I’ve known about it for years, and have seen it quoted extensively in the various Spector books that have come out,…. but for some reason, I’ve never read the full piece. Maybe the same goes for you? If so, go ahead and get a sense of the rambling, jive-talking and score-settling Phil Spector of 1969… There are quite a few topics covered that hasn’t been quoted in the Spector books.
I do wish he had talked more about his own productions. Though it’s interesting to see him reflect on the changing times of the late 60s music business and his own tentative approach towards it after the self-imposed exile after the failure of the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ single. Interestingly, Spector himself explains its failure with the view that the industry wanted to see his downfall. So maybe this interview is where that often repeated explanation originates from?
And speaking of legendary interviews I would be a fool to not also post the link to Crawdaddy magazine’s equally legendary interview with none other than Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche, master arranger and producer extraordinaire and of course Spector’s right hand man in Gold Star studios during much of the recording of the Philles catalog.
Crawdaddy’s interview came out in 1974 and makes for very interesting reading. What a career with all sorts of interesting twists and turns! Someone out there really ought to write a book about Nitzsche, preferably working together with his family who I believe have an interesting collection of photos, diaries and logbooks with recording dates.
A few years ago it looked as if someone was looking into making a documentary on Nitzsche but it seems as if nothing has come of it,… yet. Fingers crossed – in the mean time we can all dust off our copies of the three fabulous Nitzsche compilations put out by the UK’s Ace Records.
Nitzsche’s talent is basically the gift that keeps on giving,… to prove my point I’ll conclude with a conducting & arranging credit of his that I discovered online last night. Dig this stomping Fab Four soundalike courtesy of the Palace Guard:
Here’s a little something that’s guarenteed to bring your weekend off to great start; a brand-new and fantastic mix of ‘I can Hear Music’ by Wall of Sound-über fan Phil Chapman.
As some readers here may know, Phil Chapman has had a long and interesting career in the recording industry serving as both an engineer and producer.
In the near future, I hope to feature an interview with him offering his expert knowledge on the Wall of Sound, but for the time being, enjoy this mindblowing remix of the Jeff Barry-produced Ronettes version with added layers.
This mix definately gives an impression of the kind of monster record ‘I Can Hear Music’ could have been in the hands of Phil Spector. Surely, Cue Castanets readers must agree that this more elaborate version makes the original Barry production pale in comparison.
It’s also fitting that this new mix has been shared on the youtube channel of fellow Spector fan Anthony Reichardt, – this is just the latest in a long, long line of great tracks he has made available to listen to for music fans.
If you’d like to read more about Anthony’s superb youtube channel as well as an interview with him, go here:
Today’s post marks post # 100 since starting Cue Castanets in the fall of 2014. Here’s to the next hundred! And I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far.
Some of you have written me directly to give your thumbs up, others have left positive comments on the blog. I really appreciate your feedback and I’m glad that you enjoy my ramblings on all things Spector & the Wall of Sound. Thank you.
And with that, indulge me in a bit of a ‘what if’ scenario if you will. The thing is, I’m sure that all of us know songs from around the time of Spector’s golden 60s period that we deep down wish the Tycoon of Teen had taken a liking to and decided to give the full Spector treatment in Gold Star.
Basically, what I’m thinking about are either released 60s recordings by artists not in Spector’s stable or even obscure song demos that didn’t see an actual release at all. The mind boggles thinking about what could have been when hearing songs that would have worked particular well beefed up with a grandiose Wall of Sound backing. Off the top of my head, here are five examples that could easily have been turned into ‘little symphonies for the kids’ – I’d love to hear your suggestions…
– – – – – – – – – – –
Neil Sedaka – ‘Tonight Will Tell’
As far as I know, this awesome ‘does he love me or not’ teen angst anthem by the superb Neil Sedaka was never released by anyone. What a shame – the melody is great and the lyrics work very well.
As bare bones as this recording is, imagine the monster this song could have been had Spector enveloped it with the majestic sound of the Wrecking Crew in Gold Star. Would have been a perfect fit for the Ronettes. I can almost hear Ronnie croon that chorus with her gorgeous vibrato!
The Cinderellas – Baby, Baby (I Still Love You)
This classic girl group cut was actually the Cookies under a pseudonym. Written by Spector’s friends Cynthia Well and Russ Titelman, this is as good as it gets when it comes to the girl group genre, if you ask me. Yet, as good as this recording is – and Titelman’s production is very sympathetic – I have always felt it lacked a bit of punch.
Had Spector had a go at it, he’d probably had the drums be much more pounding in the ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’-vein and no doubt had a gigantic rumble drone beneath, courtesy of a legion of guitarists strumming along in unison. And don’t even get me started thinking about what a sweeping Jack Nitszche string arrangement could have brought to all this! File under ‘perfect for the Crystals’, then.
