Maybe I should put the spotlight on UK-based engineer / producer Phil Chapman for my next installment of the ‘Would-be Spectors’ series, because his current remixing project of both Spector releases and likeminded tracks will surely interest Cue Castanets readers.
Through the years Chapman has of course worked professionally on numerous recording projects of interest to Wall of Sound fans, but his latest endavour is merely for the fun of it and due to his recent acquisition of some new recording and mixing equipment. The results are sure to impress you. It’ll hit you and it’ll feel like a kiss, alright!
A while back I wrote about his fantastic mix of ‘I Can Hear Music’ by the Ronettes, – surely, you’ll agree that this new mix with added layers blows the original out of the water?
This time, Phil Chapman has worked his magic on that most extremely gargantuan production that is ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals. In its original version a massive monophonic monster that I have previously written about in my ‘Odds & Ends’ feature where I sometimes highlight specific, overlooked Spector productions.
So I was pleased to hear Chapman’s elaborate mix with added layers and all sorts of details that keep the spirit of the original firmly in place but attempts “to give give it the same impact today as it had in ’64” as he writes on youtube. Enjoy this sensational remix.
As if this wasn’t enough, Chapman has also been working on an equally over-the-top mix of Jackie Trent’s Spectoresque ‘If You Love Me’ from the same year.
Produced by her husband Tony Hatch, probably the closest the UK came to having its own Bacharach, in its original version this very catchy song stands as a worthy attempt at recreating the magic sound of Spector and the Wrecking Crew.
Chapman builds on this foundation with some choice samples and added layers to emphasize the production’s dynamics. It works very, very well, even in this rough, unfinished mix.
I’ll leave you then with a nice slab of British wall of sound with all engines go!
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.
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.
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.
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.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
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.’
There’s an interesting page on Facebook, ‘Heppest of the Hep’, that regularly posts high definition footage of live performances ranging from the 40s to the 60s.
The sources for the material are unclear and probably a bit shady but there’s much of interest for any music fan.
Recently, the page has posted this beautiful high definition clip of Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra performing at the TNT Show.
You’ve all seen this clip a gazillion times before but this is without a doubt the best quality the clip can be seen. Follow the link for the Ronettes in crystal clear high definition.
2016 is nearing its end and I hope you have had a merry Christmas and that you will have a happy new year – preferably with lots of Wall of Sound blasting from your speakers!
Before year’s end I can just squeeze in one more modern Spector soundalike in my ongoing series of blog posts about recordings that tip the hat to Spector recording style.
Today I’d like to draw the attention to one of my favorite current musicians, Sheffield-based singer/songwriter Richard Hawley. Since 2001 he has issued a series of stellar albums that despite being recording with modern technology could just as well have been recorded during the 50s and 60s. They’re not shameless cash-in exercises in retro music, mind you – Richard Hawley’s love for the crooners, rockabillies, folk singers and doo wop groups of those two decades is long documented.
On his albums Hawley offers his own unique and highly personal take on the sounds of bygone eras. The backing tracks are exquisite, loaded with details and atmospheric guitar playing – his main instrument of choice – but what really sets his music apart from others is his deeply expressive vocal.
Weathered and plaintive, Hawley’s voice is the perfect foil for the mini-dramas that adorn all of his albums. His tone is deeply soothing and has often comforted me through troubled times. Even though the focus here on the blog is on Spectoresque sounds I can’t help but offer an example of this from his most recent album, 2015s ‘Hollow Meadows’. Take a listen to the hypnotic ‘Nothing like a Friend’ and tell me you aren’t moved by this?
If you like what you hear, you really ought to check out all of his albums. There are gems to be found on each one of them.
But we’re here for bombast,… so let’s get back on track. Where’s the echo, the pounding Be my Baby beat, the swirling strings? Why, it’s all there and more on Hawley’s 2006 45’ single for ‘Hotel Room’ – tucked away on the B-side is a sensational cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain classic ‘Some Candy Talking’.
