I’ve just been made aware of an exciting new project about the legendary Gold Star studios, aptly titled ’33 1/3: House of Dreams.’
We’ve had various staged variations of the classic 60s pop sound so dear to myself and readers of this blog, among others ‘Leader of the Pack’, ‘Jersey Boys’ and ‘Motown: the Musical’, so it makes sense to focus on the fascinating story of David Gold and Stan Ross and their importance to the LA music scene by way of Gold Star.
This looks like a real labour of love and with support from those who recorded there to boot. Check out the kickstarter page of 33 1/3 to learn more about this new project which is seeking backing as of writing.
If Phil Spector was LA’s ’Tycoon of Teen’, scenester, DJ and die hard music fan Rodney Bingenheimer was it’s ’Mayor of the Sunset Strip.’
Anyone with an in-depth interest in the rich musical heritage of Los Angeles, will know the extent to which Bingenheimer has championed local acts since 1976 on his legendary ‘Rodney on the ROQ’ show on local station KROQ. Sadly, this safe haven of cool music on the airwaves is no more with Bingenheimer’s final show having aired on Sunday; apparently, his show was put to rest due to changes at the station that inexplicably didn’t leave room for him and his wide-ranging musical taste.
My reason for writing about the show’s cancellation is of course the fact that Bingenheimer is a long-time champion of California-based 60s pop & rock, with songs produced by Phil Spector being especially close to his heart. For many years he used the Modern Folk Quartet’s bouncy ‘This Could be the Night’ as the show’s signature song and the show was also featured heavily in filmmaker Binia Tymieniecka’s 1983 documentary about Spector.
Off the air, Bingenheimer seems to have been within Spector’s very limited and close-knit inner circle during the 70s and all the way up until the Lana Clarkson case. Even as far back as 1966 Bingenheimer had the possibility of keeping a close eye on Spector’s sonic adventures, famously being present at the recording of ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ Here is an excerpt from Bingenheimer’s recollection of the session as told to music journalist Harvey Kubernik:
“I was in Hollywood and went to Wallich’s Music City [a record store] on the Sunset Strip. I was listening to records in one of their booths and ran into Brian Wilson, who was also in the store. I told Brian that Phil was doing a session at Gold Star down the street. He said ‘Let’s go!’ We walked to Gold Star. (…)
Brian and I never left the studio booth during the recording of ‘River Deep.’ You don’t leave when you’re at something like this. We were transfixed. Jack and Phil were very tight. They were like co-pilots on the Concorde from a flight from France. (…) Phil was screaming like a madman during the sessions. Tina was loud and sexy. She was wearing a wig and go-go boots. Very 60s. The engineers were Larry Levine and Stan Ross. Phil was in control!
Brian didn’t say a word. He soaked it in and sat there stunned. Tina’s vocal kept on soaring. Some of the musicians wore Alpaca sweaters. Phil and Jack dressed like kids. They wore clothes from deVoss and Beau Gentry, where the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones shopped. And everyone wore Caesar cologne (even the bottle looked great!), diamond-shaped dark glasses, puffy-sleeve shirts and boots. They didn’t look like record company people. They were listening to the song as it was played over and over. It was in the pocket. (…) Phil Spector is rock’n’roll. After the session, I walked home and couldn’t sleep.”
Aaah, the glamorous days of 60s Los Angeles; imagine bumping into Brian Wilson and then, at a whim, crashing a Spector session. Mindblowing! No wonder Bingenheimer has devoted his life to music after experiences like this one.
I would have imagined him to have spun at least one Spector cut during his final show, but he instead opted to go with the times and play more recent material, although including a few songs with a heavy nod towards the Wall of Sound such as ‘Just like Honey’ by Jesus & Mary Chain and ‘7/11’ by the Postmarks.
It’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the Mayor of the Sunset Strip – hopefully, his musical choices will grace Los Angeles air waves once again in the near future.
You can read more about Rodney and the show’s history here:
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.’
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:
Over several decades Anthony has amassed a truly mindblowing collection of rare singles that display the widespread influence of Spector’s sound on the 60s music industry. Luckily for us, rather than sit on his incredible collection, Anthony has set up his channel to share his love of all things Wall of Sound and the ‘feel’ of the famed echo chambers of LA’s Gold Star Studios.
Anthony’s YouTube channel isn’t limited to the Wall of Sound but also includes fantastic 60s releases within the realm of girl group pop, Northern Soul, novelty songs, blue-eyed soul and much, much more. It’s an out-and-out treasure trove. Look inside and you’ll get a glimpse into a parallel dimension where any of the featured releases could have been hits.
As if the fact that Anthony shares this fantastic music with other fans isn’t great enough, each upload is also graced by as much background information and rare images as possible. Regularly checking out Anthony’s channel is therefore a bit like entering a virtual music class with fascination insights offered with each upload.
A dream scenario would be for some enterprising company to issue a Gold Star Studios box set with Anthony as a consultant and liner notes writer. Iconic studios like Abbey Road, Fame or Studio One have each had their own releases. So why not one documenting the distinct Gold Star sound and its key role in Los Angeles challenging New York as the 60s US pop capital?
At least we have Anthony’s channel to fill this gap and return to time and again for daily doses of echo. And truth be told – Anthony’s channel is way more comprehensive than any physical release could be unless were talking something of Bear Family-like proportions.
I’ve been interested in learning more about Anthony’s collecting and personal favorites and he has kindly agreed to answer some questions for Cue Castanets.
So Anthony, how and when did you get introduced to the Wall of Sound and music recorded at Gold Star studios?
Back in the 1960’s, I received a small record player for Christmas with some various Christmas themed LP’s. When I grew tired of those, my parents said that I could play their record albums if I was careful with them. My mom & dad were in a record club which was popular in those days, and had a regular shipment of LP’s arrive at the house every month.
Two albums of theirs that stood out and had an impact on me were ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS on Philles and ‘All I Really Want To Do’ by CHER on Imperial. The ‘sound’ of those two albums mesmerized me even as a youngster. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I figured out that those two albums were recorded at Gold Star.
What was it that attracted you to this particular type of music?
The ECHO! It did and still does captivate me. There was something different about the Gold Star echo and it was easily identifiable to me as I immersed myself more into record collecting.
You obviously have an incredible collection that must have taken a lot of effort and time to build. How did you get the collector bug in earnest?
Not only did my parents allow me to play their LP’s on my little record player, my mother dug out a huge box of her old 45’s that she had stored in the garage. None of them were in sleeves and were not in the best of condition but the music on those 45’s in that dusty box, which was mainly between the years of 1956 to 1965, were a gift sent down from heaven to me. That’s where the interest in record collecting began.
I would guess you have your fair share of anecdotes about records turning up in strange places or getting some rarities as a stroke of luck while record hunting? Any stories to tell?
I think my favorite acquisition was finding the blue label Philles LP of ‘Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica’ in a dumpy thrift shop in the mid 1970’s for the princely sum of fifty cents! What makes the story all the more crazy is I didn’t have the fifty cents at the time so I hid the record in the store and went back on a later date to buy it when I had the money.
You live in the greater Los Angeles area – it must be fascinating living so close to the place where your favorite music was recorded?
It is. In fact, some of my best record collection memories took place in the late 1970s in the parking lot of the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, only a few blocks north of Gold Star near Hollywood & Vine. Back in the day there was a monthly record swap meet there held late at night. A flashlight with good batteries was a necessity! Good memories…
Is there anything specific out there you’re still looking for for your collection?
I really get excited finding unreleased acetates from the early to mid 1960’s.
[Cue Castanets: Anthony features quite a few acetates on his channel. Here’s a great example…]
Why did you decide to set up a YouTube channel?
I enjoyed the videos that other YouTube users were uploading of their 45’s and thought that I could do that too.
In 2010, I started playing with the Windows Movie Maker program and with over 700 videos that I’ve uploaded over the past four years. I try to include as much information I can document about the records as well as have a nice mix of brightly saturated color images of the labels. Photos of the vocalists and any other image that may pertain to the records I try to include as well. They are sort of little, musical monuments to the artists, musicians, producers, arrangers, engineers and anyone else who was a part of these vinyl and styrene pieces of musical history.
I know that this question is bordering on torture for a collector like yourself, but if you were to bring only five songs to a desert island ….which ones would it be?
Believe it or not, that is an easy question for me to answer. With the thousands of records that I’ve accumulated over the years, these five are really special to me:
‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS (Philles 124 – 1964)
‘Better Off Without You’ – BEVERLY NOBLE (Rally 502 – 1965)
‘The Thrill Is Gone’ – CLYDIE KING (Imperial 66109 – 1965)
‘If You’re Gonna Love Me’ – CHI CHI (Kapp 749 – 1966)
‘Love Her’ – WALKER BROTHERS (Smash 1976 – 1965)
The list of iconic 60s producers is long; Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach etc; but is there a particular, lesser-known producer from the time that you think is criminally overlooked? Explain why?
I think Perry Botkin, Jr. may be somewhat overlooked in comparison to Spector, Nitzsche, Wilson, Bacharach, Crewe, etc. While he was for the most part, an arranger, the vast list of sessions that he worked on contributing his talent is astounding.
[Here’s Anthony’s pick of a single that shows off Botkin’s stellar arranging skills.]
One thing is of course the producers featured on your channel, but which are your all-time favorite songwriters from that era?
Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Eddie Rambeau, Bob Crewe & Bud Rehak
Russ Titelman & Gerry Goffin
Joey Brooks & Aaaron Schroeder
Have you ever met any of the artists, songwriters or producers whose work is represented on the different playlists?
Over the years I’ve met some artists at various Record Shows here in the Los Angeles area. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving personal messages on some of the videos that I’ve uploaded at YouTube from musicians, songwriters, engineers, producers, arrangers as well as from the artists. They’ve all been very humble and appreciative of the interest in their musical past.
In line with the main theme of this blog, do you have a particular favorite among Spector’s productions you’d like to comment on? It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the well-known hits.
If I had to choose, I prefer all of Spector’s productions from the Ronettes hit ‘Walking In The Rain’ and onward until the end of the Philles era with Tina Turner. The backing tracks alone by the Righteous Brothers, Ronettes and Tina Turner are masterpieces.
I have to believe that sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere are some amazing, unreleased Spector produced, ‘Wall of Sound’ tracks on reels of recording tape waiting to be discovered and shared with the world. I hope I see that day in my lifetime.
What’s your absolute favorite obscure song / production by anyone that you’d recommend readers to check out right away? What is it you love about the particular song?
I’ll have to recommend my #2 choice of my top 5 45’s.
Beverly Noble – ‘BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU’ – at only fourteen years old, Miss Noble sings with an amazing maturity over a gorgeous backing track dripping with echo. A beautiful song that is presented with a stunning arrangement by Don Ralke.
Stereo versions of Wall of Sound tracks can result in heated debate. Some take the side of Spector himself, arguing that the stereo undermines the original mono impact of the production technique, others love the fact that you can get a better understanding of the different elements that make up the Wall.
What’s your stance on this? Any stereo versions that you prefer over the mono mix?
The Spector ‘stereo’ tracks are not true stereo. Unless you enjoy the entire rhythm section on the right channel, strings on the left channel and vocals in the center. Spector didn’t record for stereo, just utilized the three tracks available to him to record on. Sonny & Cher’s early productions were recorded with that method as well and are not my preference.
Regarding Spector’s Philles productions, I am an admirer of the dense, ‘one microphone over everything’ sound of glorious monophonic.
And finally, – not a question but rather a wholehearted thanks for taking your time to give this interview – and above all making your incredible collection available for us all to hear online.
Thank YOU, for adding another dimension of enlightenment and praise to this style of music that I so admire and love.
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As a postscript to the interview, I can’t resist listing my current 5 favorite songs from Anthony’s channel that I can thank him for discovering.
I probably wouldn’t have come across these, and countless others, if it hadn’t been for Anthony. Rather than slowing down the post with too many embedded videos, I’m listing the direct links. Enjoy!