Aaron Schroeder, Elvis Songwriter

By: Spencer Leigh
Source: www.elvis.com.au
March 10, 2010

Songwriter Aaron Schroeder was one of the key figures around the Brill Building in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a songwriter who preferred to collaborate with others, especially in improving the commerciality of a promising song. He liked to say, not entirely in jest, 'I don't read music – that's why I make so much money'.

It was with Presley that he had his greatest success, co-writing no fewer than five chart-topping hits for the singer. A Big Hunk o' Love in 1959 was followed in 1960 with Stuck on You and It's Now or Never, which Schroeder and his co-writer Wally Gold based on the Italian standard O Sole Mio. Good Luck Charm went to No 1 in 1962 and finally I Got Stung, originally a 1958 B-side, made No 1 in Britain on its re-release in 2005.

Aaron Harold Schroeder was born in Brooklyn in 1926, was a competent pianist, mostly playing by ear, who was first attracted to the big bands of the 1940s. An early success was with At a Sidewalk Penny Arcade (1948), which was recorded by both Rosemary Clooney and Guy Lombardo. In 1955, he was working as a staff writer for the publishing company Hill and Range when he learnt that they were supplying songs to Elvis Presley, who had been signed to RCA-Victor Records. Schroeder was asked to improve a song by other staff writers, I Was the One, and the result was the B-side of Heartbreak Hotel and made the US Top 20 in its own right.

Schroeder was so impressed with Presley that he said to another songwriter, Clyde Otis, 'I've got a title, Anyway That You Want Me (That's How I Will Be), so let's write the song'. It was released as the B-side to Love Me Tender, and, again, made the US Top 20 in its own right.

Schroeder also wrote one of the first tribute songs to Presley, My Boy Elvis by Janis Martin.

While serving in the US army, Presley developed a taste for Mario Lanza's recordings and took to singing O Sole Mio for his own amusement. Presley's publisher, Freddy Bienstock, wanted a new English lyric, and Schroeder and Wally Gold wrote It's Now or Never in 30 minutes. The record, which was released in 1960, sold 20 million copies. Schroeder used his windfall to start his own label, Musicor. Whenever Schroeder was away from home, he would buy his wife, Abby, a new charm for her bracelet. This led to him and Gold composing Good Luck Charm (1962), another trans-Atlantic chart-topper for Presley.

Besides writing rock'n'roll songs, Schroeder maintained his contact with more traditional singers. In 1958, Frank Sinatra had a hit with French Foreign Legion and Perry Como with Mandolins in the Moonlight. Nat 'King' Cole recorded two of Schroeder's songs, Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) and Time and the River (1960).

Among his other songs were Apron Strings (a hit by Cliff Richard but also tried out by Elvis), Cincinnati Fireball (Johnny Burnette), Make Me Know You're Mine (Conway Twitty) and Because They're Young by Duane Eddy.

A fledgling songwriter, Gene Pitney, showed Schroeder his work and Schroeder was so impressed that he encouraged him to become a performer as well as a songwriter, effectively establishing the Musicor label through his success. Pitney, who sometimes wrote under his mother's maiden name, Anne Orlowski, co-wrote Rubber Ball (a hit for Bobby Vee and Marty Wilde), Today's Teardrops (a B-side for Roy Orbison) and Talkin' in My Sleep (Billy Fury) with Schroeder, while Schroeder placed his song Hello Mary Lou with Ricky Nelson.

Schroeder produced many of Pitney's singles, including the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Only Love Can Break a Heart and 24 Hours from Tulsa, but Bacharach preferred to have control. Schroeder also wanted the publishing rights to the songs and in 1965 there was an argument over Bacharach and David's film song for Pitney, The Fool Killer. Schroeder's wheeling and dealing let him down and the song (about an axe murderer!) was not used in the film and had little application elsewhere. Instead, Bacharach and David shifted their attention to Dionne Warwick.

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