Expiring Copyrights

Beach Boys fans are a lucky bunch…

Last year in December and now again this year they’ve had unexpected treats in the form of digital-only, blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em compilations made up of unreleased recordings. You can read about 2013s ‘The Big Beat’ and this year’s ‘Keep an Eye on Summer’ on The Second Disc:

http://theseconddisc.com/2013/12/17/the-beatles-and-the-beach-boys-beat-the-boots-on-the-big-beat-1963-and-bootleg-recordings/

http://theseconddisc.com/2014/12/03/the-beach-boys-new-digital-copyright-collections-offer-1964-rarities-two-complete-concerts/

Late 60s Beach Boys. Look at all those tapes! How much on there will be released in the coming years?
Late 60s Beach Boys. Look at all those tapes! How much on there will be released in the coming years?

The tracks on these two compilations are basically a hodge podge of demos, completed songs, works-in-progress, session takes and a capella mixes – what all of them have in common is that they have never seen a legitimate release. And that, in a nutshell, is why they’ve come out now.

To make a long story short, current European copyright laws stipulate that if a recording hasn’t been officially released 50 years after being put to tape, it will be relegated to public domain status. Seeing that the European copyright term for officially released recordings is 70 years there’s a heavy impetus to ‘scrape the barrel’ for artists and record companies worldwide. By making such hitherto unreleased recordings available online for a short amount of time, they successfully extend the copyright period by a further 20 years. Undoubtedly, this process brings forth a lot of recordings that the artists or companies would never have thought suitable for release. The rationale of course is that it is better to be pro-active and get them out, often with little fanfare, than seeing bootleggers or other third parties begin to churn out dubious albums made up of unreleased recordings that are no longer copyright protected.

Capitol Records and the Beach Boys have wisely chosen to make the best out of a bad situation and have really given Beach Boys fans a lot to divulge in with these two compilations, overseen by longtime Beach Boys archivist Alan Boyd and engineer Mark Linett. Fans have now had two of these compilations and the hope is that new ones will pop up each December as the copyright expiry date for a new batch of unreleased recordings draws near.

The reason I write about all this of course is that it seems Phil Spector and his business associates are really taking a risk by not following in the footsteps of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and others who have gone down this path. For every year that goes by without issuing Philles-era unreleased recordings Spector’s catalog gets more vulnerable. It becomes a legal smorgasbord for those wanting to mine the supposedly large amount of unreleased recordings that exists and issue their own product made up of this material.

All unreleased Spector recordings up until 1963 would seemingly be public domain by now. And since there’s no indication that we will see a release prolonging the copyright for 1964 recordings, we can probably soon add that year to the virtual goldmine of stuff that can be looked into from now on by shady European music entrepreneurs. If you check out itunes, Spotify and other online services you’ll notice that there are already quite a few grey-area digital releases offering Spector’s early stuff. So there are people out there willing to take risks; people who would undoubtedly jump at the chance to issue unreleased material without the risk of lawsuits. The question of course is if anyone out there has had access to such recordings other than Spector’s inner circle?

Phil Spector and Larry Levine at Gold Star. Will we ever get to hear all that they left in the can?
Phil Spector and engineer Larry Levine at Gold Star studios. Will we ever get to hear some of their efforts that remained unreleased?

Among collectors there are already a few well known unreleased recordings. ‘Stand by Him’ and ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ credited to the Crystals. ‘Pretty Girl’ and ‘It’s That Kind of Day’ with the ‘Tycoon of Teen’ himself on vocals.  We also have  Philles-era unreleased songs by other producers like ‘He’s my Eddie Baby’ by the Lovelites (Pete Anders & Vinnie Poncia), the alt. ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes (Jeff Barry) or Tina Turner’s ‘Everything under the Sun’ (Bob Crewe). And lest we forget all those session outtakes like the ones that have been floating around as a 5-disc bootleg for years. Will we see many more creep out due to copyright expiry? Remember what Hal Blaine wrote in his autobiography: “Phil Spector is the only producer I’ve ever known who always had an extra 2-track recorder running constantly from the beginning of every session. Everything said or played went on tape (…)”