Now, the original Jesus and Mary Chain version by the Reid brothers is of course a classic example of droning 80s Spector worship – and delicious on its own terms – but on his cover, Hawley plays up the song’s Wall of Sound potential to the max. There’s a thunderous drum backbeat throughout, beautiful strummed acoustic guitars, jangling percussion and of course those oh so important strings to take your breath away.
Fantastic version! As far as I’m concerned it’s even better than the original Jesus and Mary Chain recording. And to think that this was only a throwaway B-side? The mind boggles…
Some weeks ago I received an advance copy of the upcoming third album by US singer/songwriter Brent Cash. Set for release in late January, Cash has once again recorded a batch of elegant songs with a delivery and production value that should appeal to Cue Castanets readers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent in 2015 and if you haven’t read that blog post I’ll advise you to do so to get a better understanding of his music and where he’s coming from aesthetically.
Honestly, listening to Brent’s crystal clear, relaxed vocals and intricate arrangements is akin to, say, discovering some sort of overlooked A&M Records soft pop LP. The tunes are sophisticated, elegant, groovy – defiantly soft. Yep, it’s really that good and since Brent serves as a one-man Wrecking Crew, laying down backing tracks with all sorts of quirky little details, his albums are like time capsules of all that was good within the more sophisticated pop of the 60s and 70s.
The right way to listen to Brent’s music would be to cruise down highway 101 in an open sports van, the sun reflecting in your shades and a beautiful blonde by your side. Instead, it’s December and a cold and rainy one at that where I live. Despite the grey surroundings I’ve tried my best to envision the breezy, sun-kissed landscapes that Brent’s music compliments while reviewing his latest effort.
Where the first two albums, ‘How Will I Know If I’m Awake’ (2008) and ‘How Strange It Seems’ (2011), were text book examples of well-produced harmony pop and soft pop that would make Bacharach toast with his dry martini, ‘The New High’ sees Brent expanding his sound.
I really love the dreamy soft pop aesthetic on the covers of Brent’s first two albums and you could say that the change of direction is already visible on the cover of ‘The New High’. A skyscraper with glass and chrome that made me think “oh no, I hope Brent hasn’t gone all New Wave on us!”
He hasn’t, luckily – the love of sophisticated piano-based pop is still at the heart of Brent’s music but he has expanded his palette somewhat with subtle nods towards the jangle sounds of folk-rock and Beatles-like songwriting.
Two things really stand out to me above all after repeated listening.
For one thing, Brent has probably never sung better on record. His voice may not be very unique but especially when he sings in his upper register his soft, pleasant tone really carries a lot of the magic on these songs. My favorite part of the album is the last one and a half minutes of ‘Dim Light’ where Brent goes into falsetto mode and sings skyhigh in an incredibly catchy and goose bumps-inducing section. Lesser songwriters would probably just take such a section and turn it into the basic hook in the chorus but Brent only introduces it at the last part of the song – to me, that’s always a sign of a superb songwriter at the top of his game, holding back a killer hook in order to unleash it late in a tag for maximum effect – the Beach Boys always excelled at that. There are a few other great examples of both tags and Brent’s smooth falsetto throughout ‘The New High.’
Secondly, the string arrangements on this album are incredibly effective and just ooze elegance – a testament to the care and length Brent and his string-playing friends have gone to to make each song gain as much from their playing as possible. Strings were also present on his other albums but I feel they’ve come more to the forefront here and all for the better of it. Listen to the strings in the latter part of title track ‘The New High’ – pure bliss!
Songs like ‘Dim Light’ and ‘All in the Summer’ show Brent’s evolvement as a songwriter and producer. The first one, with it’s strummed guitars, reminds me a little bit of Joni Mitchell’s more bouncy recordings while the latter has a bit of a John Lennon ‘Imagine’-vibe going on. Maybe it’s just me coming up with these reference points but if anything, such songs show that Brent tries to expand his sound. On other songs, such as ‘Every Inflection’ and ‘I’m Looking Up’, the latter one of my favorites, you hear a closer kinship to his first two albums.
Brent’s albums have always been growers for me, meaning that upon initial listening I’ve had a hard time distinguishing the tracks from each other only coming to single out songs after a few spins. The same can be said for this album.
I’m also of the opinion that the album loses a little bit of steam towards the end where a couple of slow and less orchestrated songs break the flow of the record. Songs like ‘The Dusk Song’ and ‘Fade / Return’ aren’t weak but they sort of make the album peter out rather than showcasing the variety of Brent’s songwriting on display during the first half of the tracklisting.
All in all, ‘The New High’ is a fine album that perfectly compliments Brent’s past releases– you’d be a fool to pass on these if you love melodic pop of the highest order that harken back to 60s and 70s LA or New York-based pop.
Here’s a confession… This dazzling Spector-produced one-off single by the Modern Folk Quartet is easily one of my all-time favorite Wall of Sound productions. So this latest installment of the odds & ends section can hardly be said to be unbiased. I just utterly cherish this song and for the life of me can’t fathom why the Tycoon of Teen decided to keep this bouncy pop gem under wraps for so long!
Allegedly, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was present when Spector and the Wrecking Crew laid down the backing track for this majestic tour-de-force and the song made a lasting impression on him. In interviews he has often singled it out as a favorite even going so far as to record his own cover version of it for a Harry Nilsson tribute album. Why, if he indeed was at the session, Hawthorne’s finest may very well be among the gazillion people heard emphasizing the backbeat with hand claps during the song’s middle section! I’ve always loved that part of the song in particular. It’s a classic goose bumps-type moment where it sounds as if Spector rounded up everyone in 60s LA to make them clap in unison at Gold Star.
As is so typical with the most extreme Spector productions, you almost forget who the artist is. Sure, the track credit says the Modern Folk Quartet alright, but since they didn’t write the song or can be clearly heard playing their instruments or singing the folksy harmonies on their more restrained 60s efforts this sonic assault has ‘Spector’ stamped all over it. At the risk of being engulfed by a swamp of swirling instruments Henry Diltz succeeds in cutting through the wall with a passionate lead vocal.
Kudos in particular to Harry Nilsson for supplying Spector with a song like this. The pair also worked on the stellar ‘Paradise’ and the interesting ‘Here I Sit’ by the Ronettes. It’s a shame their working relationship was so short-lived. Here’s a super piano version of the song by Nilsson pitched to the Monkees a few years after the MFQ recording:
Incredibly, despite the fact that the song was used for the intro credits scene to the iconic Big TNT show concert film, Spector defied logic by allowing ‘This Could be the Night’ to linger in the vaults for a decade. It finally saw the light of day in the mid-70s on one of the Rare Masters compilations along with other incredible could-have-been hits such as ‘Paradise’ or ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes.
Why Spector inexplicably decided not to release it we’ll never know. Maybe his notorious insecurities were in full force at a time that was clearly a transition period for him? The mid-60s certainly saw him experience with various adaptions of the Wall of Sound to match somewhat the popular genres of the day. If you listen to ‘This Could be the Night’ in that context you’ll probably pick up little details that, with the Wall of Sound still fully in place, reveals that Spector and his team had studied both folk-rock and the emerging sunshine pop sound.
The MFQ of course had close ties to the former, whereas the latter was about to really catch on nationwide, for instance by way of singles such as ‘Just my Style’ by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles or ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’ by the Cowsills. Obviously, those hits were way more simplistic production-wise and also emphasized harmonies much more than ‘This Could be the Night’ but I feel these songs share the same type of über-catchy, bounc and almost anthemic structure that defined a lot of the era’s harmony heavy and often Beach Boys-inspired LA pop.
