Love is Strange

Thu Oct 17 2013

First a warning: I am not Cal. It's been a long time since I authored anything here, a forum that Mr. @roachcraft is kind enough to share with me on occasion.

Occasionally the bug strikes me to write something here, and sometimes I actually have time to do it. This time, it started with a commercial. This Nationwide Insurance commercial really has nothing to do with the 1957 Mickey & Sylvia hit Love is Strange, but it has the word "baby" in it a lot and ohhhh our commercial is about big babies and omg I bet our target market remembers this song from Dirty Dancing so yeah let's use it!!! ........

I'm loathe to even link to the thing but here it is so you know what I'm talking about.

But this isn't about the commercial. It's about the fact that the commercial got this song's infectious guitar lick and lyrics stuck in my head. Bad. Almost ruined it. A couple days ago, I looked it up on Spotify in an attempt to rid it from my head via a full listen. In the process, I realized this is a song that, like many great songs, has inspired a fair collection of artists (of varying talent) to both give it tribute, and try make it their own.

If you believe Wikipedia (heavily referenced in writing this article), there is disagreement over who penned the original lyrics. But Bo Diddley was the first to record it. His recording however was not released until the 2007 box set, The Chess Masters 1955-1958.

Though I did not research deeply, one source reports that Bo did not want to record the song due to a conflict with his publishers, so he gave it to Mickey and Sylvia, who turned it into a #1 R&B hit. The spoken dialog section obviously makes the song memorable (cue another Dirty Dancing reference).

A handful of other popular artists covered the tune, usually following the same basic song structure. Duets by Chubby Checker / Dee Dee Sharp (1960), Sonny and Cher (1964), Peaches & Herb (1967), and Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton (1990) are certainly not straightforward covers, but in my mind do not add enough to make them stand on their own.

On the other hand, Buddy Holly turned the song into a soothing experience, almost a lullabye. His string-heavy version was not released until 1969.

A slightly creepier version features some distracting Elvis-sounding backing vocalists.

In 1971, Sir Paul McCartney released what's probably the favorite cover I've found, a really groovin duet with Linda on the Wings album Wild Life. I'm not sure whether Sir Paul still plays this one live, but after being brought to tears by his performance at Miller Park this summer, the song would have to be on my dream McCartney setlist. Not sure Cal would agree!

From here, we wander into the strange (pardon the pun) and amusing. There's the humorous Love is Strange/Stay doo-wop mashup (?) duet recorded live by Jackson Browne and David Lindley...

... and a synthpop version by the German duo Wolfsheim.

No song can truly be considered a classic however, until it has been covered by Cheech & Chong. This beautiful rendition really brings its own, while capturing the longing, sass, and sexiness of the original.

Finally there's the semi-cover by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's from the soundtrack to Tim Burton's 2012 Frankenweenie, complete with barks and howls from the Frankenweenie himself, Sparky.

I'm sure others could write a more insightful analysis of each artist's version, and what each brought to it (especially Cheech), but for me it was just fun to discover yet another song that has inspired so many artists to try to make it their own. Perhaps due to my love for live acts like Pearl Jam and Phish that due it so often, and so well. Hope someone else gets a kick out of it too.

- Nick

Comments on this article from long ago

2013-10-18 Jim
To my knowledge Sir Paul has never played "Love is Strange" live. Even back to the 1972 University and European Wings' Tours this one didn't get a bust out. Would be nice but I don't know if McCartney's version will ever see the light of day live.
2013-10-18 cal
McCartney's version is certainly my fave (Wild Life=so underrated!), but I wouldn't put it on my dream setlist, because a) it wouldn't be right without Linda, and b) I have always hated this song in my wife's eternal annoyance because she loves it. Of course who could hate the Cheech & Chong version?

Also, I’d say @youphoric is really the one kindly sharing his blog with me…I just happen to be writing more of the time.

2013-10-18 youphoric
Yeah Cal it did occur to me this morning that this one wouldn't be right or even likely without Linda.

The question now is, when will Skrillex release an EDM version?

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