Category Archives: Odds & Ends

Odds & Ends – ‘This Could be the Night’

Here’s a confession… This dazzling Spector-produced one-off single by the Modern Folk Quartet is easily one of my all-time favorite Wall of Sound productions. So this latest installment of the odds & ends section can hardly be said to be unbiased. I just utterly cherish this song and for the life of me can’t fathom why the Tycoon of Teen decided to keep this bouncy pop gem under wraps for so long!

Allegedly, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was present when Spector and the Wrecking Crew laid down the backing track for this majestic tour-de-force and the song made a lasting impression on him. In interviews he has often singled it out as a favorite even going so far as to record his own cover version of it for a Harry Nilsson tribute album. Why, if he indeed was at the session, Hawthorne’s finest may very well be among the gazillion people heard emphasizing the backbeat with hand claps during the song’s middle section! I’ve always loved that part of the song in particular. It’s a classic goose bumps-type moment where it sounds as if Spector rounded up everyone in 60s LA to make them clap in unison at Gold Star.

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The MFQ with Spector during the 1965 session for ‘This Could be the Night’

As is so typical with the most extreme Spector productions, you almost forget who the artist is. Sure, the track credit says the Modern Folk Quartet alright, but since they didn’t write the song or can be clearly heard playing their instruments or singing the folksy harmonies on their more restrained 60s efforts this sonic assault has ‘Spector’ stamped all over it. At the risk of being engulfed by a swamp of swirling instruments Henry Diltz succeeds in cutting through the wall with a passionate lead vocal.

Kudos in particular to Harry Nilsson for supplying Spector with a song like this. The pair also worked on the stellar ‘Paradise’ and the interesting ‘Here I Sit’ by the Ronettes. It’s a shame their working relationship was so short-lived. Here’s a super piano version of the song by Nilsson pitched to the Monkees a few years after the MFQ recording:

Incredibly, despite the fact that the song was used for the intro credits scene to the iconic Big TNT show concert film, Spector defied logic by allowing ‘This Could be the Night’ to linger in the vaults for a decade. It finally saw the light of day in the mid-70s on one of the Rare Masters compilations along with other incredible could-have-been hits such as ‘Paradise’ or ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes.

Why Spector inexplicably decided not to release it we’ll never know. Maybe his notorious insecurities were in full force at a time that was clearly a transition period for him? The mid-60s certainly saw him experience with various adaptions of the Wall of Sound to match somewhat the popular genres of the day. If you listen to ‘This Could be the Night’ in that context you’ll probably pick up little details that, with the Wall of Sound still fully in place, reveals that Spector and his team had studied both folk-rock and the emerging sunshine pop sound.

The MFQ of course had close ties to the former, whereas the latter was about to really catch on nationwide, for instance by way of singles such as ‘Just my Style’ by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles or ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’ by the Cowsills. Obviously, those hits were way more simplistic production-wise and also emphasized harmonies much more than ‘This Could be the Night’ but I feel these songs share the same type of über-catchy, bounc and almost anthemic structure that defined a lot of the era’s harmony heavy and often Beach Boys-inspired LA pop.

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It’s interesting to ponder what direction Spector and the MFQ could have followed hot on the heels of an actual mid-60s release of the song. Would it have been a hit? Who knows? But if so, it certainly would have given Spector another try at consistent chart action at a time where his magic with the Righteous Brothers was about to wane due to personal differences.

It has always amazed me that a song this good hasn’t been covered more but there’s been a few, typically fairly faithfull to the original Spector production. Here’s a different approach by David Cassidy from 1975 where the song is slowed down considerably,… and what do you know? It works very well. It’s a shame Spector didn’t do the same during his infamous 70s sessions.

Finally, let’s conclude with a nice, if a bit shaky, version by the current MFQ line-up. Very nice in this stripped-down approach,…. Which only reinforces Spector’s own long-held opinion; that it always starts with the song. If the song is not strong enough, the Wall of Sound can only take it so far.

 

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Odds & Ends – ‘Silence is Easy’

It’s time to dust off yet another Spector production, – one that’s not too obvious to focus on when discussing Spector’s body of work.

