Written by the country singer/songwriter John D. Loudermilk ("Tobacco Road
"), this dreamy ballad suggests a romantic pact that entails a million-year commitment. If the couple can't work out their differences after a near eternity together, only then they can split up.
Since its debut in 1962, the song has been recorded by several artists, with the most popular being The Casinos' 1967 version, which went to #6 on the Hot 100.
This was the Casinos' very first hit. It took the group nine years to attain it. (Funny enough, the group consisted of nine men and it took them nine years to receive their first hit!).
This has also been covered by Johnny Tillotson, Andy Williams, Bettye Swan, The Manhattans, James Brown, Perry Como, Frankie Valli, Rosanne Cash, and Joss Stone, among others.
Loudermilk worked on the demo with Nashville hitmakers Don Gant and Norro Wilson, who helped him add the finishing touches. He recalled, "Now it was Don Gant who suggested: John, you need to repeat that line 'then it don't work out, then it don't work out...' And that was a good idea, it sounded good, it was a little hook, you know."
This was first recorded by "Band Of Gold" (1955) singer Don Cherry as a country tune in 1962, but went nowhere. Two years later, Johnny Nash recorded it in Nashville, where it garnered some local attention but never went national.
When Gene Hughes, lead singer of the Cincinnati-based doo-wop group The Casinos, heard Nash's version, he brought it on the road. They performed it on the club circuit for several years before they finally recorded it. The Casinos had just inked a deal at Fraternity Records when Tom Dooley, a Cincinnati disc jockey, asked them to cut an instrumental of King Curtis' "Soul Serenade." The group used the extra studio time (at King Studios in Cincinnati) to record a swoonworthy orchestral arrangement of "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye."
The odds of this becoming a pop hit in '67 weren't great. The Casinos' doo-wop stylings and clean-cut image were falling out of fashion by the mid-'60s as America was firmly in the grip of Beatlemania, and long-haired, blue-jeans-wearing youths were embracing the laid-back hippie aesthetic.
Hughes attributed the success to luck. He noted in the Billboard Book of One Hit Wonders: "Everybody says, 'What a great idea, what a great arrangement.' It was luck. Luck and perfection. We were comfortable with it. There was nothing to it. Luck. Work hard and sometimes luck happens."
This was The Casinos' only major hit. Harry Carlson, the head of Fraternity, pushed the Don Everly-penned "It's All Over" (a rather prophetic title) as its immediate follow-up, and it went to #65 on the Hot 100. Hughes knew it was a mistake. "As I told him, that song didn't have our sound," he recalled. "It was just to be an album cut, then on the way back from a gig I heard it on the radio - announced as our next single - and I knew it was all over."
Casinos guitarist Mickey Denton and organist Bob Armstrong came up with the arrangement.
Although it wasn't a hit for Loudermilk, who included it on his 1967 album, Suburban Attitudes In Country Verse, his version did pave the way for the song's success on the Country chart. Eddy Arnold's cover, from his Walkin' In Love Land album, went to #1 on the Country chart in 1968. In 1976, Glen Campbell's version, a medley with "Don't Pull Your Love," peaked at #4 (and also reached #27 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening chart). In 1996, Neal McCoy took it to #4 on the tally when he issued it as the lead single from his self-titled album.
This was used in the TV shows The End Of The F***ing World (episode #2.8) and Transparent ("Moppa" - 2014).
The Casinos' version was also featured in the 2006 movie Paris, je t'aime, and Nash's cover showed up in the 2021 Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark.