Their first successes were as the writers of such crossover hit songs as "Hound Dog" and "Kansas City." Later in the 1950s, particularly through their work with The Coasters, they created a string of ground-breaking hits that are some of the most entertaining in rock and roll, by using the humorous vernacular of the teenagers sung in a style that was openly theatrical rather than personal, songs that include "Young Blood," "Searchin'," and "Yakety Yak." They were the first to surround black music with elaborate production values, enhancing its emotional power with The Drifters in "There Goes My Baby" and influencing Phil Spector who worked with them on recordings of The Drifters and Ben E. King. Leiber and Stoller went into the record business and, focusing on the "girl group" sound, released some of the greatest classics of the Brill Building period.
They wrote hits including "Love Me," "Loving You," "Don't," and "Jailhouse Rock," among others for Elvis Presley. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Leiber came from Baltimore, Stoller from Long Island, but they met in Los Angeles in 1950, where Stoller was a freshman at Los Angeles City College while Leiber was a senior at Fairfax High. Stoller had graduated from Belmont High School. After school, Stoller played piano and Leiber worked in a record store and, when they met, they found they shared a love of blues and rhythm and blues. In 1950, Jimmy Witherspoon recorded and performed their first commercial song, "Real Ugly Woman." Their first hit composition was "Hard Times," recorded by Charles Brown, which was a rhythm and blues hit in 1952. "Kansas City," which was also recorded in 1952 (as "K. C. Loving") by Little Willie Littlefield, became a No. 1 hit in 1959 for Wilbert Harrison. In 1952, they wrote "Hound Dog" for Big Mama Thornton, which became a hit for her in 1953; it became a much bigger hit for Elvis Presley in 1956, although in a bowdlerized version. Their later songs often had lyrics more appropriate for pop music, and their combination of rhythm and blues with pop lyrics revolutionized pop, rock and roll and punk rock.
The label was later bought by Atlantic Records, which hired Leiber and Stoller in an innovative deal that allowed them to produce for other labels. This, in effect, made them the first independent record producers. At Atlantic, they revitalized the careers of the Drifters and turned out hit after hit for The Coasters, a spin-off of The Robins. Their songs from this period include "Charlie Brown," "Searchin'," "Yakety Yak," "Stand By Me" (written with Ben E. King), and "On Broadway" (written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil), among numerous other hits. (For the Coasters alone, they wrote twenty-four songs that appeared in the national charts.)
In 1955, Leiber and Stoller produced a recording of their song, "Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots," with the white vocal group, The Cheers. Soon after, the song was recorded by Édith Piaf in a French translation titled, "L'Homme à la Moto." The European royalties from another Cheers record, "Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin')," funded a 1956 trip to Europe for Stoller and his first wife, Meryl, on which they met Piaf. They returned on the SS Andrea Doria. Alas, the Stollers had to finish the journey to New York without the ship. After their rescue, Leiber greeted Stoller at the dock with the news that "Hound Dog" had become a hit for Elvis. Stoller's reply was, "Elvis who?"
In the early 1960s, Phil Spector served an apprenticeship of sorts with Leiber and Stoller in New York City, developing his record producer's craft while assisting and playing guitar on their sessions, including "On Broadway."
After leaving the employ of Atlantic Records, where they produced, and often wrote, many classic recordings by The Drifters and Ben E. King, they produced a remarkable series of records for United Artists' record wing. They produced hugely influential hits by Jay and the Americans ("She Cried"), The Exciters ("Tell Him"), and The Clovers ("Love Potion #9," also written by Leiber and Stoller.)
In the 1960s, Leiber and Stoller founded and briefly owned Red Bird Records, which issued the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" and the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love." After selling Red Bird, they continued working as independent producers and writing songs. Their best known song from this period is "Is That All There Is?" recorded by Peggy Lee in 1969; earlier in the decade, they had had a minor hit with Lee in the well-remembered "I'm a Woman." Their last major hit production was "Stuck In the Middle With You," by Stealers Wheel in 1972. In 1975, they recorded an album of art songs with Peggy Lee, entitled Mirrors. A remixed and expanded version of this album was released in 2005 as Peggy Lee Sings Leiber & Stoller.
In the late seventies, A&M records recruited Leiber & Stoller to write and produce an album for young British sensation Elkie Brooks. The album Two Days Away (1977) proved a major success in the UK and most of Europe. Their composition "Pearl's A Singer" (written with Ralph Dino & John Sembello) became a huge hit for Brooks, and remains her signature tune to this day. The collaboration proved so successful, they produced another album for her, Live and Learn, in 1979.
They won Grammy awards for "Is That All There Is?" and for the cast album of Smokey Joe's Cafe, a 1995 Broadway musical based on their work. Smokey Joe's Cafe was also nominated for seven Tony awards, and became the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. They had previously written a musical version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (with a book by Mordecai Richler, adapting his own novel), which failed in Canada.
Mezzo-soprano Joan Morris and her pianist-composer husband William Bolcom have recorded an album, Other Songs by Leiber and Stoller, featuring a number of their more unusual (and satiric) works (including "Let's Bring Back World War I," written specifically for them, and "Humphrey Bogart," a tongue-in-cheek song about obsession with the actor.)
In the 1950s the rhythm and blues of the black entertainment world, up to then restricted to black clubs, was increasing its audience-share in areas previously reserved for popular music, and the phenomenon now known as "crossover" became apparent.
Leiber and Stoller affected the course of modern popular music in 1957 when they wrote and produced the crossover double-sided hit by The Coasters, "Young Blood"/"Searchin'." They released "Yakety Yak," which was a huge mainstream hit, as was the follow-up, "Charlie Brown." This was followed by "Along Came Jones," "Poison Ivy," "Shoppin' for Clothes," and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)."
They produced and cowrote "There Goes My Baby," a hit for The Drifters in 1959, which introduced the use of strings for saxophone-like riffs and lavish production values into the established black R&B sound, laying the ground work for the soul music that would follow.
The meticulous craft and high creativity they brought to rock and roll songwriting was a key influence on the rock and roll songwriters of the '60s, from the Aldon Music songwriters such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, to the stable of Motown writers. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both discussed the impact that Leiber and Stoller's compositions had on the development of their own songwriting.