PF Sloan – “Cry over You”
I wrote about this fantastic, jaw-droppingly great demo when I wrote my tribute to PF Sloan last year the day after he passed. Sloan was a music chameleon capable of writing within any genre. For some reason though, he never seriously dabbled in big Wall of Sound recordings, but if he did, this song seems tailormade for the Righteous Brothers.
Oh man, Bill Medley on the first verse, Bobby Hatfield stepping up to the mike on the second. And both of them belting out together on the chorus – swathed in a gazillion strings and bombastic backing reverberating in that big, fat Gold Star echo. It’s incredible that no one seems to have recorded this superb song!
Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”
This choice may be a bit cliché since ‘Reach Out’ has often been likened to the tour-de-force that was ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ in intensity and impact. Two monster productions that came out only two months apart. As tasty as Holland-Dozier-Holland’s production is, imagine the stratospheric heights Spector could have taken this superb song to. The tune in itself I like much more than ‘River Deep’, so I really fantasize about the mad Tycoon of Teen tackling this pop gem in the midst of a sweeping strings, booming drums and a 30-member chorus.
We know for a fact that Spector really dug the Four Tops – singling out ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’ and ‘Reach Out’ in particular during interviews. Levi Stubbs of the four tops; gosh, one of the greatest singers ever – it’s a shame his over-the-top vocals never graced a Spector production! As for Spector’s own stable of acts, I guess only Darlene Love or Tina Turner could have supplied the type of juggernaut vocal required, had Spector covered the song.
The Staccatos – “Cry to Me”
Time to slow things down a bit here at the end,… ‘Cry to Me’ was a hit by Solomon Burke in the early 60s and was covered quite a lot. One version that has struck a chord with me is this one by South African band the Staccatos – not to be confused with a Canadian band by the same name.
The SA Staccatos slowed down the song considerably and had some very soulful vocals on top. But come on, this way of doing the song is just begging for someone like Spector or Jack Nitszche to go completely over the edge, building up the backing track as some sort of audio Tower of Babel. Everything but the kitchen sink would be their modus operandi, I suspect. Nothing less! Perfect for Bobby Hatfield or Bobby Sheen!
To tell the story about Phil Spector, his use of the Wrecking Crew and Gold Star studios is also to tell the story about the dawning of 60s Los Angeles as one of the world’s premier pop capitals.
This, and much, much more, is at the heart of a very entertaining book by music journalist Harvey Kubernik that I’ve just finished reading. I got ‘Turn Up the Radio – Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972’ as a Christmas present but it’s only now, during the summer holiday, that I’ve taken the plunge and read this lengthy, coffee-table format book.
Kubernik may be familiar to Cue Castanets readers in that he has often championed Phil Spector in his writing and also been within Spector’s actual inner circle. Allegedly, Kubernik was even featured on percussion on some of Spector’s late 70s sessions with Leonard Cohen, the Paley Brothers and the Ramones.
Before I proceed further, allow me to point readers towards a great four-part Kubernik article on Spector published by Goldmine Magazine. Believe me when I say it’s worth your time:
The Spector connection, though, is but only one strand in Kubernik’s interesting career; besides working as a music journalist since 1972, he’s produced records as well as dabbled in A&R for the West-coast division of MCA Records.
Seeing that Kubernik grew up in LA and had his teenage years played out to the music by Spector and his contemporaries, it’s only natural for him to go back and try to explain the sort of cultural and audio revolution that happened in town during a timespan of little more than 15 years.
In doing this, the book serves as a very nice companion to Barney Hoskyns’ ‘Waiting for the Sun – Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles’ and Domenic Priore’s ‘Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood’ – both great books that contextualize Phil Spector and Philles Records as well as give readers a good, basic understanding of LA’s rise to pop prominence.
Whereas Hoskyns and Priore both use the tried and tested chronological narrative written in their own words, Kubernik has chosen another path – that of oral history. Spread out throughout the nearly 300 pages is only a limited amount of writing by Kubernik himself. His own words either only serves to set the scene as each new chapter begins or shift the focus within a chapter.
Basically, the majority of the text is made up of quotes from people who were present themselves back in the day and whom Kubernik have interviewed over the years – some of the excerpts may also come from interviews conducted by other journalists. In any event, it makes a basic storyline which is well-known to anyone who’s read up on the recording history of Los Angeles come alive in an engaging and down-to-earth manner.
Reading the book, it’s as if all these icons, heroes and out-of-this-world characters parade into your living room and regale you with stories from a sizzling hot bed of recording creativity the likes the world will probably newer hear again. Everyone you can think of have a say throughout the book; Phil Spector, Jack Nitszche, Brian Wilson, LaLa Brooks, Sonny Bono, Russ Titelmann, Terry Melcher, Stan Ross, PF Sloan, Andrew Loog Oldham, Lester Sill, Carol Conners, Kim Fowley, Don Randi, Dan & David Kessel, Bones Howe, Jimmy Webb, Don Peake, Lou Adler etc. You get the drift – it’s very entertaining to hear all these talented people tell how they remember things happened,… or at least what they’d like us to think happened.
