Hey, kids, welcome to the Phile for a Thursday. How are you? Okay, so, I have to talk about Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey has flooded parts of Texas with over 30 inches of rain, killed at least 10 people, and injured many others, reports the "New York Times." Thousands of Houston residents were left stranded and in need of shelter, and several large spaces and religious centers have kindly opened their doors. However, one place is making waves for hesitating to pitch in: the Lakewood Church, a Houston megachurch owned by pastor and "televangelist" Joel Osteen. The spacious arena-style venue seats 16,800, making it an ideal venue for a disaster relief shelter. Instead of giving back to his city by offering up Lakewood Church, Osteen simply tweeted his well wishes for those affected by the storm. Lakewood Church's Facebook page responded to some of the backlash, alleging that the facility was "inaccessible due to severe flooding." However, the Internet wasn't quite buying that, so some people ventured to the church to see for themselves... and from the outside, the building did not appear to be flooded. People continued to roast the hell out of Joel Osteen, heavily criticizing him for being too money-hungry to open his doors. But in a plot twist Monday night, Lakewood Church began making preparations to welcome those in need. It's definitely good news that more Houston residents will evidently have somewhere to go.
So, President Donald Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, went to Texas to survey the horrible damage Hurricane Harvey has already done. And, as you'd expect, Mrs. Trump was fully disaster-ready, in a pair of flood pants and at least four-inch high heels. She looks ready to get in the middle of it all and start helping out. If by helping out, you mean "dressing totally inappropriately to help a city currently under several feet of water." There's nothing funny about a hurricane destroying people's lives and homes, but let's be honest... there is a LOT funny about Melania dressing this way to go visit a disaster site.
I mean, really.
Shoppers at Trump Tower, Donald Trump's many monuments to himself, were treated to some extra inventory this week, courtesy of two NYC-based artist/pranksters. Gothamist reports that on Monday afternoon, the sneaky sneakers snuck some special items in the lobby's git shop, including a Trump-branded KKK hood "for fine people," packages of pee-proof rubber sheets, and a Russian flag. The addition to the postcard racks included odes to 45th President of the United States, Vladimir Putin, First Lady Ivanka Trump, and the flesh on the front of Donald's neck, known as a wattle. "We thought the tourists coming in to buy some stuff, especially people from other countries, should get the whole story of who the president is, because the items in the Trump store don't accurately reflect the person," one of the anonymous artists told Gothamist. The real Trump administration has gotten so wild, however, that some shoppers couldn't distinguish between the parody and the real stuff." My partner was in the back putting in some of the items and he said to someone, 'Oh did you see this?' and they didn't even bat an eye," the artist added. Check out these postcards...
Hahaha. Postcards from the edge.
It sure would be nice to see the people of America simply banding together to support the victims of a natural disaster instead of stirring the pot for no reason. But considering Donald Trump and Melania Trump's choices while visiting victims of Texas' Hurricane Harvey, it should be no surprise that other conservatives are finding ways to make the devastation about themselves. Case in point: Matt Walsh, a conservative Christian columnist for "The Blaze." Walsh tweeted a striking image from the flood in Texas, that shows a man carrying a woman who is cradling her baby through the floodwaters. He paired the photo with an eye roll-worthy caption.
Matt, thank you so much for your regressive point of view. It's so refreshing. As it so happens, a real-life gender studies professor saw Walsh's tweet. Christina Wolbrecht, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and author of multiple books about women, decided to respond to his uninformed message with a pretty epic thread. She explained how women traditionally tend to care for children, and how that's contributed to inequality in the workplace and in power dynamics. Wolbrecht then alleged that because healthcare and mental health budgets often get slashed, the responsibility to pick up the slack falls on those who are not trained for it, causing disarray. Wolbrecht concluded that the nonsensical gender barriers in the workforce and in care work affect way more than you might think. Dang, does anyone else feel like they just took a free gender studies class? Wolbrecht schooled Walsh any his regressive beliefs pretty dang flawlessly... but the Internet also chimed in with a lesson of their own. A meme quickly emerged, which involves using the text from Walsh's tweet alongside a photo of some sort of creature carrying another, who's sometimes carrying another.