The latest news about Phil Spector’s condition in prison has indicated that he has lost the ability to speak and that he was already marked by this and other types of illness in late 2013. I would imagine that Spector has made sure that nothing can be released without his direct involvement and consent. Since he obviously has other things on his mind while in prison this could easily explain why nothing has happened in terms of prolonging copyrights. Communication between him and Sony Legacy or other music business parties is probably non-existant at this stage. Obsessively preoccupied with how his recorded output underlines his reputation as an iconic producer, my guess is that Spector’s well known protectiveness of his catalog has now become a double-edged sword. While Spector keeps the door shut to his tape vault, its cache of unreleased recordings becomes more vulnerable with each passing year.

Japanese bootleg of 'Please be my Boyfriend' by the Crystals - made to look like a Gold Star acetate.
Japanese bootleg of ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ by the Crystals – made to look like a Gold Star acetate.

Ironically, this situation could mean that numerous recordings might creep out in the coming years – recording that Spector would surely deem below his standard and regard as something that could tarnish his accomplishments as a producer. At this stage of the game though, he may not even care. All the while, fans of the Wall of Sound can only watch in envy as Beach Boys fans and others are treated with interesting stuff. What a shame and what a wasted opportunity to do the sensible thing with all the treasures that the Spector tape vault undoubtedly includes.

So Santa; please, please, PLEASE bring us Spector copyright prolonging releases each December from now on!

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Christmas Equals Wall of Sound

It’s that time of year again.

Come Monday, December the 1st, you’ll be spinnin’ Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas Gift for You’ longplayer 24/7,…. That is, if you haven’t done so already through 2014? It’s that good an album.

Yes, Phil Spector really outdid himself when he loomed large over sweating Wrecking Crew members in Gold Star studios during long, hot summer nights in 1963. End result? The perfect Christmas record. It will probably never be outdone when it comes to bringing holiday cheer.

For someone as notoriously known for padding out albums with quickly recorded filler, Spector uncharacteristically kept his focus while working up ‘A Christmas Gift for You.’ All the songs are great and sure enough; the one original song on there, Darlene Love’s ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, has rightly so become one of the ultimate holiday anthems.

‘A Christmas Gift for You.’ The cover art is legendary!
‘A Christmas Gift for You.’ The cover art is legendary!

Even though the album didn’t see much success upon its original release, no doubt affected by the JFK assasination shortly after it hit the streets, it has since grown in stature. Nowadays, it wouldn’t be wrong to call it the ‘Pet Sounds’ of Christmas music. Year after year it tops the lists of Christmas albums when music critics, blogs or websites offer their opinion of the greatest Christmas music of all time.

Spector’s Wall of Sound and the Christmas spirit definitely was a match made in heaven. A lot of the elements that made his sound work fit the yuletide feeling to a T. We’re talking sleigh bells, sweeping string arrangements and a warm, muddled sound. It’s no wonder that time has proven Spector’s album to be the perfect soundtrack for huddling up in front of the fire while it’s snowing outside. You could say then that the Wall of Sound has become synonymous with Christmas because of the album. And not surprisingly, December is the time of year where you’ll have the best chance of discovering new Spector-influenced music if you check out each year’s flood of new Christmas releases.

To prove my point I’ve decided to combine my love for modern Spector soundalikes and Christmas music in this post. The goal is to compile my personal tribute to ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ using songs from modern artists who clearly show how Spector’s ghost continues to hover over a lot of today’s Christmas music.

The rules are simple. All songs must be from the new millennium. All songs should be original as opposed to Spector’s album, just to keep it a bit more interesting for you, the reader. And it almost goes without saying that I must come up with 13 tracks, – the same amount as on Spector’s album. I’ve managed to find youtube clips for all songs which I’ll embed here for your listening pleasure. So bear with me & the blog if this post takes some time to upload in your browser.

"Ok, all you young wannabes. Let's see what you've got!"
“Ok, all you young wannabes. Let’s see what you’ve got!”

Ready for some Christmas Wall of Sound? Here we go!

