Category Archives: Would-be Spectors

Would-be Spectors # 7 – Andrew Loog Oldham

Here’s another spot-light on a Wall of Sound-obsessed producer in my ongoing ‘Would-be Spectors’ feature. (see them all via this link: https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/category/would-be-spectors/)

Up until now, I have focused on people from within Spector’s inner-circle; Jack Nitzsche, Nino Tempo, Jerry Riopelle, Sonny Bono, Marshall Leib and Brian Wilson – the latter was admittedly never a part of the inner-circle as such but I thought he merited inclusion since he both allegedly played on Spector’s session for ‘Don’t Hurt my Little Sister’ – Brian’s pitched follow-up for ‘Be my Baby’ – and closely followed numerous Spector sessions during the 60s.

The same criteria for inclusion applies for today’s producer in question, the interesting and flamboyant figure that is Andrew Loog Oldham. Not only was he probably the UK’s greatest champion of the Spector sound, he also had a close connection to the Tycoon of Teen, seeking him out when he was in LA as well as showing Spector around during his trips to the UK.

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Oldham’s claim to fame is of course his significant role in unleashing the Rolling Stones on the world as a grittier alternative to a certain more polished foursome from Liverpool. But there is much, much more to Oldham’s story. A musical opportunist in the most positive sense of the word, he jumped on the chances offered to express his love for good music, make a quick buck and play out his reputation as a musical maverick.

On the outset, Oldham shared a lot of traits with Spector and unsurprisingly, during the 60s his love for great US pop would see him drift more towards the out-of-this-world, sophisticated pop of his idol and that of other LA contemporaries like the Beach Boys.

It was a sound that at the time went down well in the UK. The Walker Brothers broke through to mega stardom after relocating to London and wooing screaming Brit girls with their carbon-copy, dramatic Wall of Sound recordings while the Beach Boys seemed even more popular among the UK record-buying public than on their home turf.

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Phil Spector and Gene Pitney with Oldham and the Rolling Stones at a Stones session.
Feeding off on this trend and enjoying the notion of the producer as the real auteur of the record, Oldham made some highly enjoyable attempts at outdoing Spector in the ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ game. His love for the sound was passionate, even paying for ads in the UK music press when ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers was in a chart battle with a local cover version by Cilla Black. Oldham’s message? Declaring that Spector’s blue-eyed-soul opus was ‘the greatest record ever made.’ He also publicly praised Pet Sounds upon that album’s release.

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Keith Richards and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Oldham hang out with the Ronettes.
When Oldham took to the studio he and his team would build elaborate, at times even baroque-sounding arrangements that packed a punch flowing from speakers despite a cleaner, less dense sound than Spector’s.

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As with any enthusiastic ‘would-be Spector’ type of producer, there are numerous great tracks to choose from to prove the point of Spector’s widespread influence. Here are three personal favorites from Oldham’s impressive cache of Wall of Sound-inspired productions.

Vashti Bunyan & Twice as Much – ‘Coldest Night of the Year’ (1966)

The team-up of cult singer-songwriter Bunyan and whimsy baroque-pop duo Twice as Much resulted in a killer cover of a song that had previously been recorded in a more subdued version by Spector’s right hand man Nino Tempo and his sister April Stevens.

Unbelievably, this stunning recording seems to have been put to tape in 1966 but only crept out as an album track two years later on the Twice as Much album ‘That’s All’. Not only is the Mann-Weill penned song top-notch, the production also highlights all of Oldham’s strengths as a producer.

Del Shannon – ‘Runaway ‘67’ (1967)

Legendary rocker Del Shannon was in the midst of a dry spell chart-wise when he visited London in that magical, mind-expanding year of 1967. A chance encounter with Oldham led to a collaboration around a proposed album project for Oldham’s Immediate label. No expenses were spared for the sessions that included the best session players in Britain and a batch of impressive songs by Oldham’s stable of songwriters that tried to re-invent Shannon as a psychedelic pop star.

Oldham’s intricate production elevated songs like ‘Mind over Matter’, ‘Cut and Come Again’ and ‘Silenty’ to a flickering sunshine pop stratosphere but despite all the effort, the album never came out. Later on, the songs from the sessions have been dusted off and released to cult status. I highly recommend seeking them out. At the time though, the only release borne out of this great project was a radical, slowed-down reworking of Shannon’s break-through hit, ‘Runaway.’ Again, cleaner in sound and less bombastic than the typical Spector sound, the single is clearly borne out of the same adventurous approach to record production.

