"He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)," The Crystals (1962)
In light of her later reputation as a beacon of female empowerment, it's jarring to realize that King had a hand in creating this notorious paean to abuse, which makes "Chains" scan like a feminist anthem by comparison. Even more troubling is that the song has its roots in reality. Eva Boyd arrived at Goffin and King's home one night covered in bruises after a visit with her boyfriend. The concerned couple questioned her, but, as King remembered in her 2012 memoir, "she sort of smiled before she went to her room, and she said, 'He really loves me.'" Boyd and her boyfriend would reportedly marry by the end of the year.
Disturbed and dumbfounded by Boyd's response, Goffin attempted to write lyrics that gave voice to a problem that didn't yet have a name.
"He was like, 'Really?' King explained in a 2012 interview with NPR. "It wasn't speaking for me, but it was something that Gerry wanted to write because he felt the same and [this] was his way of getting it out there. Maybe he had a little irony going in his mind because he was really intelligent. ... So maybe that's why it got written."
Whatever irony might have been intended was lost in the song's chilling arrangement. In a macabre twist, "He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)" was produced by future convicted murderer Phil Spector, who insisted the Crystals sing the song with utmost sincerity. The women had a hard time summoning the emotion. "That was weird for us," confirms La La Brooks of the Crystals in a 2011 issue of Mojo. "We were thrown aback by the song. I'm a teenager at the time. [Crystals singer] Barbara [Alston] was a little uneasy doing it. And I was trying to figure out the song and why Phil would record something like this. Barbara was so turned off because she was singing the lyrics and can't feel anything. So in the studio Phil was telling her, 'Don't be so relaxed on it.'"
"He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)" was met with an immediate outcry when it was released that July. Few bought it, and many radio stations refused to play it after fielding angry calls from listeners. Spector, rarely one to back down, ultimately withdrew the single. Even as an album track on the Crystal's 1963 LP He's a Rebel, the song remained infamous.
Half a century later, King has an uneasy relationship with the title. "I wrote the music to 'He Hit Me (and It Felt Like A Kiss).' Obviously, I'm complicit in having written that song. I kind of wish I hadn't written any part of that song, but Gerry wrote that lyric. … And I think in some ways – I'm only speculating – that for some women that may be the only manifestation of what they perceive as love. And that's certainly true for the woman in that song. And you know, that's all wrong. So, again, that's one song I kind of wish I hadn't had any part of writing."