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1. The Hives & Cyndi Lauper – A Christmas Duel (2008)

This single from 2008 is the perfect opener. It’s a stunning team-up between Swedish retro-rockers the Hives and US veteran Cyndi Lauper. Cyndi really gives Ronnie Spector a run for her money, no doubt drawing on her experience of singing back-up for Ronnie a long time ago.

2. Leona Lewis – Mr. Right (2013)

Here’s a nifty song I discovered last year. It’s from this British singer’s Christmas album and probably the most blatant ‘All I Want for Christmas’ rip-off you’re ever going to hear. Mariah Carey should sue any day now. But since I’ve, unbelievably so, become tired of listening to Mariah’s song, this’ll do nicely to fill the gap.

3. Attic Lights – Why Should Christmas be so Hard? (2012)

Again a more recent song by Scottish indie-pop band Attic Lights. These guys are great and have proven to be perfectly adept at the Spector sound before, – check their ‘Bring You Down’ single for evidence. This is like a cross between Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Brian Wilson’s mid 60s work. High praise indeed but this fantastic song deserves it.

4. Metro Jets – Jingle Jangle Christmas (2006)

Here’s the second Swedish entry. This was actually a theme song made for a local TV show which is all the more remarkable as it’s one of the best and most enjoyable Wall of Sound pastiches I’ve heard. Listen to that thumping beat and the catchy melody. Imagine how this could have sounded with Darlene Love behind the mic!

5. The Raveonettes – The Christmas Song (2003)

Danish duo the Raveonettes have proven time and again that they’re as big fans of the Wall of Sound as they come. Why, they’ve even had the pleasure of duetting with Ronnie Spector on their fabulous ‘Ode to LA’ single. This song isn’t as loud and busy as some of my other choices but I think it has a feel that makes it obvious for inclusion. Those tinkling sleighbells, that reverby guitar… With a bit more echo on the drums and a Jack Nitzsche string arrangement, you’d have a delicious slice of moody Wall of Sound…

6. Lisa Mychols – Listen to the Bells Ring (2002)

Great use of castanets and a Hal Blaine-sounding drum beat on this classic track from US singer Lisa Mychols. The arrangement is majestic with perfect backing by the Wondermints who have made up the backbone of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s band for years.

7. The Kik – A Christmas Song for You (2011)

The Dutch also know how to rock it out Spector-style! Another Spector fan alerted me to this great track in 2011 and I was instantly won over by their jet-propelled take on the Wall of Sound. Sleighbells galore, rapidfire piano runs and a melody that’s catchy as hell! There’s even a Steve Douglas wannabe honking away on the solo!

8. Parker Lewis – X-Mas Carol NYC (2007)

We’re off to Sweden again for this melancholic ballad. It’s a toned down approach for sure compared to the other songs. I’ve had a soft spot for this one ever since discovering it. The use of glockenspiel, sleighbells and jangling guitars is very touching and perfectly complements the sad lyrics and soft ‘sha-dam-dam’ backing vocals.

9. The Hilarettes – Santa Claus is Here! (2009)

We’re back to more familiar territory with this by-the-numbers Spector tribute. This one is a no-brainer for inclusion with its percussive sax and grand sweeping string arrangement. I would have preferred a singer with a stronger, more distinctive voice but you can’t have it all, I guess.

10. Darlene Love – Christmas Time for the Jews (2005, SNL sketch)

If you’re going to make a convincing Wall of Sound tribute the dream scenario would be getting Darlene Love to belt out your song. That’s what happened in 2005 when comedy show Saturday Night Live decided to do a sketch about the holiday season and Jewish people. What better way to address the topic than with a perfect Spector sound clone? My jaw hit the floor when I first heard this production. It’s note-perfect Wall of Sound and wouldn’t have been out of place on the original ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ album,…. with revised lyrics of course. Sadly, this one has never come out as a conventional track. Someone somewhere should really re-record this great song with new lyrics!

11. Glasvegas – Please Come Back Home (2008)

Not only did Scottish band Glasvegas pay their debt to Spector’s sound with a few songs off their cool debut album in 2008; they even followed in his footsteps that same year by releasing a great Christmas mini-album. Lead singer and main songwriter James Allen has a voice to die for and really knows how to milk a song for all it’s worth. The obligatory sleigh bells and a maelstrom of churning guitars add to the intensity.