As with every book that is based solely upon oral history, one must remain sceptic. No doubt some of the claims and stories should be taken with a grain of salt. Music lore is notorious for people trying to talk up their importance and it’s difficult to tell while reading when this occurs since conflicting accounts don’t pop up during the storyline. Kubernik could have played the devil’s advocate by questioning the validity of some of the statements but has chosen not to. It means that readers have to take everything at face value and take it from there.
Having said that, the only obvious, factual error I picked up while enjoying the book was this comment by Henry Dilz about the Modern Folk Quartet and Spector: “We later recorded ‘Night Time Girl’ with Phil at Gold Star, with Jack Nitszsche’s arrangement.” Nitszsche had the production credit on the single and I find it very hard to believe that Spector had anything to do with this recording. Dilz also couldn’t have mixed up the song with ‘This Could be the Night’ because he talks about the production of it just before ‘Night Time Girl.’ Strange indeed!
Besides all sorts of interesting stories, and just the sheer joy of reading personal thoughts by people you know from label credits, ‘Turn Up the Radio’ also stands out by virtue of lots and lots of interesting photographs.
There were many shots I hadn’t seen before and Spector’s productions are nicely covered with some cool images. The book is definitely eye candy for any serious lover of 60s pop and the smorgasbord of photos makes the book ideal for casual browsing, reading a little bit here, a little bit there. Hence, I guess, the choice of the coffee-table book format.
My only gripe with the book is that the format makes it difficult to read lying down as I always do, – its size and weight makes that a bit trying. But that aside, I’d really recommend getting your hands on this fun and entertaining read. Preferably along with the aforementioned books by Hoskyns and Priore. Those three titles together will give you a much broader understanding of the LA pop landscape.
The airwaves were where Spector’s Wall of Sound blossomed into its full impact, mesmerizing listeners with otherworldly sounds unlike most other hits of the day.
In time, of course, many other producers would succesfully copy the Wall of Sound making sure that car stereos in Los Angeles and beyond blasted out galloping castanets and thunderous drums.
If you were cruising around LA in Phil Spector’s 60s hey day, you’d probably be tuned into one of the city’s hippest radio stations, legendary KRLA. And if that was the case, you would undoubtedly hear a lot of Philles hits.
Imagine – if you will – driving around, top down, cruising these streets…
KRLA had originally started as KPAS in 1942 based in Pasadena, but come 1959 the KRLA station name was in place and ready to battle KFWB as the second AM-top 40 station in LA.
In a time with watered-down, playlist-dictated corporate radio we can only long for that era’s jive-talking, hyperactive deejays presenting the latest hip recordings to teenagers.
Here’s an aural chronology made up of old clips from the station that should give you an impression of the atmosphere on air.
What was interesting about KRLA is the fact that the station put out it’s own newsletter & ‘teen newspaper’, KRLA Beat.
Although a bit uneven and haphazardly put together, the issues make for fine reading for anyone who wish to get a sense of the enthusiasm of the 60s pop scene.
Luckily for us, some helpful collectors have worked up a website where each and every issue of KRLA Beat is readable as scans. It’s very cool and I’ll bet that scattered throughout the various issues are all sorts of mentionings of Spector and the Philles acts as well as other local acts of interest to Cue Castanets readers.
I’ve only had time to read a scant few issues myself but if you come across any interesting stories in some of these newspapers, please let me and Cue Castanets readers know in which issues to look for them by leaving a comment here.
Allow me to get the ball rolling with issue 10 out of volume 2, May 21st 1966 – the one with the Young Rascals on the cover.
Here you’ll find a profile article on the Righteous Brothers which must undoubtedly have infuriated Phil Spector as he isn’t mentioned anywhere(!!!), as well as a similar article on Ike & Tina Turner – though this time with the mention of their involvement with Spector and ‘River Deep Mountain High.’
For Beach Boys fans there’s also an interesting article about Beach Boys copycats the Sunrays, masterminded by Brian Wilson’s dad Murry. I should add though, that the Sunrays recorded some really cool sides! Very good and underrated group!
Find it all – and more – here in the ‘Rascals’ issue:
Leiber/Stoller,… Pomus/Schuman,… Goffin/King,… Mann/Weill,… Barry/Greenwich,… Bacharach/David,… even a cursory study of label credits on classic 60s US pop singles quickly reveals how the very best of the era’s songwriting came from a bunch of dynamic duos. Some of these songwriting partnerships or husband-and-wife teams almost became household names in themselves along with the acts they wrote for or produced… well, household names at least among music connoisseurs.
But dig deeper than the most well-known Brill Building names and you’ll find more duos worthy of praise and exploration of their work; one could mention Bonner/Gordon,… Wine/Levine,… Sloan/Barri,… Boyce/Hart and none the least Anders/Poncia.
The latter duo, consisting of childhood friends Pete Anders [Peter Andreoli] and Vini Poncia, is one of my all-time favorite songwriter partnerships. These guys could do it all! Sing, write, produce – everything. Despite doing all this at a frantic pace their work was no run of the mill operation.
