Tag Archives: Philles

Would-be Spectors # 3 – Jack Nitzsche

What can I write about Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche that hasn’t already been chronicled elsewhere? A legendary songwriter, producer and artist in his own right, Nitzsche’s first major claim to fame was his arranging skills, expertly put to use on a string of iconic Spector productions.

When Spector relocated his recording activities from New York to Los Angeles, the then-emerging new Mecca for pop, Nitzsche was quickly enlisted as arranger for his first LA session in 1962, the recording of ‘He’s a Rebel.’

Spector not only got the most talented up-and-coming arranger in town at his side, he also gained access to Nitzsche’s invaluable contacts, bringing together a veritable ‘who’s who’ of LA’s best session musicians. These dynamic, versatile players were later dubbed the Wrecking Crew and proved ready, willing and able to help Spector experiment and challenge conventional recording practices. He had missed that kind of support in New York where session musicians often made a fuzz when the soon-to-be ‘Tycoon of Teen’ tried to coerce them into unorthodox session takes.

&0s session; Darlene Love, Phil Spector & Jack Nitzsche.
60s session; Darlene Love, Phil Spector & Jack Nitzsche.

With Nitzsche as his right-hand man, Spector’s work took on gargantuan, cavernous proportions by each release. The duo worked together on so many classic recordings. The list goes on and on. I like this quote from legendary LA scenester Rodney Bingenheimer who visited the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ session with Brian Wilson in 1966: “Jack and Phil were very tight. They were like co-pilots on the Concorde from a flight from France.” Well said!

Spector and Nitzsche really brought out the best in each other. As much as the Wall of Sound has often been attributed to the famed Gold Star studios echo chamber, you simply cannot underestimate Jack Nitzsche’s importance in the equation. Spector did create beautiful art with other arrangers, i.e. Arnold Goland, Gene Page and Perry Botkin Jr., but Nitzsche remained his preferred arranger – the one who understood his approach best. Always to be trusted to arrange those sweet, sweeping and highly beautiful strings that graced many a Philles release.

It is no surprise then that Nitzsche made the most out of his first-hand crash course in the Wall of Sound. There is a plethora of fantastic singles spread out among a myriad of labels. If a record company back then wanted a big sounding Wall of Sound production, hiring ‘Specs’ was your best bet. Not only did you get the master’s favorite arranger, you also got the same studio environment (Gold Star) and session musicians (the Wrecking Crew). More often than not, the results were prime examples of perfect Wall of Sound that could give even Spector a run for his money.

Jack to the left at a 60s session.
Jack to the left at a 60s session.

Labelling Nitzsche a mere Spector-clone though would be an insult. Unlike Spector, Nitzsche proved much more versatile and productive, moving with the times and amassing an impressive body of work through the 60s and beyond that proves he was well attuned to the shifting fads in the music business.

Where Spector often only hinted at the influence of, say, Motown or the emerging Folk-Rock sounds of the day, Nitzsche cleverly mixed his Wall of Sound background with the latest hot sound and got some great results. It’s no wonder that UK reissue label Ace Records have issued three great Nitzsche compilations that perfectly supplement their three ‘Phil’s Spectre’ 60s Wall of Sound soundalike compilations.

JNace

For anyone wanting to delve deeper into the Nitzsche legend, look no further than the online treasure trove of UK fan Martin Roberts. His Nitzsche website is filled to the brim with articles, interviews, reviews, news etc. Sadly, it seems as if he has abandoned the project in recent years but the range of info still on there is both impressive and overwhelming: http://www.spectropop.com/JackNitzsche/

Anthony Reichardt, whose fantastic youtube channel I’ve mentioned before, also has an extensive Nitzsche playlist you could check out. There are many songs on there not found on the three essential Ace Records Nitzsche compilations: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0EB49B00F49C58DF

And not only that, but it also seems that a Nitzsche documentary is in the early planning stages. I hope this project will come to life as it would make for a nice supplement to the Wrecking Crew documentary: http://century67.com/untitled-jack-nitzsche-documentary

Nitzsche ad

Finally, as I always do on the subject of would-be Spectors, here are my three personal picks showing Nitzsche at what he does best.

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Songs to seek out:

Hale & the Hushabyes – ‘Yes Sir, That’s my Baby’ (1964) – Stately string-soaked rendition of the old Irving Berlin standard with a giant chorus rumored to feature, among others, Brian Wilson, Sonny & Cher, Jackie De Shannon and Darlene Love. According to Nitzsche, needing a bass singer, he went to the Gold Star lobby and grabbed some black guy no-one knew who was sitting there. Minutes later he sang the distinctive bass part in the song! The strings featured from ca. the 1 minute mark are achingly beautiful.

PJ Proby – ‘I Can’t Make It Alone’ (1966) – PJ Proby turns in his typical flamboyant vocal performance on this majestic blue-eyed soul ballad. The dense mono mix of the original single has Proby duetting with himself in frenetic Righteous Brothers-fashion.

The Satisfactions – ‘Daddy, You Gotta Let Him In’ (1966) – Take a dose of ‘Then He Kissed Me’, a pinch of Shangri-Las type teen drama, add some Gold Star echo and bring to a boil. Voila! The perfect Wall of Sound stomper about a Hell’s Angels member hiding out at his girlfriend’s home.