As flooding from Hurricane Harvey continued to wreak havoc on Texas, Donald Trump reflected on... why not... the name of the storm. "It sounds like such an innocent name," he mused. "But it's not innocent." Insofar as a name can be innocent... Hurricane Harvey's certainly not as shocking a name as, like, a Hurricane Voldemort or a Hurricane Adolf... the name Harvey has nothing particularly malicious in it. Obviously. It's just a name. So the comment left everyone rolling their eyes at the commander-in-chief. Instead of demonstrating the competence of the federal government, he was musing on the fact that Harvey has a pleasant connotation. How could my friend Harvey do this to us? One of the exasperated commenters was a woman who knows a little bit about making up names, innocent or otherwise. J.K. Rowling, slammed Trump for his response. "Close your eyes," Rowling instructed the president. "Open a telephone directory. Point at the page. Open your eyes. That's the name of the person who could do better than this." Ouch. We can all agree on one thing: it's certainly no Donald.
So, I mentioned the shoes Melania wore when her and the president visited Texas... well, I think I got the news wrong... he wore the wrong shoes...
Hahaha. That's so stupid. That's as stupid as this...
Actually, Melania changed into something more practical... she had these with her...
So, I never been arrested, but if I ever do get arrested I hope I'm not wearing this t-shirt when I do...
Actually, I like that shirt. Hahaha. So, have you ever received a note from a neighbor? If you did I hope it was better than this one...
Yikes. One thing about me is I don't break the rules and I am good at following directions... but I don't take it to the extreme like this person is...
Ha. Man, here in Florida they try to get away with some very clever license plates...
You ever notice how technology is getting smaller and smaller? I think Apple is taking it just a little bit too far...
I want one though. So, football season is just around the corner and some football fans are like me... into football and Star Wars... and they blend the two.
Oh, those Cam Newton fans... So, do you know what the "alt-left" looks like? Let me show you...
That's what it looks like. Hey, Joel Osten just came out with a new poster...
That's not very nice. Okay, now from the home office in Port Jefferson, New York, here is...
Top Phive Startling Similarity Or Difference Between Ted Cruz And Taylor Swift
5. Seems to have a good understanding of regular Americans.
4. Known for fake-country persona.
3. Released a catchy single this week.
2. Loves to play the victim.
And the number one similarity or difference between Ted Cruz and Taylor Swift is...
1. Could feasibly be President someday.
Fred DeNegri was grilling in his backyard when he cracked open a can of Diet Pepsi, took a thirsty gulp and immediately started gagging. The flavor of his Pepsi was rank and the texture was thick like slime. He immediately took it to a sink and shook out the contents until something resembling "pink linguini" slid out, followed by "dark stuff." Despite persistent shaking, a heavy object remained inside the can. Completely disgusted, DeNegris immediately called poison control and the FDA, and the can was taken in for lab testing to identify the source of the sludgy mess. The couple received a copy of the completed report from the Food and Drug Administration Office of Regulatory Affairs, which concluded the foreign matter appeared to be a frog or a toad. That's why I don't drink soda, people. Gag!
Are you a lazy person? If so, I bet you're not as lazy as this guy...
What the hell is he wearing? Hey, want a good laugh? I think it's needed right about now...
A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer." Hahahahahaha.
This is so cool... today's guest is a legendary lyricist and composer and co-author of "Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography," which is the 65th book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club. Please welcome to the Phile the one and only... Mike Stoller!
Me: Hello, sir, welcome to the Phile, I am so excited to have you here. How are you?
Mike: Thank you. I'm well.
Me: So, recently there was a hoax that you died. When I had you lined up for an interview I was like holy shit. But here you here on the Phile and you're alive. How did that hoax start? Do you know?
Mike: From Facebook apparently. I join the long list of celebrities who have been victimized by this hoax. Yes, I'm still alive and well, stop believing what you see on the Internet.
Me: Except what you read on the Phile. Haha. I didn't know you were from Long Island. I grew up on Long Island... what part are you from, sir?
Mike: Belle Harbour, in Queens. What part did you live in?
Me: Shoreham and then Port Jefferson. You grew up listening to tons of different music styles, sir. Was that a big influence in your songwriting? What was the biggest influence?
