I’m pleased to be able to share with you yet another interview, – this time with my old Spector buddy, US-based collector David A. Young.
David and I go back at least 12-13 years and have discussed the music in depth ever since establishing contact through the old Spectropop forum. Along the way, David has introduced me to some great tunes, like the two albums issued by Pete Anders and Vini Poncia under their Tradewinds and the Innocence guises.
David’s a hardcore fan and without a doubt one of the top Spector experts and collectors in his country – when a guy has ‘spectorcollector’ as a part of his e-mail address you know he’s serious about his Wall of Sound collection!
Suffice to say, David’s collection of all things Spector and related is extremely impressive and includes acetates, demos and assorted rarities. Although he has downsized it somewhat in recent years, there’s still a wealth of interesting collectibles to make the hearts of Spector fans worldwide race with the ‘Be my Baby’ beat.
Let’s hear what David has to say about his infatuation with the Wall of Sound.
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David, let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember when you became aware of Phil Spector’s music? Was there a specific song that won you over and turned you into a full-blown fan of the Wall of Sound?
My first reaction to that question is that I know for sure it was because of Phil Spector that I became a record collector as opposed to merely a record buyer.
When I was young, department stores sold records, and after 45s that hadn’t sold were returned to the distributor and turned into cutouts, they were bundled in plastic in packages of like ten singles for 39 cents or so and then sent back to the stores for sale as mystery value packs; you could only see the two labels that faced the outside of the package, so you were gambling on whether or not you’d like what was inside.
Through some combination of buying records on purpose and buying them blindly in this way, I noticed that many of my favorites were on the same label — Philles, of course — and had Phil Spector’s name on them.
As a result, I started buying any record I found that said ‘Phil Spector’ on it somewhere. I’m afraid I can’t honestly recall any particular song that put me over the top as you describe, though, whether before or after that realization.
I know that you’ve been active in the fan community through the decades. I remember you telling me about hosting a Spector-themed party at one point. And you of course also were a member of the Phil Spector Appreciation Society – in some of the old PSAS newsletters I’ve noticed that you offered custom t-shirts for sale?
Could you tell a bit about all of this? I’d love to hear about that party and similar fan activity. In our day and age where fans worldwide are just clicks away from the latest news, forums and contact with each other, I find this early sense of a tight-knit fan community very interesting.
I had ‘Phil Spector’s birthday’ parties two years in a row, 1975 and ’76 (cohosted by my roommate[s] at the time). I invited him both times, and once — the first time — his personal assistant, Devra Robitaille, whom you’ve also interviewed for your blog, sent me a note with his regrets.
I also called him every December 26 from about that time to just a few years ago, when the number was disconnected, to wish him a happy birthday. The parties were fun, well-attended events; to bypass having to entertain requests (and to better focus on my partying), I pre-recorded four hours of music, 100% Spector-produced or co-produced, on reel-to-reel tape each time. That way I only had to play DJ once during the festivities, when it was time to turn the tape over two hours in. The trick worked so well that I did it for all my parties for many years, putting together a different program each and every time.
Funny that you mention the t-shirts. If only I still fit into mine; I’ve grown from a size small to a large since then! I gave it to a Spector-obsessed friend years ago when he visited me. It has the famous picture of Phil holding his sunglasses in front of his mouth.
I don’t think I ever actually sold one of them, but something much better happened: people wrote from all over asking if I wanted to trade tapes of rare and unreleased Spector and girl-group recordings instead, and of course the answer was a mutually rewarding yes in each case. I wish I still had all the handwritten letters, track notes, and the reel-to-reel tapes (and, later, cassettes) from those days, but at least I still have the memories.
The Internet sure has streamlined networking, musical and otherwise! Back then, besides people I met in real life – working at record stores helped -, it was those shirts, and the Phil Spector Appreciation Society, that led to my most significant connections.
You’re known as a hardcore collector and even though you’ve sold of parts of your collection by now, I’ll bet it must still be incredibly impressive. Do you have any anecdotes about record hunting? Turning up rare records in unlikely places or at ridiculously cheap prices?
Limiting my answer to Spector records, my two favorite anecdotes are these:
Almost all my original Philles albums, including the fake-stereo ‘Twist Uptown’ by The Crystals and the real-stereo ‘Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica’ were purchased in mint-minus condition from Village Oldies in New York for $100 apiece, reserved through a lucky phone call.
I sent them a payment once or twice a month until everything was paid for, and then the whole package arrived at once. What a day! The Ronettes album has subsequently been autographed by Ronnie Spector and Hal Blaine.
Also, I got unplayed copies of both the Jay and the Americans and the Supremes versions of ‘Things Are Changing’ in their mint title sleeves at a record show from the same guy, who worked at a record wholesale company, for $4 each!
Obviously, he had no idea what he had there, and I wasn’t about to tell him! By then, I already had the Blossoms version, which I got from Jack Fitzpatrick, who later co-wrote the ‘Collecting Phil Spector’ book and whom I’d met through the t-shirt ad.
What are some of your most prized Spector-related items in your personal collection?
I’ve sold lots of the most valuable things over the years, so that’s another conversation, but a number of pieces come to mind that I can’t imagine ever letting go of because of my personal attachment to them.
Along with the aforementioned Ronettes album, there’s the white-label DJ copy of ‘A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records’ with a promotional letter, the copy of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ on the rare X-125 pressing that Darlene Love autographed to me, and especially the 1987 reissue on Rhino of the Christmas album that Phil signed for me.
By that time I’d placed my ‘happy birthday’ calls so many years in a row that Devra Robitaille called to ask for my address, saying that Phil wanted to thank me for my steadfast devotion. A few days later, the LP arrived in the mail.
Where has your Spector collecting led you beyond acquiring all the different records he produced?
Of course it started with looking at the Spector discographies that existed at the time and, one by one, checking off each release as I obtained it — and over time, the discographies became more and more complete.
Before long, let’s say the first available copy of a record was a DJ copy instead of a stock copy, so I’d have that and then think, “Cool, I’ll get the promo and issue copies of every Spector record.” Then it turns out there are all kinds of label variations: You can have a white, blue, orange, or yellow-and-red label, and the typesetting can be different from one to the next, the logo changes and now may have a thick line or a thin line under it. And that’s just the variations on Philles!
Then there’s having the same release from as many different countries as possible, maybe with a variety of picture sleeves, different B-sides, the EPs, the spelling errors (like the pressing of Phil Spector 2 by Veronica listing ‘Why Can’t They Let Us Fall in Love’ instead of ‘Why Don’t They…’), the reversed labels (as on my stock copy of Philles 123, where the side labeled ‘Stumble and Fall’ plays ‘[He’s a] Quiet Guy’ and vice versa), and on and on.
From there, it spun out of control. My thirst for the Wall of Sound proved unquenchable, so I started seeking out and buying what we now call soundalikes, and as you know, there are both credible and laughable examples of attempts to replicate the Spector sound dating from the ’60s on up through the present.
Before I knew it, I had to have anybody’s cover version of any Spector-related song, whether he had composer credit on it or not (as is the case with, say, ‘He’s a Rebel’ or ‘I Love How You Love Me’). It was bad enough when I’d learn about such covers one way or another and then seek them out, but then eBay came along and I could search by title, discovering literally hundreds of them that I doubt I’d ever have known about otherwise.
Lastly, I started seeking out other releases by artists, especially the more obscure ones,that Phil had produced. You wouldn’t believe how many 45s Kell Osborne or Obrey Wilson, to name just two examples, put out!
Beyond that, like most Spector fans, I’m also wild for the girl group sound in general and have an extensive collection in that genre as well.
Do you only collect records or do you also have old Spector-related fanclub newsletters, posters and similar collectibles? I’ve often wondered how much of this stuff was out there when Philles was active?
I have three boxes full of paper stuff such as you describe. I’ll send along scans of some of the things we’re talking about here in case you want to use them for illustrations.
There’s a bit of everything, though: newsletters, magazines, fanzines, full-page ads from Billboard and Cashbox, sheet music, publicity photos, random articles and pictures … even a typewritten letter from Phil’s sister Shirley to The Teddy Bears and bearing her signature, from when she was managing the group. I have quite a collection of pinback buttons, too, or badges, as our British friends call them.
As far as when Philles was active, there’s not much I can think of besides the promotional materials and ads that came along with new releases, other than that ‘Thanks for Giving Me the Right Time’ clock, which I don’t have, nor do I particularly care about having, given how much it sells for when it does show up.
The two ‘Rare Masters’ compilations that came out in the mid-70s contained a wealth of fully-realised, but up-until-then unreleased Spector productions. Do you think there are more recordings like these left in the Spector tape vault? Have you heard some that other fans have undoubtedly yet to hear?
Well, we’ve yet to see release of ‘Someday (Baby)’ or ‘Padre’ by The Ronettes, and I read a post on Cue Castanets! speculating that they may have recorded ‘I’ll Never Need More than This’ as well.
I haven’t heard ‘Padre’ but its existence has been confirmed by a very reliable source. It’s the same song made famous by Toni Arden and, later, Valerie Carr, and it’s fun to imagine it as a Philles-era Ronettes track.
Then there’s the very odd case of a Gold Star acetate dated 1967, supposedly after both Philles and The Ronettes had disbanded: a commercial for Rheingold Beer with vocals on one side credited to The Ronettes and on the other by Phil Spector.