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Expiring Copyrights

Beach Boys fans are a lucky bunch…

Last year in December and now again this year they’ve had unexpected treats in the form of digital-only, blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em compilations made up of unreleased recordings. You can read about 2013s ‘The Big Beat’ and this year’s ‘Keep an Eye on Summer’ on The Second Disc:

http://theseconddisc.com/2013/12/17/the-beatles-and-the-beach-boys-beat-the-boots-on-the-big-beat-1963-and-bootleg-recordings/

http://theseconddisc.com/2014/12/03/the-beach-boys-new-digital-copyright-collections-offer-1964-rarities-two-complete-concerts/

Late 60s Beach Boys. Look at all those tapes! How much on there will be released in the coming years?
Late 60s Beach Boys. Look at all those tapes! How much on there will be released in the coming years?

The tracks on these two compilations are basically a hodge podge of demos, completed songs, works-in-progress, session takes and a capella mixes – what all of them have in common is that they have never seen a legitimate release. And that, in a nutshell, is why they’ve come out now.

To make a long story short, current European copyright laws stipulate that if a recording hasn’t been officially released 50 years after being put to tape, it will be relegated to public domain status. Seeing that the European copyright term for officially released recordings is 70 years there’s a heavy impetus to ‘scrape the barrel’ for artists and record companies worldwide. By making such hitherto unreleased recordings available online for a short amount of time, they successfully extend the copyright period by a further 20 years. Undoubtedly, this process brings forth a lot of recordings that the artists or companies would never have thought suitable for release. The rationale of course is that it is better to be pro-active and get them out, often with little fanfare, than seeing bootleggers or other third parties begin to churn out dubious albums made up of unreleased recordings that are no longer copyright protected.

Capitol Records and the Beach Boys have wisely chosen to make the best out of a bad situation and have really given Beach Boys fans a lot to divulge in with these two compilations, overseen by longtime Beach Boys archivist Alan Boyd and engineer Mark Linett. Fans have now had two of these compilations and the hope is that new ones will pop up each December as the copyright expiry date for a new batch of unreleased recordings draws near.

The reason I write about all this of course is that it seems Phil Spector and his business associates are really taking a risk by not following in the footsteps of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and others who have gone down this path. For every year that goes by without issuing Philles-era unreleased recordings Spector’s catalog gets more vulnerable. It becomes a legal smorgasbord for those wanting to mine the supposedly large amount of unreleased recordings that exists and issue their own product made up of this material.

All unreleased Spector recordings up until 1963 would seemingly be public domain by now. And since there’s no indication that we will see a release prolonging the copyright for 1964 recordings, we can probably soon add that year to the virtual goldmine of stuff that can be looked into from now on by shady European music entrepreneurs. If you check out itunes, Spotify and other online services you’ll notice that there are already quite a few grey-area digital releases offering Spector’s early stuff. So there are people out there willing to take risks; people who would undoubtedly jump at the chance to issue unreleased material without the risk of lawsuits. The question of course is if anyone out there has had access to such recordings other than Spector’s inner circle?

Phil Spector and Larry Levine at Gold Star. Will we ever get to hear all that they left in the can?
Phil Spector and engineer Larry Levine at Gold Star studios. Will we ever get to hear some of their efforts that remained unreleased?

Among collectors there are already a few well known unreleased recordings. ‘Stand by Him’ and ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ credited to the Crystals. ‘Pretty Girl’ and ‘It’s That Kind of Day’ with the ‘Tycoon of Teen’ himself on vocals.  We also have  Philles-era unreleased songs by other producers like ‘He’s my Eddie Baby’ by the Lovelites (Pete Anders & Vinnie Poncia), the alt. ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes (Jeff Barry) or Tina Turner’s ‘Everything under the Sun’ (Bob Crewe). And lest we forget all those session outtakes like the ones that have been floating around as a 5-disc bootleg for years. Will we see many more creep out due to copyright expiry? Remember what Hal Blaine wrote in his autobiography: “Phil Spector is the only producer I’ve ever known who always had an extra 2-track recorder running constantly from the beginning of every session. Everything said or played went on tape (…)”

The latest news about Phil Spector’s condition in prison has indicated that he has lost the ability to speak and that he was already marked by this and other types of illness in late 2013. I would imagine that Spector has made sure that nothing can be released without his direct involvement and consent. Since he obviously has other things on his mind while in prison this could easily explain why nothing has happened in terms of prolonging copyrights. Communication between him and Sony Legacy or other music business parties is probably non-existant at this stage. Obsessively preoccupied with how his recorded output underlines his reputation as an iconic producer, my guess is that Spector’s well known protectiveness of his catalog has now become a double-edged sword. While Spector keeps the door shut to his tape vault, its cache of unreleased recordings becomes more vulnerable with each passing year.

Japanese bootleg of 'Please be my Boyfriend' by the Crystals - made to look like a Gold Star acetate.
Japanese bootleg of ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ by the Crystals – made to look like a Gold Star acetate.

