14 March 2012

Send The Archies to Nashville!

Archie Country!

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From Riverdale to Nashville!
The Pop Culture Cantina’s Brazenly Fanatical Sales Pitch
to Archie Comic Publications

For as long as we can remember, we’ve wanted to hear a collection of Country music recordings by The Archies! You can imagine how pleased we were to learn that Archie Comics staff was at least thinking along the same lines. Have you picked up World of Archie Double Digest #8 with its splashy cover feature, “The Archies in Nashville”? Writer Hal Lifson and artist Tod Smith stoked our Music City fantasies big time with this story. What bliss to see Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead playing the Grand Ole Opry (at the historic Ryman Auditorium, no less) and laying down tracks with a Willie Nelson look-alike!

Archies in Nashville

So . . . why can’t it happen for real? It should happen. An Archie Country album would be a fitting companion for the group’s 2008 Christmas set on the Fuel 2000 label. Just like that record (which we loved), a Country collection has the potential to become a perennial favorite. Country music is an American roots genre that will always be popular, and it will always have pretty much the same sound it´s had since its early years. You’re always going to hear twangy guitars, strong harmonies and two-step rhythms good for line-dancing! You’ll also hear the love for God and country that’s so basic to rural American values. Needless to say, Archie Comics’ rural readership would appreciate an Archies CD recorded in their homegrown musical idiom! So would people all over the world who love both Country music and Archie.

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The Archie characters and the Nashville Sound are both American cultural traditions! Ain’t it about time the two were brought together? Toward that end, Cantina staff has compiled a virtual demo of Country songs that we think would make good Archies recordings. We’re not that crazy about the “Young Country” songs currently on the radio, so all of our choices are vintage. However, most of them could easily be updated for today’s more Rock-oriented audience; for that reason, we've included several Rockabilly tunes.

As a native of Kansas City, Stuffed Animal been exposed to great Country music all his life, and he’s got a decent ear for both traditional and Pop-oriented Country records. Fortunately, he also has a very large record collection to draw examples from! Among the thirty (count ‘em! 30) recordings listed, there’s surely at least one strong Archie album track listing. Fair warning: Listen to the originals at your own peril! You can’t resist classic Country music! It’s extremely addictive!

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My Boy Archie (My Boy Elvis)
Written by Claude Demetrius and Aaron Schroeder
Sung by Janis Martin
Substitute Archie’s name for that of Elvis, and this 1956 Rockabilly classic is transformed into a dynamite opening track for an Archie Country CD. Another key lyric change would remove references to Elvis Presley’s hit records in the second verse. How about this? “Sugar, Sugar” and “Bang-Shang-A-Lang”/He plays ‘em with a Country twang!/”Jingle Jangle” and “Who’s Your Baby?”/That Riverdale sound just drives me crazy! Needless to say, “My Boy Archie” would be a great vocal showcase for Veronica and Betty.

My María
Written by Daniel Moore and BW Stevenson
Sung by BW Stevenson
We’ve wanted for many a year to hear Archie cover this 1973 Pop/Country hit! More recently (1996), “My María” was a chart-topper for Country duo Brooks and Dunn.

Rosalee
Written by Linda Hargrove
Sung by Tommy James
Our demo contains a few obscure Country songs that, once you’ve heard, you can never forget. “Rosalee”, a circa 1971 ballad originally recorded by Tommy James for his final Roulette Records album, definitely falls into that category. For a Nashville-to-Riverdale cover version, the emphasis would be on Archie’s tenor voice, a keening steel guitar and the ladies' high-lonesome background harmonies.

Comin’ On Strong
Written by David Wilkins
Sung by Brenda Lee
Everybody of a certain age has heard this great 1966 Country/Pop smash from superstar Brenda Lee. That sandpaper-on-satin-voiced song belter Betty Cooper would naturally take center stage on this number.

