Tag Archives: Soundalike

Would-Be Spectors # 4 – Brian Wilson

My original plan for the ongoing feature about ‘Would-be Spectors’ was to show how nearly everyone within Spector’s studio inner-circle was inspired to churn out great records themselves with a heavy slant towards the Wall of Sound.

So far, I’ve written about Nino Tempo, Jerry Riopelle and Jack Nitzsche, all of whom served as Spector’s right hand men at various sessions. Aiding Spector in LA’s Gold Star Studios, these guys literally attended a master class on how to achieve that massive monophonic sound.

When I turn my attention to Brian Wilson in this newest blog post I’m compromising my perspective a little bit. The Beach Boys leader was far from a member of Spector’s inner circle. If anything, these two brilliant, yet insecure and neurotic whiz kids saw each other as rivals on the local music scene, no doubt keeping a close and guarded eye on each other’s efforts. Having said that, Brian Wilson definitely merits inclusion in the series for the following reasons:

For one thing, he was absolutely obsessed with the Wall of Sound. In interviews he has often described how he had to pull over, literally shaking, when he first heard ‘Be my Baby’ in his car. In the book ‘Catch a Wave’ author Peter Ames Carlin even describes how Brian once had engineer Steve Desper make a tape loop of the ‘Be my Baby’ chorus so Brian could sit in a trance and listen to it for four hours straight!

Secondly, Brian often utilized the same musicians Spector used, the Wrecking Crew, and occasionally also recorded at his preferred studio, Gold Star. Brian even attended his fair share of Spector sessions as an observer. So just like Tempo, Riopelle and Nitzsche, he had plenty of opportunities to take notes on how to achieve the otherworldly sound and the rich blending of instruments.

Brian Wilson at a Spector session in 1965 - others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack 'Specs' Nitzsche.
Brian Wilson (far left) at a Spector session in 1965 – others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche.

And third, as far as I’m concerned, of all Spector’s contemporaries on the 60s LA studio scene, Brian Wilson was the one who went about using the inspiration drawn from the Wall of Sound in the most imaginative and original way. No Wall of Sound? Probably no Pet Sounds – one of the greatest and most cohesive albums of all-time. And yet, an album with a sound that is much more tender and embracing than Spector’s often heavy-handed approach.

pet sounds

In the ‘Endless Harmony’ Beach Boys documentary fellow producer Terry Melcher probably spoke some truth, when he described Brian’s sound as one of love as opposed to Spector’s ‘angry’ sound. It’s of course a very simplified, black & white view – what about gentle Spector productions like ‘I Love How You Love Me’, ‘When I Saw You’, ‘So Young’ etc? – but I agree with the basic distinction.

‘Anger’ is probably not the best term for Spector’s sound. More a sense of a deafening, overwhelming and intense grandeur that can easily be construed as aggressive and cluttered when compared to Brian’s often more sophisticated approach.

Spector was and remains the ultimate master at what he did; creating glorious, gargantuan and monophonic monsters that would always pack a punch when played on the radio or record players. It’s a production style I obviously cherish enough to build a whole blog up around it! But truth be told, I don’t think Spector really diversified or softened up his sound with other influences the same way Brian did brilliantly time and again. That, in a nutshell, is probably the real distinction between these two master producers – the ambition to progress, break new ground and absorb outside influences that I’ve always found to be at the very heart of Brian Wilson’s art.

Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.
Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.

As much as I love the work of Tempo, Riopelle, Nitzsche and other future ‘Would-be Spectors’ written about here, when they went for a Wall of Sound-type song, they didn’t stray far from what Spector did. Generally, they recorded dazzling carbon-copies that could make you double-check label credits to make sure that it wasn’t a Spector cut. However, I feel Brian often went about this in a much more nuanced manner. He usually only took the elements from Spector’s sound that would compliment his own distinctive strengths as a producer and mixed it up with other influences to great effect.

