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Sweeter Than Wine: “This Magic Moment” Compiles Brill Building Nuggets

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Brill Building CompToday, 1619 Broadway in the heart of New York City’s theatre district doesn’t particularly stand out. Despite the building’s ornate façade, 1619 appears to be just another office building on a busy thoroughfare populated with every kind of attention-grabbing signage.  But this building – along with its neighbor to the north, 1650 Broadway – is as much a part of rock and roll history as Sun Studios or Abbey Road.  1650 is the one and only Brill Building, incubator to some of the finest songs in the American popular canon.  For a fertile period in the 1950s and 1960s, 1619 and 1650 (and to a lesser extent, 1697 Broadway, as well!) were lined with cubicles in which some of the busiest and best songwriters competed with one another to conquer the charts with their frequently youthful compositions.  The U.K.’s Jasmine label, drawing on public domain recordings made through 1962, has assembled a 2-CD, 64-song, non-chronologically sequenced overview of this remarkable period of creativity.  The appropriately-entitled This Magic Moment: The Sound of the Brill Building is available now.

In his liner notes, Groper Odson describes the “First Team” of the Brill Building as era of consisting of seven duos.  Noted next to their names are some of the songs you’ll hear on this new compilation:

  • Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (“Charlie Brown,” “Stand by Me”)
  • Gerry Goffin and Carole King (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Locomotion,” “Chains”)
  • Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (“A Teenager in Love,” “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”)
  • Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (“Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” “Where the Boys Are”)
  • Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“Only Love Can Break a Heart,” “It’s Love That Really Counts”)
  • Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“Uptown,” “Bless You”)
  • Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (Greenwich’s “Our Love It Grows,” Barry’s “Teenage Sonata” and “Tell Laura I Love Her”)

And while all of those songwriters are represented on This Magic Moment – named for a Pomus and Shuman tune, of course – so are some names that might be more unfamiliar: Jack Keller, Mark Barkan, Tony Powers, Larry Kolber, Ben Raleigh, Hank Hunter, Bob Hilliard, Bernie Baum, Florence Kaye and Bill Giant among them.  But even if you don’t know those names, chances are you know many of their songs.  This Magic Moment deftly blends those famous songs that have endured over the course of seven decades with some tracks that were cut from the same cloth but didn’t necessarily have the same staying power.

After the jump: a closer look at This Magic Moment including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 3, 2014 at 10:24

Jerry Lee Lewis, The Ronettes, Del Shannon, Louis Armstrong Feature On “The London American Label 1964”

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London American 19641964 will forever be remembered on American shores as the year of Beatlemania, when those four moptops from Liverpool led the British Invasion to the top of the pop charts.  That tale has been chronicled many times, but one of the most recent releases from U.K.-based label Ace tells the story of the year’s American Invasion – via the American records imported to London on the London American label.  This latest volume in the long-running series (which now features an entry for each year between 1956 and 1964) may be the most exciting and most eclectic yet.  The London American Label: 1964 takes in an array of artists both familiar (Jerry Lee Lewis, Ben E. King, The Ronettes) and less-heralded (David Box, Ned Miller, Jimmy Holiday) and everybody in between in chronicling this exciting and musically diverse time.

In his liner notes, Tony Rounce sets the scene for the music, detailing the United Kingdom’s seismic shifts that year in politics, sports, architecture and culture.  The London American label issued 111 singles in 1964, and 28 sides appear on the new compilation.  These were drawn from U.S. labels including Philles, Atlantic, Hi, Dot, Stax and Kapp.  By 1964, Pye and EMI both had their own dedicated labels for releasing American repertoire in the U.K., and by mid-year, Atlantic and Dot would cease supplying singles for release on London, too.  Cadence also departed the London roster by the end of the year.  In many respects, this crucial volume in the London American Label series points the way towards the end of an era.  1965 would be the final year that London’s release tally would total a three-digit number.

