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.’
Aaaaah, with the arrival of spring and some much-needed sunshine, I was reminded of a song that would make for a perfect addition to this blog’s ever growing list of modern Spector soundalikes.
When talk centers on Spector soundalikes, you’re bound to eventually discuss the Boss and his longtime infatuation with the Wall of Sound.
There are plenty of songs showcasing Springsteen’s love for Spector’s approach throughout his 70s and 80s catalogue, notably the scrapped mid 70s sessions that eventually came out as ‘The Promise’ in 2010. (a must-buy release for any reader of this blog!)
In more recent times, Springsteen’s forays into full-on Wall of Sound territory have been more limited but occasionally he’ll throw together some chords and great lyrics that are just begging for bombast.
A prime example would be the somewhat overlooked single ‘Girls in their Summer Clothes’ from 2008s ‘Magic’ album.
This perfect pop song with thumping backing by the E. Street Band wasn’t even issued as a physical single but could only be obtained as a digital download. It was only a minor chart success stalling at # 95 at the Billboard Hot 100 which is a shame since it’s one of Springsteen’s most straight-forward pop songs and definitely deserves to be heard by more than those within Springsteen’s loyal following.
Enjoy this gem then; top notch singing by the Boss, great lyrical theme with a bit of wistfulness thrown in for good measure and , above all, the tried-and-true Wall of Sound formula that elevates a good song to pure pop perfection. Eureka! – Another brilliant modern Spector soundalike.
2016 is nearing its end and I hope you have had a merry Christmas and that you will have a happy new year – preferably with lots of Wall of Sound blasting from your speakers!
Before year’s end I can just squeeze in one more modern Spector soundalike in my ongoing series of blog posts about recordings that tip the hat to Spector recording style.
Today I’d like to draw the attention to one of my favorite current musicians, Sheffield-based singer/songwriter Richard Hawley. Since 2001 he has issued a series of stellar albums that despite being recording with modern technology could just as well have been recorded during the 50s and 60s. They’re not shameless cash-in exercises in retro music, mind you – Richard Hawley’s love for the crooners, rockabillies, folk singers and doo wop groups of those two decades is long documented.
On his albums Hawley offers his own unique and highly personal take on the sounds of bygone eras. The backing tracks are exquisite, loaded with details and atmospheric guitar playing – his main instrument of choice – but what really sets his music apart from others is his deeply expressive vocal.
Weathered and plaintive, Hawley’s voice is the perfect foil for the mini-dramas that adorn all of his albums. His tone is deeply soothing and has often comforted me through troubled times. Even though the focus here on the blog is on Spectoresque sounds I can’t help but offer an example of this from his most recent album, 2015s ‘Hollow Meadows’. Take a listen to the hypnotic ‘Nothing like a Friend’ and tell me you aren’t moved by this?
If you like what you hear, you really ought to check out all of his albums. There are gems to be found on each one of them.
But we’re here for bombast,… so let’s get back on track. Where’s the echo, the pounding Be my Baby beat, the swirling strings? Why, it’s all there and more on Hawley’s 2006 45’ single for ‘Hotel Room’ – tucked away on the B-side is a sensational cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain classic ‘Some Candy Talking’.
Now, the original Jesus and Mary Chain version by the Reid brothers is of course a classic example of droning 80s Spector worship – and delicious on its own terms – but on his cover, Hawley plays up the song’s Wall of Sound potential to the max. There’s a thunderous drum backbeat throughout, beautiful strummed acoustic guitars, jangling percussion and of course those oh so important strings to take your breath away.
Fantastic version! As far as I’m concerned it’s even better than the original Jesus and Mary Chain recording. And to think that this was only a throwaway B-side? The mind boggles…
In the annals of Wall of Sound history the Girlfriends sang about ‘Jimmy Boy’, Timmy & the Persianettes about ‘Timmy Boy’ and Darlene Love about ‘Johnny’ on the alternate version of ‘Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)’ So calling your band Johnny Boy would definately be appropriate if you plan on recording a convincing Spector pastiche.