Find a single with an Anders/Poncia label credit and you can be sure that there are something a bit unusual about it. The song might all of a sudden take an interesting turn or throw in an unusual chord – topped with hooks galore and killer vocals. No wonder Phil Spector took notice of these noble knights of quirky chord progressions and considered them worthy of stepping in when Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s work with Spector had run its course.
When I started this blog the very first person I reached out to for an interview was Pete Anders – besides being a big fan of his work with Vini, I also hadn’t seen him reminisce about his life in music in any interviews and I thought it could be interesting if he’d be willing to do so on Cue Castanets. Peter was up for it but sadly his health problems and passing prevented the interview to take place. When I heard about this I paid my respects to the memory of Peter here:
Luckily, Peter’s partner-in-crime Vini Poncia has recently followed up on Peter’s acceptance of an interview and answered the questions I had prepared,… which makes perfect sense seeing that Peter and Vini always did what they did best together, – recording perfect pop in any genre, be it doo wop, rock’n’roll, girl group, wall of sound, Beatles knock offs, surf pop, sunshine pop – you name it!
I would like to thank Peter and Vini’s friend Rick Bellaire for conducting this interview on behalf of Cue Castanets July 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Rick is the archive director for the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame; www.RhodeIslandMusicHallofFame.com
So, please put on your favorite Anders/Poncia tune, sit back and enjoy Vini’s answers to my questions.
Vini, thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Cue Castanets.
You and Peter first met each other in the vocal group The Videls out of Providence, Rhode Island in the late ‘50s. Did the two of you “click” right away as creative partners or was it something that slowly evolved?
We actually first met before The Videls when we were in junior high school. I was on the touch football team from my middle school, Esek Hopkins, and we played against Nathanael Greene Middle School in 1956. Their quarterback was Peter Andreoli. After the game, we talked and hit it off right away. We had all the same interests – sports, girls and mainly music and guitars.
We started to hang around and tried to write songs. We weren’t that prolific. The Videls were started by our friend Bobby Calitri and Peter replaced the lead singer in that group in 1957. They had five singers and a guitarist. I formed a four-piece instrumental band called The Del Rinos with another friend of ours, Frank Spino, who played drums. in 1958, I replaced one of the singers AND the guitarist in The Videls and that became the classic five-piece lineup.
“Mr. Lonely” appears to be the first “Andreoli-Poncia” written song. Is that so?
It was the first released song. We had written a few things and sometimes made demos at our local TV and radio repair shop where the owner had a small recording studio in the backroom. But nothing happened with those songs.
How did the two of you work on songs together from then on? Did one of you, say, mainly write the words and the other the melody / chords? Or did it change from song to song?
We both wrote lyrics and melodies. We’d sit together and try to come up with stuff or we’d bring each other ideas – titles, a bit of melody – as a starter.
In general, we mainly wrote together. We also wrote some folk songs during the early days of The Videls and had a duo on the side we called The Royalty Brothers – like The Everly Brothers.
Even from the early Videls recordings I hear Peter as a very skilled singer with a distinctive vocal style. Who would you say were his biggest influences when you were starting out?
Jimmy Beaumont from The Skyliners, Johnny Maestro of The Crests, Jackie Wilson. Those were his role models and heroes, but Peter was so good that he got to join that club!
Let’s talk about your work while at Philles.
How did your writing relationship with Phil Spector come about? Was his interest piqued by one of your song demos (if so, which one?) or were you teamed up with him?
Paul Case who ran Hill & Range, the publishing company where we worked as songwriters, was Phil’s friend. Phil would test his masters on Paul’s shitty stereo – he figured if they sounded good on a bad record player, they’d sound good anywhere!
During one visit, Paul knowing that Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry were kind of on the way out with Phil, especially because of the arrangement between Phil’s publishing company, Mother Bertha, and Lieber and Stoller’s Company, Trio Music where Jeff and Ellie were signed, said, “Listen to my friends from Providence,” and played Phil some of the stuff we’d done for Snuff Garrett, Bobby Vee, Doc Pomus and one of our records, “Hand Clapping Time.” Phil liked what he heard and told Paul to have us bring him some song ideas.
“The Best Part of Breaking Up” is one of many great songs from that period.
There’s a story going around that you and Peter only had the title/catch phrase for the song (“The best part of breaking up is when you’re making up”) when you pitched the song to Spector and that he immediately sensed a hit from the title alone, asking you to write it. Is this true?
The magic really began in New York when we would bring him Ideas. Yes, we had started it, but we had more than the hook. Phil heard it and he went right to the piano. I had my guitar. Phil helped us finish the first verse. He also wrote the pre-chorus: “Tell me why…” Then he said go home and write the second verse.
We regrouped once all the lyrics were finished and then we started arranging it and getting ready to record it in California.
What was it like to work with him and seeing your songs get the Wall of Sound treatment in the studio?
Well, we played and sang on all the sessions so we were right in the middle of it. For “Best Part,” we were ready, then Phil came up with the bridge and Jack (Nietzsche, Spector’s arranger) worked it right into the song.
In general, we were involved in every aspect of the writing and production, but it really came down to Phil. But he had a LOT of help! He had Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Steve Douglas…Peter and I were in awe of the process. We had front-row tickets at the “genius” record-making process. On the other hand, we expected nothing less because we came in after Phil had already established his genius at record-making. That blueprint had already been drawn up as far as Larry Levine and engineers and Jack and the charts and the musicians.
Are there any particular songs from that time you’re especially fond of?
The stuff with Darlene has a soft spot in my heart. We were trying to think outside the box: “Strange Love,” “Quiet Guy,” “Stumble and Fall.” They were three very different kinds of songs, not Crystals-esque. We were writing songs for HER which would be different than what she did with the group or on her other sessions for Phil. We wanted to show her growing as an artist.
Darlene Love has actually mentioned numerous times that “He’s a Quiet Guy” is her favorite Philles-era song. I tend to agree. It’s a fantastic piece of work. So it was written directly for her? Did you participate at the session?
Yes, it was written specifically for her and we were on the session.
I’d also like to ask you about “Hold Me Tight.” I absolutely love Peter’s vocal on this recording, credited to The Treasures.
Whose idea was it to rework, and in my opinion vastly improve, a Beatles song so radically? Did Spector record anything else with you on lead that has remained unreleased?
It was Phil’s idea. He said, let’s go make a big, bombastic version of a Beatles tune – cover a Beatles song and give it the “Phil Spector” treatment. Even though there’s no production credit, Phil produced the record and we were the artists instead of simply the composers or arrangers.
We went through the same process he used with every other record. The only difference was it came out on one of his subsidiaries, Shirley Records. And, no, there’s nothing unreleased.
One of your more obscure songs while with Spector is “You’re my Baby’”by Gene Toone & The Blazers, a fun throwback to your street corner doo wop background set to a marching beat. I really love this song.
The feel and beat of it reminds me of an unreleased Philles-era track called “Pretty Girl’”sung by Spector himself. Were you and Peter involved in that song? It has the same type of marching beat and funny lyrics that, among other things, goes: “My name’s Philip and incidentally I ain’t going steady. But you’ve got something that get’s me thinkin’ I may be ready.” There’s a prominent use of harmonica throughout and the chorus goes “You’re so fine. So fine. What’s your number? You’re so fine.” Do you remember this song/production?
I remember it, but we had no involvement.
“Do I Love You” – that bass riff in the intro is pure genius. Do I detect a bit of a Motown influence in that song?
Phil wrote the bass riff. I think I remember him playing that riff early – back in New York – on the left hand of piano when we were writing it. We were certainly aware of what was coming out of Motown and were incorporating certain ideas into what we were doing. They were doing the same thing with Phil’s stuff.
I’ve heard rumors of an unreleased Ronettes track wittten by you and Peter called “Someday (Baby).” Do you remember this one? Did Spector record more songs of yours than what was eventually released?
No recollection. We had an early song with Peer/Southern called “Someday Baby,” but we never brought it to Phil.
There’s of course also The Lovelites. You and Peter did some fantastic stuff with this group – “When I Get Scared” on the Phi-Dan label and the not officially released “Please be my Boyfriend” and “He’s My Eddie Baby.” All great productions!
What would you say you learned as producers from your association with Phil Spector?
The importance of the song and how to “record” arrange meaning thinking of how the RECORD would sound as opposed to just arranging for an orchestra or band. I have one adage from Phil I used to repeat all the time which is simplistic in nature, but he always used to say, “You have to write the best song you can write and you have to make the best record you can make with that song. You cannot have a great song and make an inferior record and can’t make a great record with an inferior song.” You have to be able to discern the difference.
The one other thing he told me that I always used to tell everybody was, “You may not like what you hear on the radio as a hit record or a #1 record – it may not be ‘your kind’ of record – but you better know WHY it was a hit.”
Following up on The Lovelites and “Please Be My Boyfriend” specifically – was that song written by you and Peter? It has never been disclosed who wrote it as an acetate label and sessions sheets don’t feature writing credits.
Also, there’s a version floating around credited to The Crystals. Many believe that the demo isn’t sung by the Crystals but by an unknown group. Do you recognize the voices? This version has puzzled collectors for decades!
I’m not sure, but I think it’s a song we wrote and recorded when we were back working in New York after we were done working with Phil.
We used to record at Broadway Recording Studios at 1697 Broadway in Manhattan. I think it’s a demo and that it’s not Darlene or The Crystals. It could have been any one of the young, black girl groups we used hire to sing our demos. We definitely produced it in the Phil Spector mode – but it was a bad imitation. We may have worked on it with The Lovelites, but not completed it.
