Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote a song first recorded in 1956 that’s become an R&B classic. It expresses something that might just make the Modern Cynical Guy shake his head with contempt.
I love a girl and Ruby is her name;
This girl don’t love me, but I love her just the same.
Oh, Ruby, Ruby, how I want ya.
Like a ghost I’m-a gonna haunt ya.
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, will you be mine?
He doesn’t have her, but his song is full of sweet optimism that one day he will. She’s worth it.
Jerry Leiber died Monday at the age of 78. He and Stoller are included among those called the architects of rock & roll. They wrote “Stand by Me,” “Hound Dog,” “Young Blood,” “Kansas City,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and numerous other songs, including the one I cited above, “Ruby Baby” – one of my favorites.
Music journalist David Fricke summarizes the influence of Leiber and Stoller this way:
More than any other top writing and production team in the Fifties, Leiber (words) and Stoller (music) initiated mainstream White America into the sensual and spiritual intimacies of urban Black culture that fueled the birth of rock & roll. Their songwriting captured the essence and nuances of Black music and language with a melodic invention, narrative ingenuity and cool hilarity that were true to the source while transcending it – heavy-duty R&B with a pop sensibility and lyric universality.
But words couldn’t capture what David Fricke is describing. You hear it and feel it when you listen to the songs. Songs like “Ruby Baby.” Now, that song captures devotion. Unrequited devotion, maybe. But devotion doesn’t sound so bad.