Thursday, February 05, 2009

You Don't Get To Decide What You're Remembered For

Though I commend Time for making their old articles available for free, I sometimes have trouble finding articles that are a) really quotable and b) haven't been quoted from a thousand times before. So this 1959 article on Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller had a quote that kind of stood out, both because I like it and, having Googled it, it only seems to have been quoted once before:

The youthful (both are 25) writing pals are now living in Manhattan brownstones on incomes of about $75,000 a year (cash), but to hear them tell it, they are laboring on a Jailhouse rock. "At least 60% of our stuff is rock 'n' roll," laments Leiber, "and we're sick of it. But consumers dictate the market: kids nine to 14 make up our market, and this is the stuff they want." In massive doses, this is just what the pair has been giving them: Love Me (2,000,000 copies sold), Loving You (2,000,000), Searching (1,250,000), Jailhouse Rock (2,000,000), King Creole (1,000,000).

Lieber and Stoller, like a lot of songwriters, thought that rock n' roll would be one fad among many, and that eventually they would write "grown-up" songs that would endure. I'm sure neither of them have any complaints about the way their careers turned out; it's just another reminder among many that the stuff people write when they're selling out sometimes turns out to be their most important work.

I also like Lieber's explanation that "The thing to remember is you're not writing a song but a record. What you gotta do is get these kids to identify." What they got that a lot of rock n' roll songwriter/producers didn't was that the song no longer existed as an independent thing, whose success could be measured by how many people bought the sheet music. (In his 1959 book "Lyrics On Several Occasions," Ira Gershwin keeps mentioning how many or how few copies a song sold, and he's talking about sheet music; for his kind of song, the records were almost a secondary thing.) What mattered most was the recording, and whether it had an appealing concept and story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Larry Storch hated "F Troop" when he was doing it, yet decades later realized "it was probably the best thing I ever did."