Sound of the City’s search for the quintessential New York City musician enters Round Two this week. Keep up with all the action here.
Both these acts scored upset victories in the first round of the Uptown bracket, with pioneering rock’n’roll songwriters Leiber & Stoller trouncing the sixth-seeded Yoko Ono and contemporary soul superstar Alicia Keys toppling the third-seeded Tito Puente. The former’s reign of hits ended decades ago—lyricist Jerry Leiber passed away last August—while Mrs. Swizz Beatz is still in her prime, though she’s taken a break of late to focus on motherhood. So who will win, the pair of men whose dustiest classics still set the standard for snotty youth culture anthems (yakety yak!), or the serious young lady who tries so hard to convince us she’s an old soul?
Leiber & Stoller: “Jailhouse Rock”
“Jailhouse Rock” was one in a string of Leiber & Stoller compositions made famous by Elvis Presley—they wrote the first, “Hound Dog,” for Big Mama Thornton in 1952, three years before this competition’s relevant timeframe. But the title track of The King’s 1957 film Jailhouse Rock remains one of his most enduring chart-toppers as a pop star, and his performance of it in the film is the most electric and iconic moment of his doubtlessly patchier career as a movie star.
Alicia Keys: “You Don’t Know My Name”
“You Don’t Know My Name,” from 2003’s The Diary of Alicia Keys, is not Keys’s biggest hit—it peaked at No. 3—but it may be her most beloved, and her most bewitching fusion of old and new. Though she got by with help from producer Kanye West, a sample of “Let Me Prove My Love To You” by The Main Ingredient, lighter-than-air backing harmonies from John Legend, and a video cameo by Mos Def, “You Don’t Know My Name” is Keys in a nutshell: a big, passionately voice-cracking performance gives way to a silly yet sexy spoken bridge, her piano cascading gorgeously over the Main Ingredient sample all the while.
Longevity: Obviously, there’s a pretty big gap here: songs like Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” feel as embedded in popular culture today as they did half a century ago. Even Keys’s earliest hits have only had one decade to be remembered (and not always fondly). It’s hard to imagine “Fallin'” will be so ubiquitous in 2051.
Innovations: Again, Leiber & Stoller helped create incredibly durable templates for fusing R&B, rock’n’roll and chart pop, while Keys is an utter traditionalist. Still, one has to give her credit for her classically trained piano prodigy-turned-around the way girl soul singer career arc—who would’ve thought that Tori Amos meets Mary J. Blige could be the formula for a blockbuster career?
Starpower: Here’s where Keys has the edge: Leiber & Stoller may be extremely famous for songwriters that never scored hits as artists, but Keys is one of music’s biggest stars to have emerged in the 21st century, with several chart-topping singles (both solo and with collaborators like Jay-Z and Usher), 30 million albums sold worldwide, and an armload of Grammys.
Intangibles: Keys is the kind of young classicist who’s known for constantly respecting her elders and paying tribute to her predecessors. But she’s already unexpectedly taken down one legend, so I wouldn’t put it past her to arise victorious over a few more.
Likely winner: Leiber & Stoller. They wrote timeless standards, while Keys merely writes hit songs that aspire to be timeless standards.