Here’s a confession… This dazzling Spector-produced one-off single by the Modern Folk Quartet is easily one of my all-time favorite Wall of Sound productions. So this latest installment of the odds & ends section can hardly be said to be unbiased. I just utterly cherish this song and for the life of me can’t fathom why the Tycoon of Teen decided to keep this bouncy pop gem under wraps for so long!
Allegedly, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was present when Spector and the Wrecking Crew laid down the backing track for this majestic tour-de-force and the song made a lasting impression on him. In interviews he has often singled it out as a favorite even going so far as to record his own cover version of it for a Harry Nilsson tribute album. Why, if he indeed was at the session, Hawthorne’s finest may very well be among the gazillion people heard emphasizing the backbeat with hand claps during the song’s middle section! I’ve always loved that part of the song in particular. It’s a classic goose bumps-type moment where it sounds as if Spector rounded up everyone in 60s LA to make them clap in unison at Gold Star.
As is so typical with the most extreme Spector productions, you almost forget who the artist is. Sure, the track credit says the Modern Folk Quartet alright, but since they didn’t write the song or can be clearly heard playing their instruments or singing the folksy harmonies on their more restrained 60s efforts this sonic assault has ‘Spector’ stamped all over it. At the risk of being engulfed by a swamp of swirling instruments Henry Diltz succeeds in cutting through the wall with a passionate lead vocal.
Kudos in particular to Harry Nilsson for supplying Spector with a song like this. The pair also worked on the stellar ‘Paradise’ and the interesting ‘Here I Sit’ by the Ronettes. It’s a shame their working relationship was so short-lived. Here’s a super piano version of the song by Nilsson pitched to the Monkees a few years after the MFQ recording:
Incredibly, despite the fact that the song was used for the intro credits scene to the iconic Big TNT show concert film, Spector defied logic by allowing ‘This Could be the Night’ to linger in the vaults for a decade. It finally saw the light of day in the mid-70s on one of the Rare Masters compilations along with other incredible could-have-been hits such as ‘Paradise’ or ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes.
Why Spector inexplicably decided not to release it we’ll never know. Maybe his notorious insecurities were in full force at a time that was clearly a transition period for him? The mid-60s certainly saw him experience with various adaptions of the Wall of Sound to match somewhat the popular genres of the day. If you listen to ‘This Could be the Night’ in that context you’ll probably pick up little details that, with the Wall of Sound still fully in place, reveals that Spector and his team had studied both folk-rock and the emerging sunshine pop sound.
The MFQ of course had close ties to the former, whereas the latter was about to really catch on nationwide, for instance by way of singles such as ‘Just my Style’ by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles or ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’ by the Cowsills. Obviously, those hits were way more simplistic production-wise and also emphasized harmonies much more than ‘This Could be the Night’ but I feel these songs share the same type of über-catchy, bounc and almost anthemic structure that defined a lot of the era’s harmony heavy and often Beach Boys-inspired LA pop.
It’s interesting to ponder what direction Spector and the MFQ could have followed hot on the heels of an actual mid-60s release of the song. Would it have been a hit? Who knows? But if so, it certainly would have given Spector another try at consistent chart action at a time where his magic with the Righteous Brothers was about to wane due to personal differences.
It has always amazed me that a song this good hasn’t been covered more but there’s been a few, typically fairly faithfull to the original Spector production. Here’s a different approach by David Cassidy from 1975 where the song is slowed down considerably,… and what do you know? It works very well. It’s a shame Spector didn’t do the same during his infamous 70s sessions.
Finally, let’s conclude with a nice, if a bit shaky, version by the current MFQ line-up. Very nice in this stripped-down approach,…. Which only reinforces Spector’s own long-held opinion; that it always starts with the song. If the song is not strong enough, the Wall of Sound can only take it so far.
We’re nearing the end of the year. A time suitable for looking back and thinking about what the past year has offered. In terms of vintage Spector sounds not much, I’m afraid. A quiet year then. No reissues from Sony Legacy in time for the all important Christmas sales.
It was probably a wise move not to be too specific at this early stage as Phil Spector has been notoriously difficult to deal with in the past. On top of that, being behind bars due to the outcome of the Lana Clarkson trial certainly can’t have helped matters. Here’s what we know – spread out over a couple of, admittedly, nicely done and good-sounding compilations, we’ve basically had reissues of the same stuff collectors have had for decades on either vinyl, the Back to Mono box or the old ABKCO single-artist releases. Do I even have to tell you we’ve had the gazillion reissue of the Christmas album?
The only ‘meat’ in this campaign so far has been the unreleased Crystals take of ‘Woman in Love’ on the Crystals compilation and the stylish Philles Album Collection mini-box set with replica-sleeves, both released in 2011. The latter was a great release for sure but also proved a bit of a disappointment because that set’s rarities disc only included the instrumental throwaway B-sides so typical for Philles singles. This disc is where Sony Legacy really had a golden opportunity to present some of the unheard goodies that must no doubt linger in the Spector tape vault. The question of course is this – has this even been an option for them?
Through other collectors I’ve heard rumors that Spector still controls his catalogue with an iron fist, even at this stage where he’s locked away. Apparently, Sony employees involved in the campaign have had meetings with him in prison, no doubt finding negotiations extremely difficult. Using the tapes for remixing iconic songs into first-time stereo releases? Forget it! Only mono! Unearthing all those half-baked or non-completed songs recorded during the Philles era and releasing them as an interesting ‘fly-on-the-wall’ listening experience? No way! You get the drift. As has been the case throughout Spector’s career he zealously guards his tapes, which are said to be well looked after with everything nicely catalogued by a few trusted people.
Spector of course has every right to do as he pleases. And to some extent he probably also has a point in terms of artistic integrity. Why should unfinished songs or completed productions deemed to weak for release in the 60s come out now and tarnish Philles’ reputation as a label with a fantastic hit rate and releases of utmost quality? Or take the possibility of new stereo remixes. Wouldn’t that be comparable to, say, taking a painting by Picasso and adding new layers of paint to give it a different feel? On the other hand, unlike Picasso, Spector’s art was the result of many people’s efforts. He had the grand vision but the final artistic statement rests upon the talent of not just him but assorted songwriters, singers and session musicians. Unfinished or unreleased songs or new stereo mixes could be said to honor and highlight their contributions even more. I’d certainly be first in line for any such releases, including stereo as I love the odd stereo versions that have come out (Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, the Christmas album etc.)
Indulge me then in a bit of an ‘what if’ scenario. Let’s dream up the perfect release Sony Legacy could issue in a parallel universe where Phil Spector gladly opened up his tape vault. The following is a Spector collector’s wet dream…
I see before me ‘Little Symphonies for the Kids’ – an eight disc box luxuriously packaged with replica session sheets, reproductions of Ray Avery Gold Star photo shoots suitable for framing and a coffee table book that would make the otherwise great Back to Mono book seem like a children’s picture book in comparison.
Disc 1 and 2:All new stereo mixes made with care and respect using the old tapes.
This is where you’ll finally get to hear ‘This Could Be the Night’, ‘Is this What I Get for Loving You’ or ‘I Wonder’ (Crystals’ version) in crystal-clear stereo bringing out all the intricacies of the backing tracks and string arrangements. What a revelation that would be!
Disc 3 and 4:Rare and unreleased Philles-era stuff galore.
Don’t worry. Not a single instrumental throwaway B-side in sight here! Instead you’ll get the obscure Philles-era releases as well as known unreleased tracks. We’re talking stuff like ‘Home of the Brave’ by Bonnie & the Treasures, ‘Ringo I Love You’ by Bonnie Jo Mason, ‘He’s my Eddie Baby’ by the Lovelites, ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ by the Crystals, ‘Everything Under the Sun’ by Ike & Tina Turner,… and of course Phil’s own ‘Down at TJ’s theme song’ and ‘Lucy in London’. All in warm-sounding excellent mono mixes.
But the real surprise here is the stuff we’ve only heard rumors about through the years. Some are finished productions, others are clearly works-in-progress with tentative vocal takes or missing string arrangements. This could include ‘Mary Ann’ and ‘Chico’s Girl’ by the Crystals, ‘It’s my Party’ and ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ by Darlene Love, ‘Someday (Baby)’ and ‘Things are Changing’ by the Ronettes, a Philles’era ‘Soul & Inspiration’ by the Righteous Brothers and ‘Baby, Don’t You Get Crazy’ by the Checkmates Ltd.
But among these songs which have long been rumored to exist you’ll also discover things completely from left field. Wait? Two new, finished songs with the Modern Folk Quartet proving that Spector could have pursued a Wall of Folk-Rock had he wanted to? And here’s a 2 minute and 15 seconds snippet of Brian Wilson and Phil running through ‘Don’t Hurt my Little Sister’ on the piano in Gold Star! And this next one – why, it’s a Philles-era ‘New York’s a Lonely Town’ credited to the Treasures with a much more intricate arrangement than the Red Bird release. And skip to track 14 on CD 4 – a fully fledged production with Harry Nillson singing a majestic ballad… There’s no telling how much gold the Spector tape vault includes but I’ll bet there’s a great deal – if nothing else, I’m sure his in-house producers Jerry Riopelle and Pete Anders & Vinnie Poncia must have committed quite a few interesting sessions and song ideas to tape.
Disc 5 and 6: The ‘All in all it’s just another Brick in the Wall’ session tapes
Presented in perfect sound here are excerpts from a wide range of sessions with studio chatter and various takes of the most beloved hits. Hear how Phil, Anders & Poncia and the Wrecking Crew work out the intro to Do I Love You along the way. Listen in when Sonny Bono cracks everyone up at the Girl’s Can Tell session. Hear Phil throw a tantrum when Bobby Hatfield keeps messing up the words on ‘Ebb Tide.’
Disc 7 and 8: The 70s and beyond
Finally, two discs comprising the Wall of Sound stuff Spector has worked on since shutting down Philles, including unreleased stuff. You’ll get a stereo ‘You Came, You Saw, You Conquered’ by the Ronettes, choice cuts from the George Harrison and John Lennon projects including nice-sounding stereo version of ‘Lovely Laddy Day’ and ‘You’ sung by Ronnie Spector, ‘A Woman’s Story’ and ‘Baby I Love You’ by Cher for the first time on CD. Check out the unreleased songs by Jerri Bo Keno and the Paley Brothers, – you’ll even find that horrible Kim Fowley track from the old ‘Spector 74/79’ LP!
Best of all, after an alternative take of Baby I Love You by the Ramones you’ll finally get to hear the three backing tracks recorded during the aborted Celine Dion sessions in the early 90s. Her vocals have been taken off due to contractual reasons but hearing ‘Is this what I Get for Loving You’ pulsating in shimmering stereo is pure bliss. Final track on the box? ‘Silence is Easy’ by Starsailor – the ‘unused Phil Spector mix.’ Much heavier on the echo, a dense wall of strummed acoustic guitars added, more glockenspiel tinkling in the background and even a string arrangement introduced half-way through.
Too good to be true, isn’t it? And of course, this is something that one can only fantasize about. But still, the fact that the Sony Legacy reissue campaign hasn’t resulted in just a tiny bit along these lines is heartbreakening. Time will tell if we ever get to see anything come out of this deal or the Spector tapes in general in the future. Cross your fingers!
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…