Here’s the best kept secret of the charts in 2004 – with the longest song title to boot – ‘You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes & You Get What You Deserve’ by British indie pop duo Johnny Boy. A single so obscure today that the below low-quality youtube upload of the official video was the only one I could find.
Still, listen through the inferior sound quality for a fantastic track co-produced by James Dean Bradfield of Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers. The boy/girl duo consisting of Lolly Hayes and Andrew Davitt infused the trademark ‘Be my Baby’ beat with some clever, political lyrics not often found in modern Spector soundalikes – and all the more charming for it.
Sadly, this explosive mix of reverb, drone and glockenspiel infused with grit and punkish agression only reached # 50 on the UK singles chart when released in 2004.
The lone Johnny Boy album came out two years later and though it’s an interesting collection with a wide variety of genres and sounds, nothing really equalled the bombast blitzkrieg that is ‘You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes & You Get What You Deserve.’
Castanets… That most delicious of percussion instruments that Spector put to the forefront in many of his classic productions, – is there anything more Spectoresque this side of the iconic ‘Be my Baby’ beat? Probably not.
So when Detroit-based pop group the Blueflowers decided to aim for the full-on Wall of Sound with a track from their 2011 album, ‘In Line with the Brokenhearted’, they wisely chose to cover all bases. Castanets? Check! ‘Be my Baby’ drumbeat? Check!
So who are these Blueflowers? A Detroit-based band dabbling in classic rock, pop and Americana, their lead-singer Kate Hinote has just the right melancholic country-feel to her voice. It definitely suits this aching ‘Maybe’ which I’d like to think is what a Wall of Sound production with both Phil Spector and David Lynch involved would sound like.
Another Classic cut to add the ever-gowing list of superb modern Spector soundalikes.
When Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound ruled the early to mid 60s airwaves there was another distinct musical path trodded out by a variety of acts; the path of vocal surf pop.
Today, only the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean are remembered by the general music-loving public but there was a plethora of releases by different acts from around the US that took the harmonies emenating from Los Angeles as a rallying cry for celebrating the sun, the sea and the mighty surf.
Dive into releases by, say, Bruce & Terry, the Fantastic Baggys or Ronny & the Daytonas and you’ll find great songs and at times also productions that sort of veer off into pseudo Wall of Sound-territory. None did this more often of course than Brian Wilson whose studio creativity would in time surpass even that of Spector himself.
All this builds up to the introduction of the next entry in my long, on-going line of modern Spector soundalikes, because today’s entry is precisely the kind of weird amalgamation of surf and Wall of Sound that only seldomly occured in Spector’s golden period.
Fittingly, the song in question is from a band that grew out of this very scene. The Malibooz formed in 1964 in New York and took its cue from the sun-soaked sound of the Golden State, trying their best to spread the sunshine to the East Coast.
An EP and a single came out as early as 1965 and since then the band has been active, putting out albums and still performing to this day.
2002 saw the release of ‘Beach Access’ with a nice and predictable selection of surf/summer/sun-themed tunes – but there was also a song that really stood out right away and immidiatedly caught my attention; the mighty ode to surf that is ‘Call of the Wave’ – as epic a surf-themed track you’ll here this side of Jack Nitszche’s ‘Lonely Surfer!’
I really, really dig this production by John Zambetti and Walter Egan who are the main-stays and creative force in the Malibooz. The lyrics are great in all their wide-eyed, heartfelt praise of the sea’s lure and the gradual build of the majestic backng track is majestic, – very much in line with the type of sound Bruce Springsteen nailed in his most Spectoresque songs during the 70s.
You’ll find much to like here – from the pounding drums over the blatant rip-off of the ‘Then He Kissed Me’ riff to the tinkling glockenspiel. Go ahead, dip your toes into ‘Call of the Wave.’
