Sean MacLeod: “Leaders of the Pack – Girl Groups of the 1960s and Their Influence on Popular Culture in Britain and America”
**** (4 stars out of 6)
If you’re going to write a book on the 60s girl group genre you have different ways of going about it.
You could focus mainly on the groups themselves and compile a sort of estrogen-dripping encyclopedia devoted to 60s femme pop like überfan John Clemente has done with the much cherished ‘Girl Groups: Fabulous Females that Rocked the World.’ You could also broaden the scope and reflect upon the wider social and cultural significance of the genre’s output – this has been done somewhat by Alan Betrock in his ‘Girl Groups: the Story of a Sound’ and more extensively by Jacqueline Warwick in ‘Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 60s’
There are of course also those who highlight the girl group phenomenon as just one of many examples of women making their voice felt in popular music through the decades; Lucy O’Brien’s ‘She Bop: the Definitive History of Women in Popular Music’ or Gillian Gaar’s ‘She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock’n’Roll’ come to mind.
Even though there are already plenty of books out there covering the various angles on girl group history, I recently became aware of yet another book about the subject that could be of interest to Cue Castanets readers. ‘Leaders of the Pack: Girl Groups of the 1960s and their Influence on Popular Culture in Britain and America’ by Sean MacLeod came out in 2015 and as the loooong subtitle indicates, it’s a book that tries to do a little bit of everything; offer detailed glimpses into the careers of a few of the most notable groups, discuss their relevance and significance in connection to the era and, finally, outline how these groups, and the girl group genre itself, has had a far-reaching influence since the genre’s heyday. It’s a commendable cause and MacLeod deserves praise for his good intentions and nearly getting there.
I found MacLeod’s style of writing to be very good and informative. – and thankfully not written in an overtly academic manner. The book has a lot of useful info for readers who have just discovered girl groups, wisely singling out a few groups that are dealt with in-depth rather than tiring or confusing readers with too much info on the large number of groups that left behind a myriad of often obscure singles.
Maybe this condensed approach to telling about the genre reflects MacLeod’s work as a lecturer teaching music and media history? Using his selected girl groups as examples he carefully describes the various stages in the development of the girl group phenomena so that no readers are left behind. The Shirelles are used to exemplify the birth of the girl group sound; the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Marvelettes, the Supremes and the Vandellas are all dealt with during discussions of the genre’s climax and finally the Shangri-Las are highlighted when MacLeod discusses how the genre’s impact slowly petered out.
Girl group connoisseurs will probably scratch their heads and wonder why the Cookies or the Chiffons didn’t merit inclusion in standalone chapters as well as soloists befitting the genre such as Lesley Gore or Darlene Love but that minor gripe aside, MacLeods choices and the way he uses them to reflect upon the ups and downs of the girl group sound makes sense while reading the book.
Honesly, this is a tough book to review because I knew a lot about the topic beforehand. Therefore, I quickly began to skim or skip some pages or whole chapters along the way because they state the basic facts that die-hard fans can recite in their sleep. For new fans though I’m sure this book will make for a very interesting and eye-opening read and I suspect it could be especially useful as reading material for a course in music history. A lot of songs are mentioned throughout which will surely send those just digging into the genre record-hunting or checking out sound samples online. The many fabulous girl-themed compilations put out by Ace Records through the years would be a good place to start for girl group newbies.
What I really like about the book is when MacLeod looks beyond the girl groups themselves and reflects upon their own influences or the way they influenced other music of their era.
He makes a really good case for how the girl group sound was not just one specific sound but more of a musical melting pot of diverse inspiration that happened to be carried by female voices. Consequently, some girl group records reflect more of a doo wop or rhythm’n’blues foundation whereas others are more to the poppier, ‘white’ side.
When MacLeod tries to pinpoint the influence of the girl group genre itself on later generations of girl singers and female musicians things get very interesting, though also at times a bit far fetched and subjective. Although I’m sure Madonna, the Spice Girls and Lady Gaga know a few girl group hits or more, I doubt the genre’s influence on their sound has been big enough to merit whole chapters devoted to the subject. But then again; Amy Winehouse certainly took her point of departure in the girl group sound so it’s definitely a topic worth discussing. I do like the fact that MacLeod doesn’t shy away from trying to connect the dots between then and now, even though some of his conclusions are debatable.
All in all, this is a fine and worthwhile book but one that’s more for casual fans than experts, hence my 4-star rating. Let me put it this way; if you know someone that you feel are ready to be introduced to this fascinating, yet criminally overlooked genre, then give ‘em a great big kiss and this book for Christmas to get them off and running!
Maybe I should put the spotlight on UK-based engineer / producer Phil Chapman for my next installment of the ‘Would-be Spectors’ series, because his current remixing project of both Spector releases and likeminded tracks will surely interest Cue Castanets readers.
Through the years Chapman has of course worked professionally on numerous recording projects of interest to Wall of Sound fans, but his latest endavour is merely for the fun of it and due to his recent acquisition of some new recording and mixing equipment. The results are sure to impress you. It’ll hit you and it’ll feel like a kiss, alright!
A while back I wrote about his fantastic mix of ‘I Can Hear Music’ by the Ronettes, – surely, you’ll agree that this new mix with added layers blows the original out of the water?
This time, Phil Chapman has worked his magic on that most extremely gargantuan production that is ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals. In its original version a massive monophonic monster that I have previously written about in my ‘Odds & Ends’ feature where I sometimes highlight specific, overlooked Spector productions.
So I was pleased to hear Chapman’s elaborate mix with added layers and all sorts of details that keep the spirit of the original firmly in place but attempts “to give give it the same impact today as it had in ’64” as he writes on youtube. Enjoy this sensational remix.
As if this wasn’t enough, Chapman has also been working on an equally over-the-top mix of Jackie Trent’s Spectoresque ‘If You Love Me’ from the same year.
Produced by her husband Tony Hatch, probably the closest the UK came to having its own Bacharach, in its original version this very catchy song stands as a worthy attempt at recreating the magic sound of Spector and the Wrecking Crew.
Chapman builds on this foundation with some choice samples and added layers to emphasize the production’s dynamics. It works very, very well, even in this rough, unfinished mix.
I’ll leave you then with a nice slab of British wall of sound with all engines go!
There’s an interesting page on Facebook, ‘Heppest of the Hep’, that regularly posts high definition footage of live performances ranging from the 40s to the 60s.
The sources for the material are unclear and probably a bit shady but there’s much of interest for any music fan.
Recently, the page has posted this beautiful high definition clip of Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra performing at the TNT Show.
You’ve all seen this clip a gazillion times before but this is without a doubt the best quality the clip can be seen. Follow the link for the Ronettes in crystal clear high definition.
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.’
Here’s a little something that’s guarenteed to bring your weekend off to great start; a brand-new and fantastic mix of ‘I can Hear Music’ by Wall of Sound-über fan Phil Chapman.
As some readers here may know, Phil Chapman has had a long and interesting career in the recording industry serving as both an engineer and producer.
In the near future, I hope to feature an interview with him offering his expert knowledge on the Wall of Sound, but for the time being, enjoy this mindblowing remix of the Jeff Barry-produced Ronettes version with added layers.
This mix definately gives an impression of the kind of monster record ‘I Can Hear Music’ could have been in the hands of Phil Spector. Surely, Cue Castanets readers must agree that this more elaborate version makes the original Barry production pale in comparison.
It’s also fitting that this new mix has been shared on the youtube channel of fellow Spector fan Anthony Reichardt, – this is just the latest in a long, long line of great tracks he has made available to listen to for music fans.
If you’d like to read more about Anthony’s superb youtube channel as well as an interview with him, go here:
Leiber/Stoller,… Pomus/Schuman,… Goffin/King,… Mann/Weill,… Barry/Greenwich,… Bacharach/David,… even a cursory study of label credits on classic 60s US pop singles quickly reveals how the very best of the era’s songwriting came from a bunch of dynamic duos. Some of these songwriting partnerships or husband-and-wife teams almost became household names in themselves along with the acts they wrote for or produced… well, household names at least among music connoisseurs.
But dig deeper than the most well-known Brill Building names and you’ll find more duos worthy of praise and exploration of their work; one could mention Bonner/Gordon,… Wine/Levine,… Sloan/Barri,… Boyce/Hart and none the least Anders/Poncia.
The latter duo, consisting of childhood friends Pete Anders [Peter Andreoli] and Vini Poncia, is one of my all-time favorite songwriter partnerships. These guys could do it all! Sing, write, produce – everything. Despite doing all this at a frantic pace their work was no run of the mill operation.
