Sniff sniff. Is that a hit pop song in the mid-1960s, by a band which were essentially one-hit wonders? With a simple, repeating riff and a chorus-verse-chorus-verse pattern? Why yes, it does smell like Brill in here! "Hang On Sloopy" was written by Wes Farrell and Bert Berns, the latter being the Brill Building alumnus, and while Bert Berns had already climbed out of the Brill trenches and established his own hit record label (Bang Records) by the time "Hang On Sloopy" came out... Well, you can take the boy out of Brill, but you can't get the Brill out of the boy.
Incidentally, try playing this back-to-back with "Louie Louie." Now pay attention to those notes - don't they sound similar? That might be why Johnny Thunders and the Oddballs played the two songs in medleys so much. As did Iggy Pop, more subtly.
In fact, the two songs were locked in a duel; Ross Shafer, of the late-night comedy series Almost Live! on the Seattle TV station KING, once lead an effort to have "Louie Louie" replace "Washington, My Home" as Washington's official state song. Though that fell through, Joe Dirck, columnist for the Columbus Citizen-Journal, wrote the story up for Ohio readers, which prompted the 116th Ohio General Assembly to designate "Hang On Sloopy" the state rock song, by order of House Concurrent Resolution #16 on November 20, 1985; your tax dollars at work.
It has since been adopted as the official song of the baseball team the Cleveland Indians, which gives Cleveland not one, but two hit rock songs (the other one is "Cleveland Rocks") for its official ballad.
Want further Brill ties? Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, former Brill alumni, were the team replaced by Bert Berns as Atlantic Records' staff producer, where he worked four years before leaving to found Bang Records in 1965. Now, the name "Bang" itself is interesting, because together with Bret and three other Atlantic executives, it is formed from their first name initials: Bert Berns, Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun and Gerald Wexler. Under Bang, Berns, together with the three former Leiber and Stoller colleagues, went on to release hits including The Strangeloves' "I Want Candy," Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," and Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry."
And, of course, "Hang On Sloopy." If the McCoys sound a little Hoosier, they are indeed from Union City, Indiana, composed of brothers Ricky and Randy Zehringer and bassist Dennis Kelly. "Sloopy" hung on to make it to the #1 hit, with American sales alone selling over one million copies. They would break the Top Ten once more with a cover of "Fever" (Billboard #7) and tag the Top 40 once with a cover of "Come On Let's Go" (Billboard #21).
As for the song's other author, Wes Farrell did nice for himself, as well. He went on to produce several more hits and own his own record label, Bell Records, before selling out to Screen Gems. Does that production company sound familiar? Why yes, Screen Gems did produce The Partridge Family, whose theme song "Come On, Get Happy" was written by none other than Wes Farrell.
Solomon Burke told Mojo magazine August 2008 that Berns, who at the time was his designated producer/writer, originally wrote an earlier version of this for him. However the soul legend turned it down.
Album : Best Of The McCoys Released : 1965 US chart position : 1 UK chart position : 5