Mike: Of course. I grew up listening to classical music because my mother always had the radio turned on to the classical music station and it was going all day long so I grew up listening to it. But I got involved in boogie woogie when I was 7 or 8 years old and went to an interracial summer camp. I heard a black teenager playing boogie woogie on the piano and I just fell in love with that music. I wanted to play to myself. The I progressed and got interested in jazz and especially a few years later in be-bop. I always loved the blues because my boogie woogie records had vocals on the other side back in the day when we had two sided records so I was familiar with the blues.
Me: When you first met Jerry Leiber what was that like? Whose idea was to work together?
Mike: When I met Jerry he told me he wanted to write songs, and I had no idea what he wanted to write. I said I wasn't interested. He was very persistent and said we ought to meet. When I met him I looked at his lyrics and I could see from the structure they were 12 bar blues. So we shook hands and said we'll be partners. That was in 1950 and we were partners for 61 years.
Me: In the book "Hound Dog" you described the relationship with Jerry as being "six decades argument" and the fighting was part of the creative process. One instance of that you said was the melody to "Kansas City" which you clashed over. Would you say part of your success comes from that and you pushed each other to improve?
Mike: The argument I had with Jerry about "Kansas City" was Jerry wanted it to be like a very traditional blues. Kind of not really a melody but a blues inflection. And I said wanted that song to be able to be recognizable if it was played instrumentally. We had a long fight about it and finally I said, "Who is writing the music?" and he said, "Okay, you win." And it worked out.
Me: You guys wrote pretty fast, right? Did you write under pressure or just really fast?
Mike: Um, I have never really given it that kind of thought. Some of the things we wrote came very quickly and some took time. For example, in the case of "Young Blood" Jerry wrote the lyrics and presented them to me and I wrote the music very quickly. That seemed to work easily enough. I know Jerry had a great deal of trouble writing the lyrics to "Charlie Brown" I guess because in a sense it was similar attitude wise to "Yakety Yak." He felt he was writing the same song again because they wanted the same thing. It's not exactly the same thing but it took him a long time to write that one, whereas "Yakety Yak" he wrote very quick. With "Yakety Yak" we were working at his apartment in New York and I just started to play the rhythm on the piano and he shouted out, "take out the papers and the trash" and I yelled back "or you'll get no spending cash" and we had a song right away. Jerry said he wasn't writing a song but suggested I take the papers and the trash, but it worked.
Me: You wrote songs for groups like The Coasters which had more than one singer. Was it different then writing songs with just one singer like Elvis singing?
Mike: Yeah. We started writing for a group called the Robins and since we had those different voices in different roles but it really happened with The Coasters because we had these wonderful voices. Starting for example with "Yakety Yak," Cornell Gunter, who had been the lead voice on things like "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and "Down in Mexico" and we had Billy Guy who was a natural comedian and they worked as a duet lead. We had the wonderful bass lead who was Will Jones who had all the "don't talk back" and "why is everybody always picking on me." He played the heavy or the father or the bad guy or whatever. Then we had Cornell Gunter who played the female roles if necessary and also was a great musician himself as well a great vocal stylist. So we had all these voices to play with and to give roles to and to set up jokes with.
Me: You said you were often at the piano when Jerry was coming up with lyrics and different ideas but did that process ever change in later years?
Mike: Yes, yes, When we started we always said spontaneous combustion. I would just be jamming at the piano and Jerry would walk around the room shouting anything that came into his head or mind or something whatever I played on the piano evoked in him. When he shouted something and I was playing something simultaneously and it was good then we went to work on what it was, whereas the line and the story developed out of it. As years went by other things happened, for example he'd write four lines or six lines and he would give them to me and I would set them to music and we'd argue about it and then we ultimately would finish. I suppose out of our arguments came some good work. I might write a section of a tune and he might write a lyrics that would fit to it and again, the same process. The arguments, the adjustments, the back and forth over whether the word was "and" or "but" and whether the note was up or down and all of that. Then I guess years and years went by working that way and ultimately I would write a whole tune and would set a lyric to it or he would write an entire lyric and I would set it to music.
Me: I have to ask you about the title of the book and the song "Hound Dog." Elvis's version has different lyrics than the original Big Mama Thorton version. How did you feel when you found out the lyrics were changed?
