"Love Is Strange" was a 1957 Top 40 hit for Mickey & Sylvia, originally released on Groove Records, a division of RCA. It reached #11 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, becoming their only Top 20 hit. The song features a sinuous guitar riff and provocative verbal byplay between Mickey and Sylvia as well as a Latin American beat and a strong melodic hook. The lyrics consist of just eight lines, each of which uses the same basic tune, with some variances in the harmony. The role of the lead guitar, the bright recording technique, and the lush melody had an influence that can be clearly heard in many more modern rock songs, notably "Day Tripper" and other guitar-driven Beatles songs. Dave "Baby" Cortez used the same break riff as "Love is Strange" on his 1962 hit "Rinky Dink", got sued for copying down that melodic riff, and had to pay thousands of dollars in damages to both Mickey and Sylvia. The 1963 song "Killer Joe" by one-hit wonders the Rocky Fellers, bears more than a passing similarity to the chorus of "Love is Strange," though it never sparked a lawsuit.
In addition to its musical quality, the song is remarkable as an instance of convergence. Although only a one-hit wonder, the recording was touched by, or touched, a large number of important people and musical trends, even down to a dispute over authorship.
Mickey was Mickey Baker, guitarist on dozens of rock and roll hits and many recordings, considered the "go to" session guitar player of the 1950s and early 1960s. Sylvia was Sylvia Vanderpool, formerly billed as Little Sylvia Vanderpool, who became in the 1980s the impresario behind Sugar Hill Records and a major force in the emergence of rap music. The song was written by Bo Diddley, (but credited to his wife at the time, Ethel Smith), and Jody Williams, who had developed the distinctive lead guitar riff. Williams had recorded the riff earlier on a song called "Billy's Blues" for Billy Stewart. Eventually the song ended up being credited to Smith, Baker and Vanderpool. Buddy Holly recorded a version of the song and also adopted the riff and melody for his own "Words of Love".
Jazz musician Everett Barksdale plays rhythm guitar on the recording. The song also marked the first recording of drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, who went on to become one of the most recorded drummers of all time.
Lonnie Donegan recorded a version which appeared on the B-side of his 1957 hit single, "Cumberland Gap". The Everly Brothers released a rendition in 1965 as a single and on their Beat & Soul album. In 1967, the duo Peaches & Herb had Top 20 success with their own cover version of the song. Sonny and Cher also covered the song in 1964. Paul McCartney sang it as a duet with wife Linda on the Wings album Wild Life (1971). In 1975, Buck Owens and Susan Raye had a Top 20 country hit with the song. Everything but the Girl covered the song on their album Acoustic, and scored a #13 hit in the U.K. with it. Chubby Checker, accompanied by Dee Dee Sharp, covered the song on the 1960 record "Twist with Chubby Checker". Also in 1998, German synth-pop band Wolfsheim did a cover of the song for their EP "Once in a Lifetime".
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