Brett Smiley – ‘Solitaire’ (1974)

This production had escaped me until when I was recently made aware of it by Spector expert and engineer & producer Phil Chapman who has worked with Oldham in the past. What a superb version of the Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody song probably best known via the Andy Williams version. Brett Smiley was a US singer/songwriter who issued one single in the UK during the glam era and was managed by Oldham who also cut an album with him. History repeating itself, this too was never issued.

Oldham pulled out all stops for ‘Solitaire’, literally building a rock’n’roll cathedral around Smiley’s fragile vocal delivery. Just listen to those breathtaking, skybound strings! He clearly still had his ears on Spector’s sound during the early 70s when the Wall of Sound morphed somewhat during Spector’s work with George Harrison and John Lennon. With its sound, you can easily imagine ‘Solitaire’ fitting right in on ‘All Things Must Pass.’

Would-be Spectors # 6 – Sonny Bono

I’d like to focus on yet another ’would-be Spector’ who used his first-hand knowledge of the Wall of Sound to emulate Phil Spector.

Sonny

Sonny Bono is without a doubt the one person from Spector’s early to mid-60s inner circle who benefitted the most from working long hours with the Tycoon of Teen. His phenomenal success with Sonny & Cher as well as both Cher and Sonny as solo artists surely must have surprised everyone at Gold Star since Sonny was probably the one around with the least musical chops. But what he may have lacked in both a singing voice as well as music skills, he more than made up for with adaptability, shrewdness and teaming up with the right people, – in the latter case, it was the skilled arranger Harold Battiste who worked wonders for Sonny’s productions, just like Jack Nietszche did for Spector. We can only wonder how much Battiste brought to the Sonny & Cher hit records but it probably safe to assume, that it was quite a lot.

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Sonny, Cher and Harold in Gold Star working on the second Sonny & Cher album.

With the past editions of the on-going ‘Would-be Spector’ feature I have been able to point to various one-off singles by obscure artists produced by the various people who decided to give Spector a run for his money. A blog post focusing on Sonny Bono can’t follow the same pattern since he decided to focus all his attention on his own releases, – something that sets him apart from most other would-be Spectors of the time.

As legend has it, Sonny brought along his new girlfriend and future bride Cherilyn Sarkisian to Spector sessions in the early 60s which quickly resulted in the deep-voiced Cher singing background along with Sonny and a gazillion other people on a number of Philles releases. In 1965 it was time for Sonny & Cher to carve out their own niche in the LA music business and after a short stint as Ceasar & Cleo, they finally found worldwide fame with a merging of the wall of sound and the emerging jingle-jangle folk-rock style. Ironically, it was a hybrid sound that Spector could or should have also pursued. Around this time, he certainly came close with both the Modern Folk Quartet’s ‘This Could be the Night’ and ‘Paradise’ by the Ronettes. Both of these top productions remained unreleased however and one can only speculate which direction Spector’s career could have taken, had he followed up on this interesting mixing of styles.

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Instead, it was up to Sonny to milk the jingle-jangle angle for all it was worth within a wall of sound context – and he did so brilliantly. According to Sonny himself in his biography and Binia Taminiecka’s early 80s Spector documentary, he lost his position as Spector’s promo man and gofer after suggesting to him that the wall of sound was becoming stale and predictable. How ironic then, that he took it as his own point of departure once on his own with Cher. It does make sense though. Singing backgrounds and playing percussion at Gold Star among the Wrecking Crew and seeing how Spector painstakingly build up his otherworldly productions, Sonny basically took an in-the-studio masterclass at how to create hit records.

With Battiste as the glue who kept it all together, Sonny set out to make a name for himself and Cher with many of the same musicians who graced the Spector productions. The major difference though was the lack of strings on the majority of Sonny’s records. Whether or not this was to keep in line with the more down-to-earth aesthetic of folk-rock or just a case of not spending too much time or money on recordings, the result was a sound that’s a bit rougher around the edges than Spector’s. A comparison between Sonny’s work and Spector’s will quickly reveal that the latter used strings as a key element to broaden and also beef up the overall sonic impact than what Sonny was able to with his set-up.

