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.’
When Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound ruled the early to mid 60s airwaves there was another distinct musical path trodded out by a variety of acts; the path of vocal surf pop.
Today, only the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean are remembered by the general music-loving public but there was a plethora of releases by different acts from around the US that took the harmonies emenating from Los Angeles as a rallying cry for celebrating the sun, the sea and the mighty surf.
Dive into releases by, say, Bruce & Terry, the Fantastic Baggys or Ronny & the Daytonas and you’ll find great songs and at times also productions that sort of veer off into pseudo Wall of Sound-territory. None did this more often of course than Brian Wilson whose studio creativity would in time surpass even that of Spector himself.
All this builds up to the introduction of the next entry in my long, on-going line of modern Spector soundalikes, because today’s entry is precisely the kind of weird amalgamation of surf and Wall of Sound that only seldomly occured in Spector’s golden period.
Fittingly, the song in question is from a band that grew out of this very scene. The Malibooz formed in 1964 in New York and took its cue from the sun-soaked sound of the Golden State, trying their best to spread the sunshine to the East Coast.
An EP and a single came out as early as 1965 and since then the band has been active, putting out albums and still performing to this day.
2002 saw the release of ‘Beach Access’ with a nice and predictable selection of surf/summer/sun-themed tunes – but there was also a song that really stood out right away and immidiatedly caught my attention; the mighty ode to surf that is ‘Call of the Wave’ – as epic a surf-themed track you’ll here this side of Jack Nitszche’s ‘Lonely Surfer!’
I really, really dig this production by John Zambetti and Walter Egan who are the main-stays and creative force in the Malibooz. The lyrics are great in all their wide-eyed, heartfelt praise of the sea’s lure and the gradual build of the majestic backng track is majestic, – very much in line with the type of sound Bruce Springsteen nailed in his most Spectoresque songs during the 70s.
You’ll find much to like here – from the pounding drums over the blatant rip-off of the ‘Then He Kissed Me’ riff to the tinkling glockenspiel. Go ahead, dip your toes into ‘Call of the Wave.’
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?
Here’s another modern Spector soundalike for you, courtesy of UK band Spiritualized.
The band itself has had a revolving list of members with frontman and songwriter Jason Pierce being the mainstay that binds it all together. He is also a massive fan of Spector’s Wall of Sound. It comes as no surprise then that quite a few Spiritualized tracks bear trademarks of the Spector sound in one way or another.
‘Stop Your Crying’ is my favorite Spiritualized track and can be found on the band’s 2001 album ‘Let It All Down.’ The album itself saw Pierce trying, and succesfully at that, to follow in Spector’s footsteps. Allegedly, more than 100 session musicians were utilised for all the songs combined and many of the tracks feature a full orhestra.
‘Stop Your Crying’ really is a majestic track with a gradual build and a stately feel much like Spector’s slower 70s productions. Take a listen, close your eyes and tell me that you can’t hear Cher or Dion sing this at a Spector session with the wrecking crew as backing?
This is gospel Wall of Sound of the highest order.
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.
I can’t believe I haven’t posted this one yet in my ongoing feature on modern Spector soundalikes. It’s one of the earliest modern faux Spector records to catch my ear as a fresh-faced Spector fan and send me off tracking down similar recent songs with a bombastic production.
US garage / power pop trio Splitsville was formed in the mid-90s and I discovered them by way of their great and highly melodic ‘Pet Soul’ album from 2001. As a major Beach Boys fan and fan of the fab four (come on,who isn’t?) I knew I had to check out an album with a title lampooning ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Rubber Soul’, two of the great pop platters ever made.
‘Pet Soul’ is indeed a delicious offering of pop perfection and although the emphasis is heavy on the Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney side of things, other sounds and influences pop up here and there. The driving ‘The Popular’ is no doubt envisioned by the band as the album’s Spector tribute – there’s just no way these guys didn’t have the Wall of Sound in mind with this soung’s pounding crescendo two-thirds in.
In fact, I was so mesmerized by this song that I once e-mailed the group’s manager suggesting that he and the band should contact Ronnie Spector so she could be offered the song. This was around the time when she was working on ‘Last of the Rock Stars’ and I still feel that this great track with her vocal could have been a highlight of the album. The Splitsville manager replied that it was a great idea but they probably never followed up on it.
