Song Of The Week: “Love Is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia

Mickey & Sylvia Love Is Strange EPC’mere, Lover Boy!

It isn’t often that a music teacher and his student team up to write a million-selling single right out of the gate, but that’s exactly what Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanderpool did in 1956. Inspired by the success of Les Paul & Mary Ford, Mickey & Sylvia plugged in their guitars and hit the studio to sing a surprisingly suggestive song for the rather staid decade.

Result? #1 on the R&B chart. #11 on the Pop chart. It’s been covered (or sampled) by everyone from Paul McCartney to Pitbull, Sonny & Cher to Peaches & Herb.

But hey, what fun would this tiny tale be if there wasn’t a little controversy? Bo Diddley recorded the first version of the song a few months earlier than the duo and claimed to have written the lyrics (if not more). Mickey & Sylvia insisted otherwise. All three are credited although Diddley had to use his wife’s name for some weird publishing reason. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Mickey & Sylvia liveMickey & Sylvia continued to perform and had some very minor hits over the next few years but ended their association in the mid-60s, never coming close to hitting the heights of their first collaboration. Mickey, frustrated with the music business, moved to France to play jazz for the next 40 years while Sylvia stayed in the game long enough to have a huge proto-disco hit with “Pillow Talk” in 1973. Her most lasting influence, however, arguably rests with her co-founding of Sugarhill Records, ground zero for the rap and hip-hop genres.

Alright. Enough preamble. Let’s get to the reason why at least half of us know this song. It’s certainly the first time I personally recall hearing it. Seems like only yesterday…

It was the summer of 1963 and I was vacationing in the Catskills with my family prior to heading off to college in the fall. Sparks flew between me and the dance instructor, Johnny, resident misunderstood bad boy with a heart of gold…

Wait a minute… That wasn’t me…. That’s the plot of Dirty Dancing!

(I only wish it were me. I’m like the wind, too, Patrick.)

Mickey & Sylvia – “Love Is Strange”

PS Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

6 thoughts on “Song Of The Week: “Love Is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia

  1. Love. Dirty. Dancing. If there were such a thing as movie camp, where you could go on location and act out your favourite scenes from a movie of your choosing, then Dirty Dancing would be at the top of my list!

    (One night, many moons ago, a group of us from work went out on the town to send off one of the girls before she left for another job. My boss had brought in hot rollers to curl my hair in the stock room (apparently I had no hair skills). My hair looked ridiculous when the rollers came out and one of the girls said, “Honey, we need to fix that!” So she had me whip my hair back and forth (insert Willow Smith joke) until my neck made funny noises and the ringlets had relaxed into waves. When I changed out of my work clothes and into a white peasant top, one of the other girls told me I looked just like Baby. All I needed was to find my Johnny. The evening delivered a find hangover instead.)

    Gotta love the room tone of “Love Is Strange” (not to mention that sassy guitar). Sounds like you’re right there in the studio with them! They knew how to record in those days, didn’t they? Man oh man.

    I didn’t know any of the tidbits about the song or Mickey & Sylvia. Interesting history!

    • Hope you got some pictures for yourself! This is one of those movies that, along with “Little Mermaid” and “Pretty Woman,” my sister played seemingly hundreds of times in the very early 90s. In all 3 cases I didn’t care about the movies at all initially but would watch a few minutes more each time I passed through the room, week after week, until it got to the point where I was watching the whole thing. Loved all 3 by the time I left for college.

      • (Gah! That story came across as a bit vain, didn’t it?)

        I also watched The Little Mermaid countless times. Definitely watched Pretty Woman more than once but not nearly as often as DD and TLM. Interesting content for a young, impressionable mind to chew on.

  2. Pingback: Song Of The Week: “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang | 1 2 3 o' clock 4 o' clock Rock

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