The Second Disc

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Archive for February 22nd, 2011

Review: The Crystals, The Ronettes and Darlene Love: “The Very Best Of”

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If Phil Spector didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him. Spector scored his first chart-topper as writer, artist and arranger in 1958 with “To Know Him is to Love Him” performed his by group, the Teddy Bears. But a 1960 apprenticeship with famed songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller convinced the ambitious young man that his future was behind the scenes as a producer. (His 1960 stint with Leiber and Stoller also yielded “Spanish Harlem,” which Spector co-wrote with Leiber.) With Lester Sill, he founded Philles (Phil + Les) Records in 1961 and began a streak of hits that set the charts – and the music business – ablaze. Spector cannily called on the top-tier writing talent in New York’s Brill Building scene even while recording in Los Angeles; by 1964, Sill was out of the picture and Tom Wolfe was profiling Spector as “the first tycoon of teen.” The rich Philles Records catalogue conclusively proves that the period between the initial burst of rock-and-roll and the British Invasion wasn’t a moribund one for music; quite the contrary.  Legacy has launched the first major salvo in its Philles reissue campaign with four new Spector-produced collections. Mike has already filled you in on Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966, but how do Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of The Crystals, Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love and Be My Baby: The Very Best of The Ronettes stack up?

Da Doo Ron Ron (Phil Spector Records/Legacy 88697 61288-2) is the perfect starting point for those curious about just how individual blocks were built into a mighty Wall of Sound. (Among these blocks?  Echo, orchestration, many instruments playing in unison, a vocal in the foreground.)  Roughly half of the collection’s tracks were recorded at New York’s Mira Sound Studios, before Spector had perfected his style in the studios of California, primarily Gold Star. In this nascent state, the influence of Leiber and Stoller is much more evident, particularly their groundbreaking production of The Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby,” widely recognized as the first R&B song to apply classical textures via its string arrangement. The contribution of the unsung Arnold Goland should be recognized; while the Wall of Sound found its fullest expression with Jack Nitzsche’s widescreen orchestrations, Nitzsche owed a debt to Goland’s work heard here on “There’s No Other Like My Baby,” “Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby,” and the two most unnerving songs included here, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” and “Please Hurt Me.”  It’s hard to discuss this set without mention of “He Hit Me,” a song that was controversial then and equally distressing now as a picture of an abuse victim. It came from the pen of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, as did the eyebrow-raising “Please Hurt Me.” A trilogy seems to have been formed also including “No One Ever Tells You,” written by Goffin, King and Spector. Barbara Alston’s understated leads and Spector’s dramatic productions have allowed these songs to powerfully endure even today.

The Very Best of the Crystals kicks into high gear with the Gene Pitney-penned “He’s a Rebel,” not coincidentally the first Jack Nitzsche arrangement heard here and the first Gold Star-recorded track of the collection. Most ironically, though, the song wasn’t actually by The Crystals! Group members including Alston and La La Brooks were shocked to find Darlene Love singing lead on a track credited to the group. Love makes her presence felt on “Rebel” and on Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.” Spector correctly reasoned that her sass and insouciance were right for these songs and their ever-bigger productions. Good as they are, even more exciting is the sophisticated “Then He Kissed Me,” written by Spector with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. Just listen to those strings, the castanets and Latin-accented percussion, and those bleating horns, all adding up to one stirring, dense whole.

There are plenty of other lesser-known tracks that make this an essential purchase, too. The U.K.-only release “I Wonder” was another grandiose track, making it all the more unbelievable that the song was initially held back. Surf-inspired guitar highlights the rocking, up-tempo “All Grown Up,” with a theme similar to the one explored by Spector disciple Brian Wilson in The Beach Boys’ “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man).” The collection’s sole unreleased track, “Woman in Love (with You),” is a Spector/Mann/Weil song with a stunning lead from La La Brooks, the same singer who made the nonsense lyrics of “Da Doo Ron Ron” sound so sensible as an expression of youthful love. This song is quintessential Spector, and I’m left hungry for more unreleased Philles cuts.  Hit the jump to continue with new anthologies from The Ronettes and Darlene Love! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 22, 2011 at 15:58

Review: Various Artists, “Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966”

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In another time, in another place, I would not be writing this review of Legacy’s new Phil Spector compilation with a slight pang of melancholy. And you wouldn’t be reading it with the possible tug at the heartsrings you might face now. Phil Spector was one of the most significant pop producers of the 20th century – a creator of pop music as a blissful, romantic, universal commodity – but recent events have ensured that anyone who speaks his name today does so with hesitation, with knowledge of something too awful to comprehend, a bastardization of the all-reaching control he had on the records he produced.

The first time a label lovingly presented Spector’s work on CD, with the immortal box set Back to Mono (ABKCO 7118-2, 1991), Spector was a darkly obsessive genius, and only that. We’d all known the stories of his less savory encounters while producing late-period works for Leonard Cohen or The Ramones, but the four-disc set was a revelation, introducing the Wall of Sound – that simple-yet-complex conglomerate of musicians towering and bouncing off the listener from one glorious channel of sound – to a new generation of listeners. Now, some 20 years later, with increasing amounts of teens and young adults too enamored of instant-gratification culture, we have the chance to revisit these perfect pop offerings. The times have changed, and certainly our perception of Spector has changed, too. But do these tunes stack up as sweetly as they once did? We’ll discuss more after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

February 22, 2011 at 15:46

RCA to Salute “Idol” Hands in New Compilation

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As if music fans needed another reminder that, every now and then, the pop culture ship sometimes docks in unusual waters, Sony is prepping a compilation of hits for American Idol‘s tenth anniversary. I mean, whaaaaaat?

