Strange to the last

Goldfinger by Billy StrangeThis 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.


  1. Roger Green »

    25 February 2012 · 4:29 am


    I used to own that album. Probably got it from the Capitol Record Club. But it was stolen (as well as dozens of others, alphabetically A, B, and S-Z) from my grandmother’s house, where I was storing them, in 1972,

  2. CGHill »

    25 February 2012 · 10:17 am

    I still have mine, though it’s a bit battered over the years: as a 12-year-old at the time of acquisition, I did not start out with high-fidelity playback equipment. Rather than spend several hours trying to clean it up, I snagged another copy from the iTunes Store ($7.99), although part of the motivation here was surprise at seeing it still in, um, print. (GNP Crescendo has a Web site; some of their stuff is available only in CD-R.)

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