Mike: Well, you know Jerry told me about the Elvis record. I didn't know who Elvis was or anything. I had been in Europe for three months with my first sizable royalty check which I never thought I'll see that much money again. Anyway, I got $5,000 and I went to Europe in 1956 and spent three months there. I was traveling all the time and was with my first wife and we came back on a lovely Italian liner called the Andrea Doria, and we were hit by another cruise ship, the Stockholm, and the Andrea Doria sank. Luckily we got off into a life boat and were picked up by a freighter and we finally were got to New York and Jerry was waving to me on the dock, he ran up to me and said, "Mike, we got a smash hit." I said, "You're kidding." He said, "No, it's 'Hound Dog.'" I said, "Big Mama?" And he said, "No, some white kid named Elvis Presley." It had apparently been released a couple of days before I got into New York and when I heard it I was really disappointed. I was happy to have a number one record but it didn't have the groove and the subtlety and of course the lyrics were changed. It was a guy singing and the original lyrics are for a woman singing about a free loader, a gigolo, who doesn't really want a woman, he just wants a home. So, I guess after it sold about 7 million singles I became to see some merit in it.
Me: Hahaha. Another song I have to ask you about is "Stand By Me." You've been credited with sending that song into the "land immortality with the bass line." Do you remember when you first played that?
Mike: I do as a matter of fact. Jerry and Ben E. King were in our office in New York before we moved to the Brill Building, about a year or so and after we moved to New York from Los Angeles... I guess it was around 1960. I walked in and Jerry and Ben E. were going over the lyrics and Ben E. started to sing and I sat at the piano and designed the chord structure and I stated right away to play that bass pattern and right away Jerry said, "That's it. That's the song." Whether he was right or wrong the bass pattern seemed to work. We went into the studio with an arranger that we worked a lot with... Stan Applebaum, and we started the record with the bass and a guitar playing that figure. After we put the full string section playing that figure as well it really kind of set that tune. Anyway, Ben E. King to me is such a beautiful singer. Now, I guess when we did that record we were in our mid to late twenties and Ben E. was a few years younger and there were a lot of rhythm and blues groups that had a lot of high voiced singers that were young. Ben E. was equally young but he really had a more mature and sophisticated singing that knocked me out. And he still does.
Me: In the book it comes across that you had confidence with what were doing was good. Are there songs that you discarded or songs that you rewrote?
Mike: Oh, sure, usually in most cases with songs that we tossed to the side was for good reason. I'm trying to think of an instance... sometimes we recorded early on a song that didn't become a hit and later on became a much more successful record like for example, "Ruby Baby," that was The Drifters. Of course there was "Kansas City" which we recorded with Little Willie Littlefield in 1952, working with Maxwell Davis as the arranger. The guy that owned the record company decided that after the record was cut and it was all about going to Kansas City, he decided that that wasn't hip enough and the hip thing was K.C. He changed the title of the song on the label and called it "K.C. Lovin,'" which I think slowed the possible growth of that song by about seven years, because 7 years later a fellow named Wilbert Harrison remembered that song and recorded it. It went to number one and since then we had three or four hundred recordings of "Kansas City."
Me: I like the Little Richard version and even more the Graham Parker and the Rumour version.
Mike: The Little Richard version came out and was just called "Kansas City." Later when The Beatles did it the title was changed to "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey" as a medley and truly it was. It incorporated into his version of "Kansas City" another song of his. Since it was Little Richard who we adored we said okay. We were big fans. I have to stop talking in the present as unfortunately Jerry passed away in 2011. But we were always big fans of Little Richard and we were honored to be on the Beatles record with him.
Me: I was surprised to learn that you not only were a songwriter but a producer and worked at Atlantic Records. Not only were you and Jerry producers, but you were the first producers. What was that like? How did you get to be the first?
