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

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