Remembering Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber Melissa Block talks with soul singer Ben E. King about the passing of two legendary songwriters, Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber, this week. Nick Ashford of Ashford and Simpson co-wrote some of Motown's biggest hits including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." He died at Monday at age 70. Jerry Leiber penned the lyrics for songs such as "Jailhouse Rock" for Elvis — and one of Ben E. King's signature tunes "Spanish Harlem." Lieber also died on Monday. He was 78.
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Remembering Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber

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Remembering Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber

Remembering Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber

Remembering Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber

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Melissa Block talks with soul singer Ben E. King about the passing of two legendary songwriters, Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber, this week. Nick Ashford of Ashford and Simpson co-wrote some of Motown's biggest hits including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." He died at Monday at age 70. Jerry Leiber penned the lyrics for songs such as "Jailhouse Rock" for Elvis — and one of Ben E. King's signature tunes "Spanish Harlem." Lieber also died on Monday. He was 78.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Another great American songwriter died yesterday - lyricist Jerry Leiber.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPANISH HARLEM")

BLOCK: That's Ben E. King singing. The duo of Leiber and Mike Stoller is responsible for an incredible list of memorable tunes: "Hound Dog," "Poison Ivy," "Yackety Yack."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YACKETY YACK")

BLOCK: Mr. King, welcome to the program.

BEN E: Thank you, Melissa. How are you?

BLOCK: I'm fine, thanks. You sang and also, I gather, co-wrote one of the most famous Leiber and Stoller songs. And that's "Stand By Me."

KING: Exactly.

BLOCK: What do you think makes that song such a keeper?

KING: I would imagine it's just one of those songs that people connect with a lot of different feelings of what one might have when they say, stand by me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY ME")

BLOCK: So Ben E. King, these are your words here; you wrote the lyrics. What was Jerry Leiber's contribution here?

KING: When I introduced the song to him at the piano - and they would say well, instead of you saying this, say that, kind of thing, you know, as well as the great arrangement they came up with - one that as soon as you hear the song, you know the song instantly.

BLOCK: Do you have a favorite memory of working with Jerry Lieber, some moment in the studio that really comes back to you now?

KING: So they were kind enough - and I thought they were joking - they said, we're going to get you a label. And I thought they was really kidding, but they actually went right back to Atlantic Records, and had them give me a contract to stay a solo artist. If it wasn't for those two, I would not be Ben E. King.

BLOCK: Is that right?

KING: That's true.

BLOCK: What do you think that Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller understood about vocalists?

KING: I would imagine they understood what the vocalist had not had in his career, and they would give it to him. Because I would never think of myself as singing songs like - and "Spanish Harlem," to me, was very strange to sing because it was like an R song and such. And from the time that I heard "Spanish Harlem" I said, oh, my God, this is not going to be a hit record.

BLOCK: Really? What was it about "Spanish Harlem" that you thought, this is not going to work?

KING: Well, it's very moving. It's like da-da-dee-da-da-da-da. It's like singing opera, ba-da-ba-ba-ba-ba-da. It moves and moves and moves, and never stops. That's not what we do in gospel. But when they introduced me to "Spanish Harlem," it was totally different.

BLOCK: The combination of these two death - of Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford on the same day - it makes you think a lot about what creates a lasting song. What songs are going through your head over the last day, as you think about the deaths of Jerry Leiber and of Nick Ashford?

KING: Well, when I think about Jerry, of course, then there's "Spanish Harlem" and then definitely "Stand By Me," and then there's "Save the Last Dance For Me." I can just keep going and going and going until we run out of tape.

BLOCK: And what about for Nick Ashford? What song of his is really in front of your mind right now?

KING: Oh, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," definitely, because it gives all of what you need to have - to have strength to survive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH")

BLOCK: Ben E. King, thanks so much for talking with me.

KING: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's Ben E. King, remembering the songwriters Jerry Lieber and Nick Ashford.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH")

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