Find a single with an Anders/Poncia label credit and you can be sure that there are something a bit unusual about it. The song might all of a sudden take an interesting turn or throw in an unusual chord – topped with hooks galore and killer vocals. No wonder Phil Spector took notice of these noble knights of quirky chord progressions and considered them worthy of stepping in when Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s work with Spector had run its course.
When I started this blog the very first person I reached out to for an interview was Pete Anders – besides being a big fan of his work with Vini, I also hadn’t seen him reminisce about his life in music in any interviews and I thought it could be interesting if he’d be willing to do so on Cue Castanets. Peter was up for it but sadly his health problems and passing prevented the interview to take place. When I heard about this I paid my respects to the memory of Peter here:
Luckily, Peter’s partner-in-crime Vini Poncia has recently followed up on Peter’s acceptance of an interview and answered the questions I had prepared,… which makes perfect sense seeing that Peter and Vini always did what they did best together, – recording perfect pop in any genre, be it doo wop, rock’n’roll, girl group, wall of sound, Beatles knock offs, surf pop, sunshine pop – you name it!
I would like to thank Peter and Vini’s friend Rick Bellaire for conducting this interview on behalf of Cue Castanets July 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Rick is the archive director for the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame; www.RhodeIslandMusicHallofFame.com
So, please put on your favorite Anders/Poncia tune, sit back and enjoy Vini’s answers to my questions.
Vini, thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Cue Castanets.
You and Peter first met each other in the vocal group The Videls out of Providence, Rhode Island in the late ‘50s. Did the two of you “click” right away as creative partners or was it something that slowly evolved?
We actually first met before The Videls when we were in junior high school. I was on the touch football team from my middle school, Esek Hopkins, and we played against Nathanael Greene Middle School in 1956. Their quarterback was Peter Andreoli. After the game, we talked and hit it off right away. We had all the same interests – sports, girls and mainly music and guitars.
We started to hang around and tried to write songs. We weren’t that prolific. The Videls were started by our friend Bobby Calitri and Peter replaced the lead singer in that group in 1957. They had five singers and a guitarist. I formed a four-piece instrumental band called The Del Rinos with another friend of ours, Frank Spino, who played drums. in 1958, I replaced one of the singers AND the guitarist in The Videls and that became the classic five-piece lineup.
“Mr. Lonely” appears to be the first “Andreoli-Poncia” written song. Is that so?
It was the first released song. We had written a few things and sometimes made demos at our local TV and radio repair shop where the owner had a small recording studio in the backroom. But nothing happened with those songs.
How did the two of you work on songs together from then on? Did one of you, say, mainly write the words and the other the melody / chords? Or did it change from song to song?
We both wrote lyrics and melodies. We’d sit together and try to come up with stuff or we’d bring each other ideas – titles, a bit of melody – as a starter.
In general, we mainly wrote together. We also wrote some folk songs during the early days of The Videls and had a duo on the side we called The Royalty Brothers – like The Everly Brothers.
Even from the early Videls recordings I hear Peter as a very skilled singer with a distinctive vocal style. Who would you say were his biggest influences when you were starting out?
Jimmy Beaumont from The Skyliners, Johnny Maestro of The Crests, Jackie Wilson. Those were his role models and heroes, but Peter was so good that he got to join that club!
Let’s talk about your work while at Philles.
How did your writing relationship with Phil Spector come about? Was his interest piqued by one of your song demos (if so, which one?) or were you teamed up with him?
Paul Case who ran Hill & Range, the publishing company where we worked as songwriters, was Phil’s friend. Phil would test his masters on Paul’s shitty stereo – he figured if they sounded good on a bad record player, they’d sound good anywhere!
During one visit, Paul knowing that Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry were kind of on the way out with Phil, especially because of the arrangement between Phil’s publishing company, Mother Bertha, and Lieber and Stoller’s Company, Trio Music where Jeff and Ellie were signed, said, “Listen to my friends from Providence,” and played Phil some of the stuff we’d done for Snuff Garrett, Bobby Vee, Doc Pomus and one of our records, “Hand Clapping Time.” Phil liked what he heard and told Paul to have us bring him some song ideas.
“The Best Part of Breaking Up” is one of many great songs from that period.
There’s a story going around that you and Peter only had the title/catch phrase for the song (“The best part of breaking up is when you’re making up”) when you pitched the song to Spector and that he immediately sensed a hit from the title alone, asking you to write it. Is this true?
The magic really began in New York when we would bring him Ideas. Yes, we had started it, but we had more than the hook. Phil heard it and he went right to the piano. I had my guitar. Phil helped us finish the first verse. He also wrote the pre-chorus: “Tell me why…” Then he said go home and write the second verse.
We regrouped once all the lyrics were finished and then we started arranging it and getting ready to record it in California.
What was it like to work with him and seeing your songs get the Wall of Sound treatment in the studio?
Well, we played and sang on all the sessions so we were right in the middle of it. For “Best Part,” we were ready, then Phil came up with the bridge and Jack (Nietzsche, Spector’s arranger) worked it right into the song.
In general, we were involved in every aspect of the writing and production, but it really came down to Phil. But he had a LOT of help! He had Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Steve Douglas…Peter and I were in awe of the process. We had front-row tickets at the “genius” record-making process. On the other hand, we expected nothing less because we came in after Phil had already established his genius at record-making. That blueprint had already been drawn up as far as Larry Levine and engineers and Jack and the charts and the musicians.
Are there any particular songs from that time you’re especially fond of?
The stuff with Darlene has a soft spot in my heart. We were trying to think outside the box: “Strange Love,” “Quiet Guy,” “Stumble and Fall.” They were three very different kinds of songs, not Crystals-esque. We were writing songs for HER which would be different than what she did with the group or on her other sessions for Phil. We wanted to show her growing as an artist.
Darlene Love has actually mentioned numerous times that “He’s a Quiet Guy” is her favorite Philles-era song. I tend to agree. It’s a fantastic piece of work. So it was written directly for her? Did you participate at the session?
Yes, it was written specifically for her and we were on the session.
I’d also like to ask you about “Hold Me Tight.” I absolutely love Peter’s vocal on this recording, credited to The Treasures.
Whose idea was it to rework, and in my opinion vastly improve, a Beatles song so radically? Did Spector record anything else with you on lead that has remained unreleased?
It was Phil’s idea. He said, let’s go make a big, bombastic version of a Beatles tune – cover a Beatles song and give it the “Phil Spector” treatment. Even though there’s no production credit, Phil produced the record and we were the artists instead of simply the composers or arrangers.
We went through the same process he used with every other record. The only difference was it came out on one of his subsidiaries, Shirley Records. And, no, there’s nothing unreleased.
One of your more obscure songs while with Spector is “You’re my Baby’”by Gene Toone & The Blazers, a fun throwback to your street corner doo wop background set to a marching beat. I really love this song.
The feel and beat of it reminds me of an unreleased Philles-era track called “Pretty Girl’”sung by Spector himself. Were you and Peter involved in that song? It has the same type of marching beat and funny lyrics that, among other things, goes: “My name’s Philip and incidentally I ain’t going steady. But you’ve got something that get’s me thinkin’ I may be ready.” There’s a prominent use of harmonica throughout and the chorus goes “You’re so fine. So fine. What’s your number? You’re so fine.” Do you remember this song/production?
I remember it, but we had no involvement.
“Do I Love You” – that bass riff in the intro is pure genius. Do I detect a bit of a Motown influence in that song?
Phil wrote the bass riff. I think I remember him playing that riff early – back in New York – on the left hand of piano when we were writing it. We were certainly aware of what was coming out of Motown and were incorporating certain ideas into what we were doing. They were doing the same thing with Phil’s stuff.
I’ve heard rumors of an unreleased Ronettes track wittten by you and Peter called “Someday (Baby).” Do you remember this one? Did Spector record more songs of yours than what was eventually released?
No recollection. We had an early song with Peer/Southern called “Someday Baby,” but we never brought it to Phil.
There’s of course also The Lovelites. You and Peter did some fantastic stuff with this group – “When I Get Scared” on the Phi-Dan label and the not officially released “Please be my Boyfriend” and “He’s My Eddie Baby.” All great productions!
What would you say you learned as producers from your association with Phil Spector?
