Monday, January 21, 2013
The strings tip-toe around the whispering percussion, and then the girl states her case: "He hit me, and it felt like a kiss". Turns out that she slept with another guy, confesses to her boyfriend the next day, and he smacks her up. Call 911 and have the cops haul this guy away? No. Call the record company, because they have a different kind of hit ready to go.
The perpetrators? Convicted ladykiller Phil Spector and co-songwriter/feminist icon Carole King, along with King's husband Gerry Goffin. The Crystals recorded this 7-inch single in May and June of 1962, with Spector at the mixing board and teenaged singer Barbara Alston behind the microphone. Shortly after, it was released to a public who, at the dawning of the Women's Liberation movement, were shocked at a record that so brazenly condoned violence against women. Immediately recalled and shelved, the song grew in cult stature until by 1994, Courtney Love recorded an ironic cover version of it.
"He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)" grows more tense as Alston sings about her boyfriend beating her up because he loved her; "he hit me, and I knew he loved me, if he didn't care for me, I could have never made him mad." And then the orchestra swells, the back-up singers explode, and the song climaxes, with Barbara Alston full-throatedly declaring, "he hit me, and I was glad!"
Listening to this song is like viewing violent pornography: You know its wrong, but it is sugar-coated and engineered to turn you on. "He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)" makes me nauseous, and this is why I love music.
One final note: Despite Spector's best attempts, The Crystals were not merely puppets for his agenda. When touring the segregated South, member La La Brooks refused to pander to white fans. "If I can't go to their bathrooms, then why should they have my autograph?" That sounds better than turning the other cheek.