As you may remember, my ongoing series of ‘odds & ends’ is meant to highlight and discuss some of the more overlooked Spector productions. So no ‘Be my Baby’, ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ or ‘River Deep’ dissertations here! Previously, I’ve written about the no-holds-barred Spector-frenzy that was ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals and Cher’s gloomy ‘A Woman’s Story.’

Today I’d like to focus on a track which actually was a sizeable hit but that I think tends to get both overlooked and dismissed during talks about Spector’s oeuvre; ‘Silence is Easy’ by UK group Starsailor and Spector last ‘real’ production job if you, as I do, discount his work with Hargo ‘Crying for John Lennon’ and the supposed production of wife Rachelle’s cheesy ‘Out of my Chelle’ album. Produced by Spector? Yeah right! As if!

The Hargo track sounds a little more like something the former Tycoon of Teen could have been involved with but it’s still a far cry from his Wall of Sound glory days.

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‘A Phil Spector Production’ it says on the cover. Hmmm. Really?

So, back to ‘Silence is Easy’ and a short recap. Spector had teamed up with this young UK indie band a while before that fateful night at the mansion where Lana Clarkson lost her life.

Allegedly, Spector was hired by the band with an eye towards producing a whole album’s worth of material but along the way, the band didn’t feel Spector’s vision, or way of working for that matter, matched theirs and thus gracefully ended the working relationship.

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Only two Spector-produced tracks have surfaced from the sessions – ‘Silence is Easy’, which became the title track for the band’s next album and ‘White Dove.’

While pleasant and beautifully sung by Starsailor lead vocalist James Walsh, the latter’s Spector production credit should puzzle any fan of the Wall of Sound. If you didn’t know he seemingly had a hand in it, you wouldn’t be able to tell at all.

‘Silence is Easy’ however has a gradual build-up and a stately elegance that oozes Spectorness; think his work during the 70s on the Dion album or the singles by Cher.

James Walsh’ vocal style will throw some listeners off but if you really get into it, like I did from the very first time I heard the song, his dramatic lead vocal really compliments the dark feel of the lyrics and Spector’s production.

How much say did Spector have in the studio while recording the song? Well, who knows – and the final aural outcome is probably some sort of compromise between Spector, the band and their management. I doubt the production as is is totally as Spector would have it. Left to his own devices, I feel pretty sure that the track would have been further enhanced by echo, more acoustic, strummed guitars, a string section etc.

Still, there are enough Spector trademarks throughout to make me consider it a genuine production by hum, none the least the cool tinkling glockenspiel that pops up mid-way through and adds a great deal to the production’s feel and build-up.

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Having said that, I completely understand while some fans felt the track was a bit of a disappointment after finally witnessing a new Spector production after so many years. At the time, I thought the opinion by fellow producer Mark Wirtz at the Spectropop message board was interesting – even if I don’t really agree with him:

“My opinion, as a lifelong Spector student and fan(atic), even having produced and released tributes to the man, AS WELL AS being a fan of Starsailor’s music, I find this release to be a disgrace. It may well become a “hit,” and elements of the record (notably the brilliantly performed and recorded vocals) make it deservedly so among Starsailor fans. Alas, to me, this hybrid is nevertheless a tragic humiliation of Spector (or “echo-boy” as Starsailor so condescendingly call him) – and at the worst possible time. No doubt (and according to the article), it was the “Silence Is Easy” song in demo form that initially attracted Mr. Spector. Hardly surprising – it is exactly the kind of simple, hypnotic, melodic tune and message that Spector was such a master of transcending into a riveting spectacle. And I bet, any of us that KNOW Spector’s style, can virtually hear it, truly and fully realised HIS way. And with visionaries like Spector, there is only that one way. All else is “a little bit pregnant.”

Having heard the entire album, as well as having been very familiar with Starsailor’s first CD, it appears that the pairing of Spector and Starsailor was an inevitable collision waiting to happen, making for a symbiotic, not synergistic partnership – with Starsailor the vegetarian, and carnivorous Spector trying to open a steak house together…

In my fantasy, Spector would have passed on producing Starsailor, then ultimately grabbed that song (as anybody could once published), and autonomously recorded and released it with a brand new artist (ideally a soulful girl singer) under his control. Man, I would rob my piggy bank to buy and own and possess THAT record!!!”

(Posted during discussions at Spectropop Sep 10th 2003.)

What’s your take on the song? How do you feel about it?

Lost classic or something that’s best forgotten when discussing overlooked Spector productions?

Odds & Ends – ‘A Woman’s Story’

Time for another installment of the ‘Odds & Ends’ feature I introduced some months ago with a blog post about the Crystals version of ‘I Wonder’. 

You may remember that this feature was meant as a means for writing a bit more in depth about some of the obscure Spector productions out there. You know, those that always get lost in the shuffle among ‘Be my Baby’, ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ in the general write-ups about Phil Spector’s achievements.

Today, I’d like to dwell on one of the three sides Spector recorded with his old session singer from the 60s, Cherilyn Sarkisian, – or Cher, as the record-buying public came to know her.

In the early 60s Cher sang background vocals on numerous classic Spector cuts. As ‘Bonnie Jo Mason’ she even debuted on one of Spector’s sub-labels with the Pete Anders & Vinni Poncia-produced Beatles-knock-off ‘Ringo, I Love You’. All this was down to her relationship with Spector flunky Sonny Bono – the pair was soon to re-invent themselves as Sonny & Cher and find tremendous success with a very close adaptation of the formula that had worked so well for Spector in Gold Star studios.

Darlene Love, Phil Spector and Cher at a 60s Gold Star studios session.
Darlene Love, Phil Spector and Cher at a 60s Gold Star studios session.
Come the mid-70s, Cher was shortly reunited with Spector as a result of a new label, Warner-Spector, that the Tycoon of Teen set up with Warner Bros. Records in 1974. Cher was a Warner artist at the time and so it was decided that her distinctive voice and Spector’s trademark Wall of Sound would make a winning combination. But if the head honchos at Warner Bros. Records had fantasized about energetic, booming drums and throbbing rhythms jumping out of speakers, they were sorely disappointed!

Instead, the three tracks Cher and Spector recorded were super-slow and heart-wrenching odes to love that some have described as more of a dirge of sound than the well-known Wall of Sound. The tempo on ‘Baby, I Love You’ is almost non-existent, a duet with Harry Nilsson on ‘A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Every Day)’ was only a tad faster and brighter and with a Nilsson vocal sounding like a punched-in afterthought. And then there was ‘A Woman’s Story’ – the only new song and a co-write between Spector and his longtime friends, siblings April Stevens and Nino Tempo.

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Let me emphasize that I’m a big fan of Spector’s 70s productions – I find something interesting in all of them and to these ears the very best of the bunch are just as good as his iconic 60s hits. 

‘A Woman’s Story’ is one of those stellar 70s productions as far as I’m concerned. Dark, brooding and enveloped in an otherworldly chorus, the song almost comes across as a requiem if not for the chorus where Cher declares that she’s finally found light at the end of the tunnel; love.

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Rather unusually, the lyrics dramatically tell the story of an down-on-her-luck former prostitute who’s ‘seen every room with a bed inside it.’ The production is extremely powerful, almost strangely mesmerizing in all its slow grandeur no doubt due to the dramatic contrast between Cher’s low register vocals and the eerie ghost-like backing vocals. The backing track is almost overpowered by the mass of vocals floating in and out but if you listen past those there are lots of interesting things going on in the background. The three Cher productions definitely heralded a new sound that Spector would work to perfection on Dion’s soon-to-follow ‘Born to Be with You’ LP.

Dion-Born-to-Be-With-You

Alas, the interesting pairing of Cher and Spector went nowhere. Despite a respectable promotional push, ‘A Woman’s Story’ backed with ‘Baby, I Love You’ failed to chart. In their book ‘Collecting Phil Spector’ John Fitzpatrick and James Fogerty write about how a quarrel between Spector and record executive David Geffen, Cher’s then-boyfriend, may have played a part in the single’s failure. But honestly, as great as ‘A Woman’s Story’ is, it is so unusual and ‘un-hit-like’ that it’s lack of chart success comes as no surprise. The single was even re-released in 1976 but still to no avail.

Ad for the new Warner-Spector single with 'A Woman's Story' on the A-side.
Ad for the new Warner-Spector single with ‘A Woman’s Story’ on the A-side.
So let’s dust off this fantastic production and enjoy this rare, extended mix of ‘A Woman’s Story’ found on a US promo single:

As a postscript, what Cher and Spector couldn’t do in the 70s, UK singer Marc Almond of Soft Cell-fame did in 1986. That year he released a cover version that, lyrics untouched, finally made the charts. It reached #41 on the UK Top 100. Here’s Almond’s version:

Odds & Ends – ‘I Wonder’

I’ve been meaning to start up a new feature on the blog called ’Odds & Ends’ where I briefly highlight some of the more obscure or overlooked releases in Spector’s body of work.

I came up with the idea thinking about how I came across his Wall of Sound myself back in about 2000 or 2001. First, I bought a Righteous Brothers compilation and it didn’t take long for me to single out the Spector productions as highlights. As a major Beach Boys fan I had heard about him before of course, but I hadn’t really investigated further. That Righteous Brothers compilation though set me off on a hunt, and naturally, back then, my first stop was the Back to Mono box.

backtomono
And no, in case you’re wondering – that’s not my copy, seemingly signed by, erhhmmm,…Darlene Love? I just searched for a photo online that would show all the content.

I guess you could say that that box, with its beautiful book and four CDs, became my rite of passage to full blown Spector nut.

Even though it was a great experience discovering all the goodies inside, I quickly learned that there were more productions out there. The missing pieces of the puzzle was something I slowly gathered during the following years, learning about obscure 60s cuts and a wealth of later 70s material that had been left off the box.

Had there been a blog like this back then, it would surely have been a god-send for the 20-year-old me! It would have meant that I had gotten a much quicker overview of what to track down. And even though recent tragic events has somewhat tarnished the beauty inherent in Spector’s art, I’m hoping that, at some point, somewhere out there, young music fans will want to google ‘Spector’ and ‘Wall of Sound’ out of curiosity to see what all the fuss was about. When that happens, I hope they’ll find that this blog and that this and later installments of ‘Odds & Ends’ will make them realize the extent and brilliance of Spector’s music.

The first song I’ve selected to fly the flag for overlooked Spector cuts is ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals.

The Crystals
The Crystals

I still remember when I heard ‘I Wonder’ for the first time. I’d seen it described numerous times as one of the most crazy, gargantuan Spector productions – the one where he really went over the edge, Cecil B. DeMille-style, and perhaps even more so than with ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. It sounded fascinating and extreme and I was thrilled when, at a local record fair, I spotted the Marginal Records grey-area release of all the Crystals songs, ‘I Wonder’ included.

I hurried home and put the CD on with much anticipation and a pulse galloping like a pair of Castanets at a Spector session. Then the voice of a teenaged LaLa Brooks came on, enveloped in exotic Spanish guitar lines and then – BOOM! Thunderbolt drumming capable of blowing out speakers! Fat, honking saxophones cutting through clutter like machetes through a jungle! Percussion so explosive it sounded as if a thousand guys were playing shakers and tambourines!

For something that came out in 1964, the year of Beatlemania and the ‘back to basics’ sound of the British Invasion, this deafening, monophonic monster production was almost bordering on the insane, … as if Spector was somehow daring his listeners to follow him into a land with no limits to the amount of sounds you could squeeze into a tiny slab of vinyl. The result, even today, is like being hit with a sonic sledgehammer!

The-Crystals-I-Wonder-394857

Even Spector seems to have realized that it was all too much. That he’d crossed a line, pushing any hint of restraint into the stratosphere. The Crystals take of ‘I Wonder’, one of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry’s best songs in opinion, was never released in the US, Spector’s home turf. In the UK it only hit # 36 in the charts.

For me, the definitive take of ‘I Wonder’ is the album-only take by the Ronettes with the Crystals single a close second. It’s a shame it was left off Back to Mono. There’s even a third version by girl group the Butterflys issued by Red Bird Records the same year as the two others, 1964.

Ironically, this great take of the song was produced by Jeff Barry, together with Steve Venet, and with none other than two ex-Crystals as group members! Let’s finish off with their slowed-down version.