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.’
Some weeks ago I received an advance copy of the upcoming third album by US singer/songwriter Brent Cash. Set for release in late January, Cash has once again recorded a batch of elegant songs with a delivery and production value that should appeal to Cue Castanets readers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent in 2015 and if you haven’t read that blog post I’ll advise you to do so to get a better understanding of his music and where he’s coming from aesthetically.
Honestly, listening to Brent’s crystal clear, relaxed vocals and intricate arrangements is akin to, say, discovering some sort of overlooked A&M Records soft pop LP. The tunes are sophisticated, elegant, groovy – defiantly soft. Yep, it’s really that good and since Brent serves as a one-man Wrecking Crew, laying down backing tracks with all sorts of quirky little details, his albums are like time capsules of all that was good within the more sophisticated pop of the 60s and 70s.
The right way to listen to Brent’s music would be to cruise down highway 101 in an open sports van, the sun reflecting in your shades and a beautiful blonde by your side. Instead, it’s December and a cold and rainy one at that where I live. Despite the grey surroundings I’ve tried my best to envision the breezy, sun-kissed landscapes that Brent’s music compliments while reviewing his latest effort.
Where the first two albums, ‘How Will I Know If I’m Awake’ (2008) and ‘How Strange It Seems’ (2011), were text book examples of well-produced harmony pop and soft pop that would make Bacharach toast with his dry martini, ‘The New High’ sees Brent expanding his sound.
I really love the dreamy soft pop aesthetic on the covers of Brent’s first two albums and you could say that the change of direction is already visible on the cover of ‘The New High’. A skyscraper with glass and chrome that made me think “oh no, I hope Brent hasn’t gone all New Wave on us!”
He hasn’t, luckily – the love of sophisticated piano-based pop is still at the heart of Brent’s music but he has expanded his palette somewhat with subtle nods towards the jangle sounds of folk-rock and Beatles-like songwriting.
Two things really stand out to me above all after repeated listening.
For one thing, Brent has probably never sung better on record. His voice may not be very unique but especially when he sings in his upper register his soft, pleasant tone really carries a lot of the magic on these songs. My favorite part of the album is the last one and a half minutes of ‘Dim Light’ where Brent goes into falsetto mode and sings skyhigh in an incredibly catchy and goose bumps-inducing section. Lesser songwriters would probably just take such a section and turn it into the basic hook in the chorus but Brent only introduces it at the last part of the song – to me, that’s always a sign of a superb songwriter at the top of his game, holding back a killer hook in order to unleash it late in a tag for maximum effect – the Beach Boys always excelled at that. There are a few other great examples of both tags and Brent’s smooth falsetto throughout ‘The New High.’
Secondly, the string arrangements on this album are incredibly effective and just ooze elegance – a testament to the care and length Brent and his string-playing friends have gone to to make each song gain as much from their playing as possible. Strings were also present on his other albums but I feel they’ve come more to the forefront here and all for the better of it. Listen to the strings in the latter part of title track ‘The New High’ – pure bliss!
Songs like ‘Dim Light’ and ‘All in the Summer’ show Brent’s evolvement as a songwriter and producer. The first one, with it’s strummed guitars, reminds me a little bit of Joni Mitchell’s more bouncy recordings while the latter has a bit of a John Lennon ‘Imagine’-vibe going on. Maybe it’s just me coming up with these reference points but if anything, such songs show that Brent tries to expand his sound. On other songs, such as ‘Every Inflection’ and ‘I’m Looking Up’, the latter one of my favorites, you hear a closer kinship to his first two albums.
Brent’s albums have always been growers for me, meaning that upon initial listening I’ve had a hard time distinguishing the tracks from each other only coming to single out songs after a few spins. The same can be said for this album.
I’m also of the opinion that the album loses a little bit of steam towards the end where a couple of slow and less orchestrated songs break the flow of the record. Songs like ‘The Dusk Song’ and ‘Fade / Return’ aren’t weak but they sort of make the album peter out rather than showcasing the variety of Brent’s songwriting on display during the first half of the tracklisting.
All in all, ‘The New High’ is a fine album that perfectly compliments Brent’s past releases– you’d be a fool to pass on these if you love melodic pop of the highest order that harken back to 60s and 70s LA or New York-based pop.
