Category Archives: Guest post

Guest post: Be my Baby

Here’s a great guest post for Cue Castanets courtesy of a good friend and fellow Spector fan and collector. Online, he calls himself Spectorlector. Enjoy!

BE MY BABY

– A song,… and a book.

I never really cared for music! I know that is hard to believe since I am guest-posting on this blog, but being born in 1974, I grew up during the 80s with hiphop, rap, breakdance and huge ghettoblasters. (Btw. why was it necessary to have such a big machine to play those small casette tapes?) I was certainly born in the wrong decade…

But then in 1987 a song changed my life: ‘Be my baby’ by the Ronettes. The first time I heard the song I had an epiphany, very much like Brian Wilson, when he heard the track back in 1963 and almost crashed his car. In 1987, for a 13 year-old boy like me at the time, 1963 seemed like a century ago. I was hooked though, wanting to dicover more…. know more about the girls, the group, their story…. Who did that song, and what happened to them? The words ‘performed by THE RONETTES’ printed on the back of my sisters vinyl copy of the ‘Dirty Dancing’ soundtrack was sketched into my brain.

Drtydancingsoundtrack

For me, the song in itself was the sound of lust, love, innocence and emotional yearning, all rolled into one. The triple drum-fills sounding like a heart skipping, the castanets evoking the feeling of shivers down the spine and the strings putting into sound the butterflies in my stomach. Never before had a piece of music spoken to me like this. I was in love with a song… Thus began a love affair, that has lasted longer than any real romance in my life.

This was before the world wide web, and back in those days, finding info on anything was like searching for a needle in a haystack. One day though, I happened to see the words “BE MY BABY” in bright pink letters on a bookstand, I could feel the black in my eyes growing, like when a cat eyes a mouse… That was the first time I laid eyes on Ronnie, her tight skirt and high beehive hair. Wow! I finally got a huge step closer to solving the mystery of The Ronettes and ‘Be my Baby’.

bmb

25 years have passed since I first read her book, and what a book! The perfect page-turner. The story of a half-breed teenage girl from Spanish Harlem, striving for success in show-business, eventually recording one of the most iconic and loved 60s pop-songs, only to watch it all slip away. The nightmare of her marriage to – and lock-up by – the producer of her songs, the subsequent battle with alcoholism, frustration… and finally, surviving it all and getting back to the one thing she loves and does best: performing.

ronettes

Ronnie’s book was republished in 2004 and is in print now again in 2015 in a brand new version featuring lots of ‘never before seen’ photographs. It comes in four different versions, an Ebook/Kindle version and three printed options. A paperback with only b/w photos, a paperback with colour and b/w photos, and most importantly: a “have to own” hardback. As far as Ronnie’s story goes, it’s the same as when first published. What’s important here is the updated discography and the mind-blowing set of both black/white and colour photos included.

ronnie

For me this new edition is important. I helped updating and putting the discography together, a fine and impressive labor of love, that was original done (among others) by one of my mentors and friends: David A. Young. Because I helped a little, my name is mentioned twice in the book….this makes me so proud. The song, the book and I have come full circle. I never dreamed I would be part of a piece of work that I adored so much. If someone had told me this 25 years ago, and all the people I would connect with during my love affair with “Be My Baby” – the song and the book – I would have said “you’re nuts” and laughed in their face. Pretty much the same feeling I know Ronnie Spector has whenever she is out on the road, singing, performing and meeting fans that are still in love with her, her songs and her story… 50+ years down the line…

jack6.000x9.000.indd

On a final note, I would like to say that I gain no profit what-so-ever from being a part the book, nor the sales.

Spectorlector

Guest Post – ‘Waiting in the Vault? Part II. Ronnie at Apple’

A while back, one of my good friends, who amazingly may be even more of a Wall of Sound nut than myself, graced the blog with an interesting guest post about a possible unreleased Ronettes track.

Spectorlector, as my friend suitably calls himself in the blog-o-sphere, is back again with yet another interesting entry about possible unreleased Spector productions.

Enjoy!

In January 1969, the Beatles abandoned the recording of their upcoming ‘Get Back’ album. The British group was sick of the business and fed up with each other. An endless stream of unfinished tape reels were left behind and even George Martin seemingly gave up on saving the unfinished project from all the leftovers.

Around this time, John Lennon wanted to go solo and convinced Phil Spector to crawl out from the ruins of ‘River Deep’ and A&M Records. Spector produced Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’ and it was suggested that Spector should try to look into the ‘Get Back’ tapes to determine if they could be transformed into a finished LP.

Spector spent endless hours doctoring the tapes, adding back-up instrumentation and strings. The resulting ‘Let It Be’ album, as it was renamed before release, was a huge success, though not all of the Fab Four were happy with the result.

