Everyone knows the rock n roll origin story: Enterprising white dudes mine black music (rhythm and blues in particular) for profit. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were two such fellows. The remarkable string of hits they produced for The Coasters, The Drifters, and Elvis opened the ears of disaffected teenagers everywhere and strong-armed the cementing of a nationwide youth culture.
The long-running Broadway smash Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller provides a big, bubbly showcase for these tunes. Think Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Spanish Harlem, etc. If you were born between 10 and 80 years ago (and were assuming you were), you'll recognize a good many of the songs. Post-boomers will know them, of course, from nostalgic movies, oldies radio stations, and fake-diner jukeboxes. However, whats easy to forget is just how heavily (if intuitively) these tunes have informed our sense of what popular music is, even if they hardly resemble the Top 40 of today.