"Hello Stranger" is a 1963 hit single by Barbara Lewis, which spent two weeks at number one on the R&B singles chart in Billboard, crossing over to #3 on the pop chart.
"Hello Stranger" was written by Barbara Lewis herself, who was originally inspired to write a song with that title while working gigs in Detroit with her musician father: “I would make the circuit with my dad and people would yell out: ‘Hey stranger, hello stranger, it’s been a long time’". The song is notable because its title comprises the first two words of the lyrics but is never at any point repeated throughout the rest of the song.
Lewis recorded "Hello Stranger" at Chess Studios in Chicago in January 1963. The track's producer Ollie McLaughlin recruited the Dells to provide the background vocals. The arrangement by Riley Hampton - then working with Etta James - featured a signature organ riff provided by keyboardist John Young. The track was completed after thirteen takes. Lewis would recall that, on hearing the playback of the finished track, Dells member Chuck Barksdale "kept jumping up and down and saying, ‘It’s a hit, it’s a hit.’...I didn’t really know. It was all new to me.”
McLaughlin flew to New York City to pitch "Hello Stranger" to Atlantic Records, who had picked up Lewis' previous two singles for national release. Atlantic optioned "Hello Stranger", but then had second thoughts on the viability of releasing such an unusual track. The ascendancy of "Our Day Will Come" by Ruby & the Romantics to the top of the pop and R&B charts in March 1963 motivated Atlantic to release "Hello Stranger" that month; entering the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1963, the track took another month to reach the Top 40. Impelled by its #1 status in St. Louis, MO, it entered the Billboard Top Ten that June for a five-week stay.
Yvonne Elliman cover
The most successful incarnation of "Hello Stranger" since the Lewis original has been by Yvonne Elliman whose version was produced by Freddie Perren for Elliman's 1977 Love Me album: (Yvonne Elliman) 'Hello Stranger' has been my favorite song since I was ten years old ..."When Freddie asked me what I wanted to sing, 'Hello Stranger' was the first thing that came out of my mouth...He said: 'Oh God, yeah. I love that song'. Both Elliman and Perren deliberately sought to capture the sound of the original. "Hello Stranger" was released as the follow-up single to Elliman's #14 hit "Love Me" and was similarly successful on the Pop charts reaching #15 in the spring of 1977; Elliman's "Hello Stranger" also charted R&B at #57 and was most successful on the Easy Listening chart where it was #1 for four weeks
Elliman's "Hello Stranger" was also released as a single in the UK; despite the precedent "Love Me" having reached #6, "Hello Stranger" was much less successful reaching #26. In the UK "Hello Stranger" did not have the cachet of being the remake of a "golden oldie" as the Barbara Lewis original was overlooked both in its 1963 UK release on London Records and in a 1968 reissue on Atlantic with Lewis' hit "Baby I'm Yours" on the flip side.
Yvonne Elliman did take "Hello Stranger" into the Top 20 in the Netherlands (#20) and also New Zealand (#12). In the US, Elliman's version went to #1 on the Easy Listening chart and number fifteen on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song has been covered by many other artists since the original release in 1963.