The importance of the song and how to “record” arrange meaning thinking of how the RECORD would sound as opposed to just arranging for an orchestra or band. I have one adage from Phil I used to repeat all the time which is simplistic in nature, but he always used to say, “You have to write the best song you can write and you have to make the best record you can make with that song. You cannot have a great song and make an inferior record and can’t make a great record with an inferior song.” You have to be able to discern the difference.
The one other thing he told me that I always used to tell everybody was, “You may not like what you hear on the radio as a hit record or a #1 record – it may not be ‘your kind’ of record – but you better know WHY it was a hit.”
Following up on The Lovelites and “Please Be My Boyfriend” specifically – was that song written by you and Peter? It has never been disclosed who wrote it as an acetate label and sessions sheets don’t feature writing credits.
Also, there’s a version floating around credited to The Crystals. Many believe that the demo isn’t sung by the Crystals but by an unknown group. Do you recognize the voices? This version has puzzled collectors for decades!
I’m not sure, but I think it’s a song we wrote and recorded when we were back working in New York after we were done working with Phil.
We used to record at Broadway Recording Studios at 1697 Broadway in Manhattan. I think it’s a demo and that it’s not Darlene or The Crystals. It could have been any one of the young, black girl groups we used hire to sing our demos. We definitely produced it in the Phil Spector mode – but it was a bad imitation. We may have worked on it with The Lovelites, but not completed it.
You left Spector and Philles Records for Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird label in 1965. Your first master there was the legendary “New York’s a Lonely Town” under The Tradewinds moniker. A sizeable hit.
How did you come up with this great idea for a song? Did you offer it to Spector before releasing it on Red Bird? Many of the Tradewinds songs have an obvious Beach Boys influence. How did you feel about what Brian Wilson was doing at the time? Did you ever meet him in LA?
Surf music was a huge market then. We heard a ton of it working in L.A. and loved what The Beach Boys were doing. We knew some of them. Brian used to stop in at the Spector sessions to hang out and check out what Phil was doing.
We started the song in L.A. and finished it when we returned to New York. We cut a demo looking to place it with another artist, but when we finished, we knew we had something big and that we should release it ourselves. We went back into the studio and turned the demo into a master. We offered it to Phil first as a courtesy and he knew it was a hit, but he passed on it because he had a bunch of stuff of his own ready to release. So, we brought it to Jerry and Mike and they picked it up.
On Kama Sutra and later Buddah you recorded fantastic stuff under quite a few names: The Tradewinds, The Innocence, The Good Times, etc. But you also released Peter’s first solo single, the majestic “Sunrise Highway” backed with “Baby Baby.” Why a solo single at this time?
Well, the obvious reason is that it features Peter’s incredible vocal. The other reason is that you don’t want to release too many things under the same name one after the other.
We just used the different names as a way to get more records out faster. It was just another “Anders & Poncia” record under a different name. And it also wasn’t the first solo record.
Back in 1962, after The Videls and before The Tradewinds, we released two singles under two different names on two different labels at the same time. Peter’s was “I’m Your Slave” on Corvair and I was “Vince Parelle” on Elmor with “Walk Away.” Nothing ever happened with them which is probably why you didn’t know we’d released “solo” records before.
I’ve heard rumours of an unreleased album borne out of the sessions for the Anders & Poncia single “So It Goes” b/w “Virgin to the Night” on Kama-Sutra. Any truth to this? If so, why was it scrapped?
Yes, it’s true. We worked very closely with Artie Ripp who ran Kama Sutra and Buddah and the three of us decided we should take a crack at writing something for Broadway.
The idea was that instead of it being a standard musical having one long story with songs inserted into the narrative, we would write a song cycle about different aspects of American life and each song would have its own presentation on stage – little vignettes. We wrote, I believe, fifteen songs for the project which was called “Of Love And Life” and story-boarded all the ideas.
We rented costumes and built sets and did a series of photographs illustrating what each of the story-songs would look like on stage. We recorded demos for all the songs but not finished masters – mostly guitar and voice. The cast album would have been an Anders and Poncia album.
Artie shopped the idea around, but it was an expensive proposition and there were no takers. The idea was put on hold and we recorded two of the best songs, “So It Goes” and “Virgin,” and that became our next single. We left Buddah shortly after that to go to California to work with Richard Perry whom we had worked with at Kama Sutra/Buddah early on.
