr. Leiber and Mr. Stoller were instrumental in helping launch Presley’s career with such songs as “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” The two far preferred Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” to Presley’s, in part because the latter version changed some of the lyrics.
“Lick for lick, there’s no comparison between the Presley version and the Big Mama original,” Mr. Leiber said in the pair’s dual autobiography, “Hound Dog,” published in 2009. Mr. Stoller said he was annoyed by the Presley version, but he still praised the “edge of danger and mystery” that Presley brought to his covers of R&B records.
In the 1990s, their songs became the centerpiece of a long-running Broadway revue, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” which won a Grammy for best musical show album in 1996.
“The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller remains one of the greatest and most prolific partnerships of all time,” said Martin N. Bandier, chairman and chief executive of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. “Like the lyrics in his iconic songs, Jerry was humorous, insightful and always memorable. He will be missed by everyone who knew him, but lucky for all of us his songs will live on for generations.”
Their last song to reach wide acclaim was the 1969 ballad “Is That All There Is?” Lee’s moody rendition of the song, the lyrics of which are based on an 1896 short story by German author Thomas Mann, reached the top 20.
The two immediately began collaborating and formed their own record label, Spark, in 1953.
The pair grew tired of writing pop hits by the late 1960s, Mr. Leiber once said, and decided to concentrate on more serious music. Those later efforts never found the wide audience that their earlier work did, but Mr. Leiber said that was fine with him and his partner.
“The earlier market of swing and Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Duke Ellington was pretty much gone, but we liked that kind of sound and wanted to imitate it,” he told the New York Times in 1995. “In a way, we had helped kill it with what we had done. We had helped bring down the cathedral, and now we didn’t know where to pray.”
Mr. Leiber was survived by three children — Jed, Oliver and Jake — and grandchildren Chloe and Daphne.
Associated Press entertainment writer Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles and music writer Nekesa Moody in New York contributed to this report.
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