12 O'Clock Track: Barbara Lewis, "Hello Stranger"

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Ann Arbor's Barbara Lewis was planning to study nursing when her father learned that a local DJ who was managing the pop singer Del Shannon was on the lookout for songs for him to record. Lewis had been writing her own tunes for a decade for fun, and her mother encouraged her to submit a few to the DJ, Ollie McLaughlin, so she borrowed a friend's reel-to-reel tape recorder and sang some of her little ditties. McLaughlin asked for more and during the process was convinced to make some records with Lewis singing her own material. Within a couple of years she scored a huge, indelible hit, reaching number three on the pop charts and number one on the R&B charts with "Hello Stranger," a song she cut in Chicago with exquisite backing harmonies by the Dells, chill bossa nova-ish grooves, and coolly percolating organ licks. Today's 12 O'Clock Track turns up on the recent anthology The Complete Atlantic Singles (Real Gone Music), which collects both the A Sides and B Sides of the 17 singles she made for the label between 1962, when much of her repertoire came from her own hands, and 1968, when serious Brill Building songsmiths were contributing tunes for her (including another big hit from 1965 "Make Me Your Baby"). But for my money, nothing she did ever really eclipsed "Hello Stranger."

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