ALBUMS: A Forgotten Gem From A Righteous Brother

A stirring new collection highlights the time Bobby Hatfield entered the Beatles Multiverse

Bobby Hatfield (Art: Ron Hart)

Artist: Bobby Hatfield

Album: Stay with Me: The Richard Perry Sessions

Label: Omnivore Recordings

★★★ 1/2 (3.5/5 stars)


Duos are generally so well defined by both of the partners involved that when one of them departs to make music on his or her own, it’s uncertain at best as to whether the magic will remain.

Sonny without Cher fared far worse than Cher without Sonny. The Everly Brothers were never the same once Don and Phil went their separate ways. Simon and Garfunkel? The former’s done quite well, but the latter still seems somewhat lacking. The examples go on and on.

Fortunately, the Righteous Brothers knew better than to mess with the formula that brought them their steady string of hit singles throughout the mid ‘60s. Still, that didn’t prevent Bobby Hatfield, the duo’s alto-voiced counterpoint to Bill Medley’s husky tenor, from making a limited venture out on his own. It was his solo vocal entirely that took the Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” to the top of the charts and later, his 1969 rendition of the Platters’ classic “Only You” also found moderate success as well. Sadly however, his only solo album released two years later, Messin’ In Muscle Shoals, sunk like a stone.

 

AUDIO: Bobby Hatfield Messin’ In Muscle Shoals (full album)

Nevertheless, that didn’t close the books on Hatfield’s solo career, even though nothing more came from any ongoing effort. Yet as the surprise appearance of Stay with Me: The Richard Perry Sessions suggests, there was some promise and potential in store as far as one future endeavor was concerned. Producer Richard Perry, on a hot streak at the time courtesy of the hits he had overseen for Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Nilsson and Fanny, found time for some preliminary sessions with Hatfield in 1971, all of which have remained unreleased up until now. Some of this eventually aborted album simply consists of different takes, while others are fully fleshed out and worthy of a replay. Likewise, while some of the choices are prerequisite examples of well-trod standards (“Stay With Me,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Baby Don’t You Do It”), others offerings are far more interesting. Two distinctive takes on George Harrison’s “What Is Life,” a song culled from All Things Must Pass, fares well, as does the otherwise obscure “Sour Milk Sea,” a song Harrison wrote while in India that was initially intended for the Beatles’ White Album. It was later given to Jackie Lomax for his first and only Apple album, only to have Hatfield effectively rehash it here.

Bobby Hatfield Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions, Omnivore Recordings 2020

Given that many of these sessions transpired at the recording studio located in the basement of Apple headquarters, it’s little surprise that the Beatles references seem to surface throughout. In addition to such ace session players as Klaus Voorman, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Al Kooper, and Chris Stainton, Ringo himself took part, and it’s his iconic shuffle that drove “Get Back” which makes its mark on the three versions of “Oo Wee Bay, I Love You” included here.  Mostly though, Stay With Me sticks to the formula both Perry and Hatfield procured early on — a well-honed combination of archival rock and roll and large, over-arched balladry. 

Sadly, despite the pair’s best efforts, up until now the only evidence of these sessions were a pair of singles that quickly floundered and, along with the test of these tracks, vanished into undeserved obscurity. Looking back from the vantage point of nearly 50 years on, Stay With Me still manages to make a lingering impression. 

 

VIDEO: Trailer for Bobby Hatfield Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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