During her college days (and my high school days) my sister acquired one album by the Lettermen: Hurt So Bad, a 1969 release. As is the case with most of my sister’s LPs from the late 1960s and early 1970s, I have that one, too. My copy is tucked away on the easy listening shelf, which is not well organized, so I can’t easily put my hands on it to see what kind of shape it’s in.
I know I’ve played the LP at least once, but I also know, from glancing at the track listing for the album at discogs.com, that back in 1969, I paid attention only to the title track. And that’s held true to this day: The only track from the album that I have on the digital shelves is “Hurt So Bad.”
“Hurt So Bad” was the last of six Top 40 hits for the Lettermen, peaking at No. 12 in the third week of September 1969, as my junior year of high school was taking off and as I was in my second month of listening purposefully to Top 40 radio. In other words, among my first Top 40 memories is a sweet, mellow and haunting song about the agony of losing a love and the corresponding agony of the slender hope that she might come back.
Never mind that at the time – just barely sixteen – I’d never really had a love to lose, much less to beg to return to me. I’d had crushes, sure, and one of the major crushes of my life was beginning to form right at that time, but I’d never lost a love. Nevertheless, I was already a romantic, and the lyrics of “Hurt So Bad” whispered their sad story to me whenever I heard the record. And I was ready to listen.
The single – and the album that both my sister and I own – came to mind this morning as I looked at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1969, when “Hurt So Bad” was at No. 92, in the third week of its long climb to the Top Twenty. Seeing it there reminded me of evenings in my room as August and September rolled by, listening to the Lettermen’s harmonies, mouthing the words as I tried to imagine what it would be like to love someone so deeply and then lose her. Like most people, I’d find out eventually, several times over, and it was never as pretty as the song.