Goffin and King wrote the song after discovering that singer Little Eva was being regularly beaten by her boyfriend. When they inquired why she tolerated such treatment, Eva replied, with complete sincerity, that her boyfriend’s actions were motivated by his love for her.
The song was written and intended as a sort of protest song from the point of view of an abused woman. Phil Spector’s arrangement was ominous and ambiguous.
“ It was a brutal song, as any attempt to justify such violence must be, and Spector’s arrangement only amplified its savagery, framing Barbara Alston’s lone vocal amid a sea of caustic strings and funereal drums, while the backing vocals almost trilled their own belief that the boy had done nothing wrong. In more ironic hands (and a more understanding age), ‘He Hit Me’ might have passed at least as satire. But Spector showed no sign of appreciating that, nor did he feel any need to. No less than the song’s writers, he was not preaching, he was merely documenting.” ” — Dave Thompson
Upon its initial release, “He Hit Me” received some airplay, but then there was a widespread protest of the song, with many concluding that the song was an endorsement of spousal abuse. The song soon became played only rarely on the radio, as now.
The 1930 Frank Borzage film Liliom contains the line “He hit me and it felt like a kiss” in its final scene. The film was not a success and there’s nothing to suggest that Goffin or King had seen it.