Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber
Listen/Download – Mike Stoller and the Stoller System – Silver Sea Horse
Listen/Download – Mike Stoller and the Stoller System – Numero Uno
I hope all is well in your corner of the world.
Once in a great while, in the midst of music acquisition, one stumbles upon a record that seems to have become wedged in a forgotten fold of the universe, that when shaken free reveals itself to be a forgotten gem.
The records I bring you today are that, and then some.
I can’t recall how I stumbled upon ‘Silver Sea Horse’, but I suspect that it was during a routine browse through a list of records for sale that had been brought to my attention.
Though I consider myself a huge fan of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and someone who has plumbed the depths of the less obvious catacombs of their ouvre, I had never heard of the Stoller System.
Once I saw the record (it only cost three bucks) I pulled the trigger and awaited its arrival in the old mail slot eagerly, not expecting a whole lot, yet knowing that when it came, no matter what it sounded like it would slip another leaf into great book of Leiber & Stoller-iana.
So, the disc shows up, and I slip it under the needle, and within a few short seconds, it became immediately obvious that this was one of those rare discs that seemed to have been engineered with a map of the pleasure centers of my brain at hand.
There, in just hair over three minutes, was a forgotten (unjustly) slice of a musical zeitgeist so wonderful, so able to bring to mind the very essence of a very specific time, that I was transported, listening to it over and over again at least half a dozen times.
The likelihood that the Stoller System was anything more specific than a group of studio musicians put together by Leiber and Stoller to bring this music to life is very slim.
There were two singles released under than name on the Amy label in 1968, comprising a total of four songs, all instrumentals.
Other than that, there is little to no information out there on the project, other than listings in Leiber/Stoller discographies.
The material I’ve heard (my 45 of Silver Sea Horse is a two-sided, mono/stereo disc) is all interesting, falling into the wide category of mood music with a leaning – at least to my ears – toward what one might expect to find on a TV or movie soundtrack of the day.
‘Silver Sea Horse’ is – in a word – magical.
Credited to ‘Mike Stoller and the Stoller System’, with arrangement by Stoller and production by Leiber and Stoller, ‘Silver Sea Horse’ sounds like the result of dream session in which Burt Bacharach, Vince Guaraldi and Herb Alpert came together.
Featuring a wonderful, hook-laden melody, delivered with smooth brass, electric harpsichord and subtle Latin percussion (dig the cuica!) it’s not too far off the mark from Bacharach pieces like ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ or ‘Nikki’, or some of the later, non-Peanuts instrumental music that Guaraldi was doing for Warner Brothers.
The second track I bring you – ‘Numero Uno’ – comes from the only other Stoller System 45. This track is also – perhaps to a slightly lessert extent – a pastiche of spy/suspense themes, also sampling liberally from the bushel basket of musical signifiers, including booming timpani, martial snares, piccolo trumpet (or something like it) wrapped in an upbeat, mod theme.
Standing side by side with ‘Silver Sea Horse’ it almost sounds as if someone had challenged Stoller to come up with these themes to purposely emulate the sounds mentioned. He (and Leiber) clearly had an “ear” for such things, so good in fact that both of the tunes posted here manage to conjure up their respective “worlds” without sounding kitschy or parodic.
I don’t know if any of the four tracks were just a small, ‘vanity’ exercise for Stoller, or if they were perhaps repurposed from some forgotten project. If anyone knows, please pass along the information.
I hope you dig them as much as I do.
See you next week
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