Posts Tagged ‘Philles’

Various Artists: The Essential Phil Spector

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Spector’s genius before, during and after Philles

After decades of uneven reissues – dribs and drabs in the U.S. and abroad – Phil Spector’s catalog is finally being cross-licensed for reissue. The first break came with the catalog’s owner, ABKCO, issuing the Back to Mono set in 1991; but the larger breakthrough has been the licensing to Universal and Sony/Legacy that’s resulted in the Phil Spector Collection and a set of artist compilations on the Crystals, Ronettes and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans issued earlier this year. That licensing is now paying additional dividends with the release of Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection and this new 34-track Phil Spector collection. Note that this 2-CD set is a Phil Spector volume rather than one dedicated solely to his years with Philles.

The set opens with pre-Philles sides from the Teddy Bears (Spector’s first #1), Ray Peterson, Ben E. King, Curtis Lee, Gene Pitney and the Paris Sisters. The tour through his hits at Philles includes The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, Darlene Love, the Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, and Ike and Tina Turner. Outside of Philles is a cover of the Beatles’ “Hold Me Tight” that mixes ‘50s doo-wop singing with Spector’s evolving production style, and Spector’s brilliant original “Black Pearl,” by Sonny Charles and the Checkmates. The latter suggested a continuing run as a dominant auteur in the ‘70s, but it didn’t go that way. Legacy’s done a fine job of cross-licensing material from K-Tel, Universal, Warner, EMI and others to pull together a compelling picture of Spector’s hit singles.

Given the wide availability of nearly everything here, this isn’t going to satisfy Spector collectors, but it’s a concise tour through the highlights of his most productive years. Its look at the Philles catalog isn’t as thorough as the earlier multi-disc sets, but the inclusion of pre- and post-Philles sides, hits by the Righteous Brothers, Ike & Tina’s “River Deep, Mountain High” and Sonny Charles’ “Black Pearl,” paint a picture that tells the tale from Spector’s first hit to his last as a producer who’s name rose above those of his artists. This set fits nicely between the single disc Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector and the two-disc import Phil Spector Collection, and will inform a new generation of listeners for whom the revolutionary producer’s infamy has eclipsed his fame. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Phil Spector Presents The Philles Album Collection

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

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]

Preview: The Philles Album Collection

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Coming on October 18th is a box set that many Phil Spector fans have been waiting for. The seven-disc set will include six original albums from Spector’s Philles label:

  • The Crystals Twist Uptown (The Crystals, 1962)
  • He’s a Rebel (The Crystals, 1963)
  • Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, 1963)
  • The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (The Crystals, 1963)
  • Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits (Various, 1963)
  • Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (The Ronettes, 1964)

and a bonus disc,

  • Phil’s Flipsides (The Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra)

This represents six of Philles’ first seven albums (the seventh, A Christmas Gift for You, has been reissued separately and as part of box sets several times), and includes numerous non-hit album tracks that have not been included on standard Spector anthologies. The bonus disc provides sixteen rare B-sides that Spector used to pad his hit singles (and, with no commercial appeal, to ensure jocks stuck to the A-side). On the same day, a two-CD hits collection, The Essential Phil Spector, will be released.

You can pre-order the box set at www.philspector.com and Amazon.com, or find it through standard retail on October 18th. Check back here for a review in October!

Darlene Love: The Sound of Love – The Very Best of Darlene Love

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh transfer and remaster of Darlene Love’s best

With the Philles catalog now in the licensing hands of Sony Legacy and EMI, the fiftieth anniversary of the label’s 1961 founding is being celebrated with a new round of reissues. First out of the gate are remastered best-of collections for the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love and Phil Spector. This 17-track Darlene Love collection proves that while Ronnie Spector (nee Veronica Bennett) may have been Spector’s greatest heartthrob, Darlene Love was his vocal MVP. As the lead vocalist on key singles by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, the Blossoms (both under their own name, and as the West Coast version of the Crystals), and solo singles, not to mention her work with the Blossoms as go-to backing vocalists, Love’s voice was as important an element of the Wall of Sound as the Wrecking Crew’s drums, guitars, pianos and basses.

