Tag Archives: The Crystals

Odds & Ends – ‘I Wonder’

I’ve been meaning to start up a new feature on the blog called ’Odds & Ends’ where I briefly highlight some of the more obscure or overlooked releases in Spector’s body of work.

I came up with the idea thinking about how I came across his Wall of Sound myself back in about 2000 or 2001. First, I bought a Righteous Brothers compilation and it didn’t take long for me to single out the Spector productions as highlights. As a major Beach Boys fan I had heard about him before of course, but I hadn’t really investigated further. That Righteous Brothers compilation though set me off on a hunt, and naturally, back then, my first stop was the Back to Mono box.

backtomono
And no, in case you’re wondering – that’s not my copy, seemingly signed by, erhhmmm,…Darlene Love? I just searched for a photo online that would show all the content.

I guess you could say that that box, with its beautiful book and four CDs, became my rite of passage to full blown Spector nut.

Even though it was a great experience discovering all the goodies inside, I quickly learned that there were more productions out there. The missing pieces of the puzzle was something I slowly gathered during the following years, learning about obscure 60s cuts and a wealth of later 70s material that had been left off the box.

Had there been a blog like this back then, it would surely have been a god-send for the 20-year-old me! It would have meant that I had gotten a much quicker overview of what to track down. And even though recent tragic events has somewhat tarnished the beauty inherent in Spector’s art, I’m hoping that, at some point, somewhere out there, young music fans will want to google ‘Spector’ and ‘Wall of Sound’ out of curiosity to see what all the fuss was about. When that happens, I hope they’ll find that this blog and that this and later installments of ‘Odds & Ends’ will make them realize the extent and brilliance of Spector’s music.

The first song I’ve selected to fly the flag for overlooked Spector cuts is ‘I Wonder’ by the Crystals.

The Crystals
The Crystals

I still remember when I heard ‘I Wonder’ for the first time. I’d seen it described numerous times as one of the most crazy, gargantuan Spector productions – the one where he really went over the edge, Cecil B. DeMille-style, and perhaps even more so than with ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. It sounded fascinating and extreme and I was thrilled when, at a local record fair, I spotted the Marginal Records grey-area release of all the Crystals songs, ‘I Wonder’ included.

I hurried home and put the CD on with much anticipation and a pulse galloping like a pair of Castanets at a Spector session. Then the voice of a teenaged LaLa Brooks came on, enveloped in exotic Spanish guitar lines and then – BOOM! Thunderbolt drumming capable of blowing out speakers! Fat, honking saxophones cutting through clutter like machetes through a jungle! Percussion so explosive it sounded as if a thousand guys were playing shakers and tambourines!

For something that came out in 1964, the year of Beatlemania and the ‘back to basics’ sound of the British Invasion, this deafening, monophonic monster production was almost bordering on the insane, … as if Spector was somehow daring his listeners to follow him into a land with no limits to the amount of sounds you could squeeze into a tiny slab of vinyl. The result, even today, is like being hit with a sonic sledgehammer!

The-Crystals-I-Wonder-394857

Even Spector seems to have realized that it was all too much. That he’d crossed a line, pushing any hint of restraint into the stratosphere. The Crystals take of ‘I Wonder’, one of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry’s best songs in opinion, was never released in the US, Spector’s home turf. In the UK it only hit # 36 in the charts.

For me, the definitive take of ‘I Wonder’ is the album-only take by the Ronettes with the Crystals single a close second. It’s a shame it was left off Back to Mono. There’s even a third version by girl group the Butterflys issued by Red Bird Records the same year as the two others, 1964.

Ironically, this great take of the song was produced by Jeff Barry, together with Steve Venet, and with none other than two ex-Crystals as group members! Let’s finish off with their slowed-down version.

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LaLa on Letterman

You may have seen this already, but if not enjoy this great segment from last night’s David Letterman show; it’s LaLa Brooks getting immensed in the Paul Shaffer Wall of Sound.

Super performance by LaLa and boy, does Shaffer prove he has the Wall of Sound down pat or what? But of course we knew that already. The only thing missing is the thick, muddy reverb of Gold Star Studios but other than that, this is perfect!

Next up – Darlene Love, scheduled for her last ever performance of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home’ on December 19th. Surely, Shaffer must have something extra-special up his sleeve for that occasion?

Expiring Copyrights

Beach Boys fans are a lucky bunch…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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