Various Artists: Phil Spector Presents The Philles Album Collection

Six original Philles albums plus B-side instrumental bonuses

Much like the Cameo-Parkway catalog, Phil Spector’s seminal records of the 1960s are only recently starting to see the reissues they deserve. For years they were reissued in dribs and drabs – greatest hits packages repeating the same chart entries, hard-to-find vinyl albums from the UK leaking out stereo mixes, reissues of the Christmas album, and so on. The 1991 box set Back to Mono and the more recent Phil Spector Collection each dug more deeply into the catalog, but there was still much to be done. With Sony’s Legacy division having obtained reissue rights, 2011 kicked off with anthologies of the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love and Spector’s other hit productions. The reissues now continue with this box set of six original Philles albums, packaged in reproduction mini-LP sleeves.

Among the albums are three by the Crystals (although, as will be seen, they hold little more than one album’s worth of original material), one each by the Ronettes and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, and a 1963 collection of label hits. Philles, like the pop music industry of its time, was focused on singles, with albums being little more than promotional afterthoughts. These albums were built around existing singles, and filled out with previously released material and album sides. Though some of the album material failed to match the brilliance of the hits, and the productions weren’t always as lavish, neither were the tracks often throwaway filler. The Philles singles pipeline was well-stocked through these years, and otherwise hit-worthy tracks simply couldn’t find room in the release schedule. The set’s designated filler is disc seven’s collection of instrumental B-sides; but even here you get the Wrecking Crew in their prime.

The box kicks off with PHLP-4000, The Crystals Twist Uptown from 1962, which opens with the group’s second hit, Mann & Weil’s thrilling urban love song, “Uptown.” Their first hit, the divine “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” is here too, but it’s the album tracks that are likely to be new to many listeners. Spector’s co-write with Doc Pomus, “Another Country – Another World,” puts a fresh spin on an outcast love by replacing class separation with a cultural divide. Several of the songs, including “Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby” (featuring Patsy Wright on lead vocal) and “What a Nice Way to Turn Seventeen,” feel the pull of ‘50s doo-wop and earlier girl groups like the Chantels, but the swirling strings, clacking castanets and underlying baion beats mark these as Spector’s. The album take of “On Broadway” predates the Drifters hit, and the group’s cover of “Gee Whiz” (retitled “Gee Whiz Look at His Eyes (Twist)”) followed Carla Thomas’ original by a year.

The Crystal’s second album, PHLP-4001 He’s a Rebel, was released in 1963 to capitalize on the hit single “He’s a Rebel.” The track list repeats nine selections from the debut, dropping “Please Hurt Me” and “Gee Whiz,” and adding the title single alongside the hit “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and the notorious “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).” The title hit holds two major distinctions: it was Spector’s first chart topper with Philles (he’d scored a #1 with the Teddy Bears in 1958), and it wasn’t actually the Crystals singing – it was Darlene Love (obscurely referenced by her then-married name Darlene Peete in Mick Patrick’s liner notes) and the Blossoms. Accounts vary as to how the Crystals name was bestowed upon Darlene Love, and it’s unclear if the failure of “He Hit Me” (a song whose violent theme is all the more chilling given Spector’s personal history) was a factor, but Spector began recording Love and her backing group in Los Angeles and hit the jackpot with “He’s a Rebel,” as well as “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.”

The group’s third album, PHLP-4003 The Crystals Sing The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 isn’t entirely a Crystals album. It includes only one new Crystals recording, 1963’s “Da Doo Ron Ron” (featuring Lala Brooks on lead vocal) and fills out the track list with repeats from the group’s first two albums, the leftover “Look in My Eyes”, and four dance-themed titles (three covered from the Cameo-Parkway catalog: “The Wah Watusi,” “Mashed Potato Time” and “The Twist”) sung by the Ronettes. The latter had yet to release anything on Philles, and these covers weren’t repeated on Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. Still, with the Crystal’s second album having mostly repeated their first, and their third cherry-picking from the first two, Spector showed his allegiance to the single as his ultimate format, as well as his savvy in picking the pockets of unsuspecting record buyers.

Philles’ third album, PHLP-4002 Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, was dedicated to Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, a group that had three hit singles. Two of the hits are here, and the third (“Not Too Young to Get Married”) is on disc five of this set, Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits. Bob B. Soxx was vocalist Bobby Sheen, who was supposed to be backed by Darlene Love and her fellow Blossom, Fanita James. But once they began to record, Spector had Love step to the front and provide the lead vocals for everything but “Dear (Here Comes My Baby)” and the bluesy “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.” The album tracks generally haven’t the energy of the singles, with album filler like “White Cliffs of Dover” trying, but mostly failing to capture the magic of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” The one real discovery, aside from Sheen’s two tracks, is the funky Jackie DeShannon tune “I Shook the World.” The album closes with the instrumental B-side “Dr. Kaplan’s Office,” suggesting that Spector lost interest before producing a full album of twelve tracks.

The Ronettes only full-length album, PHLP-4006 Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, was issued in 1964 and collected their five biggest hits, “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You,” “(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up,” “Do I Love You?” and “Walking in the Rain.” Also included was their earlier recording of “So Young,” credited at that time to Veronica, a pair of non-charting singles (“How Does it Feel?” and “When I Saw You”) and four album tracks (“I Wonder,” “What’d I Say,” “You Baby,” and “Chapel of Love,” the latter written for the group and recorded the year before the Dixie Cups had a hit, but not issued as a single). The album peaked at #96, and though the group would release excellent singles in 1965 and 1966 (and record many that Spector withheld, including “Girls Can Tell” and “Paradise”), their star had peaked. The album, never before officially reissued on CD in its original form, continues to be a collector’s item, and is presented here, like all tracks in this box, in mono.

The fifth disc in this collection, PHLP-4004 Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits, repeats six tracks from the Crystals’, Ronettes’ and Bob. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ albums, but fills in six more Philles hits. Chief among them is the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” and a pair of favorites by Darlene Love (“Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home” and “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”), but also essential is Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ third hit (“Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts”), Darlene Love’s “Playing for Keeps” and the Alley Cats’ energetic doo-wop “Puddin ‘n’ Tain,” featuring Bobby (“Soxx”) Sheen on high-tenor. The added tracks flesh out the Philles picture, and the repeated tracks provide further evidence of albums being marketing items rather than artistic statements.

The last disc in this collection, credited to The Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra, and titled Phil’s Flipsides, presents the rarest material. The seventeen B-sides are instrumental flipsides of Spector hits, duly purposed to be cheap to produce,  and to keep DJs focused on the A-sides. These are a mix of backing tracks and two-minute jams by Spector’s assembled workforce, name-checking Wrecking Crew stars (and Spector’s psychiatrist and first wife) in the song titles. In addition to the pop sounds you’d expect from Spector’s band, there are some fine jazz and blues workouts, with sax, piano and guitar stretching out on lead and Julius Wechter’s vibraphone adding atmosphere. Spector’s instrumental B’s for the short-lived Phil Spector label (“Larry L.” and “Chubby Danny D”) are included, but contemporaneous flips on Annette (including “Beatle Blues”) and Shirley are omitted.

Each of the albums clock in at roughly 30 minutes, suggesting these could have been doubled-up, but it’s hard to fault Legacy’s artistic decision to reissue each in their original form in mini-LP sleeves. Given U.S. royalty laws (which charge per-track, rather than per-album), two-fers wouldn’t necessarily have cost any less anyway. There’s one album missing from Philles initial run, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which has been reissued several times, most recently in 2009. The tail-end of Philles album releases, including three from the Righteous Brothers, one from Lenny Bruce, and the aborted 1966 release of Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High await a second box. The Turner title was issued in 1969 by A&M and reissued earlier this year by Hip-O Select.

All of the albums have been newly transferred by Kabir Hermon and Steve Rosenthal, and remastered by Vic Anesini, but some collectors will no doubt grouse about the lack of stereo mixes, particularly the well-circulated Ronettes and Christmas cuts. Others will note the repetition within the box, overlap between the box and the group compilations released earlier this year, the lack of rare and unreleased material, etc.; all fair criticisms, but really beside the point. Legacy is scratching an itch felt by many collectors to get reproductions of the original artifacts – the original albums. Is it a good value? That depends on how highly you prize what Legacy’s reproducing, rather than what they’re not. Spector may have dismissed albums as two hits and ten pieces of filler, but his vanity as a producer rarely let him attach his name to junk. The concentration of A-list singing, playing, producing, arranging and writing represented on these discs is nearly unprecedented, making even the instrumental B-sides shine brightly. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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