Included here are tunes by the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (though not their first hit, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” on which Bobby Sheen sang lead), the Blossoms, and solo sides. This collection mostly duplicates the track line-up of ABKCO’s out-of-print 1992 Best of Darlene Love, dropping “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and a pre-Dixie Cups version of “Chapel of Love,” and adding four titles: the Blossoms’ “No Other Love, “That’s When the Tears Start” and “Good Good Lovin’,” and Love’s “Strange Love.” A couple of her lower charting singles (the pre-Philles “Son-in-Law” with the Blossoms, and the 1992 soundtrack single “All Alone on Christmas”) are absent, but more puzzlingly, neither the earlier or current collection includes Love’s signature holiday pièce de résistance, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Though all this material has been previously released, several of Love’s solo tracks went unissued at the time of their recording, turning up a decade later on rarities anthologies. Among these are “Run Run Runaway,” “A Long Way to Be Happy,” and the brilliant Poncia and Andreoli song, “Strange Love.” Fleshing out her post-Philles career is a soulful 1965 turn on Van McCoy’s “That’s When the Tears Start” (produced by Reprise staffer Jimmy Bowen) and a 1975 session with Phil Spector on Mann and Weil’s “Lord, If You’re a Woman.” As with the other volumes in this series, this isn’t the vault discovery fans are waiting for, and the lack of stereo (except tracks 16 and 17) will vex long-time collectors, but with ABKCO’s earlier best-of out of print, this is a welcome return to retail of Love’s classic sides. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Ronettes: Be My Baby – The Very Best of the Ronettes

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh mono transfer and remaster of Ronettes’ best

With the Philles catalog now in the licensing hands of Sony Legacy and EMI, the fiftieth anniversary of the label’s 1961 founding is being celebrated with a new round of reissues. First out of the gate are remastered best-of collections for the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love and Phil Spector. This 18-track set includes all eight of the group’s Philles singles (all of which charted, but amazingly flew under the Top 10 except “Be My Baby”), Veronica’s “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love” and “So Young,” the album tracks “I Wonder” and “You Baby,” the B-side “When I Saw You,” the 1969 A&M single “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered,” and a few tracks that went unreleased at the time of their recording. The latter includes a terrific pair (“Paradise” and “Here I Sit”) co-written by a young Harry Nilsson, and previously released on The Phil Spector Masters. This collection duplicates the track line-up of ABKCO’s out-of-print Best of the Ronettes with one exception: the 1964 B-side “How Does it Feel” is replaced here by the group’s last charting single, 1966’s “I Can Hear Music.” The track ordering is mostly chronological to the songs’ recording dates, and Lenny Kaye offers touchingly personal liner notes alongside detailed recording data. This isn’t the vault discovery that fans are waiting for, and many will complain about the all-mono line-up, but with ABKCO’s set itself a collector’s item, this is a welcome overview of the group’s biggest hits. Now, where are the rarities and stereo mixes? [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Crystals: Da Doo Ron Ron – The Very Best of the Crystals

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh mono transfer and remaster of the Crystals’ best

The Crystals formed in 1961 with Barbara Alston as their lead singer. Quickly signed by Phil Spector for his brand new Philles label, they were the subject of the label’s very first single, first hit and first Top 20, “(There’s No Other) Like My Baby.” They struck gold again the following year with the Mann & Weil’s brilliant “Uptown” and reached #1 with Gene Pitney’s “He’s a Rebel.” Oddly, the latter single, the group’s only chart topper, was recorded by a completely different set of Crystals – Darlene Love and the Blossoms – than the one who’d first broken on the charts. The story has the original Crystals touring the East Coast at the moment the demanding Spector was ready to record in Los Angeles, and Love’s group was on hand.