Paul McCartney lets it be known that he's NOT into the  Spectorised 'Long and Winding Road.'
Paul McCartney lets it be known that he’s NOT into the Spectorised ‘Long and Winding Road.’

Ever since the Beatles came to the US, the group had been fans of Spector’s girl group the Ronettes (and it’s lead singer, Spector’s current wife, Ronnie), who were also opening act for the Beatles on two UK tours.

Accordingly, George Harrison wanted Spector to sign Ronnie to the Apple lable. Singles and an album were planned. The first single was ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ – a strange, odd piece of music, which made it clear that both Harrison and Spector knew that the 60s wide-eyed pop sound was over.

try2

The pair desperately tried to aim for a new sound, which, judging by the lukewarm response to the ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ single, wasn’t that easy. As much as Ronnie wanted to have a comeback (the second, of many to date) she didn’t like the song. The B-side was the even weirder ‘Tandoori Chicken’ – a quickie knocked out in an impromptu way and celebrating the tasty Indian dish.

try1

The Ronnie Spector single was released in an unrealistic large numbers and pressed in as far away places as Denmark, France and Australia. Unfortunately, the single sold poorly and Ronnie’s comeback was over before it begun.

try3

‘Try Some, Buy Some’ has grown in status over the years. Ronnie performs it in her live shows these days and Dawid Bowie even did a cover on his ‘Reality’ album in 2003.

Unbeknownst to the public more tracks were laid down before the single died.

Spector recorded Ronnie on a very nice sounding cover of Carla Thomas’ ‘I Love Him like I Love my Very Life.’ This song was also later recorded by Darlene Love, when Spector had returned to the US. The Darlene Love version saw release on the Spector 74/79 compilation album.

Another weird Harrsion song, ‘Love Me Laddy Day’, was also recorded. Just like ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ it was a mumble jumble of words, probably not sitting well with Ronnie. Neither ‘I Love Him Like I Love my Very Life’ or ‘Love Me Laddy Day’ saw a release

George even had two more songs planned for Ronnie. A song called ‘You’ which he tried to write as a bouncy girl group song in the old Ronettes fashion. Eventually though, George ended up recording his own version, released on the ‘Extra Texture’ album. So, did Ronnie ever get to record this song? Yes, indeed! Actually, you can hear her on the George Harrison version!

At 1.30 to the fade there is a second vocal on the recording, sounding suspiciously like Ronnie, and at 2.05 and at the very fade you can clearly hear Ronnie alone without George Harrison’s vocal. It seems clear that George Harrison double-tracked his voice onto Ronnie’s already finished version.

Rumor has it that Ronnie also recorded a version of ‘When Every Song is Sung – I’ll Still Love You.’ Perhaps the most soothing and fitting song for Ronnie compared with the above songs.

George Harrison mentions the song in his biography and refers to versions by Ronnie Spector, Cilla Black and Shirley Bassey. Eventually Ringo Starr released the song, but Cilla Black’s version did see release in the early 2000s. It may even very likely have been recorded over the basic track intended for or sung on by Ronnie…. Just take a listen to Cilla Black’s version and imagine what could have been.

George Harrison demo of ‘When Every Song is Sung – I’ll Still Love You’:

Ringo Starr version:

Cilla Black version:

Guest Post – ‘Phil Spector and Brian Wilson’

Following my fourth installment of the ‘Would-be Spectors’ feature about Brian Wilson last week, I’ve discussed the topic further on a Beach Boys fan forum. During the discussions music teacher, former studio owner and music historian Craig Clemens weighed in with some interesting reflections on the differences between Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.

You may remember a former post here about Gold Star Studios where I linked to Craig’s blog http://www.classicstudiosessions.blogspot.com.

On his blog, Craig has, among other things, an interesting walk-through of a typical recordings session at Gold Star. Read more about it here:

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/digging-for-gold-at-gold-star/

Craig has graciously allowed me to feature his interesting reflections on Brian Wilson and Phil Spector as a guest post on Cue Castanets. Bear in mind that the following text was originally two forum posts that I have edited into one essay as I think you will enjoy Craig’s writing as much as I do.

Craig Clemens – “Phil Spector and Brian Wilson”

When comparing Phil Spector and Brian Wilson there are various differences between them to consider.

For one thing, Spector had a head start of the two, and unlike Brian, Phil served an apprenticeship of sorts under the mentorship of Leiber and Stoller.

If you listen to those more orchestral-leaning Leiber and Stoller tracks, like the Drifters, you’ll hear a lot of what would turn up later on Spector’s Wall Of Sound productions. Especially the auxiliary percussion like castanets, which really were not “rock and roll” or R&B as much as they were an orchestral/ethnic instrument sound. Spector used percussion like that extensively, and when Brian did copy Spector as in ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ or ‘Then I Kissed Her’, there were the same elements.

Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber
Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber

Besides the apprenticeship Spector had with those two giants of writing and production in the 50’s, he also had Jack Nitzsche to do the arrangements. Without Jack, there is no “Wall”. I’d like to elaborate on that:

The best arrangers are like the best individual musicians; when you hear a few bars of their stuff you know who it is. It gets deeper than a lot of listeners notice, but take for a parallel example the differences on Sinatra’s 1950’s Capitol releases – one of the finest bodies of work in all of popular music.

It is possible to hear the differences between a Nelson Riddle arrangement and a Billy May arrangement, but for a lot of listeners who don’t key into some specific details they can basically respond by saying “it sounds like Sinatra”. Yet, Riddle had a very unique and identifiable style…and overall mood/tone, which is more important to where I’m going with this regarding Jack Nitzsche… that you can pick his ‘tone’ out if you listen for it. Nelson was very unique, Billy May was an excellent arranger but when you got Sinatra singing a Riddle chart, there was a sympatico magic that happened in the performance captured on tape.

Ol' blue eyes and Nelson Riddle
Ol’ blue eyes and Nelson Riddle

Jack Nitzsche was a character, a really unique and quirky character who happened to be a terrific arranger, but to be honest having read about him beyond Spector, he had a different personality than some of his music suggests. The guy who did the ‘Christmas Gift for You’ album…Jack in person…not what you’d think.

Nevertheless, I think it was Jack who crystallized the actual sound of Spector’s Wall. Others could write charts to exploit it, or even to copy it, but it was Jack’s arrangements along with the other pieces of the puzzle that just nailed it. I don’t base this on anything but opinion, but I think the fact that Jack and Phil were both characters who marched to their own drummer made the “Wall” as edgy as it was.

It’s not a sensitive Wall, like Pet Sounds, it’s not an introspective Wall, like others. Rather, these teenage pop recordings are like a tidal wave and an earthquake which the lead singer has to either ride out or rise above, or risk getting swept up.

Jack Nitzsche, Darlene Love & Phil Spector
Jack Nitzsche, Darlene Love & Phil Spector

Jack’s charts demanded something unique from whoever was singing lead. That’s just what Spector needed, that’s just what a true belter like Darlene Love brought in and what a really unique and different voice like Ronnie Spector brought in. Not every Spector production worked, naturally, but the ones that put the template into place and set the standard beyond even the music seemed to be Jack’s charts powering the engine.

Seriously, try this, time permitting, as an experiment. Next time you can round up some volunteer listeners, grab some of Jack’s better known Spector arrangements and play them alongside the other arrangers Phil worked with on the Wall, Arnold Goland, Gene Page or Perry Botkin Jr. At the same time, get a handful of Nelson Riddle’s charts for Sinatra in the 50’s, and play them alongside Billy May’s charts, and even add a few Quincy Jones charts as well, or Gordon Jenkins. See which ones if any stand out above the rest, quality wise or just plain interest wise.

I think Jack’s charts are the cream of the crop, the others solid and good but lacking that extra “something” that Jack brought to the process.

Another parallel to consider: Both Brian and Phil had recording engineers at their side in the studio to bring their sounds to life, and more importantly capture them on tape. Phil had Larry Levine, Brian had Chuck Britz.

Chuck Britz at the board, Western Studio 1, ca. 1965
Chuck Britz at the board, Western Studio 1, ca. 1965

I’d argue if they did not have those highly skilled engineers, who were both from the “old school” yet willing to break the rules to get better sounds on tape, the productions would not have been the same. I’d say Brian learned so much from Chuck as far as the nuts-and-bolts of capturing sounds on tape that it colored everything he was able to do which culminated with the year 1966. Chuck was like Brian’s mentor for sounds, and fortunately, Chuck was working at an independent studio that would allow Brian to be hands-on with the board without needing a union card to work the board.

Chuck Britz and Brian in the studio during Smile recordings sessions
Chuck Britz and Brian in the studio during Smile recordings sessions

The untold stories are the hours that were spent with Chuck Britz as Brian watched and learned the technical aspects of studio recording and mixing. Chuck could be one of the most unsung heroes in the whole story. I’d guess that if he and Brian didn’t connect early on and were not so compatible working together, you would not have seen the level of work that Brian progressed into.

But consider this: Phil had Jack and Larry plus a mentorship with Leiber and Stoller under his belt, The Beatles had George Martin, Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick to get the sounds on their recordings, and Brian was basically a one-man show for arranging, orchestrating, and writing…plus production…with Chuck Britz, mostly, to record the sounds.

For a guy in his early 20’s to have learned basically on-the-job without an apprenticeship or a formally trained musician like Jack Nitzsche or George Martin at the helm, it’s quite an amazing accomplishment to have that body of work in the 1960’s competing with those peers.

Guest post – ‘Waiting in the Vault?’

