During rehearsals for their landmark single “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield reportedly asked producer/co-writer Phil Spector just what he was supposed to do while Bill Medley took the lead on the powerful song. Spector’s reply? “Go to the bank!” The producer wasn’t kidding, as the anthemic ballad became a No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, the fifth best-selling song of the U.S. in 1965, and the most-played song on radio and television of the entire 20th century. Hatfield would have his chance to shine with the Righteous Brothers – most notably on the hit-twice-over “Unchained Melody.” But now, Omnivore Recordings is shining a spotlight on the late Hatfield’s solo career with a compelling new release.
In 1971, Bobby was on his own. He and Medley had split in 1968, and while Medley quickly established himself as a solo artist, Hatfield persevered as a Righteous Brother with the enlistment of The Knickerbockers’ versatile Jimmy Walker. But their Re-Birth album hadn’t matched the heights of the Medley/Hatfield duo, and Hatfield decided to go it alone (again; he had previously released a number of solo singles as well as the 1970 album Messin’ in Muscle Shoals). Enter Richard Perry. The prolific producer had a busy year: in 1971, he helmed Barbra Streisand’s pop-rock breakthrough Stoney End, two albums from pioneering all-female band Fanny, Harry Nilsson’s seminal Nilsson Schmilsson, and even Johnny Mathis’ You’ve Got a Friend and Percy Faith’s Black Magic Woman. Somehow Perry also found the time to collaborate with Hatfield on a Warner Bros. LP that was never finished. All that surfaced was one single. After almost 50 years, Omnivore Recordings has righted that wrong with the release of Stay with Me: The Richard Perry Sessions.
Stay with Me premieres on CD the master takes of the two single sides released in spring and fall 1972 (“Stay with Me” and “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You”) as well as a selection of multiple takes of the project’s surviving six songs. While the album ultimately was shelved, the sessions were far from throwaways. Initially recording in December 1971 at Apple Studios in London, Perry enlisted the cream of the crop to accompany the singer: Ringo Starr on drums, Al Kooper on piano and guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, Chris Stainton on organ, Bobby Keys on saxophone, and Jim Price on trumpet. With Starr on board, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Hatfield and Perry’s rendition of Richard Parker’s “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You” (presented in Takes 2 and 3 as well as the final 45 mix) so closely resembles the thunderous rock-and-roll rumble of The Beatles’ “Get Back.” The single mix has overdubs including soulful female background vocals, but there’s a raw immediacy to the unvarnished takes that can’t be topped. George Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea,” written in Rishikesh, India, demoed by The Beatles, and produced by George for Apple artist Jackie Lomax, is all rollicking boogie-woogie with tasty piano licks from Kooper.
A subsequent Los Angeles session at Western Studio yielded the title track, Jerry Ragovoy and George David Weiss’ torrid “Stay with Me.” Both the first take and the released single version with a dense, echo-laden sound, are featured here. Hatfield’s earthy tenor, equal parts grit and beauty, inhabited the song from that very first attempt which was recorded live with orchestra and chorus. The majestic treatment of Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” (not to be confused with The Five Satins’ doo-wop classic) is a throwback to the standards milieu of “Ebb Tide” and “Unchained Melody,” with a lovely Hatfield vocal. “Run to My Lovin’ Arms,” first recorded by Jay and the Americans and also a hit across the pond for Billy Fury, is an even more overtly Righteous Brothers-esque track, with Hatfield’s resonant voice gliding over an orchestral backdrop.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is George Harrison’s “What Is Life,” stripped of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound grandiosity and reinvented as a taut, funky shot of rocking rhythm and blues. “What Is Life” was one of the first two tracks recorded in London, along with the piano-pounding Motown stomper “Baby Don’t You Do It.” A composite of Takes 4 and 11 resembles what a single version might have been like (minus its cold ending); Take 2 has an extended jam component from the vocalist and band. Hatfield’s own uptempo, electric guitar-heavy tune, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman,” closes Omnivore’s reimagining of this album that never was.
Bobby Hatfield and Richard Perry were both at the top of their respective games in 1971, and Stay with Me is a potent snapshot of their meeting at the crossroads of rock and soul. Roger O. Thornhill’s liner notes in the eight-page booklet (featuring a handful of remembrances from Richard Perry) inform us that Hatfield and Perry also tackled Derek and the Dominoes’ “Bell Bottom Blues” and Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” during the album sessions, but those tapes haven’t survived. Happily, Omnivore has rescued the balance of the material for this beautiful presentation produced by Brad Rosenberger, designed by Greg Allen, mixed by Brian Kehew, and mastered by Michael Graves. It all adds up to a must-have release from a blue-eyed soul hero. One might say it’s simply righteous.