The Coasters are a rhythm and blues vocal group from New York, New York. Originally based in Los Angeles, California, the group’s career is linked to their primary songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Early in their career, Leiber and Stoller wrote and produced a series of popular songs for the Robins. After their initial success, they signed a contract to work for Atlantic Records in New York City. Leiber and Stoller encouraged the Robins to follow; two members of the group, Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner, joined them. Adding two singers and a guitarist, the band’s new name reflected the move from the west coast to the east coast. The Coasters experienced great success in the late fifties, with lively, amusing stories of American teenage life. The Coasters were the first band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.
The Group Roster During Their Prime:
Two Other Important Members:
Leiber, Stoller and Curtis
Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) and Mike Stoller (b. 1933), songwriters, producers
King Curtis (1934-1971), saxophone
Yakety Yak, Don’t Talk Back
Take out the papers and the trash,
Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash,
If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor,
You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)
“Just put on your coat and hat,
And walk yourself to the laundromat,
And when you finish doin’ that,
Bring in the dog and put out the cat.
Yakety yak, (don’t talk back.)”
— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
“Yakety Yak” is a sub-two minute blast of shuffling rock and roll, punctuated by King Curtis’s saxophone iconic solo, which became known as “yakety sax”. The message is clear: finish your chores, or you don’t get to hang out with your friends tonight.
Three Cool Cats
My favorite Coasters song is “Three Cool Cats”, originally released as the flip side to the hit song “Charlie Brown” (Billboard #2, 1958). I learned about “Three Cool Cats” from The Beatles, who covered the song during their first major audition with Decca Records.
“Three cool cats, three cool cats.
Parked on the corner in a beat-up car,
Dividing up a nickel candy bar,
Talking all about how sharp they are, these
Three cool cats.
Three cool chicks, three cool chicks.
Walkin’ down the street, swingin’ their hips,
Splitting up a bag of potato chips,
And three cool cats did three big flips, for
Three cool chicks.
— Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Through the course of this exercise it’s becoming apparent I place a high value on song lyrics like these. Simple words, laced with a hint of common slang, that paint complex images of modern America. I can taste my favorite candy bar, and I can feel those swingin’ hips walking in my direction. “Three Cool Cats” is easy enough for a child to sing, and the subject matter is funny, and important.
Complex, poetic lyrics can be deeply moving, but simple words that evoke powerful imagery are just as impressive.
Coasters Song Notes:
1. A longer version of “Three Cool Cats” has surfaced in recent years, and can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo. I discovered it a few years ago as “Take 11-12” on an album called Charlie Brown, which no longer appears to be available.
2. Several alternate takes of “Yakety Yak” can be found on These Hoodlum Friends: The Coasters In Stereo.
3. I just learned that “Poison Ivy” is a sly ode to sexually transmitted disease. How did I not figure that out?
Three Cool Cats (Take 11-12), The Coasters ★★★★
Three Cool Cats, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak, The Coasters ★★★
Yakety Yak (Take 5), The Coasters ★★★
Down In Mexico, The Coasters ★★★
Poison Ivy, The Coasters ★★★
Shoppin’ For Clothes, The Coasters ★★
Charlie Brown, The Coasters ★★
Young Blood, The Coasters ★
Searchin’ The Coasters ★
Along Came Jones, The Coasters ★
Riot In Cell Block #9, The Robins ★
Smokey Joe’s Cafe, The Robins ★
Framed, The Robins ★
Three Cool Cats, The Beatles ★
Double Crossing Blues, Johnny Otis (with Little Esther and The Robins) ★