From the late-Philles era, we also haven’t seen release of Phil’s ‘Pretty Girl’, ‘Lucy in London’ or ‘Down at TJ’s.’
I was thrilled when The Crystals’ version of ‘Woman in Love (with You)’ was finally released a few years back, but we still haven’t heard — officially, anyway — their ‘Chico’s Girl’ or ‘Mary Ann’ or Darlene Love’s ‘It’s My Party’ or ‘You Can’t Sit Still’ (the backing track for which became ‘Dr. Kaplan’s Office.’)
That’s probably not a complete list, but it’s what comes to mind as we chat. Then there’s all Phil’s unreleased Apple-era stuff, and at least one finished production from the 70s PSI period: Tina Turner doing the Irving Berlin song ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.’
Add to that all the miscellaneous stuff through the years, the fabled Molly Ringwald and Celine Dion sessions, and the many, many demos, and there’s plenty left to be unearthed.
Mono or stereo? Or both? How do you feel about stereo mixes of Spector’s recordings?
Both, please! In some ways, it’s like listening to two different records, though this is more or less true depending on the particular cut. The background vocals are even different between the mono and stereo versions of The Ronettes’ ‘How Does It Feel’ for goodness’ sake!
I guess what I like is ‘dissecting’ mono recordings by listening to them in stereo to better make out all the individual components of the massed sound I hear in mono. To hear something more clearly may or may not mean to hear it ‘better’, but it helps put the puzzle together.
That said, I love the Christmas album in stereo. That blew my mind when it first came out in 1975, and it still does; I wish it would be released that way again. There’s an unbelievable amount of detail to discover there; the clattering percussion in ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’, for example, just doesn’t work as well in mono as far as I’m concerned.
I would imagine a fan and collector like you have been to LA several times, almost on a sort of pilgrimage. Did you ever get to visit Gold Star Studios?
Nope, never made it to Gold Star.
Actually, the only time I’ve ever been to Los Angeles was in 2013 to see Ronnie Spector’s ‘Beyond the Beehive’ show. I’d lusted after a Gold Star jacket for many years, so I was excited to score one as a premium for my Kickstarter support of the ‘Wrecking Crew’ documentary last year. Yes, it’s a replica, not an original, but it’ll do for now.
Spector’s last production job was Starsailor’s ‘Silence is Easy’ and ‘White Dove’ if you don’t take Hargo’s ‘Crying for John Lennon’ and Rachelle Spector’s solo album into consideration. I suspect he was involved only in name on those two projects.
But the Starsailor cuts,… how did you feel about those when they came out? Personally, I love ‘Silence is Easy’ but I understand those who had hoped for more of a trademark Wall of Sound on it?
Gee, it’s been a while since I listened to the Starsailor cuts, but I remember thinking that it didn’t seem to me that anyone had produced ‘White Dove’, as opposed to merely recording it.
Now, ‘Silence Is Easy’ … that song is produced, and damn well. I’m not sure I would have guessed it to be a Spector production had you just played it for me cold, so in that sense I suppose I was mildly disappointed, but the brooding feel starts as a simmer and builds effectively to a boil, as befits the song, so Phil did right by it.
There’s been some much-deserved hype concerning Denny Tedesco’s documentary on the Wrecking Crew. Hal Blaine’s book has seen a reprint, Don Randi has a book coming out, there’s said to be a Jack Nitszche documentary in the works and we have also recently had two new books on the Wrecking Crew.
Is there anyone out there from that whole recording scene that you hope will feel inspired to share their stories like for instance Hal and Don has done?
I’d love to hear from David and Dan Kessel; in fact, I keep hoping that you’ll interview them (or at least Dan, who seems to be the more talkative of the twins). Have you asked them?
Between their Gold Star/Spector and showbiz connections, including having had their own Martian Records label, it would seem like there would be a book’s worth of material there. Besides being interesting, it’d bridge the gap between the original Wrecking Crew and the later sessions when, admittedly, plenty of the old gang was still around, but lots of new players and singers were used as well.
That’s certainly a good idea for an interview. I’ll look into that!
Finally, to round off, please share with us your all-time top 5 Spector productions?
I’m glad you asked that, because I know you’ve asked others the same thing, so I started thinking about it when you asked to interview me and I’m as ready as I can possibly be, though numbers three through five might change if you ask me next year:
- ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ – Darlene Love
- ‘Is This What I Get for Loving You’ – The Ronettes
- ‘Little Boy’ – The Crystals
- ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ – Ike and Tina Turner
- ‘Memories’ – Leonard Cohen
Wow, a Cohen track on your top 5? I’ve never paid that much attention to ‘Death of a Ladies Man.’ Your listing of ‘Memories’ will definitely prompt me to re-listen to the album again with open ears.
David, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. Much appreciated!