Sonny++Cher+Look

Some claim that Sonny couldn’t sing. I’ve never understood that sentiment. To these ears, Sonny had the perfect voice for what he set out to do; combine the rebellious, gritty feel of folk-rock with the wide-eyed romanticism of the Wall of Sound. At his best, as with ‘I Got You, Babe’ or ‘Just You’, Sonny & Cher recorded godlike pop records which will continue to appeal and inspire. Good things are to be found on the first three Sonny & Cher albums as well as among the solo stuff Sonny produced for both Cher and himself.

For now, I’ll conclude with three particular favorites of mine.

Sonny & Cher – Just You (1965)

Even though it’s in part a blatant rip-off of the melody of ‘Baby, I Love You’ by the Ronettes, this is a fantastic song with a great production / arrangement by Sonny Bono and Harold Battiste. And lo and behold; Sonny actually decided to wheel in some strings for this lovely odé to love.

Sonny – The Revolution Kind (1965)

Here’s a solo single by Sonny that is every bit as good as his more well-known ‘Laugh at Me.’ Just like on that track, he’s channeling Dylan in both topic and vocal style to great effect – and with a thunderous ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’-styled backing to boot! Very good.

Sonny & Cher – Stand by Me (1967)

This one is easily overlooked on the duo’s third longplayer, tucked away as it is half-way through side B. Ok, so it’s not like Sonny & Cher top the iconic Ben E. King hit recording, but nevertheless, I’ve always enjoyed this version for it’s sheer over-the-top backing track. It sounds as if Sonny gathered a zillion percussionists and what not and made them all have a field day in Gold Star. The end results is a powerhouse backing track that is all over the place.

Would-Be Spectors # 5 – Marshall Leib

Spector’s first taste of success came as a teenager in 1958 with his vocal trio the Teddy Bears.

Their Spector-produced monster hit ‘To Know Him is to Love Him’ instantly cast him as the new music whiz kid. Could Spector follow up on the promise inherent in the otherworldly sounds of this chart topper? Time proved he could indeed.

But on this, his first foray into the music business, friends Marshall Leib and Annette Kleinbard were along for the ride. Together, the three classmates made up the Teddy Bears – an unusual trio if ever there was one. Petite and beautiful brunette Kleinbard with an almost operatic register was the focal point while the guys harmonized around her in matching, dorky-looking sweaters.

The contrast between Spector and Leib in appearance was especially profound. Spector with his frail, nerdish appearance and receding chin looked like someone a tall, dark and handsome guy like Leib would normally have bullied in school. But music brought them together and the odd combination proved to work wonders.

'Only in the 50s.' The innocent and corny album cover of the lone album by the Teddy Bears.
‘Only in the 50s.’ The innocent and corny album cover of the lone album by the Teddy Bears.

The Teddy Bears recordings had a hazy, dreamy sound that Paul Payton, a reader of the blog, correctly has termed a ‘Velvet Wall of Sound.’ Perhaps a ‘Velvet Blanket of Sound’ is an even better term. The sound was one of warmth and delicacy, only hinting at the frenetic bombast to come in later years.

And that’s usually where the story about Leib ends in the various overviews of Spector’s career. Typecast as the handsome Teddy Bear who loyally sang his background ‘shoo bi doos’ on recordings, Leib is mostly portrayed as nothing more than a flunky. A guy who just happened to have the looks and a good-enough voice to merit inclusion in Spector’s first musical adventure. And maybe that was indeed the case back in the late 50s. However, Leib soon proved himself to be a great producer in his own right. teddy2 I can’t claim to know the full extent of Leib’s career in the music business after the break-up of the Teddy Bears. One thing is clear though. Like many other Los Angeles music professionals he readily absorbed the influence of Spector’s Wall of Sound approach and ran with it for a few superb single releases.

Once again, a musician from Spector’s inner circle felt the urge to step out of his shadow and put to use the tricks he’d picked up looking over his shoulder in the studio.

Here are three fabulous Wall of Sound productions courtesy of Marshall Leib.

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Alder Ray – Cause I Love Him (1964) – It’s not often you come across a vocal performance that Darlene Love couldn’t have bettered. In the case with this single though, I’ll claim Alder Ray beat Darlene at her own game! The song is top-notch, the frenzied production stomps along at castanet-breaking speed and Ray really turns in a stellar vocal. Unlike probably most others, I prefer the stereo mix because the Darlene Love-led backing vocals are more prominent.

