Much like the Cameo-Parkway catalog, Phil Spectorâ€™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 â€“ 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 Sonyâ€™s Legacy division having obtained reissue rights, 2011 kicked off with anthologies of the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love and Spectorâ€™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 albumâ€™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 werenâ€™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 couldnâ€™t find room in the release schedule. The setâ€™s designated filler is disc sevenâ€™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 groupâ€™s second hit, Mann & Weilâ€™s thrilling urban love song, â€œUptown.â€ Their first hit, the divine â€œThereâ€™s No Other (Like My Baby),â€ is here too, but itâ€™s the album tracks that are likely to be new to many listeners. Spectorâ€™s co-write with Doc Pomus, â€œAnother Country â€“ Another World,â€ puts a fresh spin on an outcast love by replacing class separation with a cultural divide. Several of the songs, including â€œOh Yeah, Maybe Babyâ€ (featuring Patsy Wright on lead vocal) and â€œWhat a Nice Way to Turn Seventeen,â€ feel the pull of â€˜50s doo-wop and earlier girl groups like the Chantels, but the swirling strings, clacking castanets and underlying baion beats mark these as Spectorâ€™s. The album take of â€œOn Broadwayâ€ predates the Drifters hit, and the groupâ€™s cover of â€œGee Whizâ€ (retitled â€œGee Whiz Look at His Eyes (Twist)â€) followed Carla Thomasâ€™ original by a year.
The Crystalâ€™s second album, PHLP-4001 Heâ€™s a Rebel, was released in 1963 to capitalize on the hit single â€œHeâ€™s a Rebel.â€ The track list repeats nine selections from the debut, dropping â€œPlease Hurt Meâ€ and â€œGee Whiz,â€ and adding the title single alongside the hit â€œHeâ€™s Sure the Boy I Loveâ€ and the notorious â€œHe Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).â€ The title hit holds two major distinctions: it was Spectorâ€™s first chart topper with Philles (heâ€™d scored a #1 with the Teddy Bears in 1958), and it wasnâ€™t actually the Crystals singing â€“ it was Darlene Love (obscurely referenced by her then-married name Darlene Peete in Mick Patrickâ€™s liner notes) and the Blossoms. Accounts vary as to how the Crystals name was bestowed upon Darlene Love, and itâ€™s unclear if the failure of â€œHe Hit Meâ€ (a song whose violent theme is all the more chilling given Spectorâ€™s personal history) was a factor, but Spector began recording Love and her backing group in Los Angeles and hit the jackpot with â€œHeâ€™s a Rebel,â€ as well as â€œHeâ€™s Sure the Boy I Love.â€
The groupâ€™s third album, PHLP-4003 The Crystals Sing The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 isnâ€™t entirely a Crystals album. It includes only one new Crystals recording, 1963â€™s â€œDa Doo Ron Ronâ€ (featuring Lala Brooks on lead vocal) and fills out the track list with repeats from the groupâ€™s first two albums, the leftover â€œLook in My Eyesâ€, and four dance-themed titles (three covered from the Cameo-Parkway catalog: â€œThe Wah Watusi,â€ â€œMashed Potato Timeâ€ and â€œThe Twistâ€) sung by the Ronettes. The latter had yet to release anything on Philles, and these covers werenâ€™t repeated on Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. Still, with the Crystalâ€™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.
Phillesâ€™ 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 (â€œNot Too Young to Get Marriedâ€) is on disc five of this set, Philles Records Presents Todayâ€™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 â€œDear (Here Comes My Baby)â€ and the bluesy â€œEverythingâ€™s Gonna Be All Right.â€ The album tracks generally havenâ€™t the energy of the singles, with album filler like â€œWhite Cliffs of Doverâ€ trying, but mostly failing to capture the magic of â€œZip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.â€ The one real discovery, aside from Sheenâ€™s two tracks, is the funky Jackie DeShannon tune â€œI Shook the World.â€ The album closes with the instrumental B-side â€œDr. Kaplanâ€™s Office,â€ 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, â€œBe My Baby,â€ â€œBaby, I Love You,â€ â€œ(The Best Part Of) Breakinâ€™ Up,â€ â€œDo I Love You?â€ and â€œWalking in the Rain.â€ Also included was their earlier recording of â€œSo Young,â€ credited at that time to Veronica, a pair of non-charting singles (â€œHow Does it Feel?â€ and â€œWhen I Saw Youâ€) and four album tracks (â€œI Wonder,â€ â€œWhatâ€™d I Say,â€ â€œYou Baby,â€ and â€œChapel of Love,â€ 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 â€œGirls Can Tellâ€ and â€œParadiseâ€), their star had peaked. The album, never before officially reissued on CD in its original form, continues to be a collectorâ€™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 Todayâ€™s Hits, repeats six tracks from the Crystalsâ€™, Ronettesâ€™ and Bob. Soxx and the Blue Jeansâ€™ albums, but fills in six more Philles hits. Chief among them is the Crystalsâ€™ â€œThen He Kissed Meâ€ and a pair of favorites by Darlene Love (â€œWait â€˜Til My Bobby Gets Homeâ€ and â€œ(Today I Met) The Boy Iâ€™m Gonna Marryâ€), but also essential is Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeansâ€™ third hit (â€œWhy Do Lovers Break Each Otherâ€™s Heartsâ€), Darlene Loveâ€™s â€œPlaying for Keepsâ€ and the Alley Catsâ€™ energetic doo-wop â€œPuddin â€˜nâ€™ Tain,â€ featuring Bobby (â€œSoxxâ€) 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 Philâ€™s Flipsides, presents the rarest material. The seventeen B-sides are instrumental flipsides of Spector hits, duly purposed to be cheap to produce,Â and to keep DJs focused on the A-sides. These are a mix of backing tracks and two-minute jams by Spectorâ€™s assembled workforce, name-checking Wrecking Crew stars (and Spectorâ€™s psychiatrist and first wife) in the song titles. In addition to the pop sounds youâ€™d expect from Spectorâ€™s band, there are some fine jazz and blues workouts, with sax, piano and guitar stretching out on lead and Julius Wechterâ€™s vibraphone adding atmosphere. Spectorâ€™s instrumental Bâ€™s for the short-lived Phil Spector label (â€œLarry L.â€ and â€œChubby Danny Dâ€) are included, but contemporaneous flips on Annette (including â€œBeatle Bluesâ€) and Shirley are omitted.
Each of the albums clock in at roughly 30 minutes, suggesting these could have been doubled-up, but itâ€™s hard to fault Legacyâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t necessarily have cost any less anyway. Thereâ€™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 Turnerâ€™s River Deep â€“ 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 â€“ the original albums. Is it a good value? That depends on how highly you prize what Legacyâ€™s reproducing, rather than what theyâ€™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. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]