12. The School – Kiss You in the Snow (2009)

I’ve written about the criminally overlooked Welsh band the School before. If they indeed went to school in Spectorland, they got straight As! And sure enough, they put their Wall of Sound skills to good use on this cracker of a Christmas single. Listen to that chorus with the background whooos. You could easily imagine the Crystals sing their hearts out on this one.

13. Surf School Dropouts – Another Christmas with You (2013)

The last song here is one I co-wrote and recorded with the group I’m in last year. Please don’t throw tomatoes at me! I know it’s a bit cheesy and self-serving to include your own song but a fellow Spector fan whose opinion I respect urged me to feature it on the blog as he felt it was a great tribute to the Wall of Sound. So what the hell… I do think it encapsulates what this post has been all about. We tried to put everything but the kitchen sink into this one. Mandolins, dramatic strings, glockenspiels, 6 acoustic guitars playing in unison, … you name it.

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So there you have it. I hope you discovered some cool songs you didn’t know before coming here. If they’ll bring you some holiday cheer throughout December my mission is accomplished. If you know of songs that would have fit here, please drop me a comment below. I’m always on the look-out for more stuff in the same vein. And if I happen to discover something similar this year I’ll of course write about it on the blog. So keep checking in.

McAlmont & Butler – Yes (1995)

The first song I actively recognized as a modern Spector soundalike was recommended to me by a fellow Spector fan years ago. We were e-mailing back and forth discussing Spector’s 60s productions and he mentioned that I might like a song by a British duo called McAlmont & Butler.

Well, I checked it out and was floored by how they absolutely nailed what I think the Wall of Sound is all about. I haven’t looked back ever since. ‘Yes’, as the song is called, was what triggered my hunt for modern soundalikes, resulting in numerous great discoveries that I’ll share here on the blog from time to time.

Enough writing, let’s get down to business! Here’s a video with the album version.

McAlmont & Butler – ‘Yes’ (1995)

Just listen to those sweeping strings in the intro. And that thunderous beat. Beautiful! McAlmont’s almost androgynous vocal really carry the song, upping the intensity considerably. ‘Yes’ was masterminded by Ex-Suede member Bernard Butler who later said he wanted it to sound like ‘a great piece of 60s vinyl.’ In David McAlmont he found the perfect singer for the song which became the lead-off single for their debut album ‘The Sound of McAlmont & Butler.’ ‘Yes’ reached # 8 in the UK charts proving that the Wall of Sound approach still has the magic in the right hands.

McAlmont--Butler-Yes-85486

It’s been almost 20 years since ‘Yes’ hit the charts but it has lost none of its power as this recent live performance in the Union Chapel church in London attests. Appropriate setting in terms of getting the right amount of reverb for the live sound!

McAlmont & Butler – ‘Yes’ (Live, 2014)

The Reissue Campaign that Could Have Been

We’re nearing the end of the year. A time suitable for looking back and thinking about what the past year has offered. In terms of vintage Spector sounds not much, I’m afraid. A quiet year then. No reissues from Sony Legacy in time for the all important Christmas sales.

I’m sure I’m not alone in crossing my fingers each year for exciting releases borne out the Sony Legacy reissue campaign that was publicized in 2009. The press release hyping the campaign back then was certainly carefully worded as to not promise anything specific other than this fluffy statement: “New compilations — including Artist’s Playlists, Best of collections, and first-ever releases of Philles studio rarities — as well as facsimile reproductions of original singles and albums are under development under the new agreement.” (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sony-music-entertainment-and-emi-music-publishing-strike-historic-new-licensing-deal-to-release-philles-records-monumental-wall-of-sound-catalog-through-legacy-recordings-62847292.html)

It was probably a wise move not to be too specific at this early stage as Phil Spector has been notoriously difficult to deal with in the past. On top of that, being behind bars due to the outcome of the Lana Clarkson trial certainly can’t have helped matters. Here’s what we know – spread out over a couple of, admittedly, nicely done and good-sounding compilations, we’ve basically had reissues of the same stuff collectors have had for decades on either vinyl, the Back to Mono box or the old ABKCO single-artist releases. Do I even have to tell you we’ve had the gazillion reissue of the Christmas album?

