Bobby Hatfield: Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions (Omnivore Recordings)

Bobby Hatfield

When successful recording duos split, it’s an unfortunate reality that one member’s solo career will eclipse the other. It’s not a reflection on the talent of the lesser half; it’s simply a statistical reality. Bobby Hatfield, one-half of the duo The Righteous Brothers, may have been known as the voice behind “Unchained Melody,” but a solo recording career seemed of less interest to him. (His status as the lesser-known of the two would serve as the basis of a hilarious appearance on Cheers.) Yet it wasn’t as if he didn’t give it a shot; he would release some fine singles and a country-tinged album in 1971. Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions is a collection of preliminary recordings for an unrealized second album.

In 1971, Hatfield released his lone solo album, Messin’ In Muscle Shoals, a delightful soul and country hybrid that has since become a lost classic. Unfortunately, his label’s financial difficulties resulted in the album receiving little to no promotional backing. Undeterred, he soon signed a promising new record deal with Warner Brothers. Hatfield then connected with rising producer Richard Perry in December 1971 for a preproduction session at Apple StudiosStay With Me offers those sessions, as well as the results of further sessions in Los Angeles that would result in his final two solo singles.

On initial listen, Stay With Me suggests Hatfield did not seek to venture too far from his well-established sound. The material is generally soul and rock with a little hint of something harder. The title track is perhaps the most Righteous Brothers-like song here, yet it feels oddly lacking. His version of “In The Still Of The Night” doesn’t have the original’s harmonies, but his version is fantastic.  “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You” is a good-enough number; it’s by no means the best song in the world, but Hatfield puts his all into it. The version released in 1972 is unfortunate, though; the arrangement sounds like a knock-off of The Beatles‘ “Get Back.”  The best number here is his take on Marvin Gaye‘s “Baby Don’t You Do It,” a fun and funky take that is enjoyable fro start to finish.

Perhaps as an homage to George Harrison for allowing him use of Apple Studios–or that the studio band included Ringo Starr, Al Cooper, and Klaus Voorman–Hatfield recorded two of George’s songs. “What Is Life,” which had been a hit the previous year, appears here in two different takes. The first take offers a slower, more seductive Al Green-like interpretation, while the second offers a funkier, sped up version. Yet as intriguing as it seems, it’s somewhat clear that Hatfield had difficulties with it; he can’t quite reach the high notes the music requires. Though take seven is a bit looser and has a certain charm in its funkiness, Hatfield sounds bored and ready to move on to something less challenging. Much more intriguing is his take on “Sour Milk Sea,” the debut Apple single for Jackie Lomax. Hatfield’s smooth and angelic voice fits nicely inside the band’s groove.

The two singles that appeared from the session, “Stay With Me” and “Ooh Baby I Love You” would be released as singles in 1972, but both sank without a trace. Hatfield would find more satisfaction in being a Righteous Brother, and he soon reunited with his partner. They would continue to perform, until his sudden death in 2003 in his hotel room before a performance. Though Stay With Me may be brief and somewhat repetitive, it offers an intriguing glimpse down a road not taken.

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