Never mind, the Splitsville version is fine as it is and would be sure to be included on my playlist of favorite modern Spector soundalikes any time.
I hope you enjoyed the recent interview with Wrecking Crew member Don Randi about his session work with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. If you haven’t read the interview yet, just scroll down and enjoy his insights.
Hot on the heels of Don’s stories, I’m glad to be able to publish yet another interesting interview. This time with Jason Brewer who is the main songwriter and band leader of one of the coolest groups to emerge in recent years, the Explorers Club. If you’re enough of a music geek to spend your time reading my ultra-nerdy posts on Cue Castanets, my guess is that you already know these guys. If not, then oh boy, are you in for a pleasant surprise!
Anyone who follows the blog will know that I’m as much of a Beach Boys / Brian Wilson fan than I am a fan of Spector’s Wall of Sound approach. So I was simply blown away when I first came across songs by the Explorers Club at MySpace back in 2007. Who would have thought that a young group from Charleston could channel everything great about the Beach Boys and other iconic 60s pop in their own music?
To date, Jason Brewer and a revolving line up of Explorers Club members have issued two albums and some one-off singles,… and for anyone checking in here, all of their output is essential listening. Please support these guys! They are in the midst of wrapping up their third album; keeping the flame alive and really deserving all the success they can get.
Here, then, is an interview with Jason about his influences, insights about Explorers Club songs as well as some info on their upcoming album. Along the way, you’ll find embedded youtube videos with some of their stellar work to enjoy.
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First off Jason, I’d like to hear about how you started out playing music? Had you been in any other bands before you formed the Explorers Club?
I started playing guitar when I was 11 and then started writing my own songs when I was 14. I was in a few bands growing up but nothing too serious.
I had a band in college that was influenced by garage rock called 1984. But I didn’t feel professional enough to really go for it until Explorers Club started in 2005.
You’ve obviously been very influenced by Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys, but what other artists and genres have made an impression on you? Is there anyone in particular you’d like to single out?
I would say that there is a wide spectrum of music that has influenced me from the Beatles to Jimmy Webb to Burt Bacharach to Neil Young to Phil Spector to the Band to Nilsson and many others. Brian Wilson is far and away my biggest influence.
I do have a few modern inspirations – not in sound as much as just “these guys are brilliant and I want to do what they do” – like john Davis from Superdrag, Starflyer 59, Noel Gallagher, Rufus Wainwright and many others.
Back to the Beach Boys and that whole realm of 60s LA studio pop that Brian Wilson was in the center of along with people like Phil Spector, Jack Nitszche, Burt Bacharach, Curt Boettcher and others;
… as a musician of today, how does the music of that era resonate with you? Any specific thoughts about the difference between music then and now?
All of that music is the biggest influence on me.
The whole LA / Wrecking Crew sound is just magical. The brilliant records made then are the very pinnacle of rock and roll. Rock has not equaled that era. The LA music scene from the 1960s had such a creative and genre expanding sound that just resonates with me on many levels.
When I heard so many of those records as a kid it was like being transported to another planet. I still get that exciting feeling whenever I hear the Wall of Sound or the Beach Boys or a great dramatic Bacharach ballad.
How many instruments do you play by the way? When I listen to the Explorers Club albums I get the feeling that all of you guys combined are like the Charleston Wrecking Crew!
Well, I play guitar and some keyboards. The band is actually now based in Nashville, TN with a couple guys in Atlanta and Charleston as well.
The guys in the band are truly top notch and I feel so lucky and honored to work with them on our music.
Do you collectively work out the songs and arrangements or are the songs more or less fully formed when you get together to rehearse them?
I usually come in with the overall idea and then together we play the basic track based on the original idea – sometimes we add parts collectively and sometimes I already have musical arrangements finished.
I try to not bring in half baked ideas but you never know when you will have a magical creative moment collectively.
On this new album we are finishing up, our guitarist Mike took some basic ideas I had for our harmony vocals and came up with some brilliant arrangements. The songs themselves are usually done before we record but there is usually room to try different sounds in the studio.
Those vocal harmonies on both your albums are gorgeous! Must take some time perfecting them?
On everything we have done the vocals are the hardest part!
I have done some arrangements on my own and a lot of them with Mike Williamson who now plays guitar in the band.
I’d like to dwell a bit on the main theme of the blog, Phil Spector & the Wall of Sound. Do you remember when you first became aware of his music?
From a very young age I remember hearing Righteous Brothers and Ronettes records on the radio.
But it all really came together for me when I got the Back to Mono box set about 15 years ago. It just blew my mind! It made me understand how Brian Wilson was so influenced by that music.
Is there a particular Spector production that has made a profound impression on you?
I would say my two favorites are ‘Be my Baby’ and ‘You Baby’ by the Ronettes. Two amazing records!
Certainly can’t argue with that. I’ve always been really fond of ‘You Baby’ myself.
There were some cool tributes to the Wall of Sound on your first album, ‘Freedom Wind.’ Most notably on ‘Forever’ but also the opening seconds of what may be my favorite song of yours, ‘Don’t Forget the Sun.’
I remember the first time I heard it, I went “Why, that’s the opening seconds of ‘You Baby’ right there!” Could you tell a bit about how you went about faithfully recreating the Wall of Sound on those songs and others? Was it just a case of trial and error?
I tried to blend that intro with some other cool percussion instruments. We wanted to give a nod to that song and also create a really cool groove at the top. I had specific designs for that intro.
Listening to the two Explorers Club albums, every track reminds me of the 60s LA studio scene heyday. You guys seem to spend a lot of attention to detail as well as work out arrangements worthy of full-blown Wrecking Crew sessions.
In terms of your arrangement or production philosophies what would you say you’ve learned from studying the work of Brian Wilson, Spector or others?
The main thing is the combination of sounds. Finding unique blends of basic instruments to create a unique sound.
Brian was the master of voicing parts for just the right blend which he got from Spector but in my mind perfected. Brian took that Spector influence to a higher level.
You broadened up your sound a bit with your second album, ‘Grand Hotel.’ When I first heard it, it struck me as a very diverse and loving tribute to the late 60s & early 70s soft pop / A&M Records sound?
Totally! Those records of the soft pop A&M era were amazing. It is this perfect blend of reverb and dry sounds that is really hard to get sonically.
One of the continuing features on my blog is my obsession with Spector soundalikes. There were so many talented people hanging around Gold Star during those iconic Spector sessions, many of whom emulated the Wall of Sound themselves, often to great results. Jack Nitszche. Brian Wilson, Sonny Bono. Nino Tempo – and later on, a lot of recent artists have built upon the sound like you have with your two albums.
Are there any Spector soundalike tracks old or recent that you’d like to single out for whatever reason? Maybe other modern acts that you feel would appeal to fans of classic 60s pop?
I haven’t heard too many modern acts like that except maybe Camera Obscura – I’m sure there are some others. But truly – a lot of modern acts are nowhere close to that amazing sound.
Check out my ongoing ‘Modern Spector Soundalike’ feature on here then. You might discover a few modern tributes to your liking.
Some time ago, I interviewed Andy Paley about his work with both Spector, Brian Wilson and others and we got to talk a bit about the fantastic one-off single you and Andy collaborated on, ‘Don’t Waste Her Time.’
That song is incredible and so well-produced! Could you tell a bit about the song’s genesis and working with Andy?
Andy is the greatest. He is one of the best collaborators I have had. We truly just sat down one afternoon and knocked that song out at his house in LA.
I imagined Ronnie Spector singing it with Brian Wilson producing. Explorers Club just recorded a new version for our new album. The original version I recorded with the great Mitch Easter.
Yeah, about that much anticipated third album… What can we expect from it? How would you describe the sound and feel you’ve gone for this time around? Is there a release date yet?
No release date yet. I’d say that this record is closer to our first album but has its own very unique sound.
You can expect a lot of harmonies and some new sounds from us. It is sort of a mix of Sunflower-era Beach Boys along with a ton of surprises arrangement-wise. It is by far our best record.
Wow! Sunflower is my favourite Beach Boys album so I can’t wait to hear what you guys have come up with.
Finally, I hope you’ll be up for listing your personal top 5 of Phil Spector productions.
The Ronettes – ‘Be my Baby’
The Ronettes – ‘You Baby’
Modern Folk Quartet – ‘This Could be the Night’
The Righteous Brothers – ‘Just Once in my Life’
The Ronettes – ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’
Jason, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.
I was out driving in my car the other day and put on the debut album by Scottish indie group Glasvegas. That’s a record made for being played at ear-splitting volume while cruising. It also contains some of the most heartfelt, worthy tributes to the Wall of Sound issued in recent years.
For this latest installment of my personal pick of modern Spector soundalikes it would be oh so easy for me to highlight ‘Daddy’s Gone’, – the epic breakout single by Glasvegas that received much hype prior to their 2008 debut album. Replete with ‘Be my Baby’ drumbeats and a bit of Ronnie Spector-like ‘oh ohs’ thrown in for good measure, it’s a loving tribute to the Wall of Sound that deservedly made music critics and rock fans sit up and take notice.
And that voice! The voice of James Allan with a rough Glasgow accent so thick you could slice it. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve heard a singer in recent years sing with so much conviction and emotion as Allan. It sounds as if he sings with a lump in his throat; it’s genuine blue-eyed working-class soul on each and every Glasvegas song. The lead vocals are tense, wrought with emotion, dripping with drama – the perfect foil for a full-blown Wall of Sound.
Not surprisingly, James Allan put himself on a heavy diet of Spector at a young age, endlessly obsessing over all the treasures of the Back to Mono box with the Christmas album being a particular favorite of his. Reminiscing in a Daily Record interview, Allan has remarked: “I think that was Spector at his peak – 1963 is my favorite year for him. He released Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, Then He Kissed Me and the Christmas album, which he did in summer. Be My Baby is my favourite song of all time. (…) [about the Christmas album:] Sound-wise and artistically, the guy is on a different level, what he put into that record creatively and soulfully. Because of its soulful nature and intentions, everything I read about it and what he put into it, maybe I pick up on that energy all these years later.”
That is putting it mildly. Both the Glasvegas 2008 debut and the band’s very own Christmas album from December that same year oozes Spector’s influence in a very imaginative and sincere way. Several songs appear as note-perfect Wall of Sound tributes, none the least the afore-mentioned ‘Daddy’s Gone.’
But as great as ‘Daddy’s Gone’ is – and if you don’t know it already, check out the video on youtube pronto – I’ll have to pass it for now in favor of a song and production off the debut, I think is even more majestic. To these ears, ‘It’s my Own Cheating Heart that Makes me Cry’ is, simply put, the be-all and end-all of modern Spector soundalikes! I’ve heard it a thousand times and I still get moved by it in ways only a few songs do. It’s a tearjerker crossing the border into ‘overblown’ territory head on …but I love it nonetheless.
On ‘It’s my Own Cheating Heart that Makes me Cry’, James Allan wears his emotions on his sleeve, almost sounding like he’s about to break down as the song builds up tension. And sure enough, – during the climactic choruses he can’t resist throwing in some of those ‘oh oh ohs’ that graced many a Ronettes classic. Like Ronnie, Allan is able to convey all there is to know about heartbreak and despair in a gutsy ‘oh oh oh.’
To be honest, I doubt Phil Spector would appreciate most of the modern Spector soundalikes I post about on my blog. Ever the megalomaniac, he would probably deem almost all of them below his standard. But I have a feeling that even Spector would acknowledge this gem as a major achievement and that he would especially dig the out-of –this-world soul-baring lead vocal by James Allan. Spector would instinctly know that ‘It’s my Own Cheating Heart that Makes me Cry’ is the real deal. The verse melody is a rock’n’roll lullaby with stinging thorns; the drone-heavy backing track nothing short of phenomenal. I could easily imagine the Tycoon of Teen cook up something like this during his short stint with the Righteous Brothers.
The official music video uses the shortened single edit of this great song. I prefer the album version which allows for a more gradual, stately build-up, but I make a habit of posting official music videos if available. So here you go – note the tour-de-force ‘grand finale’ in this song from 2:43 onwards. E-P-I-C!
I realized today it’s been quite a while since I published a post about the ever growing number of modern Spector soundalikes.
As you may know from my previous posts on the subject I find these examples of modern artists tipping their hats to the Wall of Sound very interesting. If anything, they show the far-reaching influence of the Spector approach on all sorts of genres and also reveal how different artists will pick up different ideas from the Wall of Sound and milk them for all they’re worth.