The only ‘meat’ in this campaign so far has been the unreleased Crystals take of ‘Woman in Love’ on the Crystals compilation and the stylish Philles Album Collection mini-box set with replica-sleeves, both released in 2011. The latter was a great release for sure but also proved a bit of a disappointment because that set’s rarities disc only included the instrumental throwaway B-sides so typical for Philles singles. This disc is where Sony Legacy really had a golden opportunity to present some of the unheard goodies that must no doubt linger in the Spector tape vault. The question of course is this – has this even been an option for them?

philles-set

Through other collectors I’ve heard rumors that Spector still controls his catalogue with an iron fist, even at this stage where he’s locked away. Apparently, Sony employees involved in the campaign have had meetings with him in prison, no doubt finding negotiations extremely difficult. Using the tapes for remixing iconic songs into first-time stereo releases? Forget it! Only mono! Unearthing all those half-baked or non-completed songs recorded during the Philles era and releasing them as an interesting ‘fly-on-the-wall’ listening experience? No way! You get the drift. As has been the case throughout Spector’s career he zealously guards his tapes, which are said to be well looked after with everything nicely catalogued by a few trusted people.

Spector of course has every right to do as he pleases. And to some extent he probably also has a point in terms of artistic integrity. Why should unfinished songs or completed productions deemed to weak for release in the 60s come out now and tarnish Philles’ reputation as a label with a fantastic hit rate and releases of utmost quality? Or take the possibility of new stereo remixes. Wouldn’t that be comparable to, say, taking a painting by Picasso and adding new layers of paint to give it a different feel? On the other hand, unlike Picasso, Spector’s art was the result of many people’s efforts. He had the grand vision but the final artistic statement rests upon the talent of not just him but assorted songwriters, singers and session musicians. Unfinished or unreleased songs or new stereo mixes could be said to honor and highlight their contributions even more. I’d certainly be first in line for any such releases, including stereo as I love the odd stereo versions that have come out (Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, the Christmas album etc.)

Indulge me then in a bit of an ‘what if’ scenario. Let’s dream up the perfect release Sony Legacy could issue in a parallel universe where Phil Spector gladly opened up his tape vault. The following is a Spector collector’s wet dream…

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I see before me ‘Little Symphonies for the Kids’ – an eight disc box luxuriously packaged with replica session sheets, reproductions of Ray Avery Gold Star photo shoots suitable for framing and a coffee table book that would make the otherwise great Back to Mono book seem like a children’s picture book in comparison.

Disc 1 and 2: All new stereo mixes made with care and respect using the old tapes.

This is where you’ll finally get to hear ‘This Could Be the Night’, ‘Is this What I Get for Loving You’ or ‘I Wonder’ (Crystals’ version) in crystal-clear stereo bringing out all the intricacies of the backing tracks and string arrangements. What a revelation that would be!

Although the parallel dimension Phil hates stereo he's willing to offer it to the fans.
Although the parallel dimension Phil hates stereo he’s willing to offer it to the fans.

Disc 3 and 4: Rare and unreleased Philles-era stuff galore.

Don’t worry. Not a single instrumental throwaway B-side in sight here! Instead you’ll get the obscure Philles-era releases as well as known unreleased tracks. We’re talking stuff like ‘Home of the Brave’ by Bonnie & the Treasures, ‘Ringo I Love You’ by Bonnie Jo Mason, ‘He’s my Eddie Baby’ by the Lovelites, ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ by the Crystals, ‘Everything Under the Sun’ by Ike & Tina Turner,… and of course Phil’s own ‘Down at TJ’s theme song’ and ‘Lucy in London’. All in warm-sounding excellent mono mixes.

But the real surprise here is the stuff we’ve only heard rumors about through the years. Some are finished productions, others are clearly works-in-progress with tentative vocal takes or missing string arrangements. This could include ‘Mary Ann’ and ‘Chico’s Girl’ by the Crystals, ‘It’s my Party’ and ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ by Darlene Love, ‘Someday (Baby)’ and ‘Things are Changing’ by the Ronettes, a Philles’era ‘Soul & Inspiration’ by the Righteous Brothers and ‘Baby, Don’t You Get Crazy’ by the Checkmates Ltd.

But among these songs which have long been rumored to exist you’ll also discover things completely from left field. Wait? Two new, finished songs with the Modern Folk Quartet proving that Spector could have pursued a Wall of Folk-Rock had he wanted to? And here’s a 2 minute and 15 seconds snippet of Brian Wilson and Phil running through ‘Don’t Hurt my Little Sister’ on the piano in Gold Star! And this next one – why, it’s a Philles-era ‘New York’s a Lonely Town’ credited to the Treasures with a much more intricate arrangement than the Red Bird release. And skip to track 14 on CD 4 – a fully fledged production with Harry Nillson singing a majestic ballad… There’s no telling how much gold the Spector tape vault includes but I’ll bet there’s a great deal – if nothing else, I’m sure his in-house producers Jerry Riopelle and Pete Anders & Vinnie Poncia must have committed quite a few interesting sessions and song ideas to tape.

Darlene, Phil
“Psst Phil. Promise me that you’ll release ‘It’s my Party’. It’s a guaranteed hit!”

Disc 5 and 6: The ‘All in all it’s just another Brick in the Wall’ session tapes

Presented in perfect sound here are excerpts from a wide range of sessions with studio chatter and various takes of the most beloved hits. Hear how Phil, Anders & Poncia and the Wrecking Crew work out the intro to Do I Love You along the way. Listen in when Sonny Bono cracks everyone up at the Girl’s Can Tell session. Hear Phil throw a tantrum when Bobby Hatfield keeps messing up the words on ‘Ebb Tide.’

"Dammit Bobby. This is your final chance, or I'll have Bill sing it!"
“Dammit Bobby. This is your final chance, or I’ll have Bill sing it!”

Disc 7 and 8: The 70s and beyond

Finally, two discs comprising the Wall of Sound stuff Spector has worked on since shutting down Philles, including unreleased stuff. You’ll get a stereo ‘You Came, You Saw, You Conquered’ by the Ronettes, choice cuts from the George Harrison and John Lennon projects including nice-sounding stereo version of ‘Lovely Laddy Day’ and ‘You’ sung by Ronnie Spector, ‘A Woman’s Story’ and ‘Baby I Love You’ by Cher for the first time on CD. Check out the unreleased songs by Jerri Bo Keno and the Paley Brothers, – you’ll even find that horrible Kim Fowley track from the old ‘Spector 74/79’ LP!

Best of all, after an alternative take of Baby I Love You by the Ramones you’ll finally get to hear the three backing tracks recorded during the aborted Celine Dion sessions in the early 90s. Her vocals have been taken off due to contractual reasons but hearing ‘Is this what I Get for Loving You’ pulsating in shimmering stereo is pure bliss. Final track on the box? ‘Silence is Easy’ by Starsailor – the ‘unused Phil Spector mix.’ Much heavier on the echo, a dense wall of strummed acoustic guitars added, more glockenspiel tinkling in the background and even a string arrangement introduced half-way through.

Sure, there'll be some outtakes from the Leonard Cohen album as well.
Sure, there’ll be some outtakes from the Leonard Cohen album as well.

Too good to be true, isn’t it? And of course, this is something that one can only fantasize about. But still, the fact that the Sony Legacy reissue campaign hasn’t resulted in just a tiny bit along these lines is heartbreakening. Time will tell if we ever get to see anything come out of this deal or the Spector tapes in general in the future. Cross your fingers!

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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The School – I Don’t Believe in Love (2010) / You Make Me Hear Music (2012)

The School may be Wales’ best kept secret and I’ll tell you why with a double-video post.

So far this great band has released two albums; ‘Loveless Unbeliever’ from 2010 and ‘Reading Too Much into Things like Everything’ from 2012, and believe me, both contain timeless pop of the highest caliber.

school1

Fronted by lead singer and main songwriter Liz Hunt these guys & girls churn out incredibly catchy tunes that prove listening to 60s classic pop records is the perfect musical schooling. Who knows? Maybe that’s what their name is meant to imply? When you hear their songs it’s no surprise that they list the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, the Beach Boys and modern bands like Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura as their main influences. Listen to any track off the School’s two albums, and you’ll quickly hear that they’ve sprung from the same wide-eyed romanticism.