Mike: You know sitting at the piano so to speak, or walking around with a pencil, those are very important things. Unless you're in position to get the song recorded you can have just have a stack of some wonderful compositions, like great songs that no one has ever heard. So in our case of course starting early on, not because it was a career, no one ever heard of a record producer. There were A&R men at major companies who decided in a sense what song would be appropriate for the artist in their stable. They would hire an arranger to work with the artist. But in order to protect the day we wanted to song to be heard we had to control the whole record if possible and that's what we did. Then Atlantic hired us to make records for them, and they would give us a royalty for making a record in addition to any royalties we got as songwriters. As this went on it developed into a separate career because although most of the records we have made were old songs that we have written. Especially for example The Coasters, we wrote for them, tailored each song for the group, and decided the sound of the whole record and I played on most of those records on piano. But when we started working with other groups like The Drifters for example we were putting out calls to the top songwriters that we knew. The best in the business like Doc Palmer, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Burt Bacharach and many more. We wanted to hear songs for The Drifters for example. And then when we started to do more and more work with songs that we hadn't written we got into a kind of argument with the guys at Atlantic Records. Jerry Wexler in particular because we want to have credit for making the record and he said, "How many times do you want your name on the label?" As I said when we started to record other peoples songs he saw the point that we were making. Because at first he said, "We tell everybody that you made the record." We wanted it on the label though. We thought it'll probably be "directed by" thinking in terms of films. You know, that's what we did, we directed the whole process, but they gave us title "produced by." It stuck and became a career for people. I guess we were the first producers in the record business.
Me: You just mentioned Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil which you also wrote with on the song "On Broadway." How was that, working with that married couple?
Mike: Well, here's what happened... they wrote a song called "On Broadway" that was different. It wasn't the song you heard from The Drifters and subsequently George Benson and so on. It was similar but wasn't the same. I think Phil Spector made a recording of it and it was not successful. The publisher called and spoke to Jerry and said, "Look, this song could be a hit but it wasn't a hit. I think if you guys were involved in it and made the record it could be a hit. Would you want to rewrite it?" We said yeah, we would do it if Barry and Cynthia said okay. So we sat around in Jerry's apartment one night and I recall we were sitting in a circle on the floor. Jerry and Cynthia were working on a change of lyrics and stuff suggested by Jerry and ideas from Cynthia in a different way. I suggested changing the structure of the beat and chords, but also changing the structure of the piece so that the line that rhymed with "on Broadway" didn't have to end with an "a" sound. Anyway, we worked with them and Barry and Cynthia are great writers and it just worked out wonderfully. We made the record and it became a hit and sort on an anthem.
Me: So, with all your songs you wrote it's Leiber & Stoller... why not Stoller & Leiber? How did Jerry's name get to be first? Whose idea was that?
Mike: Jerry decided that it sounded better. Hahaha. And it was okay with me.
Me: I recently saw on YouTube when you guys were on "Watch My Line" with Vincent Price. The moment the host asked you in inverted commas if you are going to go on to do more serious things in music it seemed a difficult moment for you both. Did you encounter that sort of snobbishness about your work? I have a screenshot of that here...
Mike: Yeah, Jerry was very unhappy after. He said, "Why did I say that? Why did I say 'we hope to'" or whatever he said. They were looking down their noses I'm sure at two guys who were considered to be philistines, who were making a ton of money writing junk. I think that was their take on it. What can you do?
Me: Idiots... haha. Except for Vincent Price... haha. Anyway, I love the song "There Goes My Baby," sir. That song was one of the catchiest songs you wrote I think. How did that song come to be?
Mike: Well, when we first heard Ben E. and the group they were known as the Five Crowns and they were hired by the managers of The Drifters to become The Drifters because The Drifters had become a big group for years started by Clyde McPhatter. Clyde went alone as a solo artist and then they had another group and I think Johnny Moore was in the group, and they stopped recording for awhile. The managers of Atlantic asked us to get ahold of a group so they got the Crowns and renamed the Drifters. We were given the first recording date to produce. We heard them rehearse and I was playing a line on the piano when they were rehearsing and I sounded like some classical music composition that emulated middle eastern music. Jerry said, "That sounds like violins." I said, "Hey. Why not?" So we decided to use a string section. Actually it was a small string section but effective. It was four violins and one cello. We recorded this but couldn't use Atlantic's studio that day because Ray Charles had the studio so we went to some studio that had a very deep echo chamber and recorded it there. Also there was a timpani in the room and the drummer never played a timpani. I don't know if you know but it's a tunable instrument and we just told him to just play this rhythm that we loved. It was a Brazilian rhythm that I guess you've heard a million times by now. We played it for Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler who had a fit fuming, "What are you doing with my money? You're flushing it down the toilet." He was eating a tuna fish sandwich and he was spattering the wall by his desk with tuna fish. Ahmet was always the diplomat, his father was the ambassador to the United States. At one pout he was the ambassador to Paris, I believe, and in London. He had been an ambassador to many countries from Turkey. Ahmet was the voice and said, "You can't hit a home run every time. We know you make good records..." Anyway, we persuaded them to let us have an hour or two with Tom Dowd who was their recording engineer, the guy we worked with doing the Coasters records. They said okay, but they held it back for awhile as they didn't want to release it. They finally released it and as you know it went to the top of the pop charts, top of the rhythm and blues charts and after that we got to use bigger string sections.