‘Don’t Worry Baby’ comes to mind as an example of this. Rumored to be originally written for the Ronettes, that stellar Beach Boys hit indeed has an obvious wall of sound influence, but the listener will also find those gorgeous trademark Beach Boys harmonies harking back to Brian’s other fetish, the vocal magic of the Four Freshmen. And there’s even a bit of proto folk-rock thrown in by way of that iconic electric guitar-plucking throughout the track. Terry Melcher copied that feel blatantly on his production of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ by the Byrds.

Don't Worry Baby / I Get Around - how's that for a killer single?
Don’t Worry Baby / I Get Around – how’s that for a killer single?

The mind boggles thinking about what could have been had Brian Wilson and Phil Spector somehow put their guards down and overcome their insecurities in order to collaborate on songs back in the day. Their professional competition certainly resulted in some great productions on Brian’s part.

They did come awfully close to collaborate though. In the mid-60s Brian offered Spector ‘Don’t Hurt my Little Sister’ for the Ronettes which Spector and his protégée Jerry Riopelle subsequently turned into ‘Things are Changing’, – a pretty cool promo song for an equal employment opportunities campaign. More info on that obscure release on this Spectropop sub-page: http://www.spectropop.com/gg/thingsarechanging.html

Like I always do, I’m going to finish my post by highlighting three favorite recordings.

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The Beach Boys – I Do (1963) – Brian showed off his Spector influence most clearly on some of the cool productions he made on the side for other acts like girl-surfer group the Honeys and singer Sharon Marie. There have been a few compilations gathering all these great, overlooked productions. ‘I Do’ was issued by vocal group the Castells, but this take by the Beach Boys themselves I think is even better due to the superior Beach Boys vocals. Unbelievably, this gem was unreleased at the time, not even creeping out as album filler.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygi4mOuuevU

Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb (1965) – Yet another outside production proving that Brian mastered achingly beautiful big ballads as well as Spector. Like most of Brian’s Wall of Sound-inspired tracks there’s more air to the sound than the rumble, a Spector production would have entailed. In truth, there’s as much a Bacharach influence going on here. Listen to how Glen Campbell nails that beautiful melody!

Beach Boys – Kiss Me Baby (1965) – Rather than doing the obvious and feature a track from Pet Sounds, I’m going to pick this cut from the previous Beach Boys album, Today. The second half of that album was made up of wonderful, tender ballads that heralded the unheard sophistication Brian’s work had taken on by the release of Pet Sounds. Harmonies to die for and a dense backing track– sheer pop heaven!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR5FKRGHPIk

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Anthony Reichardt Interview

A while back I wrote a blog post about the interesting wealth of obscure Spector soundalikes issued during the 1960s. You can check out the post here:

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/where-to-find-60s-spector-soundalikes/

For anyone interested in digging deeper than Phil Spector’s catalog, hardcore record collector Anthony Reichardt’s YouTube channel is a godsend.

https://www.youtube.com/user/reichardtaj

Over several decades Anthony has amassed a truly mindblowing collection of rare singles that display the widespread influence of Spector’s sound on the 60s music industry. Luckily for us, rather than sit on his incredible collection, Anthony has set up his channel to share his love of all things Wall of Sound and the ‘feel’ of the famed echo chambers of LA’s Gold Star Studios.

The famed Gold Star Studios logo
The Gold Star Studios logo

Anthony’s YouTube channel isn’t limited to the Wall of Sound but also includes fantastic 60s releases within the realm of girl group pop, Northern Soul, novelty songs, blue-eyed soul and much, much more. It’s an out-and-out treasure trove. Look inside and you’ll get a glimpse into a parallel dimension where any of the featured releases could have been hits.

As if the fact that Anthony shares this fantastic music with other fans isn’t great enough, each upload is also graced by as much background information and rare images as possible. Regularly checking out Anthony’s channel is therefore a bit like entering a virtual music class with fascination insights offered with each upload.