The Love/Blossoms Crystals hit one more time, in 1963 with “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” before the original group regained their name with “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” and “I Wonder.” Well, sort of. “Da Doo Ron Ron” had been recorded by Darlene Love and the Blossoms, but Spector replaced her lead vocal with one by Lala Brooks, to whom Alston had ceded the lead vocal role in the Crystals’ stage show. The latter two singles also feature Brooks with Love and the Blossoms providing the backing vocals. The East Coast group split with Spector and Philles shortly thereafter, and amid additional personnel changes recorded a few more non-charting singles that failed to capture the thrills and grandeur of their hits.

This disc collects the group’s ten charting singles (which also include “Little Boy” and “All Grown Up”), B-sides, album tracks, the short-lived A-side “There’s No Other Like My Baby” (which was flipped to make “(There’s No Other) Like My Baby” a hit), and the quickly withdrawn “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).” Two rarities – the hard-swinging unissued-at-the-time “Heartbreaker” and the previously unissued LaLa Brooks-sung “Woman in Love” fill out the disc. This isn’t a complete exposition of the group’s recordings (their early version of “On Broadway” would have been a nice inclusion), and some will complain about the all-mono line-up, but with ABKCO’s Best of the Crystals out of print, it’s great to have the group’s hits and and B-sides available alongside collections for the Ronettes, Darlene Love and Phil Spector. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Wall of Sound – The Very Best of Phil Spector

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh mono transfer and remaster of Spector’s best

In the lull between the primordial spark of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and the ‘60s echo brought by the British Invasion, Phil Spector reinvented the pop single. He broke into the music industry in the late ‘50s with his group, The Teddy Bears, and subsequently elevated the stature of “record producer” with his unique Wall of Sound methods. Starting in New York, and eventually decamping to Los Angeles, Spector’s fame eclipsed that of his artists. Though the Ronettes and Crystals got star billing, and the A-list studio players got their historic due as the Wrecking Crew, these singles have collectively become known as “Phil Spector records.” And given Spector’s reclusive lifestyle and his 2009 incarceration, the records are more than ever his public legacy.

This 19-track collection samples the key years, 1961-66, during which Spector produced for his own Philles label. With the Philles catalog now in the licensing hands of Sony Legacy and EMI, the fiftieth anniversary of the label’s 1961 founding is being celebrated with a new round of reissues. Alongside this remastered collection of Spector’s hits are collections for the Ronettes, Crystals and Darlene Love. This set stretches from the Crystals’ and Philles’ first single, 1961’s “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” through the 1966 release whose chart failure is reported to have broken Spector’s heart, Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” In between are key sides from the Ronettes, Darlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, Righteous Brothers and more from the Crystals, gathering together all of the label’s Top 40 singles except for three mid-60s releases by the Righteous Brothers.

This is a great look at the peaks, both commercial and artistic, of Spector’s run at Philles. It’s missing the warm-up act of pre-Philles sides with Ray Peterson, Gene Pitney, Curtis Lee and the Paris Sisters, as well as Spector’s comeback work in the ‘70s and 80s, but as a single disc overview of the Wall of Sound, and given the per-track royalty model for U.S. releases, it’s hard to argue with the choices. To reach deeper into the Phil Spector and Philles catalogs, to hear B-sides, album tracks and the few non-charting Philles singles, seek out the individual artist collections being issued in parallel, dig up a copy of the out-of-print box set Back to Mono, or spring for the imported Phil Spector Masters. This isn’t the vault archaeology that fans seek, and many will complain about the mono line-up (all except “River Deep”), but it is a welcome overview of one of pop music’s greatest auteurs. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Darlene Love: Songs of Love

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Too short anthology of Darlene Love’s greatness

There’s no arguing that all five of these Darlene Love-sung tunes are classics, but the brief 13-minute running time barely scratches the surface of the singer’s greatness. Collected here are her two hits as lead vocalist of the Los Angeles edition of the Crystals, including their iconic, chart-topping rendition of Gene Pitney’s “He’s a Rebel” and the follow-up “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” Both were issued under the Crystals’ name, though they were in fact Love and her group the Blossoms doing the singing. “He’s a Rebel” broached new lyrical territory with its depiction of wayward youth, and though the follow-up wasn’t as daring, the warmth of Love’s vocal is a perfect match for Mann & Weil’s lyrics.