It’s interesting to ponder what direction Spector and the MFQ could have followed hot on the heels of an actual mid-60s release of the song. Would it have been a hit? Who knows? But if so, it certainly would have given Spector another try at consistent chart action at a time where his magic with the Righteous Brothers was about to wane due to personal differences.
It has always amazed me that a song this good hasn’t been covered more but there’s been a few, typically fairly faithfull to the original Spector production. Here’s a different approach by David Cassidy from 1975 where the song is slowed down considerably,… and what do you know? It works very well. It’s a shame Spector didn’t do the same during his infamous 70s sessions.
Finally, let’s conclude with a nice, if a bit shaky, version by the current MFQ line-up. Very nice in this stripped-down approach,…. Which only reinforces Spector’s own long-held opinion; that it always starts with the song. If the song is not strong enough, the Wall of Sound can only take it so far.
In case you’re wondering what to put on your Christmas wish list, you could consider adding the two Beach Boys-related autobiographies that have come out; ’I am Brian Wilson’ by, you guessed it, Brian Wilson and ’Good Vibrations – my Life as a Beach Boy’ by Mike Love.
I’ve had both books for about a month but have so far only completed Brian’s book. I reckon I’ve read one third of Mike’s book as of writing this blog post.
I’m sure that both books would be of interest to most Spector fans seeing that there are many ties between the Beach Boys and Spector. Both competed for chart placings during the 60s, were based in LA and as such utilized the same Wrecking Crew musicians and recorded at Gold Star. (Though Western was Brian’s preferred studio.)
Famously, Brian Wilson only really found his feet as a producer in the modern sense of the word after hearing Spector’s initial Philles releases and picking up the inspiration. ‘Be my Baby’ remains Brian’s favorite song ever and listening to his early to mid-60s output, notably the productions he made on the side for Glen Campbell and Sharon Marie, it’s clear how much he enamored the wall of sound.
The releationship between Brian Wilson and Phil Spector was complex. Did they respect each other? Were they friends even? Or did they look at each other as foes, both wanting to outdo the other in the studio and get the next no. 1 on the charts? All of these probably applied in equal measure, really, and to this day Brian seems to have conflicting feelings about Spector. Here’s a revealing excerpt from his book where he talks about the voices he still hears in his head from time to time:
“I hear Phil Spector, who did all those great records in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Phil’s voice is scary, always challenging me, always reminding me that he came first. “Wilson,” I hear him saying in my head, “you’re never going to top ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’ or ‘Be my Baby’, so don’t even try.” But maybe he wants me to try. Nothing is ever simple with him, not when he’s in my head. Simple isn’t what he’s about. People say that we named Pet Sounds partly as a tribute to him: check the initials. “
Pet Sounds, 1966. Always near the top or indeed topping the lists for best ever album. As far as I’m concerned, by 1966 Brian Wilson had eclipsed Spector as the world’s most original producer.
‘I am Brian Wilson’ is an easygoing account of Brian’s incredible career told in a way that seems really true to the way Brian comes across most of the time. Quirky, childlike and aloof – and as such this book is a very welcome replacement for Brian’s notorious ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ 1991 autobiography. It has long been established that this book was written by hired writer Todd Gold without in-depth collaboration by Brian Wilson. The book also whitewashed Brian’s therapist Dr. Eugene Landy who at that point had all but brainwashed his client, keeping him under heavy and, according to some sources, damaging medication as well as isolating him from his family and former Beach Boys bandmates.
As much as I love the music of Phil Spector and associated acts, the Beach Boys remain my favorite act ever and through the years I have tracked down almost all books on the subject. I know all the stories, – I’ve read them all a gazillion times. And even though Brian’s book offers a few new and refreshing perspectives, I was a little disappointed after finishing reading it.
For hardcore fans like myself ‘I am Brian Wilson’ is a nice read, though without much new information. For new fans, i.e. general music lovers who’d like to know more about the main Beach Boy, the book must seem pretty tame and only touching on the surface. A lot of the times, I thought the various highs and lows in the career of the Beach Boys was told in such a way as to imply that Brian and his people assume that only knowledgeable fans who know all the facts already will read along.
