Aaron Schroeder: Songwriter who wrote for Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Nat 'King' Cole
Friday 26 February 2010
The New York publisher and 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. Several of his 300 published compositions were recorded by Elvis Presley, including the multi-million seller "It's Now or Never" (1960). He liked to say, not entirely in jest, "I don't read music – that's why I make so much money."
Aaron Harold Schroeder, who 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.
Presley stockpiled songs to cover his time in the US army and he had great success with Schroeder's songs "I Got Stung" (later recorded by Paul McCartney) and "A Big Hunk O' Love". When Presley returned to civilian life in 1960, Schroeder wrote his first hit, "Stuck on You".
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.
Schroeder appeared as a songwriter in the rock'n'roll film Disc Jockey Jamboree (1957), in which Carl Perkins sang his song "Glad All Over". 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).
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.
Among his other songs were "Apron Strings" (the B-side of Cliff Richard's No 1, "Living Doll"), "Cincinnati Fireball" (Johnny Burnette), "Make Me Know You're Mine" (Conway Twitty), "Wildcat" (Gene Vincent), "Lucky Devil" (Frank Ifield), "Because They're Young" (Duane Eddy) and "Twixt 12 and 20" (Pat Boone).
In 1966, Mike Jeffrey, the manager of the Animals, arranged a publishing deal for Jimi Hendrix with a company, Yameta, which was incorporated in a tax haven in the Bahamas. Yameta, in turn, formed a partnership with Schroeder, ensuring that Hendrix received relatively little for his songs, perhaps as little as £10 in £100.
Schroeder negotiated the music rights for Hanna-Barbera's animated productions and he wrote the theme song for Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969). In 1978, Schroeder wrote a US country No 1, "She Can Put Her Shoes Under My Bed Anytime", for Johnny Duncan, but it was his past successes that consolidated his income. He would tell songwriters, "Your songs are your children – they take care of you when you are old." By promoting celebrity concerts, he and his wife did much to improve the fortunes of the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
Aaron Harold Schroeder, songwriter and music publisher: born Brooklyn 7 September 1926; married Abby (one daughter); died Englewood, New Jersey 2 December 2009.
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