Here’s a confession… This dazzling Spector-produced one-off single by the Modern Folk Quartet is easily one of my all-time favorite Wall of Sound productions. So this latest installment of the odds & ends section can hardly be said to be unbiased. I just utterly cherish this song and for the life of me can’t fathom why the Tycoon of Teen decided to keep this bouncy pop gem under wraps for so long!
Allegedly, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was present when Spector and the Wrecking Crew laid down the backing track for this majestic tour-de-force and the song made a lasting impression on him. In interviews he has often singled it out as a favorite even going so far as to record his own cover version of it for a Harry Nilsson tribute album. Why, if he indeed was at the session, Hawthorne’s finest may very well be among the gazillion people heard emphasizing the backbeat with hand claps during the song’s middle section! I’ve always loved that part of the song in particular. It’s a classic goose bumps-type moment where it sounds as if Spector rounded up everyone in 60s LA to make them clap in unison at Gold Star.
As is so typical with the most extreme Spector productions, you almost forget who the artist is. Sure, the track credit says the Modern Folk Quartet alright, but since they didn’t write the song or can be clearly heard playing their instruments or singing the folksy harmonies on their more restrained 60s efforts this sonic assault has ‘Spector’ stamped all over it. At the risk of being engulfed by a swamp of swirling instruments Henry Diltz succeeds in cutting through the wall with a passionate lead vocal.
Kudos in particular to Harry Nilsson for supplying Spector with a song like this. The pair also worked on the stellar ‘Paradise’ and the interesting ‘Here I Sit’ by the Ronettes. It’s a shame their working relationship was so short-lived. Here’s a super piano version of the song by Nilsson pitched to the Monkees a few years after the MFQ recording:
Incredibly, despite the fact that the song was used for the intro credits scene to the iconic Big TNT show concert film, Spector defied logic by allowing ‘This Could be the Night’ to linger in the vaults for a decade. It finally saw the light of day in the mid-70s on one of the Rare Masters compilations along with other incredible could-have-been hits such as ‘Paradise’ or ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes.
Why Spector inexplicably decided not to release it we’ll never know. Maybe his notorious insecurities were in full force at a time that was clearly a transition period for him? The mid-60s certainly saw him experience with various adaptions of the Wall of Sound to match somewhat the popular genres of the day. If you listen to ‘This Could be the Night’ in that context you’ll probably pick up little details that, with the Wall of Sound still fully in place, reveals that Spector and his team had studied both folk-rock and the emerging sunshine pop sound.
The MFQ of course had close ties to the former, whereas the latter was about to really catch on nationwide, for instance by way of singles such as ‘Just my Style’ by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles or ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’ by the Cowsills. Obviously, those hits were way more simplistic production-wise and also emphasized harmonies much more than ‘This Could be the Night’ but I feel these songs share the same type of über-catchy, bounc and almost anthemic structure that defined a lot of the era’s harmony heavy and often Beach Boys-inspired LA pop.
It’s interesting to ponder what direction Spector and the MFQ could have followed hot on the heels of an actual mid-60s release of the song. Would it have been a hit? Who knows? But if so, it certainly would have given Spector another try at consistent chart action at a time where his magic with the Righteous Brothers was about to wane due to personal differences.
It has always amazed me that a song this good hasn’t been covered more but there’s been a few, typically fairly faithfull to the original Spector production. Here’s a different approach by David Cassidy from 1975 where the song is slowed down considerably,… and what do you know? It works very well. It’s a shame Spector didn’t do the same during his infamous 70s sessions.
Finally, let’s conclude with a nice, if a bit shaky, version by the current MFQ line-up. Very nice in this stripped-down approach,…. Which only reinforces Spector’s own long-held opinion; that it always starts with the song. If the song is not strong enough, the Wall of Sound can only take it so far.
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:
Today’s post marks post # 100 since starting Cue Castanets in the fall of 2014. Here’s to the next hundred! And I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far.
Some of you have written me directly to give your thumbs up, others have left positive comments on the blog. I really appreciate your feedback and I’m glad that you enjoy my ramblings on all things Spector & the Wall of Sound. Thank you.
And with that, indulge me in a bit of a ‘what if’ scenario if you will. The thing is, I’m sure that all of us know songs from around the time of Spector’s golden 60s period that we deep down wish the Tycoon of Teen had taken a liking to and decided to give the full Spector treatment in Gold Star.
Basically, what I’m thinking about are either released 60s recordings by artists not in Spector’s stable or even obscure song demos that didn’t see an actual release at all. The mind boggles thinking about what could have been when hearing songs that would have worked particular well beefed up with a grandiose Wall of Sound backing. Off the top of my head, here are five examples that could easily have been turned into ‘little symphonies for the kids’ – I’d love to hear your suggestions…
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Neil Sedaka – ‘Tonight Will Tell’
As far as I know, this awesome ‘does he love me or not’ teen angst anthem by the superb Neil Sedaka was never released by anyone. What a shame – the melody is great and the lyrics work very well.
As bare bones as this recording is, imagine the monster this song could have been had Spector enveloped it with the majestic sound of the Wrecking Crew in Gold Star. Would have been a perfect fit for the Ronettes. I can almost hear Ronnie croon that chorus with her gorgeous vibrato!
The Cinderellas – Baby, Baby (I Still Love You)
This classic girl group cut was actually the Cookies under a pseudonym. Written by Spector’s friends Cynthia Well and Russ Titelman, this is as good as it gets when it comes to the girl group genre, if you ask me. Yet, as good as this recording is – and Titelman’s production is very sympathetic – I have always felt it lacked a bit of punch.
Had Spector had a go at it, he’d probably had the drums be much more pounding in the ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’-vein and no doubt had a gigantic rumble drone beneath, courtesy of a legion of guitarists strumming along in unison. And don’t even get me started thinking about what a sweeping Jack Nitszche string arrangement could have brought to all this! File under ‘perfect for the Crystals’, then.
PF Sloan – “Cry over You”
I wrote about this fantastic, jaw-droppingly great demo when I wrote my tribute to PF Sloan last year the day after he passed. Sloan was a music chameleon capable of writing within any genre. For some reason though, he never seriously dabbled in big Wall of Sound recordings, but if he did, this song seems tailormade for the Righteous Brothers.
Oh man, Bill Medley on the first verse, Bobby Hatfield stepping up to the mike on the second. And both of them belting out together on the chorus – swathed in a gazillion strings and bombastic backing reverberating in that big, fat Gold Star echo. It’s incredible that no one seems to have recorded this superb song!
Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”
This choice may be a bit cliché since ‘Reach Out’ has often been likened to the tour-de-force that was ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ in intensity and impact. Two monster productions that came out only two months apart. As tasty as Holland-Dozier-Holland’s production is, imagine the stratospheric heights Spector could have taken this superb song to. The tune in itself I like much more than ‘River Deep’, so I really fantasize about the mad Tycoon of Teen tackling this pop gem in the midst of a sweeping strings, booming drums and a 30-member chorus.
We know for a fact that Spector really dug the Four Tops – singling out ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’ and ‘Reach Out’ in particular during interviews. Levi Stubbs of the four tops; gosh, one of the greatest singers ever – it’s a shame his over-the-top vocals never graced a Spector production! As for Spector’s own stable of acts, I guess only Darlene Love or Tina Turner could have supplied the type of juggernaut vocal required, had Spector covered the song.
The Staccatos – “Cry to Me”
Time to slow things down a bit here at the end,… ‘Cry to Me’ was a hit by Solomon Burke in the early 60s and was covered quite a lot. One version that has struck a chord with me is this one by South African band the Staccatos – not to be confused with a Canadian band by the same name.
The SA Staccatos slowed down the song considerably and had some very soulful vocals on top. But come on, this way of doing the song is just begging for someone like Spector or Jack Nitszche to go completely over the edge, building up the backing track as some sort of audio Tower of Babel. Everything but the kitchen sink would be their modus operandi, I suspect. Nothing less! Perfect for Bobby Hatfield or Bobby Sheen!
To tell the story about Phil Spector, his use of the Wrecking Crew and Gold Star studios is also to tell the story about the dawning of 60s Los Angeles as one of the world’s premier pop capitals.
This, and much, much more, is at the heart of a very entertaining book by music journalist Harvey Kubernik that I’ve just finished reading. I got ‘Turn Up the Radio – Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972’ as a Christmas present but it’s only now, during the summer holiday, that I’ve taken the plunge and read this lengthy, coffee-table format book.
Kubernik may be familiar to Cue Castanets readers in that he has often championed Phil Spector in his writing and also been within Spector’s actual inner circle. Allegedly, Kubernik was even featured on percussion on some of Spector’s late 70s sessions with Leonard Cohen, the Paley Brothers and the Ramones.
Before I proceed further, allow me to point readers towards a great four-part Kubernik article on Spector published by Goldmine Magazine. Believe me when I say it’s worth your time:
The Spector connection, though, is but only one strand in Kubernik’s interesting career; besides working as a music journalist since 1972, he’s produced records as well as dabbled in A&R for the West-coast division of MCA Records.
Seeing that Kubernik grew up in LA and had his teenage years played out to the music by Spector and his contemporaries, it’s only natural for him to go back and try to explain the sort of cultural and audio revolution that happened in town during a timespan of little more than 15 years.
In doing this, the book serves as a very nice companion to Barney Hoskyns’ ‘Waiting for the Sun – Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles’ and Domenic Priore’s ‘Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood’ – both great books that contextualize Phil Spector and Philles Records as well as give readers a good, basic understanding of LA’s rise to pop prominence.
Whereas Hoskyns and Priore both use the tried and tested chronological narrative written in their own words, Kubernik has chosen another path – that of oral history. Spread out throughout the nearly 300 pages is only a limited amount of writing by Kubernik himself. His own words either only serves to set the scene as each new chapter begins or shift the focus within a chapter.
Basically, the majority of the text is made up of quotes from people who were present themselves back in the day and whom Kubernik have interviewed over the years – some of the excerpts may also come from interviews conducted by other journalists. In any event, it makes a basic storyline which is well-known to anyone who’s read up on the recording history of Los Angeles come alive in an engaging and down-to-earth manner.
Reading the book, it’s as if all these icons, heroes and out-of-this-world characters parade into your living room and regale you with stories from a sizzling hot bed of recording creativity the likes the world will probably newer hear again. Everyone you can think of have a say throughout the book; Phil Spector, Jack Nitszche, Brian Wilson, LaLa Brooks, Sonny Bono, Russ Titelmann, Terry Melcher, Stan Ross, PF Sloan, Andrew Loog Oldham, Lester Sill, Carol Conners, Kim Fowley, Don Randi, Dan & David Kessel, Bones Howe, Jimmy Webb, Don Peake, Lou Adler etc. You get the drift – it’s very entertaining to hear all these talented people tell how they remember things happened,… or at least what they’d like us to think happened.
As with every book that is based solely upon oral history, one must remain sceptic. No doubt some of the claims and stories should be taken with a grain of salt. Music lore is notorious for people trying to talk up their importance and it’s difficult to tell while reading when this occurs since conflicting accounts don’t pop up during the storyline. Kubernik could have played the devil’s advocate by questioning the validity of some of the statements but has chosen not to. It means that readers have to take everything at face value and take it from there.
Having said that, the only obvious, factual error I picked up while enjoying the book was this comment by Henry Dilz about the Modern Folk Quartet and Spector: “We later recorded ‘Night Time Girl’ with Phil at Gold Star, with Jack Nitszsche’s arrangement.” Nitszsche had the production credit on the single and I find it very hard to believe that Spector had anything to do with this recording. Dilz also couldn’t have mixed up the song with ‘This Could be the Night’ because he talks about the production of it just before ‘Night Time Girl.’ Strange indeed!
Besides all sorts of interesting stories, and just the sheer joy of reading personal thoughts by people you know from label credits, ‘Turn Up the Radio’ also stands out by virtue of lots and lots of interesting photographs.
There were many shots I hadn’t seen before and Spector’s productions are nicely covered with some cool images. The book is definitely eye candy for any serious lover of 60s pop and the smorgasbord of photos makes the book ideal for casual browsing, reading a little bit here, a little bit there. Hence, I guess, the choice of the coffee-table book format.
My only gripe with the book is that the format makes it difficult to read lying down as I always do, – its size and weight makes that a bit trying. But that aside, I’d really recommend getting your hands on this fun and entertaining read. Preferably along with the aforementioned books by Hoskyns and Priore. Those three titles together will give you a much broader understanding of the LA pop landscape.
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.
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…