In the book, Brian sidesteps really giving his take on the inner dynamics of the group and his account of his years recording with his brothers, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston therefore feels somewhat one-dimensional and sparse. You certainly don’t get a deep understanding of the personalities within the group. It’s as if Brian hasn’t felt the need to go into much detail on the matter – which is ok, I guess. For me this fact definately made the reading experience less exciting than it could have been.
Mike’s book seems to also be constructed a bit along these lines but so far I feel he reaches more out to the casual fan with more detailed descriptions and personal takes on why things happened like they did along the way.
Anyways, all this shouldn’t keep you from seeking out both books if you’re as much into the Beach Boys as I am. The best book on the subject though remains Peter Ames Carlin’s ‘Catch a Wave – The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys.’
Due to work obligations I’ve had less time to devote on blogging than I had hoped for. Oh well, I’m back again and hope to be able to post a bit more during the coming months.
And so ‘tis the season once again for dusting off the old Phil Spector Christmas album and let the parade of the Philles roster regale you with holiday cheer. As much as I cherish that iconic album, old-time Cue Castanets readers will be well aware that I also have a soft spot for more recent Christmas music that tries to emulate the sound of Spector’s 1963 Christmas opus.
Every November and December seem to bring new releases that point back to the sound of the most legendary of all Christmas albums and it’s always fun to see how musicians of today go about recreating the Gold Star magic. Here are a few recent discoveries for you from the last couple of years.
If you happen to come across some new releases that fit the ‘let’s-do-a-Spector-christmas-song’ category, please let me know.
Sporting none other than the queens of the beehive on the cover, here’s the previously unreleased ‘Christmas is a Time for Giving’ by late 90s garage and punk band the Prissteens. A pretty rough recording but the song has a tasty rumble and a catchy melody that sounds like the long lost cousin of ‘Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)’ Very nice but would have worked better with a more distinctive singer. Darlene or Ronnie could have nailed this one! You can stream the song and purchase it off the Girlsville bandcamp page: https://girlsville.bandcamp.com/track/christmas-is-a-time-for-giving
Not content to simply mine the Spector Christmas sound, Ontario-based duo Scarlett & Disher even pose emerging from Christmas gifts. Hmmm, where have I seen that before? The duo’s 5-track Christmas EP tries its best to live up to the high standards of what Spector and the wrecking crew did during the summer of ’63. The results are pleasant if somewhat synthetic in sound – I miss the tasty reverb of Gold Star but kudos for tipping the hat to the Wall of Sound. You really only need to check out the stand-out tracks ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ and ‘Wake Up! It’s Christmas.’ https://scarlettanddisher.bandcamp.com/album/that-christmas-feeling
Then there’s this 2015 holiday release from US singer Felice LaZae which surely reminds me of a specific song whose title escapes me. Nothing original here so what ‘makes’ this release is definitely Felice’s soulful, raspy vocal. I wish she’d had poured on a bit more instrumentation in order to push this track even more towards the sacred halls of the Wall of Sound. Surely, she could have discarded that cheesy keyboard for a bombastic string section, couldn’t she?
Finally, a new release by LA-based duo Best Coast who has previously payed homage to local stallwarts like the Beach Boys and Spector in their music. ‘Christmas and Everyday’ was recorded as a standalone for some online kid special. Like with Scarlett & Disher, this is a take on the Wall of Sound that’s more sharp on the ears and synthetic in sound than the organic and deliciously muddy echo that graced Spector’s work, but if you can see past that fact, this is a pretty cool track. https://soundcloud.com/amazon-music/best-coast-christmas-and-everyday
So the great affair is over but whoever would have guessed
it would leave us all so vacant and so deeply unimpressed
It’s like our visit to the moon or to that other star
I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far.
It’s like our visit to the moon or to that other star
I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far.
It’s like our visit to the moon or to that other star
I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far.
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…