Magic Kids – Hey Boy (2009)

Collecting Modern Spector soundalikes means listening to endless variations of the Wall of Sound that have a dark undertone of heartbreak and drama – see my recent post on Lykke Li for a good example.

It’s remarkable that the vast majority of these soundalikes go for a tense, even sinister feel in the grooves when you consider the fact that a lot of Spector’s big hits were jubilant and carefree. Think ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, ‘Not to Young to get Married’ or ‘A Fine Fine Boy.’

I suppose today’s young musicians steer away from this type of fun and playful Spector tradition because many consider such songs too banal or kliche? And that instead infusing your song and its production with melodrama and edginess will guarantee it’s coolness with the indie-crowd. I don’t have my nose in the air about this, mind you. Young musicians going down this path, no doubt inspired by Phil Spector’s public image as a gunblazing ‘Stalin of the Studio’, has brought great results. But when someone comes along today with a song that goes against this tradition it really does feel like a breath of fresh air.

…which leads me to ‘Hey Boy’, a fun little ditty that the Memphis-based indie-pop band Magic Kids issued as a single in 2009. It was included in slightly reworked form on their debut album the following year. What’s remarkable about this extremely catchy song is that unlike most these days they did go for the bonafide ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ feel, castanets and all! Heck, if the lyrics were revised to reflect a female point-of-view I could easily imagine LaLa Brooks fronting the Crystals on a Spector-version back in the day. It’s exciting, it’s bouncy, it’s snappy – what’s not to like?

I don’t know if this low-budget video is the official one but it’s the best one I could find…

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.’

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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

Lykke Li – Sadness is a Blessing (2011)

In my first post I promised I’d use this blog to highlight some of the modern Spector soundalikes I’ve hunted down through the years as a sort of hobby of mine.

I struggle to find the right term for these. Modern Spector soundalikes? Faux Spector? Neo-walls? Little symphonies for the 21st Century? The old Phil Spector Appreciation Society out of the UK called the soundalikes they discovered ‘Erect-a-Spectors!’

Meh,… nothing really seems fitting. I guess I’ll just stick with Modern Spector Soundalikes for now, – the modern part being of great importance to me as you can find soundalikes from each decade.

What I’ve focused my collecting on then, are the soundalikes that have occasionally popped up since the mid 90s. I guess they do so as each new generation of aspiring musicians discover Spector’s hits and try to dress up a song with the Wall of Sound for fun.

Others have of course milked the Spector influence on numerous songs. Spiritualized, the Raveonettes and others have done so with great success. As have the brooding, Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li on her last two albums, Wounded Rhymes (2011) and I Never Learn. (2014)

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The Spector influence shown in Lykke Li’s work is quite subtle but occasionally breaks through in full effect. A prime example is her stunning ‘Sadness is a Blessing’ single. Note; There’s a 1 minute and 50 seconds scene in the video before the song begins.

‘Sadness is a Blessing’ is a great example of the treasures you’ll discover when you look for these modern soundalikes. It’s the Wall of Sound for the new millennium with Be my Baby-like drums that are (probably) electronically programmed and none of those dramatic strings that were so crucial to the Spector sound. But even if the instrumental approach is different, ‘Sadness is a Blessing’ as a song isn’t far removed from the rough Brill Building demos Spector lavishly inflated with sonic beauty in the studio. The melody is extremely catchy and Lykke Li’s dark lyrics also mirror some of Spector’s more masochistically-themed mini dramas.

To these ears, ‘Sadness is a Blessing’ is like a latter-day cousin of ‘He Hit Me (and it Felt Like a Kiss)’ or ‘Please Hurt Me’:

“I ranted, I pleaded, I beg him not to go / For sorrow, the only lover I’ve ever known

“Sadness is a blessing, sadness is a pearl / Sadness is a boyfriend, oh sadness, I’m your girl.”

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!

The Wall of Sound – Still Relevant?

Aaaaaand…… we’re off!

Minutes ago I finished typing the ‘about’ and ‘disclaimer’ sections of this blog, looking forward to get to what I hope the blog will be all about, – highlighting the brilliance of the Wall of Sound and why it still packs a punch today.

And I believe it still does that. You’d be surprised to know how many modern Wall of Sound soundalikes pop up each year if you keep a close eye on the music scene and know what you’re looking for. Collecting these is somewhat of a pet project of mine. I plan to feature some of my favorite modern soundalikes on the blog from time to time as a nice antidote to all the backwards-looking posts, I’ll undoubtedly write.

So,… what’s up with my obsession of modern Wall of Sound soundalikes?

Not only do I like the calculated retro-approach of these type of songs in a perverse sort of way, – young musicians with all the possibilities of modern technology at their hands, yet indulging in their fetish for recordings made under conditions that would seem like the stone age compared to today’s recording techniques.

I am also fascinated by the different approaches these musicians take in their songwriting when going for a Wall of Sound soundalike. The thing is,… Most go for dark, brooding songs with a sinister undertone that is actually quite far removed from the upbeat, castanets-propelled songs that make up the majority of Spector’s work. It’s probably a case of his notorioty and image as a mono madman creeping into their understanding of what the Spector sound is all about. And since it has spawned heaps of great tracks, I’m not complaining.

So to start off this blog, let’s sit back and enjoy a  fantastic live performance of the song ‘Excuses’ from indie-pop band the Morning Benders. The studio version on their 2010 ‘Big Echo’ album (appropriate title, huh?) is cool but this live version blows it out of the water. THIS folks, is how it should be done! Building up, slowly nearing a crescendo, each musician a part of the whole, a wheel in the giant clockwork that makes the Wall of Sound come alive in all it’s pulsating glory.

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I love this video as it so well highlights what I think may be the most beautiful trait of Phil Spector’s production philosophy, – getting the track on tape as a single take with everyone playing together. True, – it was somewhat borne out of necessity due to the few tracks he had at his disposal, but still… If anything, this superb video highlights what modern multitrack -and digital recording has made us lose since the 60s Spector heyday.

The Morning Benders – ‘Excuses’, Your Truly Session (2010)

Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…