Leiber & Stoller, Wesley Yang And Rock And Roll


Leiber & Stoller, Wesley Yang And Rock And Roll


R.E. Prindle


     In Wesley Yang’s ‘Their Magic Moment’ published by Tablet Ezine, a review of the influence of the Jewish songsters, Leiber and Stoller, Mr. Yang offers several amusing  cultural misconceptions.

     Mr. Yang himself seems to have spent too much time in Chinatown and not enough in ‘flyover’ America.  Of course, if I were writing on Chinese culture in China I’m sure I would be as amusing as Mr. Yang.  But I’m not and he is.  Actually Mr. Yang is writing in a Jewish Ezine in America and that’s my point.

     I’m astonished that Leiber and Stoller were so imersed in Jewish and Negro culture that they could so egregiously misunderstand the ‘white trash’ artist, Elvis Presley.

     I’m not sure that Elvis sang Hound Dog on the 1956 Sullivan appearance but I quote:

     In 1953, Leiber and Stoller wrote a song for Big Mama Thornton called “Hound Dog”, which became a hit on the R&B charts.  At one point during the session Leiber encourages Thornton to “attack” a certain part of the song. Thornton interrupts him, “Come here boy,” she said, motioning to me to stand even closer to her.  “I’ll tell you what you can attack.  Attack this…” she added, pointing to her crotch.”   Oh, those uninhibited Negroes, don’t you think?  The opening lyric as Thornton sang it, went like this:

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog

Quit snooping ’round my door

You can wag your tail,

But I ain’t gonna feed you anymore.”

In 1956, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show singing

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog

Crying all the time

You ain’t never caught a rabbit

And you ain’t no friend of mine.”

“The song is not about a dog,: Leiber observes.

     You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Leiber somehow misunderstands Presley’s rewrite.  I mean, the great vulgarian didn’t get it.  The sexual implications of both verses are identical but Mr. Leiber is apparently so devoid of understanding of White culture he doesn’t understand.  I’m awed.

     Of course the naive would never get the sexual implications of either version.  It isn’t at all clear that the song isn’t about a dog, or, at least a type of dog.  Ronnie Self would sing: Ain’t I a dog.’ but maybe Mr. Leiber wouldn’t get that either.   Not enough odor of the Black and Jewish ghettos.

     ‘You can wag your tail’ of the L&S version is identical to ‘crying all the time’ in the Presley version.  L&S’ ‘quit snooping round my door’ is identical to the Presley line: ‘You ain’t never caught a rabbit.’  L&S ending:  ‘But I ain’t gonna feed you no more’ is identical in implication to ‘You ain’t no friend of mine.’

     Presley understood quite as clearly as its writer that the song wasn’t about a dog, you dog you, Mr. Leiber.

     My jaw dropped when I learned Leiber’s naivete about White culture.  Mr. Yang and he are both foreigners in other cultures they can imitate but not understand.




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