Picks and Pans Review: Young Blood
By rights, this rambunctious retrospective should be under the names of Leiber and Stoller, the ingenious duo who wrote, arranged (with one exception) and produced its 24 compact, ebullient tracks. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jewish teenagers hailing from Baltimore and New York, respectively, met in Los Angeles in 1950. Drawn by their mutual fascination with black popular music and culture (they both had black girlfriends), the pair began penning R&B songs for black artists, such as the original Hound Dog for Big Mama Thornton. They started their own label, Spark, then sold it to Atlantic in 1955, signing as independent producers and taking with them a black vocal group they had written for at Spark, the Robins. The Robins became the Coasters (for West Coast) and Leiber and Stoller crafted for them a string of infectious R&B singles that led to crossover hits like Searchin', Charlie Brown and Yakety Yak. Coasters records were painstakingly detailed, with twangy guitar breaks by Barney Kessel, gutsy sax riffs by Gil Bernal and King Curtis and rich harmonies by Carl Gardner and the other singers. The lyrics were models of cleverness and humor. Moreover, as critic Robert Palmer writes in his excellent liner notes, "Leiber and Stoller were the first rock and roll auteurs to realize that rock and roll records could have something substantial and vitally important to say about life in America." It remains amazing that two Jewish writers could tell such authentic yet funny tales of black life in the '50s as Smokey Joe's Cafe (about a fight in a bar), Framed and Riot in Cell Block #9—all early Robins songs. This two-record set is one of Atlantic's Deluxe series of reissues, which includes revealing compendiums on blues-man Albert King, Creole honky-tonker Professor Longhair and Ray Charles.