The Westwoods – I Miss my Surfer Boy Too (1965) – Recorded at Gold Star, where else?, this joint production by Leib and Spector’s favorite arranger Jack Nitszche is an answer record to the ‘transplanted surfer’ themed ‘New York’s a Lonely Town’. A record produced by another pair of would-be Spectors, Pete Anders and Vini Poncia under their Tradewinds guise! Collector Anthony Reichardt labels this Westwoods single a “quazi-Spectoresque meets Surf production” and I can only agree.

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Carol Connors – My Baby Looks but He Don’t Touch (1966) – Va-va-voom! Look at that picture sleeve. By 1966, Leib’s old Teddy Bears bandmate Annette Kleinbard was known as Carol Connors, writing songs in the hot rod / surf realm and occasionally recording. ‘My Baby Looks but He Don’t Touch’ is a perfect mix of the breathy Teddy Bears sound and elements of Spector’s later production philosophy.

Would-Be Spectors # 4 – Brian Wilson

My original plan for the ongoing feature about ‘Would-be Spectors’ was to show how nearly everyone within Spector’s studio inner-circle was inspired to churn out great records themselves with a heavy slant towards the Wall of Sound.

So far, I’ve written about Nino Tempo, Jerry Riopelle and Jack Nitzsche, all of whom served as Spector’s right hand men at various sessions. Aiding Spector in LA’s Gold Star Studios, these guys literally attended a master class on how to achieve that massive monophonic sound.

When I turn my attention to Brian Wilson in this newest blog post I’m compromising my perspective a little bit. The Beach Boys leader was far from a member of Spector’s inner circle. If anything, these two brilliant, yet insecure and neurotic whiz kids saw each other as rivals on the local music scene, no doubt keeping a close and guarded eye on each other’s efforts. Having said that, Brian Wilson definitely merits inclusion in the series for the following reasons:

For one thing, he was absolutely obsessed with the Wall of Sound. In interviews he has often described how he had to pull over, literally shaking, when he first heard ‘Be my Baby’ in his car. In the book ‘Catch a Wave’ author Peter Ames Carlin even describes how Brian once had engineer Steve Desper make a tape loop of the ‘Be my Baby’ chorus so Brian could sit in a trance and listen to it for four hours straight!

Secondly, Brian often utilized the same musicians Spector used, the Wrecking Crew, and occasionally also recorded at his preferred studio, Gold Star. Brian even attended his fair share of Spector sessions as an observer. So just like Tempo, Riopelle and Nitzsche, he had plenty of opportunities to take notes on how to achieve the otherworldly sound and the rich blending of instruments.

Brian Wilson at a Spector session in 1965 - others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack 'Specs' Nitzsche.
Brian Wilson (far left) at a Spector session in 1965 – others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche.

And third, as far as I’m concerned, of all Spector’s contemporaries on the 60s LA studio scene, Brian Wilson was the one who went about using the inspiration drawn from the Wall of Sound in the most imaginative and original way. No Wall of Sound? Probably no Pet Sounds – one of the greatest and most cohesive albums of all-time. And yet, an album with a sound that is much more tender and embracing than Spector’s often heavy-handed approach.

pet sounds

In the ‘Endless Harmony’ Beach Boys documentary fellow producer Terry Melcher probably spoke some truth, when he described Brian’s sound as one of love as opposed to Spector’s ‘angry’ sound. It’s of course a very simplified, black & white view – what about gentle Spector productions like ‘I Love How You Love Me’, ‘When I Saw You’, ‘So Young’ etc? – but I agree with the basic distinction.

‘Anger’ is probably not the best term for Spector’s sound. More a sense of a deafening, overwhelming and intense grandeur that can easily be construed as aggressive and cluttered when compared to Brian’s often more sophisticated approach.

Spector was and remains the ultimate master at what he did; creating glorious, gargantuan and monophonic monsters that would always pack a punch when played on the radio or record players. It’s a production style I obviously cherish enough to build a whole blog up around it! But truth be told, I don’t think Spector really diversified or softened up his sound with other influences the same way Brian did brilliantly time and again. That, in a nutshell, is probably the real distinction between these two master producers – the ambition to progress, break new ground and absorb outside influences that I’ve always found to be at the very heart of Brian Wilson’s art.

Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.
Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.

As much as I love the work of Tempo, Riopelle, Nitzsche and other future ‘Would-be Spectors’ written about here, when they went for a Wall of Sound-type song, they didn’t stray far from what Spector did. Generally, they recorded dazzling carbon-copies that could make you double-check label credits to make sure that it wasn’t a Spector cut. However, I feel Brian often went about this in a much more nuanced manner. He usually only took the elements from Spector’s sound that would compliment his own distinctive strengths as a producer and mixed it up with other influences to great effect.

‘Don’t Worry Baby’ comes to mind as an example of this. Rumored to be originally written for the Ronettes, that stellar Beach Boys hit indeed has an obvious wall of sound influence, but the listener will also find those gorgeous trademark Beach Boys harmonies harking back to Brian’s other fetish, the vocal magic of the Four Freshmen. And there’s even a bit of proto folk-rock thrown in by way of that iconic electric guitar-plucking throughout the track. Terry Melcher copied that feel blatantly on his production of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ by the Byrds.

Don't Worry Baby / I Get Around - how's that for a killer single?
Don’t Worry Baby / I Get Around – how’s that for a killer single?

The mind boggles thinking about what could have been had Brian Wilson and Phil Spector somehow put their guards down and overcome their insecurities in order to collaborate on songs back in the day. Their professional competition certainly resulted in some great productions on Brian’s part.

They did come awfully close to collaborate though. In the mid-60s Brian offered Spector ‘Don’t Hurt my Little Sister’ for the Ronettes which Spector and his protégée Jerry Riopelle subsequently turned into ‘Things are Changing’, – a pretty cool promo song for an equal employment opportunities campaign. More info on that obscure release on this Spectropop sub-page: http://www.spectropop.com/gg/thingsarechanging.html

Like I always do, I’m going to finish my post by highlighting three favorite recordings.

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The Beach Boys – I Do (1963) – Brian showed off his Spector influence most clearly on some of the cool productions he made on the side for other acts like girl-surfer group the Honeys and singer Sharon Marie. There have been a few compilations gathering all these great, overlooked productions. ‘I Do’ was issued by vocal group the Castells, but this take by the Beach Boys themselves I think is even better due to the superior Beach Boys vocals. Unbelievably, this gem was unreleased at the time, not even creeping out as album filler.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygi4mOuuevU

Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb (1965) – Yet another outside production proving that Brian mastered achingly beautiful big ballads as well as Spector. Like most of Brian’s Wall of Sound-inspired tracks there’s more air to the sound than the rumble, a Spector production would have entailed. In truth, there’s as much a Bacharach influence going on here. Listen to how Glen Campbell nails that beautiful melody!

Beach Boys – Kiss Me Baby (1965) – Rather than doing the obvious and feature a track from Pet Sounds, I’m going to pick this cut from the previous Beach Boys album, Today. The second half of that album was made up of wonderful, tender ballads that heralded the unheard sophistication Brian’s work had taken on by the release of Pet Sounds. Harmonies to die for and a dense backing track– sheer pop heaven!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR5FKRGHPIk

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Would-be Spectors # 3 – Jack Nitzsche

What can I write about Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche that hasn’t already been chronicled elsewhere? A legendary songwriter, producer and artist in his own right, Nitzsche’s first major claim to fame was his arranging skills, expertly put to use on a string of iconic Spector productions.

When Spector relocated his recording activities from New York to Los Angeles, the then-emerging new Mecca for pop, Nitzsche was quickly enlisted as arranger for his first LA session in 1962, the recording of ‘He’s a Rebel.’

Spector not only got the most talented up-and-coming arranger in town at his side, he also gained access to Nitzsche’s invaluable contacts, bringing together a veritable ‘who’s who’ of LA’s best session musicians. These dynamic, versatile players were later dubbed the Wrecking Crew and proved ready, willing and able to help Spector experiment and challenge conventional recording practices. He had missed that kind of support in New York where session musicians often made a fuzz when the soon-to-be ‘Tycoon of Teen’ tried to coerce them into unorthodox session takes.

&0s session; Darlene Love, Phil Spector & Jack Nitzsche.
60s session; Darlene Love, Phil Spector & Jack Nitzsche.

With Nitzsche as his right-hand man, Spector’s work took on gargantuan, cavernous proportions by each release. The duo worked together on so many classic recordings. The list goes on and on. I like this quote from legendary LA scenester Rodney Bingenheimer who visited the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ session with Brian Wilson in 1966: “Jack and Phil were very tight. They were like co-pilots on the Concorde from a flight from France.” Well said!