Me: One song I kinda forgotten about and remembered it because it was mentioned on "What's My Line?" and Vincent Price laughed at it and that was "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots." Where did that song come from?
Mike: A wonderful arranger who I can't remember his name... I'm having a senior moment. It might come to me later. At any rate, that success of that song is what got me that check for $5,000, that allowed me when I was 23 to go to Europe for three months. The amazing thing for me was when I got to Paris Édith Piaf was playing at the famous Olympia music hall in Paris and we went to the opening night and of course she introduced her new song " L'homme à la moto" which of course is the translation of "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots." So that was wow, that was a thrill.
Me: What song do you think is your biggest production?
Mike: "I (Who Have Nothing)." I would love to get credit for everything in that song but this was an Italian song originally called "Uno Dei Tanti"... "I One Of Many," and Ben E. heard it on a trip to Italy. He was doing a tour in Europe and he loved it. His manager acquired the rights to the tape. We thought it was so gorgeous we couldn't try and duplicate it and that is the track from the Italian record. We put on Ben E.'s voice and we rewrote not a translation but a new lyric "I who have nothing." It was inspired by the idea of the Italian song. I thought why try to duplicate it, just get the rights, and we did.
Me: Okay, so, where did the title of the song "Love Potion No. 9" come from? Why number 9?
Mike: Ummm, well, we always liked the number 9 because it resonates in your body. In fact, my doctor looks me over for my annual check up and he puts the stethoscope on my back he says, "Now say nine." Haha. Because it does, it resonates through your body. Actually that was a song we were writing for the Coasters but a guy who had formally been a sales manager for Atlantic Records and the manger for the Coasters had gotten a job for a new record company called United Artist Records, that was started I guess around 1959. He said, "Guys, I need you to help me out. I need a hit for the Clovers. I got this new job." Anyway, we gave it to the Clovers, we recorded it and he kept his job for a while.
Me: Nice. One of the biggest things I learnt from your book was your relationship with Peggy Lee especially with the making of "Mirrors." Does that represent your "serious" music you mentioned on "What's My Line?"
Mike: I guess it could be. We were always serious. We were serious about "Love Potion No. 9." Haha. Yeah, okay, it was more adult in a way. Actually, the very first performance of "Is That All There Is?" was done on BBC by Georgia Brown the actress and singer from London. She had been on Broadway in New York in the show "Oliver," and when she returned to England she was given her own show on BBC 2 perhaps called "Georgia's Back" which opened of course on a picture of her back. She did a few of out songs that and the first performance of "Is That All There Is" which she happened to come up... Jerry and I were working at the apartment that day and her manager in the states brought her up because she wanted some new songs to sing on her return to London for this television show. Jerry had written these spoken parts and I set them to music and we played them for her and she went crazy and said, "That's the song but you have to have something for me to sing between those spoken parts." We dragged something out of something we were working on and threw it in and she said it was perfect. She left and we looked at each other and said that didn't make any sense at all. So, Jerry said, "I'll work on something." I said I would go home, play around with some music and come up with an idea. I called Jerry the next day and said, "I got the music. It really came to me and I got the music for between those verses." Jerry said, "I wrote a lyric but I don't think I want to hear music because I would like you to write music to my lyric." I went over to his place and said let me play you the music. He said, "No, let me recite my lyrics because I know it's perfect." I said please let me play you the music and he said no. He finally gave in and I played the music I'd written and he said play it again and he recited he sang the words and they fit perfectly. That's the only time that ever happened to us. We felt that really had to be it and eventually we made a demo of it and Jerry presented it to Peggy Lee... I think I was out of town. This was all in New York and she was appearing at the Copacabana and when she heard it she said, "That's the story of my life. You must not give this to anybody else." We got to record the song with her in Los Angeles where we were working on a film. Capital did not want to release the record. They said who is gonna buy this? She's talking, there's no back beat and it's conducted not really in time. It's too weird. Eventually, because she was requested to be on a television show in exchange for getting some of Capital's new artists on that show she said she'll do it if she had the last record she had in the can and fortunately she got them to press up a few copies and she did the television show. Then of course, as they always say, the phones lit up and people were calling about the song. It became her theme song.
Me: With all your success with writing and producing songs, and matching them with artists, was that ever a pain in the ass?
Mike: Actually, we had written it, and she never knew, for Georgia Brown. By the way, when I asked if they had a tape of Georgia's performance in London in 1966 they said, "No, no, we didn't tape is out in the ether." So, I don't know if anybody taped it off the air, I'd like to hear to again. We didn't like the arrangement when we heard it in London but an English arranger named Peter Knight took it home and bought it back the arrangement that we had described in a way to him and we thought it was magnificent, so I would love to hear that again to if there is someone hiding who taped it on a tape recorder or on a wire recorder. Haha.
Me: You worked with some other great songwriters as well, sir. Who at the top of your head were your favorites?
Mike: Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who met in our offices in the Brill Building. They really formed a great writing team and they were married as well. They were great and successful.
Me: Is there anyone that stands out that is the best that you ever worked with?
Mike: Oh, sure, all of those people that I mentioned before, they were terrific writers. Then there were people that didn't write as a team. Randy Newman is a fantastic writer. Very interesting and very unique. He is also a brilliant musician and orchestrator. He did the arrangement of "Is That All There Is?" There's a lot of talented people in this world, thank goodness.
Me: In the book you mentioned at age 25 you and Jerry were described as the grandfather's of rock and roll... now that you could be for sure described that way do you still have ambitions that you have yet to realize?
Mike: Ahhh, yeah, I love to write for the theater. I did write for this show "The People in the Picture" that was on Broadway a few years ago. It was starring Donna Murphy, that is an important name in New York City, in musical theater... I'm very proud of that. I did most of the songs of the music. I invited a friend of mine, Artie Butler, to write some of the songs. We worked with this wonderful young lady, who is younger than me anyway, Iris Rainer Dart, who wrote the story "Beaches" that was made into a film with Bette Midler... and she wrote this book, the book of the show and the play and the lyrics. It was hard work but it was thrilling to me. There's a few songs in there that I'm very proud of.
Me: When you sit down at the piano today are you still confident that there's gonna be a hit song around the corner?
Mike: Well, I'm not that confident it'll be a hit but I'd rather to do that than anything else.
Me: Cool. Sir, I know you have to go but I can't thank you enough for being on the Phile. Thank you also for all your great work. It's been such an honor to have you here on the Phile. Stay well, and I hope you'll come back on the Phile again one day. All the best.
Mike: Awww, Jason, thank you. Thanks so much.
That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to Mike Stoller for an amazing interview. The Phile will be back on Saturday with singer Bruce Blackman. Before I go I have to mention this... people in Texas need help. Please donate to... The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund of Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, which is administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Houston Food Bank and the Food Bank of Corpus Christi are asking for donations. The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center is reporting a critical shortage, and has extended hours at all of its San Antonio-area donor rooms. To donate, call 210-731-5590 or visit their website for more information. Carter BloodCare covers hospitals in North, Central and East Texas. To donate, call 877-571-1000 or text DONATE4LIFE to 444-999. To help animals suffering from the disaster, visit the Houston Humane Society or the San Antonio Humane Society. The Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has set up an animal emergency response hotline (713-861-3010) and is accepting donations on its website. The Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio is asking for diapers and wipes, which can be dropped off in person or mailed to 5415 Bandera Road, Suite 504, San Antonio, Tex., 78238. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.
Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker