It seems like the well of modern Spector soundalikes never runs dry. Why, just today I discovered a very nice production that clearly picks up a trick or two from the Wall of Sound.
Turns out the Courteeners is a UK indie rock band that’s been around since the mid-00s. I’ve never heard about them before, and I suspect I won’t really enjoy the rest of their catalog as I’m not that keen on indie rock. But I am all ears when it comes to this little gem from their 2014 album ‘Concrete Love’.
Admittedly, ‘Has He Told You that He Loves You Yet?’ is pretty straightforward and just on the verge of being forgettable as a song,… but to the rescue then comes a driving drum beat coupled with a tambourine, tasty reverb and some acoustic guitars strumming along for good measure.
The Wall of Sound touches supplied here seem well chosen in that they inject energy into the song as a counterpoint to the otherwise dreamy mood of the lead vocal. It wouldn’t be far fetched to compare the song’s overall sound to something like, say, Morrissay’s Spectorish ‘Everyday is like Sunday.’
I’ve known about it for years, and have seen it quoted extensively in the various Spector books that have come out,…. but for some reason, I’ve never read the full piece. Maybe the same goes for you? If so, go ahead and get a sense of the rambling, jive-talking and score-settling Phil Spector of 1969… There are quite a few topics covered that hasn’t been quoted in the Spector books.
I do wish he had talked more about his own productions. Though it’s interesting to see him reflect on the changing times of the late 60s music business and his own tentative approach towards it after the self-imposed exile after the failure of the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ single. Interestingly, Spector himself explains its failure with the view that the industry wanted to see his downfall. So maybe this interview is where that often repeated explanation originates from?
And speaking of legendary interviews I would be a fool to not also post the link to Crawdaddy magazine’s equally legendary interview with none other than Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche, master arranger and producer extraordinaire and of course Spector’s right hand man in Gold Star studios during much of the recording of the Philles catalog.
Crawdaddy’s interview came out in 1974 and makes for very interesting reading. What a career with all sorts of interesting twists and turns! Someone out there really ought to write a book about Nitzsche, preferably working together with his family who I believe have an interesting collection of photos, diaries and logbooks with recording dates.
A few years ago it looked as if someone was looking into making a documentary on Nitzsche but it seems as if nothing has come of it,… yet. Fingers crossed – in the mean time we can all dust off our copies of the three fabulous Nitzsche compilations put out by the UK’s Ace Records.
Nitzsche’s talent is basically the gift that keeps on giving,… to prove my point I’ll conclude with a conducting & arranging credit of his that I discovered online last night. Dig this stomping Fab Four soundalike courtesy of the Palace Guard:
If Phil Spector was LA’s ’Tycoon of Teen’, scenester, DJ and die hard music fan Rodney Bingenheimer was it’s ’Mayor of the Sunset Strip.’
Anyone with an in-depth interest in the rich musical heritage of Los Angeles, will know the extent to which Bingenheimer has championed local acts since 1976 on his legendary ‘Rodney on the ROQ’ show on local station KROQ. Sadly, this safe haven of cool music on the airwaves is no more with Bingenheimer’s final show having aired on Sunday; apparently, his show was put to rest due to changes at the station that inexplicably didn’t leave room for him and his wide-ranging musical taste.
My reason for writing about the show’s cancellation is of course the fact that Bingenheimer is a long-time champion of California-based 60s pop & rock, with songs produced by Phil Spector being especially close to his heart. For many years he used the Modern Folk Quartet’s bouncy ‘This Could be the Night’ as the show’s signature song and the show was also featured heavily in filmmaker Binia Tymieniecka’s 1983 documentary about Spector.
Off the air, Bingenheimer seems to have been within Spector’s very limited and close-knit inner circle during the 70s and all the way up until the Lana Clarkson case. Even as far back as 1966 Bingenheimer had the possibility of keeping a close eye on Spector’s sonic adventures, famously being present at the recording of ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ Here is an excerpt from Bingenheimer’s recollection of the session as told to music journalist Harvey Kubernik:
“I was in Hollywood and went to Wallich’s Music City [a record store] on the Sunset Strip. I was listening to records in one of their booths and ran into Brian Wilson, who was also in the store. I told Brian that Phil was doing a session at Gold Star down the street. He said ‘Let’s go!’ We walked to Gold Star. (…)
Brian and I never left the studio booth during the recording of ‘River Deep.’ You don’t leave when you’re at something like this. We were transfixed. Jack and Phil were very tight. They were like co-pilots on the Concorde from a flight from France. (…) Phil was screaming like a madman during the sessions. Tina was loud and sexy. She was wearing a wig and go-go boots. Very 60s. The engineers were Larry Levine and Stan Ross. Phil was in control!
Brian didn’t say a word. He soaked it in and sat there stunned. Tina’s vocal kept on soaring. Some of the musicians wore Alpaca sweaters. Phil and Jack dressed like kids. They wore clothes from deVoss and Beau Gentry, where the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones shopped. And everyone wore Caesar cologne (even the bottle looked great!), diamond-shaped dark glasses, puffy-sleeve shirts and boots. They didn’t look like record company people. They were listening to the song as it was played over and over. It was in the pocket. (…) Phil Spector is rock’n’roll. After the session, I walked home and couldn’t sleep.”
Aaah, the glamorous days of 60s Los Angeles; imagine bumping into Brian Wilson and then, at a whim, crashing a Spector session. Mindblowing! No wonder Bingenheimer has devoted his life to music after experiences like this one.
I would have imagined him to have spun at least one Spector cut during his final show, but he instead opted to go with the times and play more recent material, although including a few songs with a heavy nod towards the Wall of Sound such as ‘Just like Honey’ by Jesus & Mary Chain and ‘7/11’ by the Postmarks.
It’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the Mayor of the Sunset Strip – hopefully, his musical choices will grace Los Angeles air waves once again in the near future.
You can read more about Rodney and the show’s history here:
Confession: when I first fell head over heels in love with the wall of sound in the early 00s, it was by way of the Righteous Brothers. Being a die-hard soul fan, it took me a little longer to warm to the other parts of the Philles catalog. However, those glorious, soulful vocals by Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield?… Pure bliss! I was hooked rightaway. To this day, ‘Just Once in my Life’ is probably my favourite Spector production.
When singing together these guys were incredible but they could also pack a punch on their own as plenty of tracks on the various Righteous Brothers albums prove.
Allegedly, Bobby Hatfield was frustrated by the immediate attention bestowed to Bill Medley by Spector on follow-ups to ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’, but luckily Hatfield was given quite a few opportunities to shine amid shimmering, echo-soaked backing tracks. ‘I Love You (for Sentimental Reasons)’ and ‘Ebb Tide’ have always been especially dear to me, even more so than the iconic ‘Unchained Melody.’ (and let’s skip the discussion of who really produced that gem!)
It’s about time Bobby Hatfield got his proper due and what better company to do his musical legacy justice than the fine folks at UK label Ace Records? They have just released a superb compilation with the apt title ‘The Other Brother’ that is a must-buy for any Cue Castanets reader.
The compilation displays the high standard we’ve come to expect from Ace projects; well-chosen tracks – including never before released recordings, beautiful cover artwork and very informative liner notes as well as top-notch sound quality. Believe me, ordering this release is a no-brainer. Your ears will thank you!
There can be no doubt that Bobby was an extraordinary singer who made the most of the songs he was given, even though the material at hand on occasion was of lesser quality. There are a few instances of this on the disc but it doesn’t mar the overall listening experience. Bobby could obviously inject life and drama into even the most mediocre songs.
Having said that, there is an overload of great recordings on ‘The Other Brother’, none the least a smattering of previously unreleased songs of high quality which makes one wonder why they never saw the light of day. I’m especially fond of Bobby’s velvet-soft take on ‘Crying in the Chapel.’
Of particular interest for Spector connoisseurs is a hitherto unreleased version of ‘Paradise’; here reimagined as a mid-tempo soul song with a James Jamerson-type bass line, punchy horns and strings that bring forth a bit of the grandeur we know from the Spector-produced version with the Ronettes. Even though Bobby and the uncredited mystery producer involved do not achieve the same level of sophistication as the Tycoon of Teen, theirs is still a very good version – and one that’s very refreshing to hear after having played the Ronettes track to death.
Besides this song and a few other nice, unreleased recordings, Bobby also turns in a fine version of ‘See that Girl’, which of course graced side 2 of the ‘Just Once in my Life’ Philles album by the Righteous Brothers.
Outside of recording as a Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield wasn’t really that prolific. Eventually only issuing one album, the soulful ‘Messin’ in Muscle Shoals’ from 1971, his career was dogged by lukewarm reception to singles that were meant to test the waters for album projects.
A planned solo album for 1969 fell on the wayside after slow ’45 sales which is a shame; two of the songs for planned inclusion on this scrapped album is on ‘The Other Brother’, but it’s a shame that Ace hasn’t included strong cuts like ‘My Prayer’ and ‘Answer Me’ since they showcase Bobby at his best.
On the other hand, the whole ‘Messin’ in Muscle Shoals’ album is included – if you like southern soul, this album is right up your alley. You could argue that some of these later songs could have been left off to make room for more 60s Hatfield-leads like the Righteous Brothers take on ‘I Believe’ or the sublime ‘Answer Me’, but that’s all a matter of taste.
Personally, I was glad to have ‘Hang-Ups’ as the collection’s lead off track since it’s probably my favorite solo Hatfield recording and thus makes for the perfect opener. When released as a single it was paired with the groovy ‘Soul Café’ which is also a welcome inclusion on the disc.
All in all, this is a great and long overdue set highlighting different parts of Bobby’s career. Tip of the hat to compiler Tony Rounce and the rest of the team at Ace for continuously documenting the best pop of the 60s with care and affection.
You can order your own copy and listen to sound samples here:
Aaaaah, with the arrival of spring and some much-needed sunshine, I was reminded of a song that would make for a perfect addition to this blog’s ever growing list of modern Spector soundalikes.
When talk centers on Spector soundalikes, you’re bound to eventually discuss the Boss and his longtime infatuation with the Wall of Sound.
There are plenty of songs showcasing Springsteen’s love for Spector’s approach throughout his 70s and 80s catalogue, notably the scrapped mid 70s sessions that eventually came out as ‘The Promise’ in 2010. (a must-buy release for any reader of this blog!)
In more recent times, Springsteen’s forays into full-on Wall of Sound territory have been more limited but occasionally he’ll throw together some chords and great lyrics that are just begging for bombast.
A prime example would be the somewhat overlooked single ‘Girls in their Summer Clothes’ from 2008s ‘Magic’ album.
This perfect pop song with thumping backing by the E. Street Band wasn’t even issued as a physical single but could only be obtained as a digital download. It was only a minor chart success stalling at # 95 at the Billboard Hot 100 which is a shame since it’s one of Springsteen’s most straight-forward pop songs and definitely deserves to be heard by more than those within Springsteen’s loyal following.
Enjoy this gem then; top notch singing by the Boss, great lyrical theme with a bit of wistfulness thrown in for good measure and , above all, the tried-and-true Wall of Sound formula that elevates a good song to pure pop perfection. Eureka! – Another brilliant modern Spector soundalike.
All Cue Castanets readers should definately make a mental note of April the 28th because this date sees the release of what looks like a really interesting Bobby Hatfield compilation by UK label Ace Records.
The lovingly compiled and brilliantly annotated compilations from Ace Records have of course for decades been god-sends for all fans of classic 60s music, none the least those who crave the heavy thump of the Wall of Sound. We have Ace and its knowledgeable compilers like Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce to thank for must-buy sets like the Phil’s Spectre series, the three Jack Nitszche volumes and an on going songwriters series covering a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Brill Building scene.
Turns out that Ace has turned its attention to legendary blue eyed soulster Bobby Hatfield whose incredible pipes intertwined with Bill Medley’s on some of Spector’s most majestic productions. In my book, the singles and assorted album tracks Spector cut with the Righteous Brothers are at the pinnacle of the Wall of Sound.
‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’, ‘Just Once in my Life’, ‘Hung on You’, ‘Ebb Tide’, White Cliffs of Dover’… Pure magic. Wearing your emotions on your vocal sleeve amid an abyss of echo and over-the-top backing has never sounded so good before or since. And yet, even though Bobby Hatfield’s stellar performance catapulted the Righteous Brothers take of ‘Unchained Melody’ to evergreen status, Bobby has arguably been somewhat overshadowed by his deeper-voiced brother. (and according to legend; Spector didn’t even produce the session despite the credit)
Bill Medley sang on the majority of the duo’s hits, at least during their mid-to-late 60s hey day, and he also had the more succesful solo career. At one point, Bobby Hatfield even had to team up with Medley-soundalike Jimmy Walker to continue recording and touring under the Righteous Brothers name.
But Bobby could hold his own – his voice was truly otherworldly when he sang in his upper register or sugarcoated songs with an effortless falsetto – case in point; check out the Righteous Brothers version of ‘I Believe.’
It is very satisfying to see that Ace has decided to put the spotlight firmly on Bobby’s cache of songs, both released and unreleased. The aptly titled ‘The Other Brother – a Solo Anthology 1965-70’ looks like a mouth-watering collection, not only highlighting the best and most interesting releases from Bobby’s struggling solo career,… but also treating listeners to some gems that never saw the light of day.
It’ll be interesting to hear the newly unearthed tracks, none the least an unreleased version of the Ronettes classic that is ‘Paradise.’ I can’t wait to hear how Bobby tackled this fantastic song and to hear the extent of the production, whether it follows the style and arrangement of the then unreleased Ronettes version or perhaps represents a grittier, more soulful take.
Here’s a little something that just sort of popped up out of the blue the other day when I routinely searched for some Spector-related stuff online.
Music journalist Steve Escobar has a website where he has published a few of his interview with musicians – and lo-and-behold; if you’re a fan of Spector as well as the 60s LA recording scene, there are a few interviews on there that would be of interest.
Off you go; Brian, Glen, Hal, Jackie, Johhny, and Nancy are all ready to tell you a bit about their musical adventures…
Brian Wilson (proving once again he’s not the most talkative interview subject!)
While Phil Spector’s 60s productions are always praised as groundbreaking and intricate, many wall of sound connaisseurs also tend to focus on his overlooked 70s output.
Limited as this output was, Spector’s projects from the era still underlined his role as the true auteur and sonic mastermind of each record. Yet, the former Tycoon of Teen was clearly at a creative crossroads, seemingly looking for a new direction for the wall of sound.
His approach had already seemed a bit passé by the end of the 60s. As he entered the new decade, Spector faced the fact that the record-buying teenagers of the early-to-mid 60s who had brought stardom to him and Philles had now grown up. Should his new music reflect this change or should he stay true to the old tried and tested formula? In the end, he chose, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, to do both – the productions became more delicate and often at a slower pace which lessened the expected impact from a new Spector production. On the other hand, the tracks were still cut at Gold Star studios with the regular team of brilliant session musicians, the iconic Wrecking Crew. Technology had changed – the mono that had propelled Spector’s bombast through speakers throughout the 60s had been surpassed by stereo, dreaded by Spector because it lessened the full impact of his productions.
A time of change, then. But luckily one that still brought us some great new Spector productions with the likes of John Lennon, George Harrison, Cher, Dion, Darlene Love and Leonard Cohen. And then there’s the puzzling one-off single by Jerri Bo Keno that came and went in 1975 on Spector’s short-lived label Phil Spector International. Who was this unknown singer giving it her all on a catchy song written by Jeff Barry and Phil Spector?
I decided to find out more and succesfully contacted Jerri who luckily was more than willing to sharing her memories of her short stint as Spector’s latest discovery. It’s a shame the project only lasted one single because the release was very promising and had the collaboration continued with similar singles, there might have been a chance of tapping into the surge in nostalgia that hit in the mid-to-late 70s; a topic I have blogged in depth about here: https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/that-70s-wall-of-sound/
Jerri is still in the music business and currently has a single out that Cue Castanets readers definately should check out. ‘Every Time You’re Near’ has a great melody and is beautifully sung by Jerri, – it is a lovely song that would have fit right in the Bacharach/David songbook.
Let’s turn to Jerri and learn what she remembers about her time recording for Spector…
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Jerri; please tell us a little about how you got your start in the music industry? Which projects had you worked on before recording with Phil Spector?
I came from a musical family growing up in a house full of music and dance. My Dad, Tony Bocchino, was a Jazz Musician and singer, and my sister, Chrissy Bocchino, was well known for her dancing and choreography on Broadway and TV.
Before I was signed to Phil, I was a singer/songwriter trying to establish myself in the LA scene. I spent a lot of time at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Blvd to get my name out there. I did a lot of session work and toured with a group called The Tootsie Rock Revue.
How did your path eventually cross with Spector’s? Did you sign with him right away or had you been acquainted with one another for some time?
I brought my singer/songwriter tape to Jeff Barry at A&M Records. He said he had a friend that might be interested in me but did not tell me who. One year later Jeff asked me if I would be interested in meeting Phil Spector, and I said of course! We arranged a meeting at Phil’s house. When I arrived, Phil took me over to the piano and asked me to sing “Be My Baby”. He signed me on the spot! I reminded him of Ronnie (Spector).
Once you got in Phil’s house, it was very difficult to leave. I would spend hours and hours there singing and talking! I began hanging out at his house regularly. There was always a good show going on and the cast of characters was fascinating, but I especially cherished my time alone with him because I saw a Phil Spector the rest of the world rarely witnessed. I also loved to sit with Phil and his mother, because they loved to disagree on all kinds of subjects!
Do you remember how you first heard ‘Here It Comes (and Here I Go)’? Was it in the form of a demo recording, and if so, sung by whom, or did Spector basically sit at the piano and play you the song?
Phil, Jeff and I were at Phil’s house, where I always rehearsed, and Phil played it on the piano and taught me the melody. I never had a demo to rehearse with. Phil didn’t do things in a traditional way which I got used to! I had no idea how this was going to sound until I got into the studio with the band. I would sit on the piano bench and sing with him for hours.
What do you remember from the ‘Here It Comes’ session? Were you present while the backing track was recorded or did you only come in afterward to record your lead vocal?
There were basic tracks, but Phil would go back and redo things regularly. You know what a perfectionist he was in the studio!
We recorded everything at A&M Studios, and at first, Phil had me in a booth, but he wasn’t happy with the sound. Then I sat on a stool in the middle of the studio, singing live with the musicians. What an amazing experience! I also sang on the backgrounds of my record and all the other records he was working on at that time.
Among collectors and Spector connoisseurs, ‘Here It Comes’ is widely regarded as the closest Spector ever came to jumping aboard the impending boom in disco music.
Did the two of you ever discuss the feel of the track? Its rhythmic, danceable beat seems tailor-made for the dance floor.
Phil never discussed how he came up with this beat but was adamant about his Wall of Sound. I think he was creating all the time and would attempt new things as they came to him.
However, I do remember in the 80’s when Phil came to NYC and called me to hang out for the evening. Paul Schaffer and I took him to a popular dance club where he threw a fit. He hated the dance beat and wanted to know where the lyrics were! Obviously wasn’t a fan of Disco!
The sparsely orchestrated ‘I Don’t Know Why’ ended up on the B-side. How do you feel about this song and its recording?
I get so many people that love that song! I actually think it was just a throwaway song for Phil. I enjoyed singing it, though! Would love to record this song again!
As we know, only one single was issued. But did you record other songs while with Spector? If so, I’d be very interested in whatever info you can share. Were they full-blown Wall of Sound productions or rough demos? Do you remember any song titles?
While my record was out, Phil got in the near fatal car accident which prevented him from recording for a very long time. We did not have anything else recorded, unfortunately.
What a shame. Following up on the previous question; did you participate on any other Spector sessions as a backup-singer?
Yes, I had the pleasure of working with LA’s best singers, like Maxine Willard and The Waters for all the Wall of Sound sessions. Most memorable were Dion’s and Cher’s songs.
How did your association with Phil Spector come to an end?
When Phil had his near-fatal accident, it put him out of commission. I actually got a phone call that he had died, and I panicked but soon after that initial shock, his assistant called asking me to come to the house to see him. He had suffered serious head and scalp injuries and was so concerned about the loss of his curly full head of hair which he was always so proud of.
Sadly because of this accident and his poor health, he didn’t record for a long time and we never worked together again.
What have you been up to since the mid-70s and ‘Here It Comes’?
I have done a lot of session work for all kinds of artists for all kinds music including singing with John Lennon when he and Phil were recording the Rock ‘n’ Roll album, certainly a highlight of my career.
I was in the group El Coco singing the hit “Let’s Get It Together” and was a featured singer on David Benoit’s Heavier Than Yesterday album singing “I Wish Right Now Would Never End”.
I was also a member of a group called The Downtown Girls in the 80’s and we had a European hit. I recently did backgrounds for Anita Ward’s new record “Another Bad Mistake” and The Village People’s Randy Jones’ current record, “Hard Times”.
I worked live with Toni Basil and The Lockers getting a chance to be a part of her astonishing choreography. She is one of the most creative performers I have worked with and best friends with my sister! I recently have done live shows with Joey Molland from Badfinger, Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Anita Ward and The Searchers. I always love performing live.
I had a single released a couple of years back called “My Love Is Yours” on Young Pals Music working with the very talented Ayhan Sahin and have a new single that just came out called “Everytime You’re Near”, written and produced by Peitor Angel for Buon-Art Music. Peitor and I will be recording a couple of new songs for an EP this year!
Jerri; thank you for shaing your thoughts with us. I’d like to end with a question I ask everyone I interview for Cue Castanets; could you please share with us your personal top 5 Spector-produced tracks?
I would have to start with my record –
“Here It Comes (And Here I Go)”. I love the track!
My all-time favorite – “Be My Baby” – The Ronettes
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!
Up until now, I have focused on people from within Spector’s inner-circle; Jack Nitzsche, Nino Tempo, Jerry Riopelle, Sonny Bono, Marshall Leib and Brian Wilson – the latter was admittedly never a part of the inner-circle as such but I thought he merited inclusion since he both allegedly played on Spector’s session for ‘Don’t Hurt my Little Sister’ – Brian’s pitched follow-up for ‘Be my Baby’ – and closely followed numerous Spector sessions during the 60s.
The same criteria for inclusion applies for today’s producer in question, the interesting and flamboyant figure that is Andrew Loog Oldham. Not only was he probably the UK’s greatest champion of the Spector sound, he also had a close connection to the Tycoon of Teen, seeking him out when he was in LA as well as showing Spector around during his trips to the UK.
Oldham’s claim to fame is of course his significant role in unleashing the Rolling Stones on the world as a grittier alternative to a certain more polished foursome from Liverpool. But there is much, much more to Oldham’s story. A musical opportunist in the most positive sense of the word, he jumped on the chances offered to express his love for good music, make a quick buck and play out his reputation as a musical maverick.
On the outset, Oldham shared a lot of traits with Spector and unsurprisingly, during the 60s his love for great US pop would see him drift more towards the out-of-this-world, sophisticated pop of his idol and that of other LA contemporaries like the Beach Boys.
It was a sound that at the time went down well in the UK. The Walker Brothers broke through to mega stardom after relocating to London and wooing screaming Brit girls with their carbon-copy, dramatic Wall of Sound recordings while the Beach Boys seemed even more popular among the UK record-buying public than on their home turf.
Feeding off on this trend and enjoying the notion of the producer as the real auteur of the record, Oldham made some highly enjoyable attempts at outdoing Spector in the ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ game. His love for the sound was passionate, even paying for ads in the UK music press when ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers was in a chart battle with a local cover version by Cilla Black. Oldham’s message? Declaring that Spector’s blue-eyed-soul opus was ‘the greatest record ever made.’ He also publicly praised Pet Sounds upon that album’s release.
When Oldham took to the studio he and his team would build elaborate, at times even baroque-sounding arrangements that packed a punch flowing from speakers despite a cleaner, less dense sound than Spector’s.
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As with any enthusiastic ‘would-be Spector’ type of producer, there are numerous great tracks to choose from to prove the point of Spector’s widespread influence. Here are three personal favorites from Oldham’s impressive cache of Wall of Sound-inspired productions.
Vashti Bunyan & Twice as Much – ‘Coldest Night of the Year’ (1966)
The team-up of cult singer-songwriter Bunyan and whimsy baroque-pop duo Twice as Much resulted in a killer cover of a song that had previously been recorded in a more subdued version by Spector’s right hand man Nino Tempo and his sister April Stevens.
Unbelievably, this stunning recording seems to have been put to tape in 1966 but only crept out as an album track two years later on the Twice as Much album ‘That’s All’. Not only is the Mann-Weill penned song top-notch, the production also highlights all of Oldham’s strengths as a producer.
Del Shannon – ‘Runaway ‘67’ (1967)
Legendary rocker Del Shannon was in the midst of a dry spell chart-wise when he visited London in that magical, mind-expanding year of 1967. A chance encounter with Oldham led to a collaboration around a proposed album project for Oldham’s Immediate label. No expenses were spared for the sessions that included the best session players in Britain and a batch of impressive songs by Oldham’s stable of songwriters that tried to re-invent Shannon as a psychedelic pop star.
Oldham’s intricate production elevated songs like ‘Mind over Matter’, ‘Cut and Come Again’ and ‘Silenty’ to a flickering sunshine pop stratosphere but despite all the effort, the album never came out. Later on, the songs from the sessions have been dusted off and released to cult status. I highly recommend seeking them out. At the time though, the only release borne out of this great project was a radical, slowed-down reworking of Shannon’s break-through hit, ‘Runaway.’ Again, cleaner in sound and less bombastic than the typical Spector sound, the single is clearly borne out of the same adventurous approach to record production.
Brett Smiley – ‘Solitaire’ (1974)
This production had escaped me until when I was recently made aware of it by Spector expert and engineer & producer Phil Chapman who has worked with Oldham in the past. What a superb version of the Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody song probably best known via the Andy Williams version. Brett Smiley was a US singer/songwriter who issued one single in the UK during the glam era and was managed by Oldham who also cut an album with him. History repeating itself, this too was never issued.
Oldham pulled out all stops for ‘Solitaire’, literally building a rock’n’roll cathedral around Smiley’s fragile vocal delivery. Just listen to those breathtaking, skybound strings! He clearly still had his ears on Spector’s sound during the early 70s when the Wall of Sound morphed somewhat during Spector’s work with George Harrison and John Lennon. With its sound, you can easily imagine ‘Solitaire’ fitting right in on ‘All Things Must Pass.’
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…