Spector and Nitzsche really brought out the best in each other. As much as the Wall of Sound has often been attributed to the famed Gold Star studios echo chamber, you simply cannot underestimate Jack Nitzsche’s importance in the equation. Spector did create beautiful art with other arrangers, i.e. Arnold Goland, Gene Page and Perry Botkin Jr., but Nitzsche remained his preferred arranger – the one who understood his approach best. Always to be trusted to arrange those sweet, sweeping and highly beautiful strings that graced many a Philles release.

It is no surprise then that Nitzsche made the most out of his first-hand crash course in the Wall of Sound. There is a plethora of fantastic singles spread out among a myriad of labels. If a record company back then wanted a big sounding Wall of Sound production, hiring ‘Specs’ was your best bet. Not only did you get the master’s favorite arranger, you also got the same studio environment (Gold Star) and session musicians (the Wrecking Crew). More often than not, the results were prime examples of perfect Wall of Sound that could give even Spector a run for his money.

Jack to the left at a 60s session.
Jack to the left at a 60s session.

Labelling Nitzsche a mere Spector-clone though would be an insult. Unlike Spector, Nitzsche proved much more versatile and productive, moving with the times and amassing an impressive body of work through the 60s and beyond that proves he was well attuned to the shifting fads in the music business.

Where Spector often only hinted at the influence of, say, Motown or the emerging Folk-Rock sounds of the day, Nitzsche cleverly mixed his Wall of Sound background with the latest hot sound and got some great results. It’s no wonder that UK reissue label Ace Records have issued three great Nitzsche compilations that perfectly supplement their three ‘Phil’s Spectre’ 60s Wall of Sound soundalike compilations.

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For anyone wanting to delve deeper into the Nitzsche legend, look no further than the online treasure trove of UK fan Martin Roberts. His Nitzsche website is filled to the brim with articles, interviews, reviews, news etc. Sadly, it seems as if he has abandoned the project in recent years but the range of info still on there is both impressive and overwhelming: http://www.spectropop.com/JackNitzsche/

Anthony Reichardt, whose fantastic youtube channel I’ve mentioned before, also has an extensive Nitzsche playlist you could check out. There are many songs on there not found on the three essential Ace Records Nitzsche compilations: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0EB49B00F49C58DF

And not only that, but it also seems that a Nitzsche documentary is in the early planning stages. I hope this project will come to life as it would make for a nice supplement to the Wrecking Crew documentary: http://century67.com/untitled-jack-nitzsche-documentary

Nitzsche ad

Finally, as I always do on the subject of would-be Spectors, here are my three personal picks showing Nitzsche at what he does best.

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Songs to seek out:

Hale & the Hushabyes – ‘Yes Sir, That’s my Baby’ (1964) – Stately string-soaked rendition of the old Irving Berlin standard with a giant chorus rumored to feature, among others, Brian Wilson, Sonny & Cher, Jackie De Shannon and Darlene Love. According to Nitzsche, needing a bass singer, he went to the Gold Star lobby and grabbed some black guy no-one knew who was sitting there. Minutes later he sang the distinctive bass part in the song! The strings featured from ca. the 1 minute mark are achingly beautiful.

PJ Proby – ‘I Can’t Make It Alone’ (1966) – PJ Proby turns in his typical flamboyant vocal performance on this majestic blue-eyed soul ballad. The dense mono mix of the original single has Proby duetting with himself in frenetic Righteous Brothers-fashion.

The Satisfactions – ‘Daddy, You Gotta Let Him In’ (1966) – Take a dose of ‘Then He Kissed Me’, a pinch of Shangri-Las type teen drama, add some Gold Star echo and bring to a boil. Voila! The perfect Wall of Sound stomper about a Hell’s Angels member hiding out at his girlfriend’s home.

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Would-be Spectors # 2 – Jerry Riopelle

It’s time again to focus on one of the would-be Spectors that worked LA studios in the 60s, feverishly trying to nail the Wall of Sound. A good choice for the topic would be the often overlooked Jerry Riopelle.

Jerry was a very talented jack-of-all-trades – singer, songwriter, musician, producer – you name it! He could do it all. Yet he remains somewhat of a shadowy figure, mostly remembered today by hardcore fans of Phil Spector due to his involvement in some superb soundalike records. It’s even difficult to find a 60s photo of him online. This low-res image of him hanging out with Phil Spector and Jack Nitzsche is the best I could do.

Jack, Phil & Jerry. Mid-60s.
Jack, Phil & Jerry. Mid-60s.

The Phil Spector Appreciation Society had an interview with Jerry in the Philately fanzine in 1984. Luckily for us, that interview is featured at the Spectropop website. So rather than me going on with a long post on Jerry’s adventures with the Wall of Sound, why not read his own detailed account?

http://www.spectropop.com/HOTB/HOTBpart3.htm

Suffice to say, Jerry’s position as Phil Spector’s protégée during the mid-60s gave him an unprecedented inner view on what made the wall come together in the studio. But even before he found himself under ‘Uncle Phil’s’ wing, he had the basic formula worked out. According to legend, when Spector’s preferred engineer Larry Levine played him Clydie King’s 1965 Riopelle-produced single ‘The Thrill is Gone’, the ‘Tycoon of Teen’ took notice and immediately decided to snap up the young producer for Philles Records.

In 1965 Riopelle produced some fantastic sides for Clydie King. ‘The Thrill is Gone’ is majestic and one can understand why Spector was impressed when he heard it. I personally think that ‘Missin’ my Baby’ from the same year betters it. What a lush, beautiful production! Both songs can be found on Ace Records’ must-have Phil’s Spectre comps, vol. 1 and 2.

Clydie King.
Clydie King.

The crowning achievement for Riopelle though remains ‘Home of the Brave’ by Bonnie & the Treasures. Phil Spector released it on his Phi-Dan imprint in 1965. All sorts of rumors have surrounded this track ever since. One has it that it was actually Ronnie Spector who sang the lead. A ridiculous claim since you can easily hear it’s not her. It has since been established that it was session singer Charlotte O’Hara (Charlotte Ann Matheny) who took the lead.

Another rumor has it that it was Phil Spector who in reality produced this iconic single. Riopelle disputes that claim and has both a label production credit and his former successful Wall of Sound productions as evidence. I imagine that the rumor formed when Phil Spector personally took action and got behind the single very aggressively when a rival version by singer Jodi Miller hit the charts.

Here then, in all it’s muddy Gold Star echo glory, is the epic ‘Home of the Brave’:

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Songs to seek out:

Clydie King – ‘The Thrill is Gone’ (1965) & ‘Missin’ my Baby’ (1965) – You can’t go wrong with these two Wall of Sound classics.

Bonnie & the Treasures – ‘Home of the Brave’ (1965) – is this the pinnacle of the Spector soundalikes? I am of the opinion that Spector couldn’t have done this one better.

Bonnie – ‘Close Your Eyes’ (1966) – this fab production has a melody to die for. Charlotte O’Hara steps up to the mike for another great lead vocal.

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Where to find 60s Spector soundalikes?

My guess is that since you’ve taken the time to read some of the posts here, you probably already know quite a bit about the Wall of Sound. I assume you’re well aware that as a 60s musical phenomenon the Wall of Sound wasn’t limited to the releases on Phil Spector’s Philles Records.

It’s basic music business instinct to jump on the bandwagon, whenever something catches on and sets the Top 40 on fire. So it’s no surprise that once Phil Spector had major hits under his belt, numerous imitators copied his distinctive style hoping to garner quick sales.

But there’s also another element. Besides the remarkable success Spector had with his Philles label, he was also greatly admired by his producer contemporaries or those who was just trying to carve out a place for themselves in the record business. Dubbed the ‘Tycoon of Teen’ early on, Phil Spector proved that you could have great success following your instincts and personal quirks rather than producing records the conventional way. He literally broke every rule in the book, – meters going in the red, singles running over the advised length for radio airplay, string arrangements more suitable for Wagner than pop etc.

That so many copied Spector during the 60s wasn’t only down to the prospect of having hits. It was also a case of testing yourself to see if you had it in you to follow in his footsteps. And who knows? Perhaps even beat him at his own game. I can imagine that when a producer heard the Wall of Sound back then, it was like having Spector slap you in the face with a glove and challenge you to a no-holds-barred, echo-chamber-crunching duel! Look at Brian Wilson for god’s sake. Literally shaking, he had to pull over his car when he first heard ‘Be my Baby’ blaring from the car radio!

Brian and many others took up the challenge and rose to the occasion with fantastic results. The British specialist re-issue label Ace Records has issued a fantastic serious of CDs during the 00s called ‘Phil’ Spectre’. Over three volumes they have compiled some of the best 60s Spector soundalikes. If you don’t own these compilations already, go buy them immediately. They are as essential as some of Phil Spector’s best work. Highly recommended! And that also goes for other Ace Records compilations focusing on the work of Spector’s favourite arranger Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche or the Brill Building songwriting duos whose best songs often got the Wall of Sound treatment. Spectorphiles worldwide have a lot to thank Ace Records for.