Spector of course sort of did the same when he started out – if we were somehow transported back in time to the early 60s, before his Philles heyday, and heard some of his then earliest productions, it would have been fair to label them ‘modern Leiber & Stoller soundalikes’ for that time. Because that’s what they were before Spector slowly carved out his own characteristic style through trial and error.
For this latest entry about modern Spector soundalikes we’re off to Canada, home of the music collective known as Gigi. Gigi released the album ‘Maintenant’ in 2010, basically borne out of a fantasy by two musicians, Nick Krgovich and Colin Stewart, who wanted to write and produce a collection of retro-songs the old-fashioned way; stuff that sounded as if it was recorded in the 60s with that era’s production flourishes and sensibility recorded using vintage equipment. Based in Vancouver, allegedly as many as 40 musicians from the local music community took part in the project recording backing tracks live in the studio like Spector and the Wrecking Crew did in the 60s.
My mouth was watering when I first read about this project – it sounded so promising! Was this the Spector / Wall of Sound-themed concept album of our dreams? I’ll have to say though that I was disappointed when I heard the album. There are a few good tracks for sure but in general I found ‘Maintenant’ to be lukewarm despite the good intentions. And somehow, to these ears, the majority of the tracks seem a bit unimaginative. However, as we all know, almost every album has at least one ace track among all the filler and Gigi’s ‘Maintenant’ is no exception. For me, ‘Won’t Someone Tell Me?’ is the stand-out track by miles.
It’s not overtly Spectoresque production-wise; Spector and Jack Nitszche would probably have been puzzled by the lack of echo, thunderous percussion and the pretty sparse string arrangement. Production-wise, ‘Won’t Someone Tell Me?’ is much more akin to, say, a snappy Lesley Gore track than Spector’s usual monophonic mayhem.
Nevertheless, the song itself is a prime example of perfect girl group pop for the 21st century harking back to that golden era of girls that gave us iconic sides by the Ronettes or the Crystals. I could easily imagine both groups tackle this song along with Spector, in my dreams resulting in a tremendous monster track that would blow Gigi’s version out of the water. Having said that, the Gigi version is very, very good indeed. I’m especially fond of the innocent ‘little girl lost’ lead vocal by Mirah, whoever she is. She foolishly only sings this one song on the album which really is a shame since her delivery here is top notch.
Enjoy then a very nice slice of girl group pop with a pinch of poor man’s Wall of Sound thrown in for good measure!
What I find particularly interesting about modern Spector soundalikes is the fact that musicians of today gladly mix the Wall of Sound with all sorts of other references or genre traits.
This is in direct contrast to Spector’s 60s output which usually stayed clear of all the other sounds that were dominating the airwaves. Sure, there’s a bit of folk-rock in ‘This Could be the Night’ by the Modern Folk Quartet or ‘Paradise’ by the Ronettes, a pinch of Beach Boys-styled surf rave-up in ‘All Grown Up’ by the Crystals or a subtle Motown influence to ‘Here I Sit’ and ‘Do I Love You’ by the Ronettes.
But I’ll argue that these examples were both far between and totally overpowered by the no-holds-barred aesthetic Spector perfected. He definately had his own sound – and on his productions, at least during the 60s, he took a back seat to no one.
So it’s all the more interesting to find modern productions that both tip their hats to his Wall of Sound and other influences at the same time. When I decided to write a blog post about ‘Blue Angel’, a great, atmospheric song by North Carolina band Love Language, I was thinking about this.
At first listen the song doesn’t really seem like an obvious contender for my ongoing feature on modern Spector soundalikes. The introductory, shimmering drone gives way to a fairly pleasant, dreamy and twang-heavy song that’s more like a country-fied lullaby than a by-the-numbers Spector tribute.
Nonetheless, ‘Blue Angel’ is a great song with a beautiful melody and emotive lead vocal. And all you Spectorphiles – just hang on in there; when we reach about the 2 minute mark things really get into gear in a ramshackle sort of way. The drone is back with a vengeance, drums fire away in crescendo after crescendo and a tasteful use of echo makes for a really rewarding listening experience.
You can find ‘Blue Angel’ on Love Language’s second album, ‘Libraries’ from 2010. I have no doubt that group leader and main songwriter Stuart McLamb has several Spector albums in his private record collection. There are more songs on the so far three albums by Love Language to prove that McLamb has picked up a trick or two from the Wall of Sound approach.
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…