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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

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

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)

Be Their Baby: Legacy Preps Releases for Crystals, Ronettes and Darlene Love (UPDATED 1/17)

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When Sony announced in September 2009 that rights had been acquired from EMI Music Publishing to reissue Phil Spector’s Philles catalogue after years of neglect from the ABKCO label, great anticipation was in the air. A major campaign was planned by Sony’s Legacy division with projects in development including “Artist’s Playlists, Best-of collections, and first-ever releases of Philles studio rarities – as well as facsimile reproductions of original singles and albums,” but since that heady announcement, no product has materialized other than a remastered, straight reissue of 1963’s classic A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.

After a year-plus of silence, Legacy’s program finally appears to be kicking off on February 22, hot on the heels of both Darlene Love’s induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a lawsuit filed by Love and members of The Ronettes against Spector for payment of royalties. (The plaintiffs won a similar lawsuit in 2006.) On that day, Legacy will release four new compilations honoring the best-known artists of the label: The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love, Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of the CrystalsBe My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes and Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector. The Darlene Love release is particularly welcome, as so many release dates for this title had been bandied throughout 2010. (Enthusiasts had to be content with Ace’s superlative 2008 So Much Love: A Darlene Love Anthology 1958-1998, rounding up the best of her non-Spector sides.) Are you ready to go “back to mono,” friends? Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 17, 2011 at 08:13