The song “Love is Strange” is possibly one of the most enduringly popular and instantly recognizable songs of the 20th century.
Written by Bo Diddley under his wife’s name (Ethel Smith) and released in 1957, the most well-known version of this song is sung by the duo “Mickey & Sylvia”, McHouston “Mickey” Baker and Sylvia Robinson, neé Vanterpool.
Its special sound and rhythm is based on a guitar riff by Jody Williams. Perhaps the reason why the first few seconds of this song and the song itself are so easily remembered can be attributed to two distinct elements:
The first, a special opening rhythm and a high pitched melody punctuating the verses, likened to a pleasing “tinkling” sound.
The second, Mickey and Sylvia’s dialogue, essentially speaking the lyrics, as opposed to singing them.
The song is short and may even be considered a bit tongue-in-cheek.
In my opinion, the song’s magic lies in its theme of love and fidelity, which many can relate to.
This may have added to its popularity, as the song touches on a personal note for many.
In addition, this versions’ rhythm and its suggestive spoken dialogue also adds to its rememberability.
To date, the song has been covered 21 times, most notably by Sonny and Cher, Peaches & Herb, and the Everly Brothers.
I believe the popularity of “Love is Strange” can be attributed to several factors:
Catchy lyrics which also rhyme and repeat
Likable, easily understood, and relatable theme
Its bright or high pitched repeating melody and keys
Its distinctive opening hook repeated throughout the song
Singing and musical “tricks” employed in the song, such as drawing out the last word of each verse or emphasizing the dialogue with key sounds
“Speechiness” (in Mickey & Sylvia’s version)
Mickey & Sylvia’s version appears in the film “Dirty Dancing” (1987) as an integral part of a scene, not as background music.
In the scene, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze lip sync and dance to the song.
Fun Fact: The song was not included on the “purchased” list of songs for the film, but the screenwriter and choreographer on set asked the actors to dance to it as practice for the scene while they filmed. After seeing the reel, the director refused to scrap it and insisted the budget be extended to include the song in the movie.
The movie’s steamy content, coupled with the teasingly provocative song lyrics, makes for a memorable scene.
To this day, this song and scene are referenced in pop culture and on social media applications (Tiktok, Instagram, Memes), which further extends its reach to a broader range of multi-generational audiences.
Regardless of its appearance in “Dirty Dancing”, this song is and remains a popular song on its own, due in part to its easy likability, fun rhythm, great melody and saucy dialogue.