What will you find on this transatlantic showcase?  Hit the jump for more details plus a full track listing with discography and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil Are “Born to Be Together” on New Ace CD

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Mann and Weil - Born to Be TogetherBorn to Be Together: could a more apropos title have been devised for a collection of the songs of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil?  Married since 1961, the team both defines and defies the phrase “unsung heroes.”  Without hit records as recording artists, Mann and Weil have never had the name recognition of their Brill Building-era compatriots like Carole King or Neil Sedaka, but these Grammy Award-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are hardly unsung.  If all they’d ever written was the most played song of the twentieth century, The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” they would have gone down in the history books.  With over 1,000 songs reportedly under their collective belt and some 100 hits (not a bad track record, eh?) charted, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are simply international treasures.  Ace Records has recognized this with Born to Be Together, the label’s second volume of songs from their storied catalogue following 2009’s Glitter and Gold.

A 2004 theatrical revue starring the couple, They Wrote That?, made reference to one of the most frequent exclamations regarding their body of work.  You might find yourself saying that yourself glancing the track listing of this 25-song compendium: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,”  “Saturday Night at the Movies,” “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”  But those hits are just the tip of the iceberg here.

Compilation producer Mick Patrick has expertly woven those familiar tracks (all in their most famous versions) into a tapestry that also takes in lesser-known versions of hit songs and true rarities.  The disc also takes in compositions co-written by Mann and/or Weil with other luminaries, among them Gerry Goffin, Russ Titelman, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Ernie Freeman, and of course, Phil Spector.  The specter of Spector lingers on both the majestic songs he produced (“Lovin’ Feelin’,” The Crystals’ “Uptown,” The Ronettes’ darkly seductive “Born to Be Together”) and those he co-wrote as recorded by others (Len Barry’s Philly treatment of “You Baby”).

After the jump: much more on Mann and Weil, including a full track listing and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Leaders of the Pack: Ace Celebrates Legendary Songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry

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The union of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry was a brief one.  Married in 1962, the same year that they began a songwriting partnership, they were divorced in 1965.  Their professional partnership only continued for a short time thereafter.  Yet to this day, the team of Greenwich and Barry is spoken of in the same breath as two other successful Brill Building husband-and-wife teams, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (married 1961, still going strong!) and Gerry Goffin and Carole King (married 1959, divorced 1968).  Why?  Their songs remain some of the most perfect expressions of youth ever written, and most of them are just plain fun.  By the numbers, Greenwich and Barry saw 17 of their songs make the pop charts in 1964 alone, with a total of five chart-toppers in their career.  A total of 25 of their songs went gold or platinum.  Ace Records has just celebrated the Greenwich and Barry catalogue with a second volume of classic songs from the duo.  Following 2008’s Do-Wah-Diddy: Words and Music by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry comes the new release Da Doo Ron Ron: More from the Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry Songbook.  This comprehensive 24-track anthology includes many of the team’s hit songs in their original renditions as well as a choice sampling of true rarities and underrated covers.

Both natives of Brooklyn, New York, Greenwich (1940-2009) and Barry (1938-) met at a family get-together.  Actually distant relatives by marriage, both youngsters played piano and wrote songs.  Unlike many of their Brill Building contemporaries, both Greenwich and Barry were equally adept at composing and lyric-writing, so they would frequently share those duties on their compositions.  They consummated their partnership personally and professionally in 1962 although both initially continued to work with other songwriting partners.  Greenwich wrote two of producer Phil Spector’s Top 40 hits with Tony Powers:  Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?” and Darlene Love’s “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry.”  For his part, Jeff Barry wrote “Tell Laura I Love Her” with Ben Raleigh, and saw the “death disc” climb all the way to No. 1 in 1960 on both sides of the Atlantic.  Ray Peterson scored the hit in the United States, and Ricky Valance in the United Kingdom!  Barry’s self-penned “Teenage Sonata” was also a No. 22 U.S. R&B success in the hands of Sam Cooke.  But when they joined forces, Greenwich and Barry soon proved unstoppable.

