I’ve just been made aware of an exciting new project about the legendary Gold Star studios, aptly titled ’33 1/3: House of Dreams.’
We’ve had various staged variations of the classic 60s pop sound so dear to myself and readers of this blog, among others ‘Leader of the Pack’, ‘Jersey Boys’ and ‘Motown: the Musical’, so it makes sense to focus on the fascinating story of David Gold and Stan Ross and their importance to the LA music scene by way of Gold Star.
This looks like a real labour of love and with support from those who recorded there to boot. Check out the kickstarter page of 33 1/3 to learn more about this new project which is seeking backing as of writing.
Sean MacLeod: “Leaders of the Pack – Girl Groups of the 1960s and Their Influence on Popular Culture in Britain and America”
**** (4 stars out of 6)
If you’re going to write a book on the 60s girl group genre you have different ways of going about it.
You could focus mainly on the groups themselves and compile a sort of estrogen-dripping encyclopedia devoted to 60s femme pop like überfan John Clemente has done with the much cherished ‘Girl Groups: Fabulous Females that Rocked the World.’ You could also broaden the scope and reflect upon the wider social and cultural significance of the genre’s output – this has been done somewhat by Alan Betrock in his ‘Girl Groups: the Story of a Sound’ and more extensively by Jacqueline Warwick in ‘Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 60s’
There are of course also those who highlight the girl group phenomenon as just one of many examples of women making their voice felt in popular music through the decades; Lucy O’Brien’s ‘She Bop: the Definitive History of Women in Popular Music’ or Gillian Gaar’s ‘She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock’n’Roll’ come to mind.
Even though there are already plenty of books out there covering the various angles on girl group history, I recently became aware of yet another book about the subject that could be of interest to Cue Castanets readers. ‘Leaders of the Pack: Girl Groups of the 1960s and their Influence on Popular Culture in Britain and America’ by Sean MacLeod came out in 2015 and as the loooong subtitle indicates, it’s a book that tries to do a little bit of everything; offer detailed glimpses into the careers of a few of the most notable groups, discuss their relevance and significance in connection to the era and, finally, outline how these groups, and the girl group genre itself, has had a far-reaching influence since the genre’s heyday. It’s a commendable cause and MacLeod deserves praise for his good intentions and nearly getting there.
I found MacLeod’s style of writing to be very good and informative. – and thankfully not written in an overtly academic manner. The book has a lot of useful info for readers who have just discovered girl groups, wisely singling out a few groups that are dealt with in-depth rather than tiring or confusing readers with too much info on the large number of groups that left behind a myriad of often obscure singles.
Maybe this condensed approach to telling about the genre reflects MacLeod’s work as a lecturer teaching music and media history? Using his selected girl groups as examples he carefully describes the various stages in the development of the girl group phenomena so that no readers are left behind. The Shirelles are used to exemplify the birth of the girl group sound; the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Marvelettes, the Supremes and the Vandellas are all dealt with during discussions of the genre’s climax and finally the Shangri-Las are highlighted when MacLeod discusses how the genre’s impact slowly petered out.
Girl group connoisseurs will probably scratch their heads and wonder why the Cookies or the Chiffons didn’t merit inclusion in standalone chapters as well as soloists befitting the genre such as Lesley Gore or Darlene Love but that minor gripe aside, MacLeods choices and the way he uses them to reflect upon the ups and downs of the girl group sound makes sense while reading the book.
Honesly, this is a tough book to review because I knew a lot about the topic beforehand. Therefore, I quickly began to skim or skip some pages or whole chapters along the way because they state the basic facts that die-hard fans can recite in their sleep. For new fans though I’m sure this book will make for a very interesting and eye-opening read and I suspect it could be especially useful as reading material for a course in music history. A lot of songs are mentioned throughout which will surely send those just digging into the genre record-hunting or checking out sound samples online. The many fabulous girl-themed compilations put out by Ace Records through the years would be a good place to start for girl group newbies.
What I really like about the book is when MacLeod looks beyond the girl groups themselves and reflects upon their own influences or the way they influenced other music of their era.
He makes a really good case for how the girl group sound was not just one specific sound but more of a musical melting pot of diverse inspiration that happened to be carried by female voices. Consequently, some girl group records reflect more of a doo wop or rhythm’n’blues foundation whereas others are more to the poppier, ‘white’ side.