Ironically, this situation could mean that numerous recordings might creep out in the coming years – recording that Spector would surely deem below his standard and regard as something that could tarnish his accomplishments as a producer. At this stage of the game though, he may not even care. All the while, fans of the Wall of Sound can only watch in envy as Beach Boys fans and others are treated with interesting stuff. What a shame and what a wasted opportunity to do the sensible thing with all the treasures that the Spector tape vault undoubtedly includes.

So Santa; please, please, PLEASE bring us Spector copyright prolonging releases each December from now on!

The Reissue Campaign that Could Have Been

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.

I’m sure I’m not alone in crossing my fingers each year for exciting releases borne out the Sony Legacy reissue campaign that was publicized in 2009. The press release hyping the campaign back then was certainly carefully worded as to not promise anything specific other than this fluffy statement: “New compilations — including Artist’s Playlists, Best of collections, and first-ever releases of Philles studio rarities — as well as facsimile reproductions of original singles and albums are under development under the new agreement.” (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sony-music-entertainment-and-emi-music-publishing-strike-historic-new-licensing-deal-to-release-philles-records-monumental-wall-of-sound-catalog-through-legacy-recordings-62847292.html)

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?

philles-set

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…

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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!

Although the parallel dimension Phil hates stereo he's willing to offer it to the fans.
Although the parallel dimension Phil hates stereo he’s willing to offer it to the fans.

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.

Darlene, Phil
“Psst Phil. Promise me that you’ll release ‘It’s my Party’. It’s a guaranteed hit!”

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.’

"Dammit Bobby. This is your final chance, or I'll have Bill sing it!"
“Dammit Bobby. This is your final chance, or I’ll have Bill sing it!”

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.

Sure, there'll be some outtakes from the Leonard Cohen album as well.
Sure, there’ll be some outtakes from the Leonard Cohen album as well.

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!

Would-be Spectors # 2 – Jerry Riopelle

It’s time again to focus on one of the would-be Spectors that worked LA studios in the 60s, feverishly trying to nail the Wall of Sound. A good choice for the topic would be the often overlooked Jerry Riopelle.

Jerry was a very talented jack-of-all-trades – singer, songwriter, musician, producer – you name it! He could do it all. Yet he remains somewhat of a shadowy figure, mostly remembered today by hardcore fans of Phil Spector due to his involvement in some superb soundalike records. It’s even difficult to find a 60s photo of him online. This low-res image of him hanging out with Phil Spector and Jack Nitzsche is the best I could do.

Jack, Phil & Jerry. Mid-60s.
Jack, Phil & Jerry. Mid-60s.

The Phil Spector Appreciation Society had an interview with Jerry in the Philately fanzine in 1984. Luckily for us, that interview is featured at the Spectropop website. So rather than me going on with a long post on Jerry’s adventures with the Wall of Sound, why not read his own detailed account?

http://www.spectropop.com/HOTB/HOTBpart3.htm

Suffice to say, Jerry’s position as Phil Spector’s protégée during the mid-60s gave him an unprecedented inner view on what made the wall come together in the studio. But even before he found himself under ‘Uncle Phil’s’ wing, he had the basic formula worked out. According to legend, when Spector’s preferred engineer Larry Levine played him Clydie King’s 1965 Riopelle-produced single ‘The Thrill is Gone’, the ‘Tycoon of Teen’ took notice and immediately decided to snap up the young producer for Philles Records.

In 1965 Riopelle produced some fantastic sides for Clydie King. ‘The Thrill is Gone’ is majestic and one can understand why Spector was impressed when he heard it. I personally think that ‘Missin’ my Baby’ from the same year betters it. What a lush, beautiful production! Both songs can be found on Ace Records’ must-have Phil’s Spectre comps, vol. 1 and 2.

Clydie King.
Clydie King.

The crowning achievement for Riopelle though remains ‘Home of the Brave’ by Bonnie & the Treasures. Phil Spector released it on his Phi-Dan imprint in 1965. All sorts of rumors have surrounded this track ever since. One has it that it was actually Ronnie Spector who sang the lead. A ridiculous claim since you can easily hear it’s not her. It has since been established that it was session singer Charlotte O’Hara (Charlotte Ann Matheny) who took the lead.

Another rumor has it that it was Phil Spector who in reality produced this iconic single. Riopelle disputes that claim and has both a label production credit and his former successful Wall of Sound productions as evidence. I imagine that the rumor formed when Phil Spector personally took action and got behind the single very aggressively when a rival version by singer Jodi Miller hit the charts.

Here then, in all it’s muddy Gold Star echo glory, is the epic ‘Home of the Brave’:

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Songs to seek out:

Clydie King – ‘The Thrill is Gone’ (1965) & ‘Missin’ my Baby’ (1965) – You can’t go wrong with these two Wall of Sound classics.

Bonnie & the Treasures – ‘Home of the Brave’ (1965) – is this the pinnacle of the Spector soundalikes? I am of the opinion that Spector couldn’t have done this one better.

Bonnie – ‘Close Your Eyes’ (1966) – this fab production has a melody to die for. Charlotte O’Hara steps up to the mike for another great lead vocal.

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