Patti LaBelle & The Blue-Belles - I Sold My Heart To The Junkman

Patti LaBelle & The Blue-Belles

I Sold My Heart To The Junkman

Newtown Records

Release Date: June 23rd, 1962

Words by: Jason A. Wendleton
July 7th, 1962

Sometimes the most innocuous art has the most interesting backstory. 'I sold my heart to the junkman' by Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles is a straightforward doo-wop song with an amazingly complicated history. First written in 1946 by Leon René, the song was recorded at the time by The Basin Street Boys featuring Ormonde Wilson. Twenty years later in 1961 the song was re-recorded—and this is where the tale gets complicated.

The song was re-recorded by the girl-group The Starlets with the help of their used-car salesman-turned producer Harold Robinson. When the song was released a year later in 1962, however, Robinson gave the credit to Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles (a new group his label had just acquired). After getting caught lip-synching on American Bandstand, Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles were sued by The Starlets.

The Starlets won the battle but lost the war—each member of The Starlets received $5,000 in damages… but to this day their version of 'I sold my heart to the junkman' is credited to Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles.

Regardless of who did the singing, 'I sold my heart to the junkman' is still a good song, even though it is pretty odd. The song's central conceit is that the singer's heart was abused by her love and treated like a piece of junk. Her heart was "battered and bruised" and then returned to her "broken." That's pretty standard pop stuff, right? The song gets a bit strange though, when the song's protagonist then sells her heart to the junkman rather than keeping her broken heart…and now she can't fall in love ever again. There's something magical about taking such a dark, twisted premise and coupling it with an up-beat doo-wop sound. 'I sold my heart to the junkman' is an interesting tune, and an interesting source of trivia.

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