Memphis soul man William Bell was making his home town label Stax proud in 1968, especially across the Atlantic. After reaching the UK top 40 with ‘A Tribute To A King,’ his acknowledgement of the great Otis Redding (who had died a few months earlier), he and Judy Clay went to No. 8 on the British chart with the soul anthem ‘Private Number.’
That duet was a bigger hit in the UK than it was on either the R&B or pop chart in the States. But on 21 December 1968, Bell entered the soul listings with the track that would become his first top ten hit on that chart, ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover.’
The slow, deep soul cut was written by Bell with the great keyboard player and artist-producer Booker T Jones, who also produced it. The track debuted at No. 33 on Bestselling Rhythm & Blues Singles as Marvin Gaye continued his reign with ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine,’ and in the week that ‘Private Number’ climbed into the UK top 20.
‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ went on to reach No. 10 on the Soul chart and, although it only reached No. 45 on the pop side, it was a song that would have a surprising rebirth all of 18 years later. Billy Idol remade it in his rock ‘n’ roll-flavoured pop style of the time as ‘To Be A Lover,’ and saw it climb to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, taking Bell & Jones’ composition to a bigger pop audience than it ever had the first time around.
That was by no means the only new version of the song. Al Kooper recorded it on his 1976 album Act Like Nothing’s Wrong, while Robert Cray covered it on his 2005 record Twenty, among several others. Meanwhile, within three weeks of charting with the original, Bell and Clay were back in duet mode on the R&B survey with ‘My Baby Specialises.’
‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ is on the album The Very Best of William Bell, which can be bought here.