It’s been a while since this blog was really active but I hope you still check in from time to time to look for new posts. If you haven’t done so already, you could sign up for e-mail alerts whenever I post anything.
The reason why it’s been so quiet around here is that I’ve been extremely busy at work. Springtime and summer also generally means that I tend to listen more to the Beach Boys and harmony & sunshine pop than the Wall of Sound. For some reason I’m always more in the mood for the latter type of sound during fall and winter. And to top all this off – and here’s some blatant self-promotion – my band has been hard at work finishing our second album which you can check out here: https://surfschooldropouts.bandcamp.com/album/second-nature
So there you have it. I’ve been too busy to keep up the pace of the first couple of months blogging. Rest assured, I have lots of ideas for future posts that I’m sure will end up here over time. So please, stop by once in a while.
With that, I’m happy to publish a newly conducted interview with Kingsley Abbott, UK-based music journalist, reviewer, collector etc. I’ve been a fan of Kingsley’s work for many years and cherish his various books on, among other things, the Beach Boys, Motown and also Phil Spector. Besides issuing his own quality books, Kingsley also writes articles and reviews for music magazines like Record Collector, Uncut or Mojo. A very knowledgeable music fan -and expert I’m very glad to be able to publish his thoughts on various Spector topics.
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Kingsley, let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember when you became aware of Phil Spector’s music and his specific approach to production? Was there a particular song that won you over? And why?
I think it was something of a cumulative effect rather than one particular moment. I had really enjoyed both sides of the He’s A Rebel 45. He’s a Rebel for its ‘rolling along’ sound with the pianos, and I Love You Eddie for its ethereal and cavernous sound.
Then along came Da Doo Ron Ron which was joyous and infectious and one everyone loved, and then Be My Baby with the fully formed Wall Of Sound. My enjoyment of this one was begun with Penny Valentine’s great review of it in Disc & Music Echo – a lead review alongside The Jaynettes’ Sally Go Round The Roses, which she also loved.
After these I began to track back a little and pick up on ones I had missed like The Crystals Rebel follow-up. From then on I was 100 % sold on the Wall Of Sound, even though at that stage I had no idea of how it was done or what made the ‘big rumble’. It just excited me in a deep and gutsy way.
As someone growing up during the 60s how did you experience the UK reception of Spector’s recording approach and his Philles roster?
As with the Beach Boys, the Four Tops and others, Spector’s music seemed to demand more praise and respect on UK soil than in the US, at least during the latter part of the 60s? A notable Spector example could be the chart success of River Deep in the UK in contrast to its relative failure in the US. What are your thoughts on the cause of this difference?
In the UK, even then, I think we were interested in who and what was making the sounds. So we read the small print credits much more than they appear to have ever done in the States. This led us to thinking about writers, producers and later to musicians even though they did not get the credit early on. Spector albums would start to add some of the key players on them – Tedesco, Blaine et al – so this took us a bit deeper.
There were also fan groups for not just artists, but genres of sound – Tamla Motown Appreciation Society being the best example. I joined TMAS and eventually ended up running Stevie Wonder’s fan club for some years. By contrast, the Beach Boys Club was very poor then.
[Cue Castanets: For an interesting article on the TMAS, go here: http://www.themodgeneration.co.uk/2011/01/tamla-motown-appreciation-society.html%5D
UK fans were intelligent in their musical appreciation. We had good ears, and picked up on a wide variety of fine music: West Coast harmony, Spector, Motown, Four Seasons, other club soul, Southern Soul, girl groups etc. Some fans specialised, while others like me loved the whole variety – I still do.
We could hear that River Deep was an amazing record, so quite rightly it sold in our market. In the States it failed by comparison as some radio people wanted to take Phil down a peg or two. Many potential US buyers never got to hear it at the time.
The UK was also the base of the Phil Spector Appreciation Society. I have previously devoted some blog posts to this hardcore group of fans. (https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/the-phil-spector-appreciation-society/)
Were you a member yourself? And if so, how would you describe the world of Spector fandom as you have experienced it?
I think I was a member for a short time, but I’m not totally sure. I tended then to go my own way with a small group of friends. Being part of TMAS was the exception. Some years later I did get very excited by Mick Patrick’s Philately magazine, which I thought was fabulous with its illumination of rare records and its articles.
I’m delighted to say that Mick is still a pal. We have just finished up a new CD for Ace Records where he now works, and where I am involved in a small way too. Since the sixties, I have met some of the hardcore group of fans you speak of – great people who love the music!
You’re a record collector yourself. Could you tell a bit about your most treasured items in the ‘Wall of Sound’ section of your personal collection?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to Spector productions. It could also be sound-alikes. If there are interesting anecdotes attached to some of your finds, please do tell.
This is hard! I treasure them all, but not for value. I’m just happy to have the great sounds in a variety of formats.
I was very happy to find Home Of The Brave – Bonnie & The Treasures – on Phi-Dan and the two Veronica singles, and I have enjoyed owning several original copies of the more obscure songs. But it is also fun to have things like the bootleg of Let’s Dance the Screw and Please Be My Boyfriend, hence the piece about the latter in my Spector book.
I do recall driving back through South East London and stopping off at a Deptford junk shop where I bought a huge box of 1000 US singles for just £10 I think. The best find there was Josephine Sunday’s You Don’t Even Know her Name on Tower, which I loved. Many of my best finds come from Charity shops of junk boxes. I’m still finding goodies to this day.
Your eagerly awaited ‘Little symphonies – a Phil Spector reader’ finally came out in 2011, – a very enjoyable collection of essays and interviews with insiders all revolving around Phil Spector’s music.