Liz Hunt - is she listening to Rare Masters vol. II?
Liz Hunt at her pad – probably spinnin’ Phil Spector’s Rare Masters vol. II.

I really can’t recommend this band enough and look forward to their third album which is set for release next year. Both their past albums have had one bonafide Spector soundalike, so it makes sense to include both songs here.

It’s just so obvious from these two productions that the School sat down and said ‘Ok, let’s pull out all stops trying to make our own take on the Wall of Sound.’ And they’ve pulled it off marvelously! Just listen to ‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ when those fat, reverbed drums kick in after the male intro lead. Really cool! I’m wishin’ and hopin’ they’ll strike gold a third time on their upcoming album. They’ve certainly set up a beautiful tradition of ‘one Spector clone’ an album that I hope they’ll continue to honour.

‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ (2010)

‘You Make Me Hear Music (Inside my Head)’ (2012)

The Phil Spector Appreciation Society

If you’ve read the ’about’ section on here you know I started my blog because of a lack of an online reference point with different angles and news on the Wall of Sound. So I decided to create such a site myself. I assume there are others like me out there and if you come across this blog, I’d love to hear from you. You can comment on the posts or contact me via my blog profile. No matter what, I hope you’ll check in from time to time and read the future posts.

Obviously, the internet has completely changed the game of how not only fans of Phil Spector’s music but music fans in general come together and stay up to date about releases, rarities, concerts etc. Online forums, specialist music websites, blogs, mailing lists and Facebook pages all provide fans with direct access to news and discussion with likeminded folks like never before.

Then imagine the ‘wilderness’ years before the internet. The dark ages where fans had to rely on chance encounters with other fans at record stores or record fairs, pen pal-type ads in music magazines or, if you were really lucky, privately pressed fanzines provided of course that your favorite music had a strong enough following to merit such a labour-of-love. Luckily for Spector fans, they’ve had several fanzines to consult through the years.

I’m too young to have been a part of the fan community back then so what I know about these fanzines I’ve learned second-hand, mainly because, the geek that I am, I’ve hunted down some of the few remaining copies or have kindly received photocopied ones from other collectors.

I find these fanzines very fascinating. They are great for researching the cultural history of Spector fandom as each issue somewhat represents a time capsule of the interests, mentality, hopes and dreams of the fan community at the time of publication. You can sense that much care and love has been put into them and as fanzines go, they’re pervaded by a sense of comforting, tight-knit camaraderie.

Members of the Phil Spector Appreciation Society (PSAS) sent in their personal top 10 in 1976. Here are the results.
Members of the Phil Spector Appreciation Society (PSAS) sent in their personal top 10 in 1976. “Here are the results of the Spectorian jury.”

The people behind these fanzines knew that they weren’t writing for masses but providing valuable information for a few diehard fans who cared and where willing to subscribe even when, in the case of Phil Spector, news were at best very infrequent and unsubstantial. In all honesty, once Spector seemingly closed the door on his producer career with his involvement in the Ramones album ‘End of the Century’ in 1980, there wasn’t much to report.

In the lack of any real news the fanzines were often then padded out with discographies, artists bios, discussions on soundalike records etc. In other words, all the info we take for granted today with Discogs, Wikipedia or Allmusic. But back then Spector fans had to get such info piece by piece as if they were slowly and collectively solving a major puzzle as the years went on.

The PSAS predict a bright future for Spector at the end of 1976.
The PSAS predict a bright future for Spector at the end of 1976.

So, what’s the basic timeline of the fanzines? Not much info can be found online which is strange actually. You’d think that some of the passionate people behind these fanzines would have picked up from where they left off once they got online? The legendary Spectropop message board probably took its fair share of former subscribers and that forum has had a few posts about the fanzines but nothing really informative.

