Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller stand as the most successful non-performing writing partnership in the history of rock and roll.
Their first famous hit, in 1953, was Big Mama Thornton's rendition of "Hound Dog." Then came Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City" and a string of rock comedy smashes by the Coasters: "Young Blood," "Searchin,' " "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown" and "Poison Ivy." For the Drifters and Ben E. King, they turned out "On Broadway" and "Stand by Me." Elvis Presley recorded almost two dozen of their songs, including "King Creole" and "Jailhouse Rock." Over the next 15 years they would go on to log more than 150 chart hits.
Their decidedly unbluesy flair for the theatrical became more pronounced later on, reaching its dramatic apotheosis in Peggy Lee's 1969 reading of their European-flavored dirge "Is That All There Is?"
Leiber and Stoller were pioneers in business as well as in music. They cut a deal with Atlantic Records that made them the industry's first independent producers. They were among the first arrangers to put strings on an R&B record (with the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby"). They mentored Phil Spector, Carole King and a long list of others. They founded a label in New York, Red Bird Records, and put out girl-group hits by the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups that presaged the explosion of instruments and echo that came to be known as Spector's Wall of Sound.
From the start, Leiber and Stoller astutely insisted on owning their own songs. As time passed, they also bought the song catalogs of other publishing companies — something unheard of in those days. They were great judges of value. They sold this collection of catalogs for a reported $60 million. As for their own hits, they put them together in a show, "Smokey Joe's Cafe," that opened on Broadway in 1995 and ran for more than 2,000 performances.
Eventually, they were the first nonperforming songwriters inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which described them as "pop auteurs who wrote, arranged and produced countless recordings" and who "advanced rock 'n' roll to new heights of wit and musical sophistication."