Here’s another modern Spector soundalike for you, courtesy of UK band Spiritualized.
The band itself has had a revolving list of members with frontman and songwriter Jason Pierce being the mainstay that binds it all together. He is also a massive fan of Spector’s Wall of Sound. It comes as no surprise then that quite a few Spiritualized tracks bear trademarks of the Spector sound in one way or another.
‘Stop Your Crying’ is my favorite Spiritualized track and can be found on the band’s 2001 album ‘Let It All Down.’ The album itself saw Pierce trying, and succesfully at that, to follow in Spector’s footsteps. Allegedly, more than 100 session musicians were utilised for all the songs combined and many of the tracks feature a full orhestra.
‘Stop Your Crying’ really is a majestic track with a gradual build and a stately feel much like Spector’s slower 70s productions. Take a listen, close your eyes and tell me that you can’t hear Cher or Dion sing this at a Spector session with the wrecking crew as backing?
This is gospel Wall of Sound of the highest order.
I can’t believe I haven’t posted this one yet in my ongoing feature on modern Spector soundalikes. It’s one of the earliest modern faux Spector records to catch my ear as a fresh-faced Spector fan and send me off tracking down similar recent songs with a bombastic production.
US garage / power pop trio Splitsville was formed in the mid-90s and I discovered them by way of their great and highly melodic ‘Pet Soul’ album from 2001. As a major Beach Boys fan and fan of the fab four (come on,who isn’t?) I knew I had to check out an album with a title lampooning ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Rubber Soul’, two of the great pop platters ever made.
‘Pet Soul’ is indeed a delicious offering of pop perfection and although the emphasis is heavy on the Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney side of things, other sounds and influences pop up here and there. The driving ‘The Popular’ is no doubt envisioned by the band as the album’s Spector tribute – there’s just no way these guys didn’t have the Wall of Sound in mind with this soung’s pounding crescendo two-thirds in.
In fact, I was so mesmerized by this song that I once e-mailed the group’s manager suggesting that he and the band should contact Ronnie Spector so she could be offered the song. This was around the time when she was working on ‘Last of the Rock Stars’ and I still feel that this great track with her vocal could have been a highlight of the album. The Splitsville manager replied that it was a great idea but they probably never followed up on it.
Never mind, the Splitsville version is fine as it is and would be sure to be included on my playlist of favorite modern Spector soundalikes any time.
It’s been a while since I’ve featured some of the modern Spector soundalikes I have a habit of tracking down just for the fun of it. There are literally thousands of newly produced songs out there leaning heavily towards a Wall of Sound-type approach, ripe for picking for any obsessed Spector fan.
Christmas-time is often especially rewarding because of the fact that Spector’s iconic ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ album has virtually brainwashed everyone into thinking that the Wall of Sound is the sound of Christmas; a warm, enveloping and nostalgic sound that artists today often go for when recording Christmas music, probably even without giving it much thought. Glockenspiels, strumming guitars, church bells and a ‘Be my Baby’ beat. Why, that’s just what Christmas sounds like, isn’t it?
So today, this latest installment of the Modern Spector Soundalikes feature will present a festive doublesider in the form of two recent Christmas releases that both make use of some of the hallmarks of the Spector yuletide sound. I don’t know much about the artists other than that the duo Ette hail from Scotland while Mr Little Jeans is one-girl project from Norway. No matter, these two songs should appeal to everyone checking in from time to time.
Both productions are a little on the crude side – no sweeping Nitszchean strings here or a thousand acoustic guitars strumming in unison in a sea of echo. But both singles are still very, very enjoyable with sweet female vocals and a very classic song structure that make the songs seem familiar and inviting even on first listen. Surely, these songs wouldn’t have been out of place on an imaginary Philles Christmas single by the Ronettes, the Crystals or Darlene Love.
Check them out. I dig the huskiness and Scottish accent of the Ette singer and really, really love the dreamy chorus on Mr Little Jeans’ ‘Dear Santa’. Great stuff! Hope you’ll enjoy these two releases as much as I do.
I was out driving in my car the other day and put on the debut album by Scottish indie group Glasvegas. That’s a record made for being played at ear-splitting volume while cruising. It also contains some of the most heartfelt, worthy tributes to the Wall of Sound issued in recent years.
For this latest installment of my personal pick of modern Spector soundalikes it would be oh so easy for me to highlight ‘Daddy’s Gone’, – the epic breakout single by Glasvegas that received much hype prior to their 2008 debut album. Replete with ‘Be my Baby’ drumbeats and a bit of Ronnie Spector-like ‘oh ohs’ thrown in for good measure, it’s a loving tribute to the Wall of Sound that deservedly made music critics and rock fans sit up and take notice.
And that voice! The voice of James Allan with a rough Glasgow accent so thick you could slice it. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve heard a singer in recent years sing with so much conviction and emotion as Allan. It sounds as if he sings with a lump in his throat; it’s genuine blue-eyed working-class soul on each and every Glasvegas song. The lead vocals are tense, wrought with emotion, dripping with drama – the perfect foil for a full-blown Wall of Sound.
Not surprisingly, James Allan put himself on a heavy diet of Spector at a young age, endlessly obsessing over all the treasures of the Back to Mono box with the Christmas album being a particular favorite of his. Reminiscing in a Daily Record interview, Allan has remarked: “I think that was Spector at his peak – 1963 is my favorite year for him. He released Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, Then He Kissed Me and the Christmas album, which he did in summer. Be My Baby is my favourite song of all time. (…) [about the Christmas album:] Sound-wise and artistically, the guy is on a different level, what he put into that record creatively and soulfully. Because of its soulful nature and intentions, everything I read about it and what he put into it, maybe I pick up on that energy all these years later.”
That is putting it mildly. Both the Glasvegas 2008 debut and the band’s very own Christmas album from December that same year oozes Spector’s influence in a very imaginative and sincere way. Several songs appear as note-perfect Wall of Sound tributes, none the least the afore-mentioned ‘Daddy’s Gone.’
But as great as ‘Daddy’s Gone’ is – and if you don’t know it already, check out the video on youtube pronto – I’ll have to pass it for now in favor of a song and production off the debut, I think is even more majestic. To these ears, ‘It’s my Own Cheating Heart that Makes me Cry’ is, simply put, the be-all and end-all of modern Spector soundalikes! I’ve heard it a thousand times and I still get moved by it in ways only a few songs do. It’s a tearjerker crossing the border into ‘overblown’ territory head on …but I love it nonetheless.
On ‘It’s my Own Cheating Heart that Makes me Cry’, James Allan wears his emotions on his sleeve, almost sounding like he’s about to break down as the song builds up tension. And sure enough, – during the climactic choruses he can’t resist throwing in some of those ‘oh oh ohs’ that graced many a Ronettes classic. Like Ronnie, Allan is able to convey all there is to know about heartbreak and despair in a gutsy ‘oh oh oh.’
To be honest, I doubt Phil Spector would appreciate most of the modern Spector soundalikes I post about on my blog. Ever the megalomaniac, he would probably deem almost all of them below his standard. But I have a feeling that even Spector would acknowledge this gem as a major achievement and that he would especially dig the out-of –this-world soul-baring lead vocal by James Allan. Spector would instinctly know that ‘It’s my Own Cheating Heart that Makes me Cry’ is the real deal. The verse melody is a rock’n’roll lullaby with stinging thorns; the drone-heavy backing track nothing short of phenomenal. I could easily imagine the Tycoon of Teen cook up something like this during his short stint with the Righteous Brothers.
The official music video uses the shortened single edit of this great song. I prefer the album version which allows for a more gradual, stately build-up, but I make a habit of posting official music videos if available. So here you go – note the tour-de-force ‘grand finale’ in this song from 2:43 onwards. E-P-I-C!
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…