My research shows the following timeline:

Phil Spector Appreciation Society Newsletters – 1968-1969/1970

According to an interview with British Spector historian, collector and producer Phil Chapman in 1984 (Philately # 4) this newsletter was started by him around 1968. As a young Spector fan he had gotten into contact with numerous other fans using the pen pal sections of music magazines. Instead of continuing writing each other back and forth with the same news he decided to start a society that eventually grew to about 100 or so active members. Only six newsletters were issued during the course of a year so the final one must have come out in 1969 or 1970. [Phil Chapman’s six newsletters were for sale as reprints in 1984 as advertised in Philately along with the interview. If anyone out there has these and would be willing to send me photocopies I’d be very grateful. I’ve yet to read them.]

Image of the six 60s PSAS newsletters as shown in Philately # 4.
Image of the six 60s PSAS newsletters as shown in Philately 4.

Phil Spector Appreciation Society Newsletters – ca. 1975-1983

The name Phil Chapman used for ‘his’ fanclub was dusted off by a new group of people throughout the 70s. Like Chapman’s club, this society was also based in the UK but it also had subscribers in the US. I have photocopies of all newsletters from November 1976 until Christmas 1981. Some I’ve bought off Ebay, others I have kindly been able to borrow for copying from a fellow fan.

I don’t know exactly when this new version of the PSAS started but according to the last newsletter I have, the one from the end of 1981, it had been active for nearly 7 years. This would suggest a start sometime in 1975. That seems very likely since this was the year Phil Spector issued a batch of new compilations of his old hits on a newly formed label, ‘Phil Spector International.’ I imagine the flurry of activity got fans together again. The founding member was Paul R. Dunford but for most issues dynamic duo Mick Patrick and Carole Gardiner was in charge. The newsletters are very informative but very simple in their layout. Basically, they are nothing more than typewritten pages in the a5 format with the occasional image. The newsletters came out roughly 4 times a year. [I lack PSAS newsletters from 1982 and onwards until Philately took over. If you have some that you’d like to copy for me, please get in touch.]

PSAS newsletters from the 70s.
PSAS newsletters from the 70s.

The 70s edition of the PSAS even held a convention in september 1976 at Alton, Hampshire in the UK. According to the subsequent newsletter “a disco played Spector records all night.” The surprise of the evening was a telexed message from Phil Spector who expressed his gratitude to his fans. I have color photocopies of photos taken that evening and show four here. Look at those wall displays! I guess they had quite a few Phil Spector International sleeves to spare, huh? The DJ can even be seen putting on a record. Considering the time, I’m guessing it’s Jerri Bo Keno’s ‘Here It Comes (And Here I Go)’!

PSAS members part at their convention, September 1976.
PSAS members party at their convention, September 1976.

Philately – seven issues, 1983-ca. 1989/1990

Mick Patrick and Carole Gardiner, as well as other contributors, expanded the simple newsletter into a very stylish-looking fanzine from 1983 onwards. Under the tongue-in-cheek title Philately, fans worldwide were kept updated with the same kind of info as had been the norm in the old PSAS newsletters. Philately though, had a much more professional style. More varied fonts, better reproduction of images and interviews with various people close to Spector such as Jerry Riopelle, Ronnie Spector, Nino Tempo and others.

The Philately fanzine was clearly the pinnacle of Spector fandom and make for great reading. I don’t know why it had run its course by the 7th issue but I have Mick Patrick’s word for it being the last issue when I asked him about it online. Mick would of course go on to work on all sorts of interesting projects for Ace Records, i.e. the fantastic three Phil’s Spectre compilations of Spector soundalikes, many of which had been raved about in the ‘Erect-a-Spector’ columns in the old PSAS newsletters or Philately. Whereas the PSAS newsletters had been a mixture of Spector stuff and more general info on 60s girl groups, Philately was mainly Spector stuff with girl group articles reserved for a sister publication by the PSAS called ‘That will never happen again.’ [The only issue of Philately I don’t have is # 5. A photocopy would be kindly welcomed.]

Issue 1, 4 and 6 of Philately. The design got more professional with each issue.
Issue 1, 4 and 6 of Philately. The design got more professional with each issue.

And thus concludes my ‘dissertation’ on the obscure and overlooked, but wonderful world of Spector fandom & fanzines.

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…

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