March 9, 2013

The Best Lost Song Ever: Whitey

There are always "lost" songs which have become legendary without ever having been heard. Sooner or later though, it seems, everything leaks onto the Internet, including political cuts like "Colonized Mind" by Prince or Nirvana's take on "Bad Moon Rising."

But there is one song I long to hear above any other. It is by the peerless songwriting team made up of Mike Stoller and the late Jerry Lieber. These are the two young guys who broke into the music biz in their teens in the early '50s writing rhythm & blues cuts like "Kansas City." Their longest association was with The Coasters, for whom they cut joke-y songs of teen rebellion like "Yakety Yak" and sly flip-the-script attacks on white supremacy like "Run, Red, Run."

I recently found my liner notes to a 2 cassette Very Best of the Coasters compilation I hadn't seen in years, and I'm writing this excerpt up before the set disappears again.

Inevitably, Leiber and Stoller’s lengthy career with The Coasters would wind down. By the late 1960s. times had changed. After all, Jerry points out, "There are only so many 'Charlie Browns' and 'Yakety Yaks' that you can do." Mike adds "The things that now seemed exciting for us were songs that were deemed by the record companies – and by The Coasters themselves to some degree – to be too inflammatory."

According to Leiber, there is still plenty of "material in the trunk" that the due wanted to do with the group. When asked for an example of what remains unrecorded, he quotes a few lines from a song called "Whitey":

Who dropped the bomb and started the war?

An’ when you’re over there fightin’, who you fightin’ for?

When you come back and you can’t get a job,

And the only way to make it is to hustle and rob,

Hey, who you gonna hustle?

And who you gonna rob?

Now tell me that doesn't sound purely awesome!

Bonus quote from rock critic and cultural theorist Greil Marcus (in a reflection on music and Walter Mosely's Easy Rawlins mysteries in Los Angeles magazine):
When Lieber & Stoller had their first number one R&B hit, with Willie Mae Thornton's "Hound Dog" in 1953, they were living against the law, part of a black-and-white, male-and-female communist commune, passing literature out on street corners.

No comments: