Thursday, 29 December 2011

Phil Spector :1970s

As poor old Phil Spector enjoys his kosher turkey sandwich in jail this Christmas it started me thinking why it is that many great songs from his later period haven't been given the same box set and remastering treatment his work with girl groups such as The Ronettes and The Crystals have been given many times over. I agree that the 60's period was definitely his greatest run of work but that's not to say the 70's releases are without any merit what so ever, after all these were the times he spent working with John Lennon, George Harrison, The Ramones etc.

As no official compilation has been put together and the concept itself seems to be far away from his own pressing priorities at the moment I have taken it upon myself to list some of my favourite cuts from this 'forgotten' time line of Phil Spector's career. Some of these tracks you will hopefully know already and some may not be that familiar to you but thanks to youtube I'm sure you'll be able to find the majority if not all of them for your listening pleasure.

tomorrows sounds today!

count it off Hal...

'Awaiting On You All' - George Harrison - (1970) This wall shaking gospel song from the excellent 'All Things Must Pass' album shows the wall of sound was alive and well even after the commercial failings stateside of 'River Deep Mountain High'.

'Instant Karma' - John Lennon - (1970) The first official meeting between John Lennon and Phil Spector in a recording studio. An idea Lennon come up with of writing a song, recording it the next day, mixing the day after and getting it released by the end of the week. With no room for error or hold ups a professional was needed behind the glass and working the desk. Enter Phil Spector. These sessions convinced Lennon and the other Beatles to give the job of remixing, editing and producing the 'Let It Be' album which would later go on to win the group a Grammy.

'God' - John Lennon - (1970) From the primal scream 'Plastic Ono Band' album, proving that Spector could produce minimalist as well as bombastic with equal aplomb. His presence is felt over the final production and especially on this track as it was his masterstroke to introduce Billy Preston on piano to give the perfect gospel feel against Lennons more rudimentary playing throughout.

'Wah Wah' - George Harrison - (1970) Written during the fraught 'Let It Be' sessions after one of the many arguments with Paul McCartney, this track was worked on and rehearsed endlessly in the studio with Harrison showing each musician their individual parts and envisioning a more restrained acoustic based arrangement. Only when he heard what Phil had added to the final mix and actual tape did he see and hear the full effect.

'Try Some Buy Some' - Ronnie Spector - (1971) A strange song, some say dirge but one for the list definitely. Written by George Harrison during his krishna-krishna mindset of songwriting. Chords and melody bump into each other while Ronnie does her best to decipher the lyric. George later used this recording on his own 'Living in the Material World' album instead adding his own vocal take to the Spector production.

'I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier' - John Lennon- (1971) By 1971 Spector had produced his first album by The Beatles as a collective as well as making individual albums with 2 of them as solo acts. By 1971 he was again with Lennon making what would become the 'Imagine' album. The title track I'm sure you've all heard a million times but this track here shows the full trick bag with heavy percussion and waves of echo in full flow.

'New York City' - John Lennon and the Elephants Memory Band - (1972) This track from the confusing and below par 'Sometime In New York City' album would be the last Lennon/Spector production for 3 years and although most of the tracks included were lackluster protest songs there were a few high points, this old fashioned rocker being one. Around this time Spector also recorded the classic 'Happy Christmas (War is Over)' for John and Yoko which remains a Christmas essential even today.

'A Love like Yours (Don't Come Knockin' Every day)' - Nilsson & Cher - (1974) 1974 was a strange year for Phil Spector. He seemed to be going through his little black address book and meeting with people from his past in an attempt to re-create some of the magic from his earlier releases. Both Cher and Harry Nilsson had helped on earlier work with Cher (at the time girlfriend of close friend, gopher and general studio dogsbody for Phil Sonny Bono) singing backing vocals on many of the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love sessions. Harry Nilsson on the other hand who back in the early mid 60s was a struggling songwriter. He contributed songs such as 'Paradise' for The Ronettes and the classic 'This Could Be The Night' for The Modern Folk Quartet. Both artists recorded this one off single, a cover of this Holland/Dozier/Holland track which presented the new slow funeral pace of Spectors mid 70's work.

'Born To Be With You' - Dion - (1974) As the year progressed another artists appeared from Phil's formative years in the form of Dion DiMucci, formally of Dion and the Belmonts who's 1950's hits such as 'A Teenager In Love' and 'The Wanderer', 'Runaround Sue' (with the Del-Satins) had been a great influence on the young Phil and his entire generation. Here 20 years later after career lows and personal problems (heroin addiction) he is given the chance to make a truly wonderful album, the opening and title song 'Born To Be With You' shows the range of his vocal talents as well as proving that the producer making the calls could still catch lightening in a bottle once again. An influence on everyone from Spiritualized to Bernard Butler.

'Make The Woman Love Me' - Dion- (1974) Another song from the 'Born to Be With You' sessions paired up song writing legends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil once again with Phil after many years, proving that the overall final product is only as good as the material being recorded. Two old school professionals from the Brill Building give this song a strong melody and a great chorus.

'Only You Know' - Dion- (1974) Apart from being a great song for Dion, this was also a great meeting of minds with songwriter/lyricist Gerry Goffin who's songs with his wife Carol King included 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' for The Shirelles and 'Up On The Roof' for The Drifters as well 'Every Breath I Take' by Gene Pitney (produced by Spector). Apparently when they first met the first words Phil Spector said to Dion were what would later be the chorus of this track.

Only you know where you have been to
Only you know what you have been through
But there's better things you're gonna get into
And I wanna be there too

creepy fella our Phil.

'Baby Lets Stick Together' - Dion - (1974) Ok, Ok I'll shut up about the Dion album with this final track which I believe was the single and not on the original album but a full on wall of sound 45', could imagine T-Rex covering this, written by Spector and Jeff Barry. During the mixing sessions new kid on the block Bruce Springsteen popped in to watch his hero produce and was sat down and played this over and over as Phil told him "sure beats the hell out of Born to Run, dontcha think?"... well no, but it's a great track that deserves a replay.

'Angel Baby' - John Lennon- (1975) On paper the 'Rock and Roll' album couldn't miss. John Lennon choosing his favourite rock n' roll hits and then letting Phil Spector produce them. How could it fail? Add a ton of cocaine and vodka to the mix as well as about 50 musicians playing slightly out of tune with one another and you might get an idea. This is where the studio madness stories started to appear in the Spector saga. Both men were separated from their wives and living the bachelor lifestyle and with Lennon sharing a house with Nilsson, Keith Moon and Ringo the chances of him getting to bed for 10pm with a good book are beyond the realms of possibility. It wasn't all bad though, this cover of the 1960 Rosie & The Originals Doo-Wop gem is a great asset and proof that the sessions weren't always out of control and when it worked.

'Here We Go Again' - John Lennon- (1975) From the same sessions as 'Angel Baby' this Lennon/Spector original wasn't released until the posthumous 'Menlove Avenue' album. A true lost treasure. Only a shame they didn't collaborate more.

'Here It Comes (and Here I go)' - Jerri Bo Keno - (1975) During this time period Phil signed a deal with Warner Brothers and made another one off single. By then the rise of Disco was in the wings and although his name and reputation had kept him afloat had helped him ride the wave of limited chart success this was another single that failed to crack the top 20. Although with the luxury of hindsight it pops along nice and warrants a nice soft shoe shuffle across the dance floor.

'Memories' - Leonard Cohen - (1977) What do you get when you cross a couple of drunk dirty old men in a studio. Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen. The making of the 'Death of a Ladies Man' album was not a happy time for either party, far too much alcohol and a lot of demons being wrestled from both of them. Add guns into the equation and you have a recipe for disaster. Although with the wrecking crew called upon into the studio and a moment of light hearted fun you have this old school pervy song about big buxom young ladies at high school dances. Recently covered live by Alex Turner and Miles Kane as part of the Last Shadow Puppets.

'Lord, If You're A Woman'- Darlene Love - (1977) Just when it looked like Phil had used up his last chance, last phone number and good will from many studios it only took 1 woman to change the tide. Darlene Love, arguably his greatest singer in the stable of girl group voices to belt out this gospel tinged R&B banger, although out of fashion and never a hit, this is one that really stands up and goes down well even today at 60's nights (just don't tell that it was made during the punk era)

Which leads me onto...

'Rock and Roll High School' - The Ramones - (1979) The fabled Ramones 'End of a Century' sessions/album. The Ramones had been a group that Spector had loved and tried to record with ever since he'd heard their self titled debut upon release. The 2 minute fast no frills approach to singles was one he'd loved himself and after the onslaught of progressive rock and endless guitar solo's a group that just bashed through songs with true rock n' roll sensibilities was something that slapped Phil out of the dirge that had been his mid 70s period. He planned to turn Joey Ramone into the next Buddy Holly and loved that Joey's hero worship of him allowed him carte blanche in the studio and with the material. Johnny Ramone on the other hand hated the outcome and the grueling studio sessions. The rumour was the opening guitar chord on 'Rock and Roll High School' took 8 hours of repeats and takes until Phil was satisfied, although in Johnny Marr's opinion '"it's the greatest chord ever!!"

'Baby I love you' - The Ramones - (1980) The only hit the group ever had and it was a cover of The Ronettes 1963 smash which featured none of da'brudda's but Joey on the recording.

Since The Ramones album there has been little work by Phil Spector. In the 90's he recorded with Celine Dion although these tracks are in the vault thanks to problems between management and Spector. In the early 2000's 2 songs were recorded with UK band Starsailor, 'Silence Is Easy' and 'White Dove'. Only 2 songs were recorded before the group ditched Spector un-ceremoniously and un-graciously believing they could do better themselves. 'Silence is Easy' is still to date their biggest single release and after the album they've slipped back into the 3rd or 4th billing on the festival circuit.

"It seems that talented people must always be in a great pain -
their sensitivity is what makes them great artists - but what a
price to pay. He is and always will be one of the great originals
of rock music and it's true: to know him is to love him"
- John Lennon

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tonight we’re gonna party like its 1994!...

Tonight we’re gonna party like its 1994!...

It’s a common opinion that people are a product of their environment and that experiences and daily routine shape the personality and person that the individual will ultimately be. I can’t help but think that this is true especially when discussing music and tastes. The choice of bands, artists and overall genres of music a person hears in their formative years will always hold a special place in the listener’s hearts; did anyone ever listen to an album as intently as they did when they were 15-16? Every word and nuance of the music was assimilated and absorbed into the memory bank and psyche and was saved for ever. Last Sunday I joined a good mate for a night of teenage year’s reflection and redemption thanks to everyone’s 4th favourite band of the 90’s Shed Seven at Shepherds Bush Empire. It has been a gray haired 15 years since their ‘Maximum High’ album was released and in celebration they were going to play a gig to remind everyone why it’s such a great record and prove that there is still many miles left in the tank as a live act on the post-Libertines music scene.

It’s worrying how quickly the years fly by when you pass the 25-30 bracket and I can only assume it kicks up another gear at 40 before running flat out at 50 until life seems like a constant drive down the motorway to oblivion. The running order of the nights song choices are excellent and I’m glad the group have left the ego at the door and simply bashed out the classics one after another. Tracks such as ‘Going for Gold’, ‘Standby’, ‘She Left me On Friday’, ‘Getting Better’ and the encore ‘Chasing Rainbows’ are all played full tilt with passion and genuine joy at finally being appreciated after many years of being sidelined by the shadow of the Britpop hierarchy of Oasis, Blur, The Charlatans etc.

The group have gone through line up changes as they tried to incorporate new sounds and find their place during these later years before finally parting ways with each other. Time heals many things and I’m sure as memories became fond and new generations started looking back at the 90’s as a long ago era… *gulps drink to steady nerves* the music is the thing that is finally taking centre stage while the rest of the surrounding publicity and distractions of the time are casually ignored. I doubt many 17-18 year olds are trying to find back copies of Select, NME and Q magazine from the 90s to see the backbiting and publicity machine in full propaganda mode awaiting the release of ‘Be Here Now’ when the prophecy would be fulfilled for music and set us all free to be full time scallywags and professionally northern.

For and until forever here are some 90s indie classics for you all to dig out and appreciate with the beauty and shield of the 00’s to protect your ‘coolness.

‘Standby’Shed Seven
‘303’Kula Shaker
‘Love has Passed Away'The Supernaturals
‘Slight Return’The Bluetones
‘Kung Fu’Ash
‘Do You Remember The First Time?’Pulp
‘The Drowners’Suede
‘U16 Girls’Travis
'Love is the Law' - The Seahorses
'Richard III' - Supergrass

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Posthumous releases are always a musical tightrope between pointless cash in and genuine hidden/lost gems from the now departed artist on show. I was sceptical in regards to the ‘new’ Amy Winehouse album before its release mainly due to the fact that there had been so much of a gap between any new releases while Amy was still alive and combined with the rumours of record company pressures (i.e. tracks being turned down etc) it wasn’t expected that there would ever be a real contender to follow up the multi award winning ‘Back To Black’.

‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ is now here and although the tracks are from different stages of her career (from the last batch as well as those written during the ‘Frank’ era) they all managed to sit together comfortably as well as flowing easily for the listener from the start to the end.

After the 60’s girl group inspired tracks on ‘Back to Black’ its refreshing to see that her follow up material both continued this trend while at the same time including more of her jazz and reggae inspired chops she was known for (especially live). Out of the newer material on offer the excellent ‘Between the Cheats’ is a track which really stands out as a great asset to her already worthy cannon. Older tracks which made their way onto the track listing include her much loved cover of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (which includes a fuller arrangement over the vocal/guitar version that is commonly known to fans) this is a personal favourite here and it sounds particularly poignant. A great song, a faithful cover, sung beautifully.

Another highpoint of this collection of songs is the alternate versions of well known Amy tracks such as an earlier version of ‘Tears Dry’ which takes the listener on a completely different journey to the well known version and includes a warm string arrangement that cradles the vocals rather than the Motown sampled single from the album. Both can co-exist within their own space and this makes a genuine treat over the usual ‘take 2 stereo mix’ you usually get sold with this type of albums.

The only point on the album that I feel lets it down a little and smacks a touch of someone 1000 miles away phoning in a part on a leftover track is the Nas Featured ‘Like Smoke’ which is supposed to show Amy’s love of hip hop and that area of her soul but to me sounds too much like the label trying to get another ‘name’ on the album to help push a potential single release.

The other big collaboration here is the already available ‘Body & Soul’ with Tony Bennett which although is a nice mix of generations and is good for posterity neither is firing completely on all cylinders and seems to maybe once again fall into the category of “hey fellas lets get some current artists who will help sell this ‘duets’ album and hopefully bridge the album to a younger generation”. But that may just be my cynical head talking there.

It seems from interviews with Amy Winehouse and friends that she had deep love of soul music and especially Donny Hathaway whom she held in great esteem, the end of the album finishes with a stirring version of the Leon Russell track ‘A Song For You’ that was one of Hathaway’s signature songs throughout his own career and it’s a fitting tribute to him as well as Amy that it was chosen to end this album. Wonderful stuff

Overall a worthy bookend to Amy Winehouse’s criminally short career and one that in all honesty I will be playing a lot over the following months mainly due to the general upbeat and happiness in the music, a stark contrast to the realities of her last days. A double edged sword proving that against all the critics and press she was still in contact fully with the muse and was still capable of true beauty and great art. I look forward to the inevitable box set.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Broken free from the Rabbit hole...

I have done it. It wasn’t pre-planned but when the idea appeared I just went for it. I regret nothing. I have deactivated my Facebook account. This is big news! Surely everyone I have ever met and added NEEDS to know everything about my life. The nights out I didn’t invite them to (talk about rubbing it in!) Here are 10 pictures of me having a great time only miles away from you and you didn’t even get a text message from me beforehand. We are definitely drifting into the arena of the unwell when it comes to personal relationships on a grand scale.

Facebook is like the online transparent diary. Nothing is hidden, nothing private, as soon as you commit and add, tag or invite someone you are open to judgement and comments each step of the way.

Twitter is equally all encompassing although with 'tweeting' there is no turn around or lengthy wait for a reply or response. It’s more like writing a comment down reading it aloud and then throwing it in the abyss. With limited characters and space available each tweet is like a 21st century toilet cubical piece of graffiti, the only difference being that it’s your own toilet and your own thoughts (although if you can’t think of anything funny to say you can simply ‘re-tweet’ or steal someone else’s crack and casually pass it off as your own while crediting fully.)

How will I manage without Facebook? This was the sick fleeting thought that entered my mind as I re-entered my password confirming the total reversible decision I was about to make (after all they want you to come back and what better way to ensure that than to give you a little wink while deleting your page) the message pre-confirmation read “don’t worry we’ll just put it on hold for you in case you change your mind”. The intoxicated online profile junkie will never be free.

Should you really know that much about everyone you know? Obviously it’s useful to know their birthday, anniversary and telephone number but if you were really that close friends surely you’d probably know that anyway. The guy you met at work, do you really give a fuck which School they attended? Their Favourite foods in top 5 order? A comprehensive list of films, music and books they like? Who cares? Where has the art of conversation on a night out gone? When you meet your pal’s on a Friday night for a quick drink do you find yourself sitting in silence nursing a flat pint because everything remotely interesting that has happened to you in the past week was told in real time via your mobile.

I will probably flake out and return with my cyber tail between my legs, but for now let us imagine a world where there was still some mystery to people and their lives and the drabness of the reality wasn’t published in a fancy font and surrounded by a wallpaper of their choice.

operation ho-ho-ho...

Tuesday 13th December. We’re now onto the home stretch for Christmas cheer and it’s nearly all over, making way for broken diets, January Sales and the usual bought of Seasonal Affective Disorder. New Years will obviously be the biggest let down as per usual and Christmas day loses a spark each year as you get older until I presume by the time my forties appear it will simply be another Sunday with Turkey.

The music industry tends to go to sleep at this time of the year, the execs and their cronies fly off to the ski slopes and winter havens to enjoy their yuletide break and won’t return until the last week of January ready to start business. The only releases now will be the XMAS compilations and 'Best Of' albums from artists who shamelessly whore their music out one last time to either meet contractual obligations or simply help top up their pension considering most haven’t had anything resembling a hit for many a merry year.

The only necessity music wise for wise men and women out there is the playing of the formidable Phil Spector Christmas Album ‘A Christmas Gift for You’, if you don’t own this record then I really don’t know that we can be friends any longer as you are given a million chances throughout the year to purchase it. Songs are slipped into movies, adverts, TV shows and even X-Factor to help start the consumer inside you reach for your hard earned cash and rush to the shop to grab a copy.

To show what a nice guy I am (or elitist control freak depending which sites you read) here are the tracks on the album. You can buy, steal, borrow or even Spotify.

A Christmas Gift For You (From Phil Spector)

01. White Christmas – Darlene Love
02. Frosty The Snowman – The Ronettes
03. The Bells of St.Mary – Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
04. Santa Claus is Coming to Town – The Crystals
05. Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes
06. Marshmallow World – Darlene Love
07. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – The Ronettes
08. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – The Crystals
09. Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love
10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers – The Crystals
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
12. Here Comes Santa Claus - Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
13. Silent Night – Phil Spector And Artists

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Artrocker Awards 2011

Artrocker Awards 2011

Award ceremonies are a strange thing. I’ve never been in any situation professionally where being invited to such a thing would even be a possibility let alone a yearly event in the calendar. This year though I had managed to get my name inked on the press list and along with a band interview with the excellent Jim Jones Revue I would manage to see what went on when the cameras stopped rolling.

First of all like most things, the anticipation of the event and the eventual reality are very different. People segregate into small groups and pretend to talk to each other while scanning the room for more important people to talk to, while those looking dishevelled and tired tend to be either the latest rock and roll casualty or simply one of the roadies who’ve spent the last 20 minutes lugging equipment up the back stairs for ungrateful guitarists and drummers alike.

Look and demeanour seems to be something of great importance at these events and as I have recently started wearing glasses due to my 30 year old body recently starting to fail on me at an alarming rate and my needle point precision eye sight now being demoted into cartoon mole-like aimlessness, for tonights celebrations suitable corrective vision is needed. Obviously when matched with red jeans, low dropping neck line and a shirt hanging for dear life over my mid life paunch it seems a wonder that a few people with cameras must have assumed I was someone worth photographing (I’m really not)at least film has generally been replaced with memory sticks so nothing wasted there.

A few familiar faces were seen milling around the free bar although up close and personal a good 90% of these ‘stars’ were as cringe worthy as a Ricky Gervais comedy and as bland as a mash potato filled jacket potato, although it is still fun to spot people you recognise only from magazines and from on TV. I will say hand on my heart I thought award ceremonies were about showing appreciation to the bands and artists and their work throughout the year, celebrating ‘best albums’, ‘best breakthrough artists’ etc. Where as the reality seems to be just blatant networking, manly bear-hugs filled with fake sincerity and then to top off the evening a whole tee-pee’s worth of smoke that will be then blown up the new teen idols relevant backsides at any occasion possible to help the gangs of sycophants to keep their jobs for another 24 hours.

The drinks were free, there were free clothes on offer, no food of course as eating is cheating and the clothes only come in Small and Medium (this is the reason why I was probably handed a scarf rather than a slim fitting shirt…) back to bar I go. Many good books have been written in jail and even more sitting upon a barstool and although back slapping and congratulating is fun and can be worthwhile to boost a persons confidence surely if the biggest enjoyment I get personally is writing the pieces or reviews for you the good reader to enjoy I would assume that for these bands and artists the enjoyment and creative buzz from the ‘making’ far outweighs the award ceremonial ‘come down’ 5 months later in a darkened venue.

Highlights: IC1s heckling everyone within ear shot, free bar, The Jim Jones Revue, Gruff Rhys, Tim Burgess 'so deadpan and uncomfortable' thank you speech, trendy boys wearing free trilbies and acting like they didn’t notice the 10 other people wearing them as well.

Lowlights: Tom Vek NOT winning, Plan B’s awkward ‘speech’, everyone being so serious all the time, strangely trimmed facial hair, an alarming amount of people drinking soft drinks…whatever happened to my rock and roll?

My interview with The Jim Jones Revue will follow up next week...

many thanks to Ric Rawlins, Georgia Camp and Ronnie Joice