The Mid-Century-Made Songwriting Duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

“Real Ugly Woman” was the first track ever written by Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) and Mike Stoller, and recorded and released by blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon in 1951. In the decades that followed, the songwriting duo of Leiber and Stoller would go on to write some of the most memorable and classic songs in the American songbook.

Videos by American Songwriter

Teen Writers

Born just months apart in 1933, both writers first met when they were 17. Though both were originally from the east coast, they would end up meeting in Los Angeles, in 1950.

At the time, Leiber, originally from Baltimore, Maryland, was a senior in high school, and Stoller, a Queens, New York native, had just started Los Angeles City College. Immediately, the two bonded over their love of blues, boogie-woogie, and rhythm and blues and began writing together.

Mid-Century Maestros

Within two years of meeting Leiber and Stoller had an R&B hit with “Hard Times,” recorded by Charles Brown, followed by “Hound Dog,” which they originally wrote for Big Mama Thornton in 1952, and became a hit for Elvis Presley a year later. For Presley, alone, the team wrote more than 20 songs, including  “Jailhouse Rock,”  “Love Me,” “Loving You,” and “Don’t,”—and even “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” for his first Christmas album.

By 1959, they crossed over on the pop charts with Wilbert Harrison’s No. 1 “Kansas City”—another song they had written years earlier that was originally recorded by Little Willie Littlefield in 1952.

The duo also wrote more than 20 charting hits for The Coasters, including “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” ‘Searchin,” “Young Blood,” and more, including the group’s 1955 song “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” which later became a Broadway revue showcasing the hits of Leiber and Stoller. The show also won the duo a Grammy in 1997 for Best Musical Show Album.


By the time they were both 20, Leiber and Stoller already had a collection of hits and formed Spark Records in 1954, which they later sold to Atlantic, where they were signed in 1955.

Throughout the 1960s, the Leiber and Stoller hits didn’t stop with Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” “I (Who Have Nothing),” and “Spanish Harlem,” along with The Drifters’ “Drip Drop” and “On Broadway,” “There Goes My Baby,” The Clovers’ “Love Potion #9,” and Peggy Lee’s 1969 hit “Is That All There Is?”


In 1985, Leiber and Stoller were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, followed by the Record Producers’ Hall of Fame a year later, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The duo was also honored with the ASCAP Founders’ Award in 1991 and celebrated their 50th anniversary as a songwriting team in 2000. 

They remained a songwriting team until Leiber’s death on August 22, 2011, at the age of 78.  

Leiber and Stoller’s legacy is a collection of songs covered by hundreds of artists, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Little Richard, B.B. King, Count Basie, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, The Everly Brothers, Edit Piaf, Chet Atkins, Tom Jones, and many more. 

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Sony ATV Music Publishing

Leave a Reply

6 of the Most Influential Rock Producers