I’ll bet not too many people who read this have ever heard of Nick Ashford. Maybe Jerry Leiber is a name you may have heard. But both of these men wrote some of the greatest songs that we have been listening to over the past fifty years. Both have died this past week, Ashford at age 70 and Leiber at age 78.
Nick and his wife Valerie Simpson wrote some of Motown’s greatest hits. Like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It only reached number 19 on the Billboard charts, but almost anyone in this country would recognize it when they heard it. They also did “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” which was also done by Gaye. They wrote “Reach Out and Touch Somebosy’s Hand”, recorded by Diana Ross and “I’m Every Woman” recorded by Chaka Khan. Ashford and Simpson also recorded a few albums under their own name. They hit the Top 40 with “Found a Cure’ in 1979 and “Solid” in 1985.
More recently, they collaborated with Amy Winehouse on her tune “Tears Dry On Their Own” which contains a sample of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. They were great songwriters and will be missed. I don’t know if Valerie Simpson will keep writing without her husband, but I hope so.
Here is a short youtube video that summarizes what Ashford and Simpson have done for modern American music: Nick Ashford video.
As I was growing up, one of my favorite groups was the Coasters. They were labeled a novelty group and did songs like “Charlie Brown”, “Yakety Yak”, “Searchin”, and “Poison Ivy”. All of these, I believe were written by the writing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Leiber and Stoller have written over 200 songs and I’ll bet you would recognize most of them. Let’s start with “Hound Dog” which was originally written for Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952. It was a hit on the R&B charts but nobody outside the black community heard it. The Elvis Presley recorded it in 1956 and it was a number one hit. Leiber also wrote “jailhouse Rock”, one of Elvis’ best and most well known songs.
Leiber also wrote for The Drifters and Ben E King and many others. A true icon of early American rock and roll.
Here is a short video honoring Jerry Leiber on his death at 78: Jerry Leiber video.
Leiber and Ashford should rightly be honored, in their own different ways, as two greats of American popular songwriting.