Love continued to score with hits under her own name, starting with “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry.” Framed by church bells and backing vocals, Love’s vocal is love-struck and nearly tearful in its undying devotion. It’s hard to believe this barely cracked the Top 40 at #39. Her next single “Wait ‘til My Bobby Gets Home” is a jaunty brush off, and the closing “A Fine, Fine Boy,” though the weakest of the five songs here, shows how Love could blend the exaltations of her church choir background into a pop song. What’s missing from this collection is substantial; for example, no collection of Love’s music is complete without Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans’ “Not Too Young to Get Married” and her seasonal, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Bottom line: five classic, original Love/Spector recordings, but this set is too short. Better is the out-of-print 1992 ABKCO CD The Best of Darlene Love (available for download at a bargain price on the Jukebox Joy label), or Phil Spector collections such as Back to Mono, The Phil Spector Collection, and the recent reissue of A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. With any luck, this is just a teaser for a full line of artist-centric reissues of Phil Spector’s classic productions. Hopefully Darlene Love’s volume will be in the first batch! [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Phil’s Spectre III

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Various_PhilsSpectorIIIMore gold bricks in the wall of soundalikes

Phil Spector’s revolutionary production techniques and monumental chart success in the early ‘60s spawned a lot of imitations, some of which hit, but many more of which passed by virtually unnoticed. Ace Records continues their collection of Wall of Sound tributes and knock-offs with a third volume that’s more varied in quality than the first two. To be sure, there are some tremendous gems here, well worth the price of this disc, but there are also wanna-be productions that have all the earmarks, but not the magic dust that could have made them hits. It’s one thing to have a baion beat, soaring string arrangement, massed instruments, deep echo, and castanets, but it’s quite another to have the Brill Building’s songs, Gold Star’s rooms, and Ronnie Spector’s pipes. Not to mention Jack Nitzche’s arrangements, Larry Levine’s engineering and Phil Spector’s ears; winningly, several of these tracks have the first two of those three.

That said, there are many high points to this collection. “Who Am I” opens with a lonely bass riff and Jerry Ganey’s soulful vocal, rises momentarily to an echoed backing chorus and threatens a full wall of sound, only to fall back to Ganey and the bass. It’s not until 1’22 of teasing has passed that writer-producer (and Righeous Brother) Bill Medley unleashes the full force of the song’s arrangement. Sonny Bono’s rendition of Spector’s sound traces back to his years working directly for the master. 1967’s “It’s the Little Things,” recorded for the soundtrack of Good Times, has the requisite musical elements but truly excels in Bono’s charmingly self-deprecating lyrics. Cher gives it everything as she sings of loving a man who’s not smart or handsome but is her everything. Remembering her speech at Bono’s memorial it’s hard not to get a bit teary when this one plays.

The disc’s biggest surprise is the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s last chart single, “When We Get Married.” Written by Ritchie Cordell (of “Indian Giver,” “Mony Mony” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” fame) under his real name (Richard Rosenblatt), the production of bubblegum legends Jerry Kaszenetz and Jeffry Katz pulls out all the stops, and lead singer Mark Gutkowski leans into every line, so exhausting himself with his outpouring of emotion that he has to stop and take a very audible and dramatic breath at 3’25. Imagine a teenage Ronnie Spector given the chance to sing about her upcoming nuptuals, supported by the harmonies of the Cowsills and backed by a wide stereo version of Phil Spector’s wall of sound. Truly extraordinary.