A dream scenario would be for some enterprising company to issue a Gold Star Studios box set with Anthony as a consultant and liner notes writer. Iconic studios like Abbey Road, Fame or Studio One have each had their own releases. So why not one documenting the distinct Gold Star sound and its key role in Los Angeles challenging New York as the 60s US pop capital?

At least we have Anthony’s channel to fill this gap and return to time and again for daily doses of echo. And truth be told – Anthony’s channel is way more comprehensive than any physical release could be unless were talking something of Bear Family-like proportions.

I’ve been interested in learning more about Anthony’s collecting and personal favorites and he has kindly agreed to answer some questions for Cue Castanets.

Anthony - the Indiana Jones of Gold Star record hunting! :-)
Anthony Reichardt – the Indiana Jones of Gold Star record hunting! :-)

So Anthony, how and when did you get introduced to the Wall of Sound and music recorded at Gold Star studios?

Back in the 1960’s, I received a small record player for Christmas with some various Christmas themed LP’s.  When I grew tired of those, my parents said that I could play their record albums if I was careful with them.  My mom & dad were in a record club which was popular in those days, and had a regular shipment of LP’s arrive at the house every month.

Two albums of theirs that stood out and had an impact on me were ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS on Philles and ‘All I Really Want To Do’ by CHER on Imperial.  The ‘sound’ of those two albums mesmerized me even as a youngster.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I figured out that those two albums were recorded at Gold Star.

AR collage

What was it that attracted you to this particular type of music?

The ECHO! It did and still does captivate me. There was something different about the Gold Star echo and it was easily identifiable to me as I immersed myself more into record collecting.

You obviously have an incredible collection that must have taken a lot of effort and time to build. How did you get the collector bug in earnest?

Not only did my parents allow me to play their LP’s on my little record player, my mother dug out a huge box of her old 45’s that she had stored in the garage.  None of them were in sleeves and were not in the best of condition but the music on those 45’s in that dusty box, which was mainly between the years of 1956 to 1965, were a gift sent down from heaven to me.  That’s where the interest in record collecting began.

I would guess you have your fair share of anecdotes about records turning up in strange places or getting some rarities as a stroke of luck while record hunting? Any stories to tell?

I think my favorite acquisition was finding the blue label Philles LP of ‘Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica’ in a dumpy thrift shop in the mid 1970’s for the princely sum of fifty cents! What makes the story all the more crazy is I didn’t have the fifty cents at the time so I hid the record in the store and went back on a later date to buy it when I had the money.

Ronettes

You live in the greater Los Angeles area – it must be fascinating living so close to the place where your favorite music was recorded?

It is. In fact, some of my best record collection memories took place in the late 1970s in the parking lot of the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, only a few blocks north of Gold Star near Hollywood & Vine. Back in the day there was a monthly record swap meet there held late at night. A flashlight with good batteries was a necessity! Good memories…

Is there anything specific out there you’re still looking for for your collection?

I really get excited finding unreleased acetates from the early to mid 1960’s.

[Cue Castanets: Anthony features quite a few acetates on his channel. Here’s a great example…]

Why did you decide to set up a YouTube channel?

I enjoyed the videos that other YouTube users were uploading of their 45’s and thought that I could do that too.

In 2010, I started playing with the Windows Movie Maker program and with over 700 videos that I’ve uploaded over the past four years.  I try to include as much information I can document about the records as well as have a nice mix of brightly saturated color images of the labels. Photos of the vocalists and any other image that may pertain to the records I try to include as well.  They are sort of little, musical monuments to the artists, musicians, producers, arrangers, engineers and anyone else who was a part of these vinyl and styrene pieces of musical history.

I know that this question is bordering on torture for a collector like yourself, but if you were to bring only five songs to a desert island ….which ones would it be?

Believe it or not, that is an easy question for me to answer.  With the thousands of records that I’ve accumulated over the years, these five are really special to me:

‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS (Philles 124 – 1964)

Loving Feeling

‘Better Off Without You’ – BEVERLY NOBLE (Rally 502 – 1965)

Better off without you

‘The Thrill Is Gone’ – CLYDIE KING (Imperial 66109 – 1965)

thrill is gone

‘If You’re Gonna Love Me’ – CHI CHI (Kapp 749 – 1966)

If you're gonna love me

‘Love Her’ – WALKER BROTHERS (Smash 1976 – 1965)

Walker brothers

The list of iconic 60s producers is long; Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach etc; but is there a particular, lesser-known producer from the time that you think is criminally overlooked? Explain why?

I think Perry Botkin, Jr. may be somewhat overlooked in comparison to Spector, Nitzsche, Wilson, Bacharach, Crewe, etc.  While he was for the most part, an arranger, the vast list of sessions that he worked on contributing his talent is astounding.

Perry Botkin Jr - master arranger!
Perry Botkin Jr – master arranger!

[Here’s Anthony’s pick of a single that shows off Botkin’s stellar arranging skills.]

One thing is of course the producers featured on your channel, but which are your all-time favorite songwriters from that era?

Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Eddie Rambeau, Bob Crewe & Bud Rehak

Russ Titelman & Gerry Goffin

Joey Brooks & Aaaron Schroeder

David Gates

Have you ever met any of the artists, songwriters or producers whose work is represented on the different playlists?

Over the years I’ve met some artists at various Record Shows here in the Los Angeles area. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving personal messages on some of the videos that I’ve uploaded at YouTube from musicians, songwriters, engineers, producers, arrangers as well as from the artists. They’ve all been very humble and appreciative of the interest in their musical past.

In line with the main theme of this blog, do you have a particular favorite among Spector’s productions you’d like to comment on? It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the well-known hits.

If I had to choose, I prefer all of Spector’s productions from the Ronettes hit ‘Walking In The Rain’ and onward until the end of the Philles era with Tina Turner.  The backing tracks alone by the Righteous Brothers, Ronettes and Tina Turner are masterpieces.

I have to believe that sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere are some amazing, unreleased Spector produced, ‘Wall of Sound’ tracks on reels of recording tape waiting to be discovered and shared with the world. I hope I see that day in my lifetime.

What’s your absolute favorite obscure song / production by anyone that you’d recommend readers to check out right away? What is it you love about the particular song?

I’ll have to recommend my #2 choice of my top 5 45’s.

Beverly Noble – ‘BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU’ – at only fourteen years old, Miss Noble sings with an amazing maturity over a gorgeous backing track dripping with echo.  A beautiful song that is presented with a stunning arrangement by Don Ralke.

Stereo versions of Wall of Sound tracks can result in heated debate. Some take the side of Spector himself, arguing that the stereo undermines the original mono impact of the production technique, others love the fact that you can get a better understanding of the different elements that make up the Wall.

What’s your stance on this? Any stereo versions that you prefer over the mono mix?

The Spector ‘stereo’ tracks are not true stereo.  Unless you enjoy the entire rhythm section on the right channel, strings on the left channel and vocals in the center.  Spector didn’t record for stereo, just utilized the three tracks available to him to record on.  Sonny & Cher’s early productions were recorded with that method as well and are not my preference.

Regarding Spector’s Philles productions, I am an admirer of the dense, ‘one microphone over everything’ sound of glorious monophonic.

And finally, – not a question but rather a wholehearted thanks for taking your time to give this interview – and above all making your incredible collection available for us all to hear online.

Thank YOU, for adding another dimension of enlightenment and praise to this style of music that I so admire and love.

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As a postscript to the interview, I can’t resist listing my current 5 favorite songs from Anthony’s channel that I can thank him for discovering.

I probably wouldn’t have come across these, and countless others, if it hadn’t been for Anthony. Rather than slowing down the post with too many embedded videos, I’m listing the direct links. Enjoy!

Samantha Jones – ‘I Deserve It’ (1965)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCmk6ZIPaa0

Tense and heartbreaking, this is a top notch wall of sound masterpiece.

The Bishops – ‘Hollywood Scene’ (1965)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lc1JhUJVKM

Is this the definitive West Coast answer to ‘On Broadway’ by the Drifters? A cavernous production with great vocals by this obscure group.

Jean King – ‘The Nicest Things Happen’ (1965)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1ZIdMe6JVU

Solo offering from one of the Blossoms recorded a Gold Star. Could the end results be anything else than prime Spector pop? I love the verse melody which is very interesting for the time.

James Darren – ‘Where Did We Go Wrong?’ (1966)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBe01BopqmM

Fantastic  single! This song has absolutely angelic and ethereal backing vocals. The flip side, ‘Counting the Cracks’, is also a stunner.

Will-O-Bees – ‘It’s Not Easy’ (1967)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DurPXrBa28U

Folk-pop meets the Spector sound on this beautiful Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill song.

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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The Postmarks – 7/11 (2008)

Modern Spector soundalike time again. This song is one of my all-time favorite modern soundalikes. It’s also a bit unusual in that it’s actually a cover version.

A bit of background info; after having Phil Spector produce their 1980 ‘End of the Century’ album, legendary punk rockers the Ramones we’re back with another longplayer the following year, – this time Graham Gouldman of 10CC fame manned the controls in an effort to avoid the tension, chaos and mind games that had dominated the Spector sessions. I absolutely can’t write about this without featuring a classic and partly hilarious scene with ‘da Bruddas’ venting their frustrations about Spector:

I love Dee Dees quote: “If he said if you’d wanna play his pinball machine, he’d let you play it for a minute and then he’d say ‘OK, everybody to another room!’…” Hard times indeed!

Anyways, the album with Gouldman producing was ‘Pleasant Dreams’. It was met with lukewarm response when it came out in 1981. At the time, the Ramones had officially disassociated themselves from Spector but his influence still loomed large on them. It’s aptly illustrated by the song ‘7/11’ off ‘Pleasant Dreams’ where the drums recreate the iconic ‘Be my Baby’ drumbeat a few times. It’s a nice enough song produced in fairly atypical subdued fashion for the Ramones. Pleasant, but not really anything extraordinary.

Fast forward 27 years to 2008 where Florida-based indie-pop trio the Postmarks released their second album, ‘By the Numbers’, – an all covers project where the songs covered all have numbers in their titles. Icluded was a truly mesmerizing cover of ‘7/11’ that just wipes the floor with the Ramones original. The production is marvelous and one of the more authentically sounding modern Spector soundalikes around.

postmarks

These guys really did their homework! Wonderful warm-sounding drums that could easily be mistaken of being recorded at Gold Star, piercing castanets and a dramatic string arrangement. It’s a textbook example of how a well-executed Wall of Sound can pump up an ordinary song into sheer beauty. Basically, what Phil Spector did all the time in the 1960s.

Postmarks singer Tim Yehezkely is no Darlene Love but her understated, crystal pure vocal approach definitely has its charm. And on this song it adds an eerie, ice-cold feel to the tragic storyline played out in the lyrics.

The Postmarks’ own songs are well worth checking out by the way. Their most recent album, ‘Memoirs at the End of the World’, is a fantastic and at times cinematic piece of work with more than a nod towards the Wall of Sound on several tracks. I’ll probably feature an example in a later blog post.

Let’s get to it. Without further ado….

The Postmarks – 7/11 (2008)

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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Where to find 60s Spector soundalikes?

My guess is that since you’ve taken the time to read some of the posts here, you probably already know quite a bit about the Wall of Sound. I assume you’re well aware that as a 60s musical phenomenon the Wall of Sound wasn’t limited to the releases on Phil Spector’s Philles Records.

It’s basic music business instinct to jump on the bandwagon, whenever something catches on and sets the Top 40 on fire. So it’s no surprise that once Phil Spector had major hits under his belt, numerous imitators copied his distinctive style hoping to garner quick sales.

But there’s also another element. Besides the remarkable success Spector had with his Philles label, he was also greatly admired by his producer contemporaries or those who was just trying to carve out a place for themselves in the record business. Dubbed the ‘Tycoon of Teen’ early on, Phil Spector proved that you could have great success following your instincts and personal quirks rather than producing records the conventional way. He literally broke every rule in the book, – meters going in the red, singles running over the advised length for radio airplay, string arrangements more suitable for Wagner than pop etc.

That so many copied Spector during the 60s wasn’t only down to the prospect of having hits. It was also a case of testing yourself to see if you had it in you to follow in his footsteps. And who knows? Perhaps even beat him at his own game. I can imagine that when a producer heard the Wall of Sound back then, it was like having Spector slap you in the face with a glove and challenge you to a no-holds-barred, echo-chamber-crunching duel! Look at Brian Wilson for god’s sake. Literally shaking, he had to pull over his car when he first heard ‘Be my Baby’ blaring from the car radio!

Brian and many others took up the challenge and rose to the occasion with fantastic results. The British specialist re-issue label Ace Records has issued a fantastic serious of CDs during the 00s called ‘Phil’ Spectre’. Over three volumes they have compiled some of the best 60s Spector soundalikes. If you don’t own these compilations already, go buy them immediately. They are as essential as some of Phil Spector’s best work. Highly recommended! And that also goes for other Ace Records compilations focusing on the work of Spector’s favourite arranger Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche or the Brill Building songwriting duos whose best songs often got the Wall of Sound treatment. Spectorphiles worldwide have a lot to thank Ace Records for.

The three volumes in the Phil's Spectre series.

Sadly, the label has indicated that we have probably seen the last volume in the series. They are difficult to compile since the most appropriate songs for inclusion are spread over a myriad of obscure labels. You can imagine how that results in a licensing nightmare.

So what do you do if you have a craving for obscure attempts at the Wall of Sound but aren’t willing to spend years and a fortune rummaging through old boxes for dusty 45s? Enter Anthony Reichardt.

Anthony has a truly mindblowing collection of singles that show how sparks flew all over when Spector’s sonic call to arms made the US music scene reverberate. Best of all, Anthony graciously offers all fans the chance to listen in via his incredible Youtube channel. You can literally spend hours there browsing through his playlists and checking out interesting videos, – it’s the Youtube equivalent of walking into a record shop and discovering a box  in the far corner labeled ‘Obscure Spector Sounds.’

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The amount of great work on those playlists is mindboggling. We’re talking at least 10 potential ‘Phil’s Spectre’ volumes here. Anthony’s videos are beautifully compiled and almost all feature all the info on the artist, label, studio etc he has been able to locate.

Anthony’s Youtube profile

http://www.youtube.com/user/reichardtaj

Here’s an embed of his Gold Star playlist. Do check it out. And don’t forgot his other playlists focusing on Gene Page, Jack Nitzsche, Teddy Randazzo and  Bob Crewe among others.

Anthony Reichardt’s Gold Star Studios playlist

Anthony also has a page on Facebook that’s a must to follow

Gold Star Recording Studios & the ‘Wall of Sound’

https://www.facebook.com/goldstarrecordingstudios

Would-be Spectors # 1 – Nino Tempo

What I find truly fascinating about the Wall of Sound is that once you delve into the Phil Spector story, you realize how far-reaching his artistic vision was.

Spector’s inner circle and team of studio cats, subsequently dubbed the Wrecking Crew by legendary drummer Hal Blaine, included a lot of would-be Spectors. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. I’m just acknowledging the fact that over the years many of them spent time in studios across LA, trying to work out the basics of the formula that made Spector the arch-alchemyst of widescreen pop.

More often than not, they too created gold in Gold Star Studios and beyond. Their efforts proved that the Wall of Sound could be achieved if one had carefully, or even secretly, taken notes during the long hours serving in Spector’s legion of session men.

A particular favorite of mine is Nino Tempo [born Antonino LoTempio] – a sax player and singer who befriended Spector during the early 60s and soon found himself at top of the list whenever a session was called. He is probably the one who came closest to Spector on a personal level acting as much as a friend as his right-hand man and soundboard in the studio.

Engineer Larry Levine, Phil Spector and Nino Tempo in the booth during a Gold Star session.
Engineer Larry Levine, Phil Spector and Nino Tempo in the booth during a Gold Star session.

I think it’s fair to say, Nino had a better look into Spector’s thoughts on the Wall of Sound than most. I like him a lot due to his very smooth, crooning vocals that beautifully compliment the few Spectoresque songs he recorded with sister April Stevens or alone. He wasn’t as prolific as other would-be Spectors. But when he hit a homerun, the ball sure broke through the stadium wall! Case in point – check out this lip-synch performance of ‘All Strung Out’ with sister April on the Lloyd Thaxton Show in 1966.

‘All Strung Out’ is one of a handful of great Wall of Sound tracks Nino recorded with or without April. Most of them can be found on the duo’s ‘All Strung Out’ album which has been re-released on CD. ‘The Habit of Loving You Baby’ on that album is like a carbon-copy ‘All Strung Out’ – I can’t figure out which one I prefer.

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Songs to seek out:

Noreen Corcoran – ‘Love Kitten’ (1963) – a fun and fast tune typical of the lighter girl group fare.

Nino Tempo & April Stevens – ‘All Strung Out’ (1966) & ‘The Habit of Loving You Baby’ (1967) – both of these were clearly written with a Righteous Brothers blue-eyed soul feel in mind.

Nino Tempo – ‘Boys Town (Where my Broken Hearted Buddies Go)’ (1967) – a bit of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys thrown in for good measure.

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Let’s leave for now with Nino himself talking about his time with Phil in an excerpt from the 1980 ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ documentary. Take it away, Nino!

The Wall of Sound – Still Relevant?

Aaaaaand…… we’re off!

Minutes ago I finished typing the ‘about’ and ‘disclaimer’ sections of this blog, looking forward to get to what I hope the blog will be all about, – highlighting the brilliance of the Wall of Sound and why it still packs a punch today.

And I believe it still does that. You’d be surprised to know how many modern Wall of Sound soundalikes pop up each year if you keep a close eye on the music scene and know what you’re looking for. Collecting these is somewhat of a pet project of mine. I plan to feature some of my favorite modern soundalikes on the blog from time to time as a nice antidote to all the backwards-looking posts, I’ll undoubtedly write.

So,… what’s up with my obsession of modern Wall of Sound soundalikes?

Not only do I like the calculated retro-approach of these type of songs in a perverse sort of way, – young musicians with all the possibilities of modern technology at their hands, yet indulging in their fetish for recordings made under conditions that would seem like the stone age compared to today’s recording techniques.

I am also fascinated by the different approaches these musicians take in their songwriting when going for a Wall of Sound soundalike. The thing is,… Most go for dark, brooding songs with a sinister undertone that is actually quite far removed from the upbeat, castanets-propelled songs that make up the majority of Spector’s work. It’s probably a case of his notorioty and image as a mono madman creeping into their understanding of what the Spector sound is all about. And since it has spawned heaps of great tracks, I’m not complaining.

So to start off this blog, let’s sit back and enjoy a  fantastic live performance of the song ‘Excuses’ from indie-pop band the Morning Benders. The studio version on their 2010 ‘Big Echo’ album (appropriate title, huh?) is cool but this live version blows it out of the water. THIS folks, is how it should be done! Building up, slowly nearing a crescendo, each musician a part of the whole, a wheel in the giant clockwork that makes the Wall of Sound come alive in all it’s pulsating glory.

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I love this video as it so well highlights what I think may be the most beautiful trait of Phil Spector’s production philosophy, – getting the track on tape as a single take with everyone playing together. True, – it was somewhat borne out of necessity due to the few tracks he had at his disposal, but still… If anything, this superb video highlights what modern multitrack -and digital recording has made us lose since the 60s Spector heyday.

The Morning Benders – ‘Excuses’, Your Truly Session (2010)