You left Spector and Philles Records for Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird label in 1965. Your first master there was the legendary “New York’s a Lonely Town” under The Tradewinds moniker. A sizeable hit.
How did you come up with this great idea for a song? Did you offer it to Spector before releasing it on Red Bird? Many of the Tradewinds songs have an obvious Beach Boys influence. How did you feel about what Brian Wilson was doing at the time? Did you ever meet him in LA?
Surf music was a huge market then. We heard a ton of it working in L.A. and loved what The Beach Boys were doing. We knew some of them. Brian used to stop in at the Spector sessions to hang out and check out what Phil was doing.
We started the song in L.A. and finished it when we returned to New York. We cut a demo looking to place it with another artist, but when we finished, we knew we had something big and that we should release it ourselves. We went back into the studio and turned the demo into a master. We offered it to Phil first as a courtesy and he knew it was a hit, but he passed on it because he had a bunch of stuff of his own ready to release. So, we brought it to Jerry and Mike and they picked it up.
On Kama Sutra and later Buddah you recorded fantastic stuff under quite a few names: The Tradewinds, The Innocence, The Good Times, etc. But you also released Peter’s first solo single, the majestic “Sunrise Highway” backed with “Baby Baby.” Why a solo single at this time?
Well, the obvious reason is that it features Peter’s incredible vocal. The other reason is that you don’t want to release too many things under the same name one after the other.
We just used the different names as a way to get more records out faster. It was just another “Anders & Poncia” record under a different name. And it also wasn’t the first solo record.
Back in 1962, after The Videls and before The Tradewinds, we released two singles under two different names on two different labels at the same time. Peter’s was “I’m Your Slave” on Corvair and I was “Vince Parelle” on Elmor with “Walk Away.” Nothing ever happened with them which is probably why you didn’t know we’d released “solo” records before.
I’ve heard rumours of an unreleased album borne out of the sessions for the Anders & Poncia single “So It Goes” b/w “Virgin to the Night” on Kama-Sutra. Any truth to this? If so, why was it scrapped?
Yes, it’s true. We worked very closely with Artie Ripp who ran Kama Sutra and Buddah and the three of us decided we should take a crack at writing something for Broadway.
The idea was that instead of it being a standard musical having one long story with songs inserted into the narrative, we would write a song cycle about different aspects of American life and each song would have its own presentation on stage – little vignettes. We wrote, I believe, fifteen songs for the project which was called “Of Love And Life” and story-boarded all the ideas.
We rented costumes and built sets and did a series of photographs illustrating what each of the story-songs would look like on stage. We recorded demos for all the songs but not finished masters – mostly guitar and voice. The cast album would have been an Anders and Poncia album.
Artie shopped the idea around, but it was an expensive proposition and there were no takers. The idea was put on hold and we recorded two of the best songs, “So It Goes” and “Virgin,” and that became our next single. We left Buddah shortly after that to go to California to work with Richard Perry whom we had worked with at Kama Sutra/Buddah early on.
We worked on the Tiny TIm stuff and we gave another one of the songs from the project to Tim. It’s “Christopher Brady’s Ole Lady” which is on “Tiny Tim’s 2nd Album.” After that, we cut “The Anders & Poncia Album” with Richard for Warner Brothers and included “You Don’t Know What To Do” from the play and that was it. Just the four songs. We didn’t do any more work on the play or on the rest of the songs.
A final question; you and Peter were involved in so many one-off singles that some were bound to fall through the cracks.
A particular favorite of mine is “Thinkin’ ‘bout Me” by The Fairchilds from 1968. What a stunning song and great production – should have been a hit! You and Peter are listed as producers along with your old Videls buddy, Norman Marzano. What do you remember about this song? Was The Fairchilds an actual group or just you guys recording? I think I hear Peter singing background vocals?
The Fairchilds was the group name for The Tradewinds minus me and Pete – a side project. Peter and I go all the way back to The Videls with Norman Marzano and Bobby Calitri. Then they became The Tradewinds with me and Peter.
When we couldn’t go out on tour because we were needed in the studio, we formed a “road” version of the group which included Jim Calvert and Paul Naumann. So, when nothing was happening with our records, we tried to keep the guys busy and they helped us with different projects and we were all signed to Kama Sutra as writers.
We got an offer to produce a record for A&M. So, Norman, Jimmy and Paulie named themselves The Fairchilds and wrote a couple of songs. Peter and I helped them produce the single and, yes, that’s Peter singing with the group. Nothing happened with the record and it was back to business as usual.
Fascinating to learn the story about this great single.
Vini, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m sure Cue Castanets readers will find your recollections as interesting as I have.
Whenever Phil Spector’s iconic string of hit records is discussed the emphasis is always on how he pioneered a groundbreaking approach to production – the Wall of Sound – and carved out his own path as a true original within the recording industry. And indeed he was!
However, what is often overlooked is the fact that even though his otherworldly productions were unlike anything that had ever graced the airwaves, the ‘feel’ and texture of some of his well-known songs were often inspired by releases by other acts and producers.
