Love, they say, is strange, and by “they” I mean Mickey and Sylvia:
This song was strange in several regards. For one, it came out in 1956 on Groove Records, the RCA Victor R&B label, and who knew RCA Victor even had an R&B label? It was an enormous hit, and for some reason RCA closed down Groove shortly thereafter, only to reopen it as a country label. For another, according to the record label, McHouston (Mickey’s real name) Baker and Ethel Smith wrote it. This matters only if you know that (1) Bo Diddley recorded this song first, though his recording remained unreleased until 2007, and (2) Bo Diddley, about this time, was married to a woman named Ethel Smith.
Sylvia, whose last name was Vanderpool, married a fellow named Joe Robinson; in 1973 she recorded something called “Pillow Talk,” which is nearly as brilliant a blend of the erotic and the hilarious as “Love Is Strange.” (She’d offered the song to Al Green, but Reverend Al wouldn’t touch it.) She and Joe later set up Sugar Hill Records, among the oldest of the old-school hip-hop labels.
Sylvia died in 2011; Mickey, who had moved to France in the 1960s, died last Tuesday.
And if you think you might have heard that guitar riff from “Love Is Strange” somewhere else, let me assure you that you did.