Tag Archives: Harry Nilsson

Odds & Ends – ‘This Could be the Night’

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.

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The MFQ with Spector during the 1965 session for ‘This Could be the Night’

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.

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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.

 

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Odds & Ends – ‘A Woman’s Story’

Time for another installment of the ‘Odds & Ends’ feature I introduced some months ago with a blog post about the Crystals version of ‘I Wonder’. 

You may remember that this feature was meant as a means for writing a bit more in depth about some of the obscure Spector productions out there. You know, those that always get lost in the shuffle among ‘Be my Baby’, ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ in the general write-ups about Phil Spector’s achievements.

Today, I’d like to dwell on one of the three sides Spector recorded with his old session singer from the 60s, Cherilyn Sarkisian, – or Cher, as the record-buying public came to know her.

In the early 60s Cher sang background vocals on numerous classic Spector cuts. As ‘Bonnie Jo Mason’ she even debuted on one of Spector’s sub-labels with the Pete Anders & Vinni Poncia-produced Beatles-knock-off ‘Ringo, I Love You’. All this was down to her relationship with Spector flunky Sonny Bono – the pair was soon to re-invent themselves as Sonny & Cher and find tremendous success with a very close adaptation of the formula that had worked so well for Spector in Gold Star studios.

Darlene Love, Phil Spector and Cher at a 60s Gold Star studios session.
Darlene Love, Phil Spector and Cher at a 60s Gold Star studios session.
Come the mid-70s, Cher was shortly reunited with Spector as a result of a new label, Warner-Spector, that the Tycoon of Teen set up with Warner Bros. Records in 1974. Cher was a Warner artist at the time and so it was decided that her distinctive voice and Spector’s trademark Wall of Sound would make a winning combination. But if the head honchos at Warner Bros. Records had fantasized about energetic, booming drums and throbbing rhythms jumping out of speakers, they were sorely disappointed!

Instead, the three tracks Cher and Spector recorded were super-slow and heart-wrenching odes to love that some have described as more of a dirge of sound than the well-known Wall of Sound. The tempo on ‘Baby, I Love You’ is almost non-existent, a duet with Harry Nilsson on ‘A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Every Day)’ was only a tad faster and brighter and with a Nilsson vocal sounding like a punched-in afterthought. And then there was ‘A Woman’s Story’ – the only new song and a co-write between Spector and his longtime friends, siblings April Stevens and Nino Tempo.

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Let me emphasize that I’m a big fan of Spector’s 70s productions – I find something interesting in all of them and to these ears the very best of the bunch are just as good as his iconic 60s hits. 

‘A Woman’s Story’ is one of those stellar 70s productions as far as I’m concerned. Dark, brooding and enveloped in an otherworldly chorus, the song almost comes across as a requiem if not for the chorus where Cher declares that she’s finally found light at the end of the tunnel; love.

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Rather unusually, the lyrics dramatically tell the story of an down-on-her-luck former prostitute who’s ‘seen every room with a bed inside it.’ The production is extremely powerful, almost strangely mesmerizing in all its slow grandeur no doubt due to the dramatic contrast between Cher’s low register vocals and the eerie ghost-like backing vocals. The backing track is almost overpowered by the mass of vocals floating in and out but if you listen past those there are lots of interesting things going on in the background. The three Cher productions definitely heralded a new sound that Spector would work to perfection on Dion’s soon-to-follow ‘Born to Be with You’ LP.

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Alas, the interesting pairing of Cher and Spector went nowhere. Despite a respectable promotional push, ‘A Woman’s Story’ backed with ‘Baby, I Love You’ failed to chart. In their book ‘Collecting Phil Spector’ John Fitzpatrick and James Fogerty write about how a quarrel between Spector and record executive David Geffen, Cher’s then-boyfriend, may have played a part in the single’s failure. But honestly, as great as ‘A Woman’s Story’ is, it is so unusual and ‘un-hit-like’ that it’s lack of chart success comes as no surprise. The single was even re-released in 1976 but still to no avail.

Ad for the new Warner-Spector single with 'A Woman's Story' on the A-side.
Ad for the new Warner-Spector single with ‘A Woman’s Story’ on the A-side.
So let’s dust off this fantastic production and enjoy this rare, extended mix of ‘A Woman’s Story’ found on a US promo single:

As a postscript, what Cher and Spector couldn’t do in the 70s, UK singer Marc Almond of Soft Cell-fame did in 1986. That year he released a cover version that, lyrics untouched, finally made the charts. It reached #41 on the UK Top 100. Here’s Almond’s version: