Sunday, January 23, 2011

THE CRYSTALS: "HE HIT ME (IT FELT LIKE A KISS)" (1962)

The Crystals

(Click above to hear "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)"

People tend to think of the girl-group era as being rife with frothy dance songs and cooing love balads, and for the most part that is correct. The Crystals recorded their share of upbeat pop tunes ("Da Doo Ron Ron," and "Then He Kissed Me" chief among them,) so many people are surprised to hear this haunting tune, which has attained cult status, was recorded by the same squeaky-clean group of young ladies.

The song, written by husband and wife writing team Carole King and Gerry Goffin was inspired by a true story. Little Eva (of "The Loco-Motion" fame) worked for the Goffins as a
baby-sitter. They noted that Eva was often black and blue and asked her what had happened, shocked to discover that the young woman was regularly beaten by her boyfriend. When King and Goffin pressed Eva to find out why she put up with such disgraceful treatment, the reply was: "because he loves me."

While the song was written as a protest song against such abuse, the song's meaning is obscured in the sparse, chilling production given the track by Phil Spector. Barbara Alston's vocals seem to be attempting to convince the audience as well as herself that the abuse is an expression of love, a classic example of Battered Woman Syndrome. The final line, "and when he hit me, he made me his" will send a sickening chill up the spine of the most cynical of listeners.

The song has been covered numerous times, very recently by the male-led band "Grizzly Bear" whose lead singer (who is gay) does not alter the gender of the abuser, and is one of the only artists to capture and echo Barbara Alston's chilling performance.

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