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.
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!
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:
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:
All Cue Castanets readers should definately make a mental note of April the 28th because this date sees the release of what looks like a really interesting Bobby Hatfield compilation by UK label Ace Records.
The lovingly compiled and brilliantly annotated compilations from Ace Records have of course for decades been god-sends for all fans of classic 60s music, none the least those who crave the heavy thump of the Wall of Sound. We have Ace and its knowledgeable compilers like Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce to thank for must-buy sets like the Phil’s Spectre series, the three Jack Nitszche volumes and an on going songwriters series covering a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Brill Building scene.
Turns out that Ace has turned its attention to legendary blue eyed soulster Bobby Hatfield whose incredible pipes intertwined with Bill Medley’s on some of Spector’s most majestic productions. In my book, the singles and assorted album tracks Spector cut with the Righteous Brothers are at the pinnacle of the Wall of Sound.
‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’, ‘Just Once in my Life’, ‘Hung on You’, ‘Ebb Tide’, White Cliffs of Dover’… Pure magic. Wearing your emotions on your vocal sleeve amid an abyss of echo and over-the-top backing has never sounded so good before or since. And yet, even though Bobby Hatfield’s stellar performance catapulted the Righteous Brothers take of ‘Unchained Melody’ to evergreen status, Bobby has arguably been somewhat overshadowed by his deeper-voiced brother. (and according to legend; Spector didn’t even produce the session despite the credit)
Bill Medley sang on the majority of the duo’s hits, at least during their mid-to-late 60s hey day, and he also had the more succesful solo career. At one point, Bobby Hatfield even had to team up with Medley-soundalike Jimmy Walker to continue recording and touring under the Righteous Brothers name.
But Bobby could hold his own – his voice was truly otherworldly when he sang in his upper register or sugarcoated songs with an effortless falsetto – case in point; check out the Righteous Brothers version of ‘I Believe.’
It is very satisfying to see that Ace has decided to put the spotlight firmly on Bobby’s cache of songs, both released and unreleased. The aptly titled ‘The Other Brother – a Solo Anthology 1965-70’ looks like a mouth-watering collection, not only highlighting the best and most interesting releases from Bobby’s struggling solo career,… but also treating listeners to some gems that never saw the light of day.
It’ll be interesting to hear the newly unearthed tracks, none the least an unreleased version of the Ronettes classic that is ‘Paradise.’ I can’t wait to hear how Bobby tackled this fantastic song and to hear the extent of the production, whether it follows the style and arrangement of the then unreleased Ronettes version or perhaps represents a grittier, more soulful take.
Here’s a little something that just sort of popped up out of the blue the other day when I routinely searched for some Spector-related stuff online.
Music journalist Steve Escobar has a website where he has published a few of his interview with musicians – and lo-and-behold; if you’re a fan of Spector as well as the 60s LA recording scene, there are a few interviews on there that would be of interest.
Off you go; Brian, Glen, Hal, Jackie, Johhny, and Nancy are all ready to tell you a bit about their musical adventures…
Brian Wilson (proving once again he’s not the most talkative interview subject!)
Maybe I should put the spotlight on UK-based engineer / producer Phil Chapman for my next installment of the ‘Would-be Spectors’ series, because his current remixing project of both Spector releases and likeminded tracks will surely interest Cue Castanets readers.
Through the years Chapman has of course worked professionally on numerous recording projects of interest to Wall of Sound fans, but his latest endavour is merely for the fun of it and due to his recent acquisition of some new recording and mixing equipment. The results are sure to impress you. It’ll hit you and it’ll feel like a kiss, alright!
A while back I wrote about his fantastic mix of ‘I Can Hear Music’ by the Ronettes, – surely, you’ll agree that this new mix with added layers blows the original out of the water?
This time, Phil Chapman has worked his magic on that most extremely gargantuan production that is ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals. In its original version a massive monophonic monster that I have previously written about in my ‘Odds & Ends’ feature where I sometimes highlight specific, overlooked Spector productions.
So I was pleased to hear Chapman’s elaborate mix with added layers and all sorts of details that keep the spirit of the original firmly in place but attempts “to give give it the same impact today as it had in ’64” as he writes on youtube. Enjoy this sensational remix.
As if this wasn’t enough, Chapman has also been working on an equally over-the-top mix of Jackie Trent’s Spectoresque ‘If You Love Me’ from the same year.
Produced by her husband Tony Hatch, probably the closest the UK came to having its own Bacharach, in its original version this very catchy song stands as a worthy attempt at recreating the magic sound of Spector and the Wrecking Crew.
Chapman builds on this foundation with some choice samples and added layers to emphasize the production’s dynamics. It works very, very well, even in this rough, unfinished mix.
I’ll leave you then with a nice slab of British wall of sound with all engines go!
There’s an interesting page on Facebook, ‘Heppest of the Hep’, that regularly posts high definition footage of live performances ranging from the 40s to the 60s.
The sources for the material are unclear and probably a bit shady but there’s much of interest for any music fan.
Recently, the page has posted this beautiful high definition clip of Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra performing at the TNT Show.
You’ve all seen this clip a gazillion times before but this is without a doubt the best quality the clip can be seen. Follow the link for the Ronettes in crystal clear high definition.
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.
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.
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.
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…