The following post has been submitted to the blog by a fellow Spector fan and good friend of mine who I’ve discussed Spector’s music in-depth with for the last 10 years or so, both online and in person. He’s extremely knowledgable on the subject and I’m honored that he has offered to contribute here under the appropriate blogger-name ‘Spectorlector’.

If any other readers have ideas for interesting blog posts they’d like to contribute then please do contact me. I will happily publish relevant posts on here from guests and I’m sure that fans out there have a lot to say on various subjects.

Hopefully, over time this blog can become a platform of sorts where fans can have the opportunity to publish research and essay-like posts that are longer and more in-depth than your typical forum message.

And with that, I’ll get out of the way and let Spectorlector ponder the possible existence of a certain unreleased Ronettes track…

Waiting in the vault? – ‘I’ll never need more than this’ by The Ronettes.

It is no secret that Phil Spector recorded a lot of material, of which only a fraction saw release  during the Philles label era. Sometimes, Spector would even record the same song twice with different artists using the same backing track, such as ‘Girls can tell’ and ‘A Woman in Love’. Other times he would record different backing tracks for the same song as heard on versions of ‘I Wonder’ and ‘All Grown Up’.

With this in mind, there are reason to believe that a Ronettes version of the Ike and Tina Turner track ‘I’ll never need more than this’ is still in the Spector vault – the original, perhaps?

Phil Spector’s favorite writers, the married couple Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, were responsible for many a hit on Philles: ‘Be my Baby’, ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’. In early 1963 Spector had recorded a co-written song of theirs called ‘Chapel of Love’ with both Darlene Love and The Ronettes (prior to ‘Be my Baby’) None of the recordings were released at the time, and when Barry and Greenwich started to work at Red Bird Records under the wings of Leiber and Stoller, they choose to release a version of the song by The Dixie Cups to launch the label. The record went to number 1 on the charts, topped The Beatles in sales and caused Spector to cut his connections with Barry and Greenwich.

The Ronettes, beehives piled high...
The Ronettes, beehives piled high…

Sometime during late 1965, Spector decided to swallow his pride and call Ellie & Jeff back for a writing session. He had lost The Crystals and The Righteous Brothers, and he had to get the best possible material for upcoming recording dates. Unknown to Spector, the couple was going through a divorce, but they still decided to meet and write with Spector. At this time Red Bird was closing down…. and very soon Philles would be finished too. An era of great music was almost over, unbeknownst to the people involved.

The session was not a piece of cake. The former happy-go-lucky couple was now two broken hearts trying to turn words of love and sweet music into future Spector hits. Before the session was over, 4 very heartfelt song were completed: ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, ‘I Can Hear Music’, ‘I wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ and ‘I’ll Never Need More than This’

Just look at those poetic, sad lyrics to ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’:

“Baby do you know what you did today, Baby, do you know what you took away,

You took the blue out of the sky, My whole life changed when you said goodbye,

And I keep crying, crying.

I wish I’d never saw the sunshine

Cause if I never saw the sunshine,

I wouldn’t mind the rain.”

Ellie & Jeff - Spector loved their songs.
Ellie & Jeff – Spector loved their songs.

The lyrics for ‘I’ll Never Need More than This’ was in the same heartbreaking mold:

“Oh I love the songs you sing me, And I love, the love you bring me,

And you’ll never know the way I feel inside, I can only say that I’m all filled up with pride

Loving you, loving you…. And I’ll never need more than this,

No I’ll never need more than this

And I wish this could go on forever, and ever, and ever

Don’t let me go, I love you so.”

If you are a hardcore Ronettes fan (as I am) and if you listen closely to the back-up vocals on ‘I’ll Never Need More than This’ something strikes you: It sounds like The Ronettes on back-up?…Especially on the “I love you baby” parts, you can easily pick out Ronnie Spector’s vocals in front of a large number of back-up singers.

Spector and Tina take abreak during recording sessions.
Spector and Tina Turner take a break during recording sessions.

Ronnie has confirmed to me in 2014 that she is in the mix, though she insists she never worked on a Tina Turner recording session. This can only lead one to believe that a Ronettes version of the song was intended and that a basic track and back-ups were recorded with them in mind. Maybe Ronnie even recorded a completed lead-vocal? The song would surely fit the style of The Ronettes, bearing in mind ‘Everything under the Sun’ (which Tina Turner would later record herself) and ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ from that period. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even get to hear it?….

Unfortunately, the track Spector picked for his next magnum opus, ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ bombed, and the rest of those great Greenwich/Barry songs either got shelved or was ignored by the public. Neither Barry, Greenwich or Spector would ever achieve an equal level of succes again. ‘I´ll Never Need More than This’ by Ike and Tina Turner was pressed as a single on Philles, but sadly either withdrawn or never officially released.

The Philles single that never was...
The Philles single that never was…