The three volumes in the Phil's Spectre series.

Sadly, the label has indicated that we have probably seen the last volume in the series. They are difficult to compile since the most appropriate songs for inclusion are spread over a myriad of obscure labels. You can imagine how that results in a licensing nightmare.

So what do you do if you have a craving for obscure attempts at the Wall of Sound but aren’t willing to spend years and a fortune rummaging through old boxes for dusty 45s? Enter Anthony Reichardt.

Anthony has a truly mindblowing collection of singles that show how sparks flew all over when Spector’s sonic call to arms made the US music scene reverberate. Best of all, Anthony graciously offers all fans the chance to listen in via his incredible Youtube channel. You can literally spend hours there browsing through his playlists and checking out interesting videos, – it’s the Youtube equivalent of walking into a record shop and discovering a box  in the far corner labeled ‘Obscure Spector Sounds.’

45s1

The amount of great work on those playlists is mindboggling. We’re talking at least 10 potential ‘Phil’s Spectre’ volumes here. Anthony’s videos are beautifully compiled and almost all feature all the info on the artist, label, studio etc he has been able to locate.

Anthony’s Youtube profile

http://www.youtube.com/user/reichardtaj

Here’s an embed of his Gold Star playlist. Do check it out. And don’t forgot his other playlists focusing on Gene Page, Jack Nitzsche, Teddy Randazzo and  Bob Crewe among others.

Anthony Reichardt’s Gold Star Studios playlist

Anthony also has a page on Facebook that’s a must to follow

Gold Star Recording Studios & the ‘Wall of Sound’

https://www.facebook.com/goldstarrecordingstudios

Would-be Spectors # 1 – Nino Tempo

What I find truly fascinating about the Wall of Sound is that once you delve into the Phil Spector story, you realize how far-reaching his artistic vision was.

Spector’s inner circle and team of studio cats, subsequently dubbed the Wrecking Crew by legendary drummer Hal Blaine, included a lot of would-be Spectors. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. I’m just acknowledging the fact that over the years many of them spent time in studios across LA, trying to work out the basics of the formula that made Spector the arch-alchemyst of widescreen pop.

More often than not, they too created gold in Gold Star Studios and beyond. Their efforts proved that the Wall of Sound could be achieved if one had carefully, or even secretly, taken notes during the long hours serving in Spector’s legion of session men.

A particular favorite of mine is Nino Tempo [born Antonino LoTempio] – a sax player and singer who befriended Spector during the early 60s and soon found himself at top of the list whenever a session was called. He is probably the one who came closest to Spector on a personal level acting as much as a friend as his right-hand man and soundboard in the studio.

Engineer Larry Levine, Phil Spector and Nino Tempo in the booth during a Gold Star session.
Engineer Larry Levine, Phil Spector and Nino Tempo in the booth during a Gold Star session.

I think it’s fair to say, Nino had a better look into Spector’s thoughts on the Wall of Sound than most. I like him a lot due to his very smooth, crooning vocals that beautifully compliment the few Spectoresque songs he recorded with sister April Stevens or alone. He wasn’t as prolific as other would-be Spectors. But when he hit a homerun, the ball sure broke through the stadium wall! Case in point – check out this lip-synch performance of ‘All Strung Out’ with sister April on the Lloyd Thaxton Show in 1966.

‘All Strung Out’ is one of a handful of great Wall of Sound tracks Nino recorded with or without April. Most of them can be found on the duo’s ‘All Strung Out’ album which has been re-released on CD. ‘The Habit of Loving You Baby’ on that album is like a carbon-copy ‘All Strung Out’ – I can’t figure out which one I prefer.

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Songs to seek out:

Noreen Corcoran – ‘Love Kitten’ (1963) – a fun and fast tune typical of the lighter girl group fare.

Nino Tempo & April Stevens – ‘All Strung Out’ (1966) & ‘The Habit of Loving You Baby’ (1967) – both of these were clearly written with a Righteous Brothers blue-eyed soul feel in mind.

Nino Tempo – ‘Boys Town (Where my Broken Hearted Buddies Go)’ (1967) – a bit of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys thrown in for good measure.

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Let’s leave for now with Nino himself talking about his time with Phil in an excerpt from the 1980 ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ documentary. Take it away, Nino!