An obvious influence which has even been acknowledged by Spector himself in interviews is Frank Guida whose party-in-the-studio style was a key component for the hits of Gary US Bonds. Take a listen to ‘Quarter to Three’ and tell me the future Tycoon of Teen didn’t take notice when he first heard this one!
This following examples in this post aren’t showcased in order to take anything away from Spector and his significance, … far from it!
No musician or producer has ever entered the studio without bringing some influences to the table and Spector was definitely among those who were able to brilliantly expand of this situation by virtue of new, original ideas that more often than not blew the influences right out of the water. So the examples below are merely meant as a fun dissection of the kind of songs Spector would have had on his mind each time he entered Gold Star to record yet another brilliant single.
Credit where credit is due – the following examples have all been compiled by a good friend who has previously supplied guest posts on Cue Castanets under the moniker ‘Spectorlector.’ Some are very obvious, some are more open to debate. If you have any further suggestions or opinions on the matter, by all means leave a comment.
Ok, first off, here’s a 1958 recording by the Aquatones that surely must have served as a blueprint for the feel of ‘To Know Him is to Love Him.’
Similarly, Spector probably had his eyes set on creating a feel similar to this Shirelles hit when he recorded ‘There’s No Other (Like my Baby)’ with the Crystals.
And speaking of which, the ‘I Met Him on a Monday’ opening line as well as the gibberish da doo rons rons of the Crystals on one of their biggest hits must surely owe something to the Shirelles.
‘Under the Moon of Love’ by Curtis Lee was probably the closest Spector came to those Gary US Bonds records he loved – but he also made what’s almost a carbon-copy of this recording by the Pastel Six.
Basically, quite a few of Spector’s productions reflected his love of early doo wop and rock’n’roll, – the feel of which crept into his own releases. A song like ‘Why Do Lover’s Break each Other’s Hearts’, for example, isn’t that far removed from this frantic song by G Clefs and similar fast-paced songs by other doo wop groups.
Remember Darlene Love’s unreleased, slow take of ‘Chapel of Love.’ There are some similarities with this song by Faye Adams, even though the latter song is a bit slower.
The underlying Doo Wop-like progression that is basically the hook on ‘Why Don’t they Let us Fall in Love?’ can easily be identified here in this song by the Scarlets.
The Crystals recorded two versions of ‘All Grown Up’, one of which was the closest Spector came to the surf-pop sound of the Beach Boys; a sound that they themselves developed on the basis of Brian Wilson’s love for Chuck Berry. Which makes all the more sense then when you listen to this Chuck Berry song with a theme very similar to the Crystals tune.
The album-only track ‘Baby, I Love You’ by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans bears a striking resemblance to this hit by Rosie & the Originals. A song that Spector later recorded brilliantly with John Lennon for the Rock’n’Roll album.
One final example before I round off this blog post;
Spector followed Berry Gordy’s Motown hit machine closely and was allegedly inspired by ‘Baby, I Need your Loving’ by the Four Tops when he wrote ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. If you’ve heard some of the earliest takes of the ‘River Deep Mountain High’ backing track off the Spector sessions bootleg, you’ll easily recognize a similarity between the intro on the early takes and the intro on this song by the Supremes.
A little more than a week ago I was in London to see Brian Wilson and his band perform the iconic Pet Sounds album from start to finish at the Palladium Theatre. Allegedly, this will be the last European tour by the former Beach Boys leader.
As always, the Brian Wilson band, made up of stellar musicians as it is, really did the music justice and the venue was beyond beautiful. But truth be told, I found Brian Wilson’s performance quite depressing. He’s in his early 70s now and it shows by way of his voice and (lack of) energy and enthusiasm on stage.
I truly love the man and his music and have seen him live several times but based on the concert in London now may be a good time to call it a day. I hope Brian withdraws from the road with grace at some point instead of touring endlessly from now on, coming closer to a Chuck Berry-type situation. On the other hand, other fans have praised the same show I saw online so what do I know? It will be interesting to see how Brian goes about his career in the future.
Even though what should have been the highlight on my trip turned into a bit of a dissapointment, the trip was memorable for another reason. I got to meet up with two of the finest Spector experts out there; Phil Chapman, whose late 60s Spector fan club I have previously written about, and Mick Patrick whose work on compilations by Ace Records should be mandatory listening material for every Cue Castanets reader.
It was very interesting to finally meet up with these two knowledgeable gentlemen and talk about all things Spector over pasta at an Italian restaurant. Always intriguing to compare notes on favorite Spector productions, muse about what may or may not be collecting dust within the Spector tape vault and talk about Spector sound-alikes. What can I say? It was a great evening!
Mick was kind enough to bring along two recent vinyl releases from Ace Records for me and while typing this blog post I’m listening to the Knickerbockers’ carbon-copy Righteous Brothers version of ‘Wishful Thinking’ off the Phil’s Spectre vinyl edition. I wrote about this release a few months ago and as of writing it’s just about to hit the streets.