There are many other treats here, even if they don’t reach the stratospheric heights of the collection’s key cuts. Lesley Gore’s “Look of Love” (written by Brill Building legends Greenwich & Barry) began life as an album track, but in 1964 producer Quincy Jones thickened the production with handclaps, sleigh bells and echo. The folk-rock of the Kit Kats “That’s the Way” is given a deep stereo backing and features a falsetto chorus vocal reminiscent of the Newbeats. There’s more folk-rock in the Ashes’ “Is There Anything I Can Do,” which benefits from the Gold Star sound, courtesy in large part to the engineering of Larry Levine. Yet another Spector alum, arranger Jack Nitzsche, gives Judy Henske the wall of sound treatment for a cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” that rings down the curtain with its forceful climax.

Several producers took Spector’s work too literally for their own good. The Castanets’ “I Love Him” is a by-the-numbers imitation of the Crystals that’s adequate but isn’t the Crystals. Girl group collectors will enjoy this previously unreleased single-tracked vocal version. The Satisfactions’ “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” slows the 1925 tune to a soulful crawl but doesn’t find the groove Spector perfected on “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Better is Alder Ray’s “’Cause I Love Him,” which could pass for a Darlene Love track. Ace has done another fine job of lining up the disciples of Phil Spector and augmenting the music with a 16-page booklet stuffed with photos, sleeve and label reproductions, and detailed liner notes. Everything here is in AM-ready mono except tracks 2, 4, 10, and 23 which are true stereo. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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Various Artists: A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

VAR_AChristmasGiftForYouFromPhilSpectorRe-mastered 2009 reissue of Christmas perennial

Phil Spector’s 1963 Christmas album was an immediate classic and radio favorite, but having been released on the day of John Kennedy’s assassination, it was quickly difficult to find. Radio play kept it alive, however, and it was made available again on the Beatles’ Apple label in 1972. The reissue renamed the album from “A Christmas Gift from Philles Records” to “The Phil Spector Christmas Album” and eventually to its current title; the original cover art was replaced by a photo of Spector dressed as Santa. A later reissue on Warner-Spector airbrushed away the “Back to Mono” button Spector wore in his beard and produced the tracks in stereo. The sacrilege was reversed and the AM-radio-ready mono mixes returned to print with the record’s first CD issue in 1987. Subsequent CD reissues on ABKCO restored elements of the original artwork, and the last reissue left print in 2007.

With ABKCO’s Allen Klein having passed away earlier this year, and Phil Spector in jail, a new day has dawned for the Philles label as Sony and EMI have gained the catalog’s distribution rights and are planning the archival reissues it deserves. That may be the best Christmas present music lovers will get for years to come. The first result is a fresh reissue of this Christmas classic with a 16-page booklet that includes original artwork and liner notes, contemporary notes by Billboard’s Jim Bessman, and superb photos of Spector with his musicians and singers. Most importantly, of course, is the pristine reproduction of Spector’s musical classics in all their mono glory, recorded as his Wall of Sound was reaching its greatest height. Featured are The Ronettes, Darlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and the Crystals, all recorded at Gold Star Studio with the cream of Los Angeles’ studio musicians.

Spector and his arranger Jack Nitzsche adorned the Wall of Sound with the holiday sounds of jingling bells, bells and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as they revitalized a dozen holiday classics. Several of these performances became icons that inspired covers of the performances rather than just the underlying songs. To top it off Spector minted his own classic Christmas song with the Spector-Greenwich-Barry composition “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” In an era dominated by singles, Spector created a holiday album that was stocked start to finish with superbly conceived and realized productions – no filler here. It wasn’t the first Christmas album, or even the first rock ‘n’ roll Christmas album, but it was (and remains) the best ever.

Technical note: EMI Legacy’s reissue duplicates the re-master that Bob Ludwig created for the second disc of last year’s UK-released The Phil Spector Collection. This is a complete re-master from the original tape using a full-track mono reproduce head and an Ampex tube-based machine. This replaces the Phil Spector-Larry Levine re-master that was the basis of the fourth disc of ABKCO’s Back to Mono box set and the standalone 1990 version. According to educated ears, the new re-master is less harsh and has smoother bass; it’s also louder, but without any detriment to the dynamics. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]