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller united them professionally in 1962, providing cubicles in the Trio Music offices at the Brill Building.  Ellie and Jeff’s collaboration with Leiber and Stoller would lead them to the duo’s Red Bird Records, but first they scored more smash hits with Phil Spector.  Four 1963 classics from the Spector/Greenwich/Barry team all appear on Ace’s new anthology, and all are immortal examples of how the team defined the sound of then-current pop music: The Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Not Too Young to Get Married,” Darlene Love’s “Wait ‘til My Bobby Gets Home” and The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron.”  That same year, Spector attempted a song called “Chapel of Love,” co-written with Greenwich and Barry, on both Darlene Love and the Ronettes.  He wasn’t happy with either version, though, and so both recordings sat on the shelf.  The song caught the ear of Leiber and Stoller.  The former hated it and the latter liked it, but the third principal of the new Red Bird label, George Goldner, smelled a hit.  And his nose didn’t lie!  When “Chapel of Love” was released in April 1964 by New Orleans girl group The Dixie Cups, it knocked the Beatles out of the top spot on the U.S. pop charts.  It was Red Bird’s first single and the company’s first hit, but it wouldn’t be its last penned by Greenwich and Barry.  The team was largely responsible for 15 hits out of Red Bird’s first 20 releases!

What will you find on this ace anthology from Ace?  Just hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 24, 2012 at 09:49

Be My Baby: Sundazed Preps Spector Reissues On Vinyl

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It’s once again time to go back to mono.  Sundazed has just announced the vinyl reissue of four classic albums from Phil Spector’s Philles label.  On July 31, The Ronettes’ Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica by the Ronettes; Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans; and The Crystals’ Uptown and He’s A Rebel will all receive the Sundazed treatment.  All four albums were reissued on CD last year from Phil Spector Records and Legacy Recordings as part of The Philles Album Collection box set, but this Sundazed campaign marks their return to their original vinyl format.

These four LPs tell the early Spector story and in doing so, the story of a shift in American popular music as the music business took notice of the buying power of the teenager.  The then-21 year old Spector’s earliest hits, The Crystals’ “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown,” are both heard here, as well as the breakthroughs “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” for the Ronettes.  The development of the “Wall of Sound” is traced from the early New York sessions, many with arranger Arnold Goland, to the famous Hollywood recordings on which Spector was aided by the power of the Wrecking Crew and arranger Jack Nitzsche.

After the jump, we’ll take an in-depth look at all four albums!   Plus: track listings and a pre-order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 11, 2012 at 14:42

Review: Phil Spector, “The Philles Album Collection” and “The Essential Phil Spector”

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Whoa-oh, a-whoa-oh-oh-oh!

Think of The Ronettes’ wail, every bit as iconic a cry as a-whop-bop-a-loo-a-whop-bam-boom.  Doesn’t rock and roll have a way of elevating onomatopoeia to poetry?  And no label made sweeter poetry in the first half of the 1960s than Philles Records.  The voices of Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love, La La Brooks, Barbara Alston and the rest spoke directly to America’s teenagers.  These women, alternately vulnerable and defiant, were little more than girls when they began putting their voices to the “little symphonies” being crafted by producer Phil Spector and his house arrangers, most notably Jack Nitzsche.  Tom Wolfe once famously deemed Spector “America’s first teen-age tycoon.”  Why?  Spector recognized the paradigm shift in the late 1950s, when teenagers began accruing disposable income and exercising newfound spending power.  He tapped into uncharted territory.  Cole Porter and Irving Berlin weren’t writing songs about teenagers.  Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were.  Like Spector, they were barely out of their teen years themselves.  The songs they created at Philles remain both of a distinct time, and timeless.  It’s those songs that are celebrated on Legacy Recordings’ 7-CD box set The Philles Album Collection (Phil Spector Records/Legacy 88697 92782-2).

So why an album collection, when the producer famously derided albums in favor of singles?  These albums do little to dissuade the notion that Spector was a great, perhaps the great, singles producer.  He reportedly paid little attention to the long-players bearing his imprint.  But if an album is viewed as a collection of great songs, it’s impossible to argue with the success of these platters.  There’s little doubt, too, that the producer’s ethos was on-the-money, viewed from the present music climate which has shifted back to an emphasis on singles.  The Philles Album Collection marks the very first time that any of its six albums have been released on CD in their original configurations, and for that alone, it would be noteworthy.  Each album is housed in an attractive, sturdy mini-LP jacket.  Its seventh disc is even more exotic, though: a bonus disc of offbeat, B-side instrumentals that accompanied some of these songs for single release.  Spector took the art of recycling tracks, album-to-album, to a new level; there’s frequent repetition among these discs that doesn’t make for ideal consecutive listening and may be frustrating for some.  But Spector and co. could have had little idea that, nearly fifty years later, listeners would be revisiting these long-players in one sitting.

Phil Spector was still producing outside artists when he launched Philles with Lester Sill; in 1962 he produced the hit “Second Hand Love” for Connie Francis at MGM after a string of hit recordings for Gene Pitney, Ray Peterson, Curtis Lee, the Paris Sisters and other notables.  The Philles Album Collection begins, appropriately enough, with the girl group that graced the label’s first album and single, The Crystals, led by Barbara Alston.

Hit the jump, and it’s 1962!   You’ve just put The Crystals Twist Uptown onto your new turntable! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 25, 2011 at 12:58

Release Round-Up: Week of October 24/25

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It’s Tuesday, but most of the new music this week has already been out for a day. But assuming you were too busy to get out to the shops, here’s a look at what’s new. And there’s quite a bit!

Various Artists, Phil Spector Presents The Philles Album Collection (Phil Spector Records/Legacy)

Six of the first seven Philles albums presented in mono, along with a bonus disc of those delightfully out-there instrumental B-sides. Seriously, have you heard any of them? They’re crazy. In a good way, that is.

Diana Ross & The Supremes, The 50th Anniversary Collection 1961-1969 / The Temptations, The 50th Anniversary Collection 1961-1971 (Hip-o Select/Motown)

Two new triple-disc sets capture two of Motown’s greatest groups at their peak, with every A- and B-side from the listed periods contained therein.

Paul Simon, One Trick Pony / Hearts and Bones / Graceland / The Rhythm of the Saints / Songwriter (Legacy)

The first four are the 2004 Rhino reissues in jewel cases instead of digipaks (although Graceland is re-remastered), the last is a two-disc compilation handpicked by Simon himself with a big thick booklet for your persual. (Have you read Joe’s great review? You really should.)

Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam 20 (Sony Music Video)

Cameron Crowe’s celebratory documentary, now available for home viewing.

Various Artists, The Bridge School Concerts: 25th Anniversary Edition (Reprise)

Two new sets – a 3-disc DVD box and a double-disc CD set – capture 25 years of one of the best known (and, let’s face it, best) benefit concert series of all time. Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, Sonic Youth and a host of other rock luminaries appear.

Howlin’ Wolf, Smokestack Lightnin’: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960 (Hip-o Select/Chess)

Four CDs of vintage blues goodness from The Wolf – including some tracks making their Stateside debut.

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More: Deluxe Edition (Glassnote)

The great British roots-rockers’ major label debut, expanded with a bonus track, a live disc and a DVD documentary.

The Monkees, Head (Rhino)

A shiny new vinyl reissue of the cult classic album.

The Mamas and The Papas, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears / Strawberry Alarm Clock, Incense and Peppermints (Sundazed)

The original, classic albums in mono, on CD! (There are a few other notables coming from Sundazed for you ’60s fans, too.)

Yes, 9012Live: The Solos – Expanded Edition (Friday Music)

The first-ever domestic CD release of Yes’ overlooked live album/side project, with two live bonus tracks for good measure.

Deftones, The Vinyl Collection 1995-2011 (Reprise)

A limited edition collection of the alternative band’s studio albums, plus an album of non-album covers, previously only available as a Record Store Day exclusive. (It’s sold out online, but I’m sure it’s still up for grabs here and there.)

Nirvana, Nevermind: Super Deluxe Edition (Geffen/UMe)

Previously a Best Buy exclusive, it’s worth noting that this title is now available everywhere. Hooray!

FINAL UPDATE 8/4: “Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection” and “Essential Phil Spector” Due From Legacy

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Well, get a load of that!  This is the photo I’ve been waiting for – and if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been waiting with bated breath, too!  As of August 4, we have official confirmation that Legacy’s Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection is, indeed, coming on October 18, along with a two-disc retrospective as part of the label’s long-running Essential series.