In short; this is an extract from Mick’s pioneering trilogy of Phil’s Spectre compilations that came out during the 00s, chock-full of bombastic Wall of Sound imitations. As such, if you have the CDs you’ll know each song on here but obviously, it’s very satisfying to hear them via the format they were recorded for back in the day.
Typically for Ace, the packaging is superb with extensive inner sleeve liner notes, cool photos and label scans and a nice cover with a red/yellow colour coordination that harkens back to the first Phil’s Spectre release. As if that wasn’t enough, the vinyl itself comes in beautiful orange – I’m guessing later print runs will just be regular vinyl.
I was quick to let Mick know how much his compilations, especially the Phil’s Spectre series, have meant to me through the years – almost as much as Spector’s own body of work. I’ve always been intrigued by soundalike discs and the study of what makes a planned soundalike production fall into place and sound convincing. So the mere concept of Phil’s Spectre has always been dear to me.
When I got heavily into Spector’s music at the very start of the 00s I craved for more Wall of Sound once I had traced down every production with a Spector production credit. Therefore, the trio of Phil’s Spectre discs was a god send for me and kept my flame burning during the following years.
Since the release of the third installment in the series I’ve crossed my fingers that Ace would give Mick the go ahead for a 4th volume. And without making any promises, Mick indicated that there have been talks about re-activating the series once again. Let’s hope this will happen because there are many, many fantastic sound-alikes out there just begging for being lovingly compiled on a Phil’s Spectre disc.
Something that could be very interesting – even though it will probably never happen – would be for the series to go past the 60s and venture into other decades. Heck, you could easily make a killer Phil’s Spectre disc only made up of 70s Spector sound-alikes. The 70s was ripe with adulation for the Wall of Sound which I’ve previously written about here:
But in all honesty, the 60s of course was the decade where the most convincing, authentic Spectoresque sounds where put to vinyl so you won’t hear me complaining if a possible continuation of the series will have its focus stricktly on that decade. I just hope that some day, in the not too distant future, I will study liner notes on a new Phil’s Spectre compilation while wonderful monophonic masterpieces blast from the speakers.
Noreen Corcoran has just purred ‘Why Can’t a Boy and Girl Just Stay in Love’ as the last track on side 2 of Phil’s Spectre – the vinyl edition. Excuse me while I get up and drop the needle on side 1 once Again…
In the early months of this blog I published a post about Welsh pop band the School and their fab blend of 60s retro pop, twee and indie pop. Go here for two superb examples of their more Spectorious offerings highlighted in my ongoing series on modern Spector soundalikes.
Last year the School issued their much awaited third longplayer and it’s been on my to-do list ever since to post a short review on here. I’m really bummed I didn’t get to do so earlier, but better late than never, I guess.
As expected, ‘Wasting Away and Wondering’, the third offering from this great band, is every bit as enjoyable as their first two albums. And I recommend both highly!
Lead vocalist and main songwriter Liz Hunt is the band’s focal point and she really has a knack for churning out catchy melodies that could easily have emanated from the legendary cubicles of the Brill Building. The material is that good and really shows her appreciation for and understanding of that bygone era’s wide-eyed romanticism.
This is classic pop then, with a capital C. As such the album picks up right from where the second album left off.
You can’t claim that the School reinvent themselves with this release but hey,… if it ain’t broke and all that.
For some, Liz Hunt’s vocals will undoubtedly prove a bit bland and undistinguished – she’s no Darlene Love, that’s for sure. But even though she’s not a soulful belter by any means, her pure, whispering tone is strangely comforting once you get used to it.
A song like ‘Don’t Worry Baby (I Don’t Love You Anymore)’ will have you check credits to see if you’re listening to a hitherto unknown Goffin-King song. Beautiful arrangement on this tearjerker that wouldn’t have been out of place on, say, a Shirelles album.
Then there’s the title track which is a more upbeat girl group-type track, right down to its faux Steve Douglas sax solo! It is also no surprise that the School throws in a fitting tribute to the Northern Soul sound by way of the snappy ‘Do I Love You?’ (not the Ronettes song, nor the Northern floorfiller by Frank Wilson.)
Sadly, this time around the School hasn’t recorded the type of full-on Wall of Sound tribute that graced their other albums, so we’ll have to do with the gloomy, Shangri-Las like ‘He’s Gonna Break Your Heart One Day.’ In spirit, I’m sure ‘Shadow’ Morton taps his foot approvingly.
The stand-out track for me though is ‘Put Your Hand in Mine’ with its pretty melody and a breathy Liz Hunt vocal that fits the mood of the song perfectly. Nice string arrangement too!
I can’t say enough good things about this band and I’m just happy that there are still musicians out there putting out heartfelt tributes to the girl group sound, the wall of sound and 60s pop in general. I’ll advise all Cue Castanets readers to check out all three releases by the School – I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking.
****½ stars out of six.
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…