VINE VOICEon 18 November 2011
The world became an infinitesimally better place with the release, finally, of these six albums produced between 1962 and 1964 by Phil Spector, and accompanied in this beautifully presented box set by a seventh new compilation.
Due to past neglect of the Philles label catalogue all six albums are appearing on CD for the first time, all remastered in their original mono. They are presented as mini facsimiles of the original album releases in thick cardboard sleeves (with paper liners) that are slightly larger than the standard 5" CD size to better enjoy the original artwork. A 36-page booklet includes an informative essay by Mick Patrick as well as full track list details. At present these albums are only available in the box set, and although modestly priced, I would hope that they become available separately eventually.
The six albums comprise the first five to be released on the Philles and the seventh. The omitted sixth album is the legendary Christmas album, which has long been available on CD before and is easily obtainable elsewhere.
Phil Spector was primarily a producer of singles and did not extend the same production values or care to his early albums. Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans' album largely runs out of steam after the singles that comprise the first two tracks and limps home with an instrumental on which none of the group even appear. Bob B Soxx (aka Bobby Sheen) is replaced by Darlene Love as lead singer on over half the tracks. She was Spector's secret weapon and also led two of the Crystals' biggest singles. Of the three albums the Crystals made for Phil Spector, all would probably all fit onto one CD because the second album, He's A Rebel, was a disguised re-issue of the first, Uptown Twist, but with three new tracks replacing two from the first, whilst the third, The Crystals Sing The Greatest Hits, Volume 1, recycled some of their hits yet again, but added five new covers of recent dance hits, most of them sung by Veronica from the Ronettes. Four Crystals' tracks (Uptown, Oh Yeah Maybe Baby, There's No Other and on Broadway) appear three times each throughout this box set. Today's Hits has just five tracks not included elsewhere in the box, these being four Darlene Love singles (Playing For Keeps is a B-side new to CD, and very welcome) and the third Bob B Soxx single, Not Too Young To Get Married (also led by Darlene).
By the end of 1963 Phil Spector had become more ambitious and began preparing albums on which every track could be a single. The first of these was the aforementioned A Christmas Gift For You, and then in November 1964 came Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. This, one of the greatest albums ever made, included all their singles to date, and three B-sides, released before and after the album. So Young, the old song by the Students, had also been released as a single by Veronica. Spector would clearly have liked to make Veronica a solo performer, but they and their family were resolved they stay as a trio. However, Spector later claimed that neither Estelle or Nedra ever sang a note on a Ronettes record. He was renowned for using session singers such as the Blossoms, Bobby Sheen and Chér to augment the Crystals, the Ronettes and others to create his wall of sound. Famously, none of the Crystals sang on He's A Rebel and had to learn the song after it had been released in order to perform it live.
Of the purely album tracks I Wonder was to be a single by the Crystals (in the UK only), who recorded it a couple of months after the Ronettes; and Chapel Of Love by the Dixie Cups (after both songs' writers, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, had jumped ship to the Red Bird label). I Wonder was revived a year later on Red Bird by a group called the Butterflys, whose line-up included two former Crystals. When I Saw You, a slow ballad written by Phil Spector, was allegedly inspired by Veronica (later Ronnie Spector). It was, in an earlier version, the first song he recorded with the Ronettes; whilst the Ray Charles classic What'd I Say replicated the Ronettes' exciting stage act, complete with toppy microphones and live audience responses (though it was all concocted in the Gold Star studios). Ten of these album tracks were on The Best of The Ronettes CD compilation, and eight in the Back To Mono box set, but this is the first time the original album has been available on CD. In 1975 Spector released a vinyl stereo mix of the album in the UK under the title The Ronettes Sing Their Greatest Hits, and these were all included on a German Ronettes CD compilation called All The Hits, on the Charly subsidiary label Classic Hits.
The 'bonus' CD is a new compilation that gathers 17 largely instrumental B-sides. Spector liked to put out studio jams of no commercial value on the flipsides of singles, to ensure concentrated airplay on the top-sides. These were played by the crack team of sessioneers that comprised the Wrecking Crew. Some of these held a nostalgic appeal for me as I bought many of those singles on the London label in the UK and turned the records over countless times. Not an obvious choice for a CD release, I am delighted these have seen the light of day.
Still uncollected are the remaining five Philles albums: three Righteous Brothers albums, a Lenny Bruce album and Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep - Mountain High album (already commercially available). A lot of additional material became available in the seventies on the Warner-Spector label in America and even more on Phil Spector International in the UK, collected as a nine-album vinyl box set called Wall Of Sound. One can only hope that this material might also now one day become available on CD.