Most purchasers of Legacy’s first wave of Philles Records reissues last February took immediate notice of a full-color insert which promised a most exciting June release sure to grab everyone’s attention: Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection.  Though the June release date came and went, the box was far from the back burner.  The Philles Album Collection features six original albums, none of which have ever appeared on CD before.  All have been newly remastered, and they represent six of the first seven LPs released on the label. (Philles 4005, of course, is A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which has already seen release in Legacy’s new Philles program.) A seventh bonus disc is entitled Phil’s Flipsides, and compiles seventeen in-demand, long-unheard instrumental B-sides by “The Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra,” meaning the Los Angeles “Wrecking Crew” at their finest!  Many of Spector’s collaborators are even name-checked as the titles to these wild instrumentals: Sonny Bono, Larry Levine, Hal Blaine and Nino Tempo are just a few.

The six original titles are The Crystals’ Twist Uptown (Philles 4000) and He’s a Rebel (Philles 4001), Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (Philles 4002), The Crystals’ Sing the Greatest Hits Volume One (Philles 4003), the various artists compilation Today’s Hits (Philles 4004) and Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (Philles 4006). Many of the songs on these LPs have never appeared legitimately on CD, and songwriters include Brill Building legends like Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Gene Pitney, Doc Pomus and Spector himself. The “Wrecking Crew” worked their magic instrumentally on the Gold Star-recorded tracks (some of the earliest Crystals tracks were actually cut in New York’s Mira Sound Studios), and among the vocalists featured are Darlene Love, Bobby Sheen, La La Brooks, Fanita James and Ronnie Spector. This is truly the crème de la crème. Hit the jump for more, including all track listings! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 4, 2011 at 14:20

Crossing the Pond: “London American Label 1963” Spotlights Spector and More

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It’s 1963. Imagine a label that counted Roy Orbison, Darlene Love, James Brown, The Drifters and Jerry Lee Lewis all among its artists. While such an array of talent never convened under one roof in America, it was a very different story in the United Kingdom. The U.K.’s  Decca Record Company indeed brought all of those artists, and more, under the umbrella of its London American label. London American delivered the best in American pop, R&B and rock and roll to British audiences. Ace is another British label bringing the best of American music to its listeners, so it seems fitting that the label is in the midst of an ambitious series celebrating the London American legacy. The London American Label Year by Year: 1963 is the fifth volume in the series, which isn’t being released chronologically. It’s available in the United Kingdom and expected to hit stores on our shores any day now.

The London label first appeared in America in 1934 representing British Decca’s operations in America. Back in Britain, the London logo made its debut in 1949 releasing material from its American counterpart, but also from early U.S. independent labels. It was in 1954 that a new prefix (HL) and numbering system (8001) was introduced, and it’s this series that is the focus of the Ace compilations. Some American hit records appeared on EMI’s Columbia, Parlophone and HMV labels, but the cream of the crop was usually on London.

Dedicated readers of The Second Disc know that 1963 may have been the year of Phil Spector. In England, however, it wasn’t the Philles label that boasted Darlene Love, The Crystals and The Ronettes, but rather, the London American label. While controlled by ABKCO, Philles recordings had long been unavailable for various artists compilations.  Since the acquisition of the license to the catalogue by Sony Music Entertainment, the vaults have been opened to labels like Ace. (One wonders if the label is considering an updated Darlene Love anthology; Ace’s So Much Love was a fantastic overview of Love’s career, but couldn’t include any of her most famous sides. Now, inclusion of the Spector-produced tracks would likely be possible.)

Ace producer Mick Patrick drops an interesting tidbit about this volume: “The inclusion of Darlene Love’s ‘A Fine Fine Boy’ here marks the first time the original 45 version has been legally available on CD. (All other digital issues contain a re-edit that is the result of irreparable damage to the original master.)” In addition to that track, Year by Year: 1963 also includes The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Of those songs, all but “Zip” were co-written by Spector with Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry. The famed Greenwich and Barry team appears elsewhere on Ace’s new volume, with Ray Peterson’s “death disc” “Give Us Your Blessing” and the Raindrops’ “What a Guy.” (Ellie and Jeff actually were The Raindrops!)

Who else appears on this volume? Hit the jump for more, plus the complete track listing with discography! Read the rest of this entry »

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