In the annals of Wall of Sound history the Girlfriends sang about ‘Jimmy Boy’, Timmy & the Persianettes about ‘Timmy Boy’ and Darlene Love about ‘Johnny’ on the alternate version of ‘Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)’ So calling your band Johnny Boy would definately be appropriate if you plan on recording a convincing Spector pastiche.
Here’s the best kept secret of the charts in 2004 – with the longest song title to boot – ‘You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes & You Get What You Deserve’ by British indie pop duo Johnny Boy. A single so obscure today that the below low-quality youtube upload of the official video was the only one I could find.
Still, listen through the inferior sound quality for a fantastic track co-produced by James Dean Bradfield of Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers. The boy/girl duo consisting of Lolly Hayes and Andrew Davitt infused the trademark ‘Be my Baby’ beat with some clever, political lyrics not often found in modern Spector soundalikes – and all the more charming for it.
Sadly, this explosive mix of reverb, drone and glockenspiel infused with grit and punkish agression only reached # 50 on the UK singles chart when released in 2004.
The lone Johnny Boy album came out two years later and though it’s an interesting collection with a wide variety of genres and sounds, nothing really equalled the bombast blitzkrieg that is ‘You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes & You Get What You Deserve.’
It’s time to dust off yet another Spector production, – one that’s not too obvious to focus on when discussing Spector’s body of work.
As you may remember, my ongoing series of ‘odds & ends’ is meant to highlight and discuss some of the more overlooked Spector productions. So no ‘Be my Baby’, ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ or ‘River Deep’ dissertations here! Previously, I’ve written about the no-holds-barred Spector-frenzy that was ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals and Cher’s gloomy ‘A Woman’s Story.’
Today I’d like to focus on a track which actually was a sizeable hit but that I think tends to get both overlooked and dismissed during talks about Spector’s oeuvre; ‘Silence is Easy’ by UK group Starsailor and Spector last ‘real’ production job if you, as I do, discount his work with Hargo ‘Crying for John Lennon’ and the supposed production of wife Rachelle’s cheesy ‘Out of my Chelle’ album. Produced by Spector? Yeah right! As if!
The Hargo track sounds a little more like something the former Tycoon of Teen could have been involved with but it’s still a far cry from his Wall of Sound glory days.
So, back to ‘Silence is Easy’ and a short recap. Spector had teamed up with this young UK indie band a while before that fateful night at the mansion where Lana Clarkson lost her life.
Allegedly, Spector was hired by the band with an eye towards producing a whole album’s worth of material but along the way, the band didn’t feel Spector’s vision, or way of working for that matter, matched theirs and thus gracefully ended the working relationship.
Only two Spector-produced tracks have surfaced from the sessions – ‘Silence is Easy’, which became the title track for the band’s next album and ‘White Dove.’
While pleasant and beautifully sung by Starsailor lead vocalist James Walsh, the latter’s Spector production credit should puzzle any fan of the Wall of Sound. If you didn’t know he seemingly had a hand in it, you wouldn’t be able to tell at all.
‘Silence is Easy’ however has a gradual build-up and a stately elegance that oozes Spectorness; think his work during the 70s on the Dion album or the singles by Cher.
James Walsh’ vocal style will throw some listeners off but if you really get into it, like I did from the very first time I heard the song, his dramatic lead vocal really compliments the dark feel of the lyrics and Spector’s production.
How much say did Spector have in the studio while recording the song? Well, who knows – and the final aural outcome is probably some sort of compromise between Spector, the band and their management. I doubt the production as is is totally as Spector would have it. Left to his own devices, I feel pretty sure that the track would have been further enhanced by echo, more acoustic, strummed guitars, a string section etc.
Still, there are enough Spector trademarks throughout to make me consider it a genuine production by hum, none the least the cool tinkling glockenspiel that pops up mid-way through and adds a great deal to the production’s feel and build-up.
Having said that, I completely understand while some fans felt the track was a bit of a disappointment after finally witnessing a new Spector production after so many years. At the time, I thought the opinion by fellow producer Mark Wirtz at the Spectropop message board was interesting – even if I don’t really agree with him:
“My opinion, as a lifelong Spector student and fan(atic), even having produced and released tributes to the man, AS WELL AS being a fan of Starsailor’s music, I find this release to be a disgrace. It may well become a “hit,” and elements of the record (notably the brilliantly performed and recorded vocals) make it deservedly so among Starsailor fans. Alas, to me, this hybrid is nevertheless a tragic humiliation of Spector (or “echo-boy” as Starsailor so condescendingly call him) – and at the worst possible time. No doubt (and according to the article), it was the “Silence Is Easy” song in demo form that initially attracted Mr. Spector. Hardly surprising – it is exactly the kind of simple, hypnotic, melodic tune and message that Spector was such a master of transcending into a riveting spectacle. And I bet, any of us that KNOW Spector’s style, can virtually hear it, truly and fully realised HIS way. And with visionaries like Spector, there is only that one way. All else is “a little bit pregnant.”
Having heard the entire album, as well as having been very familiar with Starsailor’s first CD, it appears that the pairing of Spector and Starsailor was an inevitable collision waiting to happen, making for a symbiotic, not synergistic partnership – with Starsailor the vegetarian, and carnivorous Spector trying to open a steak house together…
In my fantasy, Spector would have passed on producing Starsailor, then ultimately grabbed that song (as anybody could once published), and autonomously recorded and released it with a brand new artist (ideally a soulful girl singer) under his control. Man, I would rob my piggy bank to buy and own and possess THAT record!!!”
(Posted during discussions at Spectropop Sep 10th 2003.)
What’s your take on the song? How do you feel about it?
Lost classic or something that’s best forgotten when discussing overlooked Spector productions?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…