We worked on the Tiny TIm stuff and we gave another one of the songs from the project to Tim. It’s “Christopher Brady’s Ole Lady” which is on “Tiny Tim’s 2nd Album.” After that, we cut “The Anders & Poncia Album” with Richard for Warner Brothers and included “You Don’t Know What To Do” from the play and that was it. Just the four songs. We didn’t do any more work on the play or on the rest of the songs.
A final question; you and Peter were involved in so many one-off singles that some were bound to fall through the cracks.
A particular favorite of mine is “Thinkin’ ‘bout Me” by The Fairchilds from 1968. What a stunning song and great production – should have been a hit! You and Peter are listed as producers along with your old Videls buddy, Norman Marzano. What do you remember about this song? Was The Fairchilds an actual group or just you guys recording? I think I hear Peter singing background vocals?
The Fairchilds was the group name for The Tradewinds minus me and Pete – a side project. Peter and I go all the way back to The Videls with Norman Marzano and Bobby Calitri. Then they became The Tradewinds with me and Peter.
When we couldn’t go out on tour because we were needed in the studio, we formed a “road” version of the group which included Jim Calvert and Paul Naumann. So, when nothing was happening with our records, we tried to keep the guys busy and they helped us with different projects and we were all signed to Kama Sutra as writers.
We got an offer to produce a record for A&M. So, Norman, Jimmy and Paulie named themselves The Fairchilds and wrote a couple of songs. Peter and I helped them produce the single and, yes, that’s Peter singing with the group. Nothing happened with the record and it was back to business as usual.
Fascinating to learn the story about this great single.
Vini, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m sure Cue Castanets readers will find your recollections as interesting as I have.
In case you’re wondering why there hasn’t been any mention of Ronnie’s recent ‘English Heart’ album, I must confess that I haven’t bothered checking it out.
I’m not a über-fan who has to have everything and the concept of her singing fairly wellknown UK hits just leaves me cold – and also strikes me as lazy decisionmaking in terms of her career. Ronnie may ‘Much Rather be with the Girls’, the retitled Stones song, but I’d much rather hear her iconic voice tackle newly written material! Or at least take some more chances recording-wise.
I’d love to hear your opinions of the release though. Is it worth checking out? The few sound clips I’ve heard online has struck me as rather underwhelming. But that may also be because I’ve heard the original versions of ‘Tell Her No’, ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ or ‘You’ve Got Your Troubles’ a gazillion times.
For anyone interested, here’s a short interview with Ronnie about the release:
There were also some covers on ‘Last of the Rock Stars’, but I think that album worked much better because the covered songs were either from modern indie/alternative acts or from a later era in music history than the 60s the Ronettes sprung from.
That gave the album an edge I quite liked, pairing Ronnie’s distinctive voice with the sort of material that those who’ve followed her ever since the 60s probably would not have heard otherwise. In comparison, I think this recent release plays it way too safe with its emphasis on songs that will be fairly wellknown to most connoisseurs of 60s music.
You can’t discuss a Ronnie release without also having a keen eye on the production since her career is so intrisicantly linked to the legendary Wall of Sound production technique. The one behind the console for ‘English Heart’ is US producer Scott Jacoby and for anyone interested, I’ve found a short documentary where he talks viewers through the production.
There you go; just my 2 cents of course. Other fans may disagree and if so, I really hope that Means they enjoy the ‘English Heart’.
Sad news today. It has been reported online that Pete Anders (Peter Andreoli) has passed away.
I’m guessing that most Cue Castanets readers knows Peter by way of the legendary Anders/Poncia songwriting credits but for those who don’t, Pete Anders was one of the finest singers and songwriters the 60s had to offer.
The body of work Peter has left behind is truly at the pinnacle of perfect pop – along with his lifetime friend and musical partner-in-crime Vini Poncia, there wasn’t a genre Pete couldn’t master, be it doo wop, surf & hot rod music, girl groups, wall of sound, Beatles-esque knock-offs, soul, sunshine pop or bubblegum. Anders/Poncia covered all bases and did so brilliantly.
I’ve been a fan of this dynamic duo’s music since I first heard the killer songs they wrote for the Ronettes and, later on, the two albums they recorded under their Tradewinds and Innocense guises. Those two albums especially are textbook examples of how to write fantastic and charming sunshine pop & bubblegum music. The songs on both albums are inventive, hook-laden and brimming with enthusiasm, all bound together by Peter’s extraordinary lead vocals.
Yet, as with the equally talented Sloan/Barri partnership, the body of work by Anders/Poncia is often overlooked when US 60s pop is discussed in general. Sure, Goffin/King, Mann/Weill and Barry/Greenwich deserve all the praise they get, but dig a little deeper and you’ll be amazed at the sheer quality of the more unknown Anders/Poncia catalog. There’s always something interesting going on in their songs.
Spector certainly sensed he had stumbled upon a veritable hook machine when Doc Pomus introduced him to Pete Anders & Vini Poncia. According to legend, they hadn’t even written ‘The Best Part of Breaking Up (is when You’re Makin’ Up)’ when they pitched their song idea to him, but the title alone was enough to tell Spector that these guys from Rhode Island knew where it was at. And they didn’t let him down!
To these ears, the songs Anders/Poncia wrote for the Ronettes and Darlene Love during their short stint with Spector are any bit as good as what the more recognized Brill Building couples wrote. Those first seconds of ‘Do I Love You’? Wow… As good as it gets – and it simply must send chills down the spine of every pop music lover. And don’t get me started on ‘He’s a Quiet Guy’ by Darlene Love. What a shame also that the fantastic ‘Hold Me Tight’, credited to the Treasures, was the only thing Pete Anders got to sing on with Spector behind the console.
Then again, Anders & Poncia were perfectly able to churn out top quality productions on their own. A single like the 1967 ‘Sunrise Highway’, which I namecheck in the title to this post, is a sunshine pop masterpiece adorned with a tour-de-force Pete Anders vocal.
There were a lot of questions I would have liked to ask Peter about his interesting career in music. So after starting the blog I reached out for him online through a friend of his, hoping for a Cue Castanets interview. Peter happily agreed to answer my questions but sadly, various projects as well as health problems prevented him from doing so. It’s a shame because it would have been very interesting to hear his side of the story as a supplement to Vini Poncia who luckily has reminisced in a few interviews through the years.
I will conclude this post with a beautiful song from Peter’s obscure 1972 solo album as well as the questions I sent to Peter but that he never got around to answering before he passed away. If anything, the scope of those questions are testament to how varied and interesting a career this great singer and songwriter had in music.
Rest in peace Peter. Thank you for the music!
Proposed interview questions for Pete Anders
Early years / Videls
You and Vinnie first met each other in doo wop group the Videls out of Providence, Rhode Island in the late 50s. Did the two of you ‘click’ right away as creative partners or was it something that slowly evolved?
‘Mr. Lonely’ appears to be the first ‘Andreoli-Poncia’ written song. Is that so? And in general, how did the two of you work on songs together from then on? Did one of you, say, mainly write the words and the other the melody / chords? Or did it change from song to song?
Even from the early Videls recordings I hear you as a very skilled singer with a distinctive vocal style. Who would you say was your biggest influences when you were starting out as a vocalist?
How did your writing relationship with Phil Spector come about? Was his interest piqued by one of your song demos (if so, which one?) or were you teamed up with him?
What was it like to work with him and seeing your songs get the Wall of Sound treatment in the studio?
Are there any particular songs from that time you’re especially fond of or have specific anecdotes about?
I absolutely love your vocal on ‘Hold Me Tight’ credited to the Treasures. Whose idea was it to rework, and in my opinion vastly improve, a Beatles song so radically? Did Spector record anything else with you on lead that has remained unreleased?
One of your more obscure songs while with Spector is ‘You’re my Baby’ by Gene Toone & the Blazers. A fun throwback to your street corner doo wop background set to a marching beat. I really love this song. The feel and beat of it reminds me of an unreleased Philles-era track called ‘Pretty Girl’ sung by Spector himself. Were you and Vinnie involved in that song? It has the same type of marching beat and funny lyrics that, among other things, goes: “My name’s Philip and incidentally I ain’t going steady. But you’ve got something that get’s me thinkin’ I may be ready.” There’s a prominent use of harmonica throughout and the chorus goes “You’re so fine. So fine. What’s you number? You’re so fine.” Do you remember this song / production?
‘The Best Part of Breaking Up’ is also fantastic – there’s a story going around that you and Vinnie only had the title / catch phrase for the song [The best part of breaking up is when you’re making up] when you pitched the song for Spector and that he immediately sensed a hit from the title alone, asking you to write it. Is this true?
Darlene Love has mentioned numerous times that ‘He’s a Quiet Guy’ is her favorite Philles-era song. I tend to agree. It’s a fantastic piece of work. Was it written directly for her? Did you participate at the session?
‘Do I Love You’ – that bass riff in the intro is pure genius. Do I detect a bit of a Motown influence in that song?
I’ve heard rumors of an unreleased Ronettes track wittten by you and Vinnie called ‘Someday (Baby)’ Do you remember this one? Did Spector record more songs of yours than what was eventually released?
There’s of course also the Lovelites. You and Vinnie did some fantastic stuff with this group, – ‘When I Get Scared’ on the Phi-Dan label and the not officially released ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ and ‘He’s my Eddie Baby.’ All great productions! What would you say you learned as producers from your association with Phil Spector?
Following up on the Lovelites and ‘Please be my Boyfriend’ – was that song written by you and Vinnie? It has never been disclosed who wrote it as an acetate label and sessions sheets don’t feature writing credits. Also, there’s a version floating around credited to the Crystals. Listen here: The Crystals – Please Be My Boyfriend Many believe that the demo isn’t sung by the Crystals but an unknown group. Do you recognize the voices? This version has puzzled collectors for decades!
Tradewinds, Innocense and beyond
You left Spector & Philles Records for Leiber & Stoller’s Red Bird label in 1965. Your first master there was the legendary ‘New York’s a Lonely Town’ under the Tradewinds moniker. A sizeable hit. How did you come up with this great idea for a song? Did you offer it to Spector before releasing it on Red Bird?
Many of the Tradewinds songs have an obvious Beach Boys influence. How did you feel about what Brian Wilson was doing at the time? Did you ever meet him in LA?
On Kama Sutra and later Buddah you recorded fantastic stuff under quite a few names; the Tradewinds, the Innocense, the Good Times etc. But you also released your first solo single, the majestic ‘Sunrise Highway’ backed with ‘Baby Baby.’ Why a solo single at this time?
I’ve heard rumors of an unreleased album borne out of the sessions for the Anders & Poncia ‘So It Goes’ / ‘Virgin to the Night’ single on Kama-Sutra. Any truth to this? If so, why was it scrapped?
Finally, you and Vinnie were involved in so many one-off singles that some were bound to fall through the cracks. A particular favorite of mine is ‘Thinkin’ ‘bout Me’ by the Fairchilds from 1968.
What a stunning song and great production. Should have been a hit! You and Vinnie are listed as producers along with your old Videls buddy, Norman Marzano. What do you remember about this song? Was the Fairchilds an actual group or just you guys recording? I think I hear you sing back-up vocals?
A few posts ago, I wrote a bit about the first Phil Spector Appreciation Society (PSAS) and their batch of newsletters sent out to fans at the end of the 60s.
While reading through the newsletters and their info about Spector’s then current liaison with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M Records, I noticed a few indications that both Spector and the label had their eyes set on issuing a second album by the Ronettes.
The group’s first album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica, came out on Philles in 1964,… so you could hardly blame all involved for itching for a long overdue follow-up. And no wonder – sitting in the can were some awesome recordings that cobbled with a few new tracks could have made for a killer album, although a little outdated in sound by 1969 standards.
It’s fun speculating which tracks could have made up this dream album. Here’s my suggestion for a running order.
The Ronettes – ‘They Came, they Saw, they Conquered’, A&M Records, 1969
You Came, You Saw, You Conquered
I Can Hear Music
Born to be Together
Everything under the Sun
I’ll Never Need More than This
Here I Sit
Keep On Dancing
Is this What I Get for Loving You, Baby?
Woman in Love
I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine
Pretty nifty collection of tracks, isn’t it?
And the only ones debatable are ‘Someday (Baby)’, which does exist in a half-completed state with a Ronnie lead vocal, and ‘I’ll Never Need More than This’ which Ronnie herself has claimed she had a go at. Besides these, who knows which other tracks may have been completed at the time?
Had Spector wanted an album out, he could easily have put something together using the stellar tracks from a few years back he already had on tape. Would it sell? Probably not considering the times in 1969 – but boy, oh boy, would it have made for one hell of a great, cohesive album!
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…