I've said elsewhere in a review "... this set reminded me yet again, just how great a contribution Leiber & Stoller made to the field of popular music. Their range was staggering .." and I went on to give examples. Even a brief glance at this set is enough to fully reinforce that statement - deep deep blues, smooth (and unexpected) lounge, those marvellous latin rhythms, oodles of drama, R&B from the top drawer, conversational near throwaways, comedic touches, jive talk, early soul stormers, great dance tracks and more. So many tracks demonstrate their wit, passion, deep understanding of black music, capacity to surprise you, and sheer ability to communicate.
The facts: this 3 CD set contains 75 songs written by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller as recorded by a wide range of artists including many who are indelibly associated with rock'n'roll, blues, R&B, and soul. The period covered is 1952 - the earliest track included is Little Willie Littlefield's "K.C. Lovin'", later renamed "Kansas City" - to 1963.
What that statement of the facts doesn't tell you is that there's something of interest in every track in the set. For me, and it's all subjective, the performances contained in this set can be very roughly divided into four categories:
1. Those absolute super stunners which come along every few tracks and sock you in the solar plexus and that's regardless of how many times you've heard them before. You know the ones I mean: "Hound Dog" (both versions) , "Some other guy", "Spanish Harlem", "Love Potion No. 9", all those brilliant Coasters numbers, "There goes my baby", "Jailhouse Rock", "Stand by me", etc., etc., etc. It's a long list and they're all must haves for every popular music lover.
2. The slightly more obscure ones that you'd either heard once or twice but not bought, or heard of but not actually heard, or by an artist you know but not that particular record .... you know the sort of thing I mean, and they're invariably tracks which should be better known. Like:
* Chuck Jackson "I keep forgettin'" - another must have
* LaVern Baker banging that big bass drum and telling us that she's "Saved" - and the original flip which is almost as good, is on here as well
* Big Joe Turner "The chicken and the hawk"
* Elvis "Just tell her Jim said hello" - one of his near forgotten B sides - less than 2 minutes of bliss
* An excellent slow blues from Ray Charles in "The snow is falling"
* The original Robins' version of "Smokey Joe's cafe" - many people only know the Holly version
* The already mentioned original version of "Kansas City" from Little Willie Littlefield - very different to the Harrison version but great jump blues in its own right
* A great pair of Isley Brothers tracks
* Ritchie Valens with the rotgut R&B of "Framed"
3. As a variant of the above, cover versions of L&S songs which are often of interest in their own right. Like the Wanda Jackson raucous take on "Riot in Cell Block #9", Holly's "Baby I don't care" (from the Buddy Holly "solo" album), Lonnie Donegan's unusually gentle but charming "Sorry but I'm gonna have to pass" (originally a Coasters song of course), Peggy Lee's "I'm a Woman" (this was a case where the (excellent) cover became far better known than the original from Christine Kittrell), a great "Ruby Baby" from Dion (in near "Wanderer" style), Johnny Burnette in rare ballad mode on "Love me".
4. And then there are the really obscure ones that you definitely hadn't heard before, and, in many cases wish you had. Like Tippie and the Clovers "The Bossa Nova (my heart said)", like Little Esther's booting "Hollerin' and Screamin'" - in case you weren't aware, Little Esther was the original name given to the great R&B cum soul diva Esther Phillips, like a wondrously melismatic flip "You'll be there" from Clyde McPhatter, like deep-voiced Sherman with the Teenagers on "The Draw", and more which are still growing on me.
The jury is still out on whether the rather unexpected offerings from a number of lounge cum easy listening stars like Jack Jones, Johnny Mathis, Eddie Fisher, Jo Stafford and more come in the sub-category of "obscure but wish you'd heard before" though I confess I've discovered a soft spot for "The lady wants to twist" from Steve Lawrence - and usually songs with "twist" in the title are anathema to me!
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were the best song writers of the original rock'n'roll and R&B era. And, I'd add that, in a significant number of cases here, the L& S songs were burnished to an even higher degree by the fact that the boys were also behind the production console.