I Don’t Wanna Love You
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Sung by Cliff Richard
Any number of songs recorded by British Rock icon Cliff Richard would be ideal for The Archies to cover. This particular gem was released as an American-only Capitol Records single for Cliff in 1965, but it somehow got overlooked.

Down In The Boondocks
Written by Joe South
Sung by Billy Joe Royal
Billy Joe Royal’s 1965 signature song is another number tailor-made for Archiekins to lay his sterling silver voice on top of! The Tex-Mex groove is as infectious as can be.

My Heart Skips A Beat
Written by Buck Owens
Sung by Buck Owens
Alvis Edgar "Buck" Owens was one of the greatest Country stars of the '60s, as well as co-host of the long-running comedy series “Hee Haw”. His songs were no joke, though! They were solid honky tonk dance numbers that consistently topped the C & W charts. This one hit #1 in early 1964.

I Ain’t Never!
Written by Webb Pierce and Mel Tillis
Sung by Webb Pierce
In the summer of 1959, Country veteran Webb Pierce cracked the C & W Top Five with this obvious stab at the burgeoning Rock ‘n’ Roll market; Pierce wrote it himself with assistance from future recording star Mel Tillis. Much to the amusement of audiences, the middle-aged cowboy would imitate Elvis Presley’s dance moves when he sang it!

Wheeling, West Virginia
Written by Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka
Sung by Neil Sedaka
Here’s another obscure treasure: Pop star Neil Sedaka wrote “Wheeling, West Virginia” for "Petticoat Junction", a popular ‘60s TV series. It was tailored for female cast members Meredith McRae, Lori Saunders and Linda Kaye Henning. The lovely trio did perform the song on the show, and they also got the chance to record it in 1969. Released as an Imperial Records single, this marvelous tune got precious little airplay outside of (you guessed it) West Virginia! Veronica and Betty would give Howard Greenfield’s highly evocative lyrics a new lease on life.

Ruby Ann
Written by Roberta Bellamy
Sung by Marty Robbins
“Ruby Ann” is a famous Rockabilly number recorded by Country icon Marty Robbins; his version hit #1 on the Country charts in early 1963. If ever a Country rocker was begging to be sung by Jughead Jones, it’s this one!

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A Little More Like Heaven
Written by Jimmy Atkins and Hoyt Ray Johnson
Sung by Hank Locklin
From 1949 through the early 1970s, Hank Locklin was a fixture on the Country music charts. “A Little More Like Heaven”, released on the RCA Victor label in 1958, has the kind of bright and sparkling melody Archies fans would love.

Reason To Worry
Written by David Russo
Sung by Connie Francis
Recorded in 1960, “Reason To Worry” has never been released in the United States. Connie Francis cut it at the same Hollywood session as her #1 smash “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own”; that’s probably why it was forgotten about! Still, it was much too good a song to have been left in the tape vaults. Searching through the Universal Music sound archives, German compilation producers re-discovered it in the early 1990s. The song’s pumping, semi-Hawaiian honky tonk groove would be an exotic treat for Veronica Lodge to vocalize over.

If You Ain’t Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’
Written by Tommy Collins
Sung by Buck Owens
Buck Owens never released this peppy dance number as a single, but "If You Ain't Lovin'" was such a popular album track, it got culled for at least one Country music compilation. Originally recorded by Faron Young in 1955, Owens’s remake dates from the same period as “My Heart Skips A Beat.” Boasting the cleverest set of lyrics since The Archies’ debut single “Bang-Shang-A-Lang”, it’d be a wicked fun song for fans to listen and pop their fingers to.

Good Deal, Lucille
Written by JD Miller, Al Terry and Charlie Theriot
Sung by Jack Scott
Those who know The Archies' catalogue can verify that they've cut some solid rockers in the past. “Good Deal, Lucille” would be a fitting companion for ravers like “(Ain't No Doubt About It) I’m In Love”, “Hot Dog”, “Comes The Sun” and “Nursery Rhyme”. It’s a Cajun-flavored catfish nugget that’s been bouncing around Nashville since the early