Alright, so the show’s being a bit premature in celebrating its legacy; Idol premiered on FOX in the summer of 2002 and has failed to let up since. The idea of plucking a pop star from obscurity has lost much of its novelty status, but there have been some great artists and acts who gained exposure from the show, whether they won (killer pop act Kelly Clarkson, country star Carrie Underwood) or lost (rocker Chris Daughtry, glam-pop luminary Adam Lambert).

While it would be fair to call the compilation incomplete even by the tenuous standards of the show – Clarkson and Daughtry have had plenty of great pop tunes to go around, and notable contestants Jennifer Hudson and David Archuleta (recently dropped by Sony) are missing – the set looks like a nice, slight reminder of the power Idol has had on pop culture…for better or for worse.

American Idol 10th Anniversary – The Hits is on sale March 15. Check the track list for the disc after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

February 22, 2011 at 13:47

Another Morrissey Compilation is Coming

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If you thought you already had the best of Morrissey on CD – even if you probably do – Moz is going to prove you wrong with The Very Best of Morrissey, a new CD/DVD compilation due in April.

If our count is correct, this is Morrissey’s seventh or eighth compilation, but it’s good to see he’s still active. The track list collects pretty much all the hits you’d expect from the HMV/Parlophone era of 1988 to 1995, including a few choice B-sides and single material (U.S. mixes of “Tomorrow” and “My Love Life” from the early 1990s make rare compilation appearances, as does the full version of Morrissey’s B-side cover of “Moon River”). The sole unreleased track is a fully solo version of the non-LP single “Interlude,” originally sung as a duet with Siouxsie Sioux.

The set will come with a bonus DVD as well, compiling the best of Moz’s videos along with one unreleased TV performance – his first live appearance on a show other than Top of the Pops – on Tonight with Jonathan Ross in 1990. The best of the unreleased material will be found on a single released to promote the compilation; “Glamorous Glue” from 1992’s Your Arsenal will feature two outtakes as B-sides (“Safe, Warm Lancashire Home” on the 45 and “Treat Me Like a Human Being” on CD, both from the Viva Hate sessions in 1988).

The set will be out on April 25. Have a look at the full track info after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

February 22, 2011 at 12:34

Release Round-Up: Week of February 22

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Johnny Cash, Bootleg 2: From Memphis to Hollywood (Columbia/Legacy)

Rarities from the Man in Black, including rare radio performances, demos and single sides. (Official site)

Various Artists, Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector / The Ronettes, Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes / The Crystals, Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of The Crystals / Darlene Love, The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love (Phil Spector Records/Legacy)

Legacy finally gets things going with their license of the Philles Records catalogue with four compilations that will take you back to mono. (Reviews will be up later today!) (Amazon: Spector, Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Live at Nassau Coliseum ’76 (Shout! Factory)

The first-ever release of this widely-bootlegged ELP show. (Shout! Factory)

The Flying Burrito Brothers, Authorized Bootleg: Filmore East, New York, N.Y. – Late Show, November 7, 1970 (A&M/Hip-o Select)

Another live release from a beloved band of the ’70s. There’s no Gram Parsons, but there’s still a pretty good live set herein. (Hip-o Select)

The Monkees, The Monkees / More of The Monkees / Headquarters / Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (Rhino) and The Bee Gees, Bee Gees 1st / Horizontal / Idea (Rhino)

Straight reissues of these records from the latest digital remasters. Nothing to see here unless you need a quick fix. (Amazon: Monkees, Bee Gees)

A “Cliffhanger” Coming from Intrada

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Intrada knows how to make film score fans hang onto every release: their latest batch includes a long-unreleased, underrated suspense score and the long-awaited deluxe reissue of a classic early ’90s action score.

Released in 1993, Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone as a mountaineer unwillingly forced into a heist led by John Lithgow was a critical and commercial success, and featured a great action score by Trevor Jones. The soundtrack called back to classic scores by luminaries like James Horner and Alan Silvestri, with a captivating theme that put it head and shoulders above the pack. A soundtrack CD was released by Scotti Bros. after the film’s release, but Intrada’s new, double-disc edition not only presents the complete score, but showcases a brand-new mix from the original 48-track digital session masters, making it the most optimal edition of Cliffhanger yet.

Intrada’s other release for the week goes a bit further back to 1970, with the first-ever release of the score to The Kremlin Letter, a John Huston thriller starring Max Von Sydow and Orson Welles. The score was composed by Robert Drasnin, not a household name to many but revered for his work on classic television including The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and others, not to mention a great curiosity of the 1950s, the exotic instrumental LP Voodoo (1959). Among the musicians on that record of exotic music: a pianist named John Williams, who would go on to great things as a composer.) Drasnin’s score presents ethnic, suspenseful cues befitting the U.S.-Soviet espionage scenario of the film.

Cliffhanger is limited to 2,000 copies while The Kremlin Letter is capped at 1,000. Track lists and order info are after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

February 22, 2011 at 09:03

Posted in News, Reissues, Soundtracks