This was the 6th album I ever bought, in the fall of 1965; the local Top 40 outlet was playing the heck out of the title track, though it never broke above #55 nationally. Still, it was Billy Strange’s biggest hit single; his only previous chart item was, of all things, a cover of Monty Norman’s and/or John Barry’s James Bond theme, which landed at #58 the year before.
At the time, I wasn’t up on Strange’s studio work, though Wink Martindale, who wrote the liner notes, clued me in:
[Strange] was a guitar plater on my first Dot record, “Deck of Cards,” which turned out to be a million seller… His ability to adapt his very “commercial” sound and style is reflected in the hundreds of record companies who continually demand that Billy handle the guitar work on their records.
There’s no telling how many sessions he did. One that gets no mention on his Wikipedia page was Phil Spector’s 1962 deconstruction of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, featuring a fearsome lead vocal by Darlene Love and, courtesy of Strange, one of the most distorted guitar solos in history. When he wasn’t playing, he was arranging: all those Nancy Sinatra songs, with or without Lee Hazlewood, were Strange concoctions. And sometimes he did both: see, for instance, the Partridge Family’s ineffable “I Think I Love You.” (The official discography is really, really long.)
WFMU gave him a proper sendoff when he died on Wednesday, and noted:
Unlike some of his contemporaries dabbling in the solo-instro LP racket (Al Caiola et al), Strange’s LPs were not generic.
Which I learned early on. The very last track on Goldfinger was the most amped-up version of Elmer Bernstein’s theme from Man with the Golden Arm you’ll ever hear. Very unlike Wink Martindale’s recitation about a GI busted for playing cards in church, but such was the range of Billy Strange.