Why did you set out to compile this interesting collection of texts? Did you feel there was a specific void within the realm of Spector books that you wanted to cover?
Thank you for the kind words – I think it is quite a decent little book.
I saw doing it very much as completing my trilogy of books about the best of US sixties music – Back to the Beach (Beach Boys), Calling Out Around the World (Motown) and Spector. Ideally, it would have been the same size as the other two, but there were good reasons why it needed to be smaller. I took the same approach: a mix of old key articles and newly written perspectives and interviews that had worked well for the other two books, and that people told me they really liked.
With the Spector book I saw the Mark Wirtz and Phil Chapman interviews as taking readers deeper and wider into the technical understanding of how Phil worked. I was asking them questions that I genuinely wanted to know the answers to myself. I also added my appendices – I like lists, reference points etc at the back of books – I guess it is a bit nerdy. But hey, they were my books!
The UK had its fair share of Spector worshippers testing the meters behind recording consoles, some of whom gave Spector a run for his money. Anyone in particular you’d like to comment on? Or perhaps some overlooked figure who more celebrated UK would-be-Spectors like Andrew Loog Oldham or Mark Wirtz have overshadowed?
Many tried, but few really achieved. In my book 500 Lost Gems there is the story about Spector himself probably being in the control room when Adrienne Posta cut Shang a Doo Lang.
As I say in the Spector book, I think Phil Chapman was probably the best at replicating not just the sound, but the feel. Many of his recordings are fabulous, and even better are some that have never been released, like a cover of Paradise and a version of Here It Comes. They sound wonderful through his studio speakers!
I also somewhere have a great cut produced by Biddu – I don’t know if this was ever released, so I need to check that one out with Mick P. one day. As a brief aside comment, it is wonderful to listen to the bootleg CDs of Spector in the studio, and just how positive and good humoured it was between him and the musicians – there was obvious mutual respect between them all – great to hear, and of course fascinating to hear the tracks take shape. Spector had very, very good ears!
… and speaking of Spector sound-alikes in general; could you mention a couple of your favorites? I imagine some have ended up on Ace’s fab Phil’s Spectre compilations but others may still only be found on dusty old vinyl singles?
I think I tend more towards the Spector-influenced rather that the soundalikes, so I would want to talk about some of the great Goffin – Titelman songs like What Am I Gonna Do With You (Hey Baby) which is fab in any one of several versions; Chiffons, Lesley Gore or the Inspirations. – also Tammy Grimes, and I do like Jack Nitzsche’s production on Michelle Phillips’s album Victim Of Romance – why has there never been a Jack Nitzsche book? And please don’t tell me that there is, and I’ve missed it!
With any of these though, It is first and foremost the quality of the song that counts above everything, before any production job. Ace’s Phil’s Spectre series is wonderful, and I would recommend them to anyone. You should have them all, and the Jack Nitzsche series, especially the final one ….and the first…and the second of course!
How do you feel about the stereo versions of Spector’s 60s productions that have crept out? Personally, I really like to hear them but they tend to divide fans due to the simple stereo separation.
I’m happy either way. I’ve never been fussed about mono/stereo debates and the way some hardcore fans or some people get so hung up on that sort of minute detail. First the song, vocal performance, track and production are way way ahead for me. Having said though, if I wanted to play the Crystals’ I Wonder, one of my biggest faves, I would play the London 45 very very loud!
Spector’s 70s productions is another topic that can cause heated debate. Some really love most of them; others find his work like that on the Dion album prodding and dirge-like. How do you feel about this phase of his career?
It was always at least interesting. He was trying new feels to my ears. The Dion album was Ok in parts, a bit less so in others, but always interesting. I did interview Dion and speak to him about it, and it was obviously not one of his best experiences, and probably that affected the album as much as anything.
I think the reason that many fans don’t like it so much is that it wasn’t overtly poppy. We had become used to Spector making POP records, and loving them, and this was different. Perhaps that’s why the Ramones did get a hit with Baby I Love You. Although it had a different feel, it was still a pop song when many others weren’t. But for me I’ll take ’em all for the interest.
Is there any particular artist or album from the last 20-30 years or so you’d like to recommend for any Spector fan urging for a bombast fix?
We live in a time of retromania, as music journalist Simon Reynolds has titled an interesting book of his, but when new acts today harken back to the 60s in their approach they usually go the garage, Motown or psych route. Do you know of any recent artists with a sound that would warrant an approving nod from Spector or Jack Nitzsche?
Why not recommend that people go back to the original hits? No one has ever bettered them. Many of the so-called Spector influenced recent or less recent recordings have none of the feels that we would love. People think that if they add castanets and echo they are making a Spector record – NOT SO! This is much like many of the cod-Motown records that have always been around – nobody cut them like the guys in the Snakepit.
Having said that, there are some sounds that capture some of the feels – once again I differentiate between feels and production – and create nice pieces. I have a new snippet of a local retro-influenced group here in Norwich called Rope Store with Never Too Late to Love. It’s only a ten second snippet, but it made me prick up my ears. I think you can find it on the net. I’ll look forward to hearing the full and finished version.
What would always get an approving nod from Phil or Jack would be quality in all departments!
Finally, a question I always conclude my interviews with; please share with us your all-time five Spector productions.
So difficult, but in no particular order: He’s A Rebel, I Wonder, Lovin’ Feelin’, Baby I Love You and Little Boy – with the latter I love the sheer excess and murkiness. Tomorrow, I will probably look at this and pick different ones.
Kingsley, it’s been very interesting to read your take on the Spector sound. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.