When MacLeod tries to pinpoint the influence of the girl group genre itself on later generations of girl singers and female musicians things get very interesting, though also at times a bit far fetched and subjective. Although I’m sure Madonna, the Spice Girls and Lady Gaga know a few girl group hits or more, I doubt the genre’s influence on their sound has been big enough to merit whole chapters devoted to the subject. But then again; Amy Winehouse certainly took her point of departure in the girl group sound so it’s definitely a topic worth discussing. I do like the fact that MacLeod doesn’t shy away from trying to connect the dots between then and now, even though some of his conclusions are debatable.
All in all, this is a fine and worthwhile book but one that’s more for casual fans than experts, hence my 4-star rating. Let me put it this way; if you know someone that you feel are ready to be introduced to this fascinating, yet criminally overlooked genre, then give ‘em a great big kiss and this book for Christmas to get them off and running!
Three years ago, in my ongoing feature on ‘Would-be Spectors’, I wrote about the importance of Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche for the Wall of Sound. Without the arranging skills of Nitzsche as well as his widespread contacts within the LA music business, who knows how big an impact Spector’s productions would have had?
In my blog post I mentioned an upcoming documentary about Nitzsche that was seemingly in the works. I never heard more about it and assumed the project had come to a stand-still. Recently though, I was contacted by the director Kristian St. Clair from Century67 Films with the good news that the documentary was nearing completion. I was all ears and eager to learn more about this project and luckily, Kristian was more than willing to answer questions for an interview for Cue Castanets.
I think we can look forward to a very interesting documentary about one of the unsung heroes of the music industry, – and here I’m both thinking in terms of Nitzsche himself as well as the arranger in a broader sense. Here’s what Kristian had to say about Nitzsche and the documentary about him.
First off, could you tell a bit about your background in filmmaking? I know you produced a similar music documentary on jazz artist Gary McFarland prior to focusing on Jack Nitzsche?
I majored in journalism at the University of Washington here in Seattle, WA, where I dabbled in short documentaries. At the time I started the McFarland documentary in 2000, digital non-linear filmmaking was breaking out of the realm of professional post production houses and into the hands of average consumers.
I wanted to make a feature-length film, and a documentary seemed like the best genre that I could legitimately pull off with the least amount of resources available.
What prompted you to set your sights on Nitzsche? What about his story ‘lured you in’, so to speak?
Jack Nitzsche was an artist I organically discovered collecting records of other artists I was fascinated with. First, was Randy Newman which led me to the Nitzsche co-produced track “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” on 12 Songs, and then, of course, his soundtrack to “Performance.”
Also, my love of all things Beach Boys & Brian Wilson, led to a deeper appreciation of Phil Spector’s legacy, which then lead directly to Jack and “The Lonely Surfer.”
I was constantly surprised to see just how many artists he worked with and how his name would pop up seemingly everywhere. I always like to tell people he’s the only producer to work with both Doris Day and The Germs!
How did you first learn about Nitzsche’s work? Any particular arrangements / productions / recordings that sparked your interest in him?
“Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” from Randy Newman’s 12 songs, casts such a dark and cinematic spell.
Lenny Waronker describes in my film how Randy originally played it in a much faster arrangement with a more rollicking piano part, and it was Jack (who also brought along Ry Cooder) who suggested that he slow it down.
He tried something similar to a lesser effect on The Everly Brothers’ rendition of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” (also featuring Ry Cooder).
So, you decide to take on the task of documenting his background and career. What was your first steps? How did you go about making this initial idea come into fruition?
Martin Roberts who maintains the wonderful Jack Nitzsche website on Spectropop put me in touch with Jack Nitzsche, Jr. He watched my Gary McFarland doc and agreed to meet.
We first met at Musso & Frank’s in Hollywood along with another of Jack Nitzsche’s old pals, the artist Hudson Marquez, and I apparently made a good enough impression that he gave my film project his blessing.
Could you roughly describe the timeline covered in the documentary? Does it cover Nitzsche’s whole life / career or are there parts you skip? Who have you interviewed along the way?
For the most part it covers beginning to end, with the main middle portion of the film focusing on the period of Phil Spector through to his collaborations with Neil Young. An incredible run of music in it’s own right, and he still had a 3rd act as an Oscar-winning film composer!
Interview participants (so far) include Keith Richards, Ry Cooder, LaLa Brooks, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jackie DeShannon, Rod McKuen, Jeff Barry, Don Randi, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Lenny Waronker, Russ Titelman, HB Barnum, William Friedkin, Marianne Faithfull, Toni Basil, Robert Downey, Sr., Milos Forman, Andrew Loog Oldham, and many other close friends and collaborators.
I think I recall that UK-based Ace Records had access to Nitzsche’s session diaries when they compiled their three Nitzsche compilations. Did you gain the same access?
Yes, I’ve had full access to Nitzsche’s diaries, journals, photos, recordings, etc.
Are there any anecdotes from the process of researching, interviewing and producing the documentary that you’d like to share with us?
Jack was fascinated with voodoo and the occult, so one of his favorite possessions was a small lock from the tomb of Marie Laveau. There’s not a lot of archival footage of Jack around, but I was reviewing some 8mm home movies, and sure enough, there’s a clip of Jack in the 1970’s trying to pry the thing lose from her tomb!
How much does the documentary deal with what some would see as Nitzsche’s golden era, the early-to-late 60s?
Easily 1/3 if not a bit more of the film will focus on this, though I’d extend that golden period to include his early seventies collaborations with Neil Young and early film scores like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Seeing that Cue Castanets is focused on the Wall of Sound, I’d love to hear your opinion on the extent of Nitzsche’s role in developing the sound? Based on what you’ve learned through your research and interviews,…. Spector and him certainly seemed to have a rocky working relationship that soured along the way…
David Kessel described Jack Nitzsche as the architect of the Wall of Sound. I think Jack was able to take Phil’s grandiose ideas and concepts and put them on paper and make them come to life in a way that matched what Phil heard in his head. Phil knew what he wanted but didn’t necessarily have the arranging skills to achieve that.
It’s interesting hearing outtakes of Phil in the studio, there’s one point where he’s trying to explain something to one of the musicians and is having trouble getting his point across and finally out of frustration he says “Jack, tell him what I mean!” I think that pretty much sums up their working relationship.
I don’t get the sense there was a falling out per se, they just naturally drifted apart after the failure of River Deep, Mountain High, which also coincided with Jack’s rise as an independent producer and arranger for hire.
Hudson Marquez recalled that at Jack’s funeral service, Phil Spector spoke and said “Without Jack Nitzsche, there would have been no Wall of Sound,” and he’s right!
What surprised you the most about Nitszche after researching his story and interviewing those in the know?
Although he had this reputation as being incredibly difficult (which is probably putting it mildly), he was, of course, a very gentle soul who constructed this facade as a defense mechanism. He also had an incredible sense of humor, some of which I hope will come through in this film.
What has been your biggest challenge working on this project?
Any film about someone from this era is a race against time. My biggest disappointment was, although Willy DeVille agreed to an interview, his health took such a rapid decline (cancer), that we weren’t able to get it done. He’s still a big presence in the film due to footage of Jack & Willy hanging out in a NYC hotel room, but I still would have loved to have his first-hand commentary.
What are your plans for the finalized documentary? Where can Cue Castanets readers see it?
We completed a rough cut this past August and hope to have a final cut ready to submit to film festivals by Spring 2018.
Any similar projects in the works? Or, at least, ideas for something along the lines of your two documentaries?
A few ideas, but nothing concrete yet. Just trying to push this one over the finish line!
Well, no matter what topic you take on next, I wish you good luck and look forward to enjoying the Nitzsche documentary.
Finally, I always conclude my interviews by asking people to list their top 5 Spector productions. If you’d like to chime in, please do so – at the very least, I hope you’d share with us your personal top 5 of Nitzsche-involved tracks.
I’ll give you 2 Top 5’s my top 5 Spector/Nitzsche tracks, and top 5 Nitzsche tracks:
Regrettably, my day job and other things in life has kept me from blogging about the Wall of Sound for some months and by the looks of it, my blogging will never be as frequent as in the first phase of Cue Castanets.
I still plan to post from time to time, when time and my work load make it possible and I hope you’ll still check in. There are a lot of posts from the past years that will hopefully make for interesting reading and I plan to keep on posting the odd revue, write-up on specific tracks or feature some more interviews.
Speaking of interviews, as of writing I’m glad to have been able to feature many interviews with a number of knowledgable people. Each person has a take on the Phil Spector legend and the Wall of Sound worth checking out.
If you’d like to get the full overview in order to see if you’ve read all interview on Cue Castanets, go here:
Like I said, I may post more infrequently from now on but there are a lot of subjects I’d like to discuss on Cue Castanets. If you haven’t signed up yet for e-mail notifications with every new blog post, I hope you’ll do so. That way you won’t miss out on any posts. Use the ‘Follow’ option in the low right corner.
My next post will follow shortly, – until then I’ll leave you with a stellar new modern Spector soundalike that a Cue Castanets reader kindly made me aware of. It’s just come out, proving that the Wall of Sound influence still rears it’s head from time to time, here by way of US veterans the Maverics. Around since the early 90s, the band released their latest album, of which ‘Brand New Day’ is the title track, in March this year.
‘Brand New Day’ is a very classic approach to writing a Spectoresque pop song with meaningfull lyrics. I think it’s not that far removed from how Bruce Springsteen has channeled his Wall of Sound inspiration in some of his productions. Listen to it a few times and you’ll really like it. It’s a grower!
It seems like the well of modern Spector soundalikes never runs dry. Why, just today I discovered a very nice production that clearly picks up a trick or two from the Wall of Sound.
Turns out the Courteeners is a UK indie rock band that’s been around since the mid-00s. I’ve never heard about them before, and I suspect I won’t really enjoy the rest of their catalog as I’m not that keen on indie rock. But I am all ears when it comes to this little gem from their 2014 album ‘Concrete Love’.
Admittedly, ‘Has He Told You that He Loves You Yet?’ is pretty straightforward and just on the verge of being forgettable as a song,… but to the rescue then comes a driving drum beat coupled with a tambourine, tasty reverb and some acoustic guitars strumming along for good measure.
The Wall of Sound touches supplied here seem well chosen in that they inject energy into the song as a counterpoint to the otherwise dreamy mood of the lead vocal. It wouldn’t be far fetched to compare the song’s overall sound to something like, say, Morrissay’s Spectorish ‘Everyday is like Sunday.’
I’ve known about it for years, and have seen it quoted extensively in the various Spector books that have come out,…. but for some reason, I’ve never read the full piece. Maybe the same goes for you? If so, go ahead and get a sense of the rambling, jive-talking and score-settling Phil Spector of 1969… There are quite a few topics covered that hasn’t been quoted in the Spector books.
I do wish he had talked more about his own productions. Though it’s interesting to see him reflect on the changing times of the late 60s music business and his own tentative approach towards it after the self-imposed exile after the failure of the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ single. Interestingly, Spector himself explains its failure with the view that the industry wanted to see his downfall. So maybe this interview is where that often repeated explanation originates from?
And speaking of legendary interviews I would be a fool to not also post the link to Crawdaddy magazine’s equally legendary interview with none other than Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche, master arranger and producer extraordinaire and of course Spector’s right hand man in Gold Star studios during much of the recording of the Philles catalog.
Crawdaddy’s interview came out in 1974 and makes for very interesting reading. What a career with all sorts of interesting twists and turns! Someone out there really ought to write a book about Nitzsche, preferably working together with his family who I believe have an interesting collection of photos, diaries and logbooks with recording dates.
A few years ago it looked as if someone was looking into making a documentary on Nitzsche but it seems as if nothing has come of it,… yet. Fingers crossed – in the mean time we can all dust off our copies of the three fabulous Nitzsche compilations put out by the UK’s Ace Records.
Nitzsche’s talent is basically the gift that keeps on giving,… to prove my point I’ll conclude with a conducting & arranging credit of his that I discovered online last night. Dig this stomping Fab Four soundalike courtesy of the Palace Guard:
The other day a much anticipated package from Spain arrived at Cue Castanets headquarters. The contents? The new CD release ‘Hollywoodland, 1966-1969’ by Hanky Panky Records which collects both released and unreleased recordings by the Thomas Group.
The Thomas Group?
Some readers may scratch their heads upon meeting this unfamiliar band. However, if you are as much of a fan of 60s songwriting duo PF Sloan and Steve Barri as I am, the “blink and you’ll miss ‘em” career of the Thomas Group will be something you are well aware of.
I have already written here before about my appreciation of PF Sloan. As far as I’m concerned, PF Sloan, Brian Wilson and, you guessed it, Phil Spector make up the holy trinity of 60s pop. But where Brian Wilson and Phil Spector both carved out a very distinctive style and approach for their recordings, PF Sloan was much more adventurous or exploitative depending on how you look at his recordings. A musical chameleon with a capital C, Sloan and his songwriting partner Steve Barri could jump on any bandwagon and write tailormade songs for the latest dance or music craze. They dabbled effortlessly in vocal surf pop, merseybeat, girl group records, folk rock,… You name it, Sloan/Barri could write it!
The interesting thing is that as cynical as this may sound like, the duo churned out the most jubilant, first class pop records anyone’s ever likely to make. They were bonafide pop commandos. Need a hit? Call these guys! They may have written songs to order, but my god, the care, love and quality they instilled in their songs is in the grooves.
You can pick up a Sloan/Barri song a mile away; catchy riffs, clever word play, dreamy harmonies. Yet, despite knocking up hit records for a bunch of artists including the Turtles, Johnny Rivers and the Grass Roots, PF Sloan and Steve Barri have unfairly stood in the shadows of other, more celebrated 60s songwriters such as the husband & wife teams of the Brill Building.
Maybe Sloan/Barri just didn’t write enough monster hit records to get fully recognised? Maybe they were too young and inexperienced to really make their mark in the business? Or maybe they were held somewhat back because they were tied to a second-tier record label like Dunhill? We’ll never know for sure and it doesn’t really matter. The music speaks for itself and it speaks volumes in terms of the sheer talent on offer by these two young songwriters.
Sloan, of course, later went solo issuing a couple of brilliant albums until his career fell on the wayside due to personal problems. Steve Barri ventured into production work.
Where does the Thomas Group fit into all of this? Well, seeing that the Sloan/Barri story is filled with examples of upcoming groups or one-off Sloan/Barri singles by established artists, the Thomas Group is a prime example of the former.
The band came together in 1965 at the behest of drummer Tony Thomas who was the son of the TV producer and comedian Danny Thomas. Enlisting some friends to form a band, Thomas & friends were inspired by the current chart success of Gary Lewis & the Playboys, yet another band formed around the drumming son of a comedian, Jerry Lewis.
Back then things happened fast. Almost immediately after getting together, the band was snapped up by Dunhill producer Lou Adler and assigned to Sloan and Barri leading an assortment of Wrecking Crew regulars in the studio. In typical mid-60s pop fashion hardly a Thomas Group member played on the resulting singles. Lead vocals on all were sung by Thomas Group keyboardist Greg Gilford, often sounding uncannily like Sloan. This also occurred with the Grass Roots where lead singer Rob Grill closely followed Sloan’s vocals on the songwriting demos.
Back to the Thomas Group; over a short time span 6 Sloan/Barri songs were recorded and issued on Dunhill but inexplicably none of them saw any notable chart action. However, the recordings are stellar and from a moment in time where Sloan/Barri had truly perfected their catchy formula.
Take a bit of Four Season-ish falsetto for the chorus, some jangling guitars, a heavy dose of Merseybeat-styled energy and, at times, even a pinch of garage group shakeup and you’ll get some idea of what these records sound like. To these ears, songs like ‘Penny Arcade’, ‘Ordinary Girl’ and ‘Autumn’ are among Sloan/Barri’s very best songs. Fun fact; Gary Zekley was so floored by ‘Penny Arcade’ that he by his own admission ripped off the opening verse melody for his own verses to Bonnie’s Wall of Sound classic “Close Your Eyes.”
Sloan/Barri fans have of course known and cherished these pop gems for decades but what’s special about this new release is the fact that we now have the 6 Sloan/Barri songs in crystal clear, glorious stereo for the first time. And it is a revelation to hear these recordings with fresh ears! The lead vocals and cool backing harmonies especially benefit from stereo.
These new mixes are basically a must-hear for any pop fan. You’ll also get your hands on a wealth of unreleased songs by the Thomas Group recorded while at Dunhill or later on while shopping for a deal under the new name Morning Sun. These tracks are interesting and include some really good songs overall, though none come close to the Sloan/Barri singles.
‘Is Happy this Way’, released as a single by Dunhill, is prime sunshine pop and a really strong recording and you’ll also get two versions of Greg Gilford’s catchy ‘Someone’. He turned out to be an interesting songwriter himself as songs such as ‘Is it Over’ and ‘New People’ show – maybe he learned a trick or two from Sloan/Barri?
You need this release for the 6 stereo Sloan/Barri songs alone! And better place your order now since the print run by Hanky Panky Records is limited to 500 copies.
Now, if some enterprising label out there could only do something similar with Sloan/Barri’s remaining 60s songwriting demos or the two albums with a wealth of Sloan/Barri songs by Canadian singer Terry Back? (hint hint)
If Phil Spector was LA’s ’Tycoon of Teen’, scenester, DJ and die hard music fan Rodney Bingenheimer was it’s ’Mayor of the Sunset Strip.’
Anyone with an in-depth interest in the rich musical heritage of Los Angeles, will know the extent to which Bingenheimer has championed local acts since 1976 on his legendary ‘Rodney on the ROQ’ show on local station KROQ. Sadly, this safe haven of cool music on the airwaves is no more with Bingenheimer’s final show having aired on Sunday; apparently, his show was put to rest due to changes at the station that inexplicably didn’t leave room for him and his wide-ranging musical taste.
My reason for writing about the show’s cancellation is of course the fact that Bingenheimer is a long-time champion of California-based 60s pop & rock, with songs produced by Phil Spector being especially close to his heart. For many years he used the Modern Folk Quartet’s bouncy ‘This Could be the Night’ as the show’s signature song and the show was also featured heavily in filmmaker Binia Tymieniecka’s 1983 documentary about Spector.
Off the air, Bingenheimer seems to have been within Spector’s very limited and close-knit inner circle during the 70s and all the way up until the Lana Clarkson case. Even as far back as 1966 Bingenheimer had the possibility of keeping a close eye on Spector’s sonic adventures, famously being present at the recording of ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ Here is an excerpt from Bingenheimer’s recollection of the session as told to music journalist Harvey Kubernik:
“I was in Hollywood and went to Wallich’s Music City [a record store] on the Sunset Strip. I was listening to records in one of their booths and ran into Brian Wilson, who was also in the store. I told Brian that Phil was doing a session at Gold Star down the street. He said ‘Let’s go!’ We walked to Gold Star. (…)
Brian and I never left the studio booth during the recording of ‘River Deep.’ You don’t leave when you’re at something like this. We were transfixed. Jack and Phil were very tight. They were like co-pilots on the Concorde from a flight from France. (…) Phil was screaming like a madman during the sessions. Tina was loud and sexy. She was wearing a wig and go-go boots. Very 60s. The engineers were Larry Levine and Stan Ross. Phil was in control!
Brian didn’t say a word. He soaked it in and sat there stunned. Tina’s vocal kept on soaring. Some of the musicians wore Alpaca sweaters. Phil and Jack dressed like kids. They wore clothes from deVoss and Beau Gentry, where the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones shopped. And everyone wore Caesar cologne (even the bottle looked great!), diamond-shaped dark glasses, puffy-sleeve shirts and boots. They didn’t look like record company people. They were listening to the song as it was played over and over. It was in the pocket. (…) Phil Spector is rock’n’roll. After the session, I walked home and couldn’t sleep.”
Aaah, the glamorous days of 60s Los Angeles; imagine bumping into Brian Wilson and then, at a whim, crashing a Spector session. Mindblowing! No wonder Bingenheimer has devoted his life to music after experiences like this one.
I would have imagined him to have spun at least one Spector cut during his final show, but he instead opted to go with the times and play more recent material, although including a few songs with a heavy nod towards the Wall of Sound such as ‘Just like Honey’ by Jesus & Mary Chain and ‘7/11’ by the Postmarks.
It’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the Mayor of the Sunset Strip – hopefully, his musical choices will grace Los Angeles air waves once again in the near future.
You can read more about Rodney and the show’s history here:
Confession: when I first fell head over heels in love with the wall of sound in the early 00s, it was by way of the Righteous Brothers. Being a die-hard soul fan, it took me a little longer to warm to the other parts of the Philles catalog. However, those glorious, soulful vocals by Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield?… Pure bliss! I was hooked rightaway. To this day, ‘Just Once in my Life’ is probably my favourite Spector production.
When singing together these guys were incredible but they could also pack a punch on their own as plenty of tracks on the various Righteous Brothers albums prove.
Allegedly, Bobby Hatfield was frustrated by the immediate attention bestowed to Bill Medley by Spector on follow-ups to ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’, but luckily Hatfield was given quite a few opportunities to shine amid shimmering, echo-soaked backing tracks. ‘I Love You (for Sentimental Reasons)’ and ‘Ebb Tide’ have always been especially dear to me, even more so than the iconic ‘Unchained Melody.’ (and let’s skip the discussion of who really produced that gem!)
It’s about time Bobby Hatfield got his proper due and what better company to do his musical legacy justice than the fine folks at UK label Ace Records? They have just released a superb compilation with the apt title ‘The Other Brother’ that is a must-buy for any Cue Castanets reader.
The compilation displays the high standard we’ve come to expect from Ace projects; well-chosen tracks – including never before released recordings, beautiful cover artwork and very informative liner notes as well as top-notch sound quality. Believe me, ordering this release is a no-brainer. Your ears will thank you!
There can be no doubt that Bobby was an extraordinary singer who made the most of the songs he was given, even though the material at hand on occasion was of lesser quality. There are a few instances of this on the disc but it doesn’t mar the overall listening experience. Bobby could obviously inject life and drama into even the most mediocre songs.
Having said that, there is an overload of great recordings on ‘The Other Brother’, none the least a smattering of previously unreleased songs of high quality which makes one wonder why they never saw the light of day. I’m especially fond of Bobby’s velvet-soft take on ‘Crying in the Chapel.’
Of particular interest for Spector connoisseurs is a hitherto unreleased version of ‘Paradise’; here reimagined as a mid-tempo soul song with a James Jamerson-type bass line, punchy horns and strings that bring forth a bit of the grandeur we know from the Spector-produced version with the Ronettes. Even though Bobby and the uncredited mystery producer involved do not achieve the same level of sophistication as the Tycoon of Teen, theirs is still a very good version – and one that’s very refreshing to hear after having played the Ronettes track to death.
Besides this song and a few other nice, unreleased recordings, Bobby also turns in a fine version of ‘See that Girl’, which of course graced side 2 of the ‘Just Once in my Life’ Philles album by the Righteous Brothers.
Outside of recording as a Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield wasn’t really that prolific. Eventually only issuing one album, the soulful ‘Messin’ in Muscle Shoals’ from 1971, his career was dogged by lukewarm reception to singles that were meant to test the waters for album projects.
A planned solo album for 1969 fell on the wayside after slow ’45 sales which is a shame; two of the songs for planned inclusion on this scrapped album is on ‘The Other Brother’, but it’s a shame that Ace hasn’t included strong cuts like ‘My Prayer’ and ‘Answer Me’ since they showcase Bobby at his best.
On the other hand, the whole ‘Messin’ in Muscle Shoals’ album is included – if you like southern soul, this album is right up your alley. You could argue that some of these later songs could have been left off to make room for more 60s Hatfield-leads like the Righteous Brothers take on ‘I Believe’ or the sublime ‘Answer Me’, but that’s all a matter of taste.
Personally, I was glad to have ‘Hang-Ups’ as the collection’s lead off track since it’s probably my favorite solo Hatfield recording and thus makes for the perfect opener. When released as a single it was paired with the groovy ‘Soul Café’ which is also a welcome inclusion on the disc.
All in all, this is a great and long overdue set highlighting different parts of Bobby’s career. Tip of the hat to compiler Tony Rounce and the rest of the team at Ace for continuously documenting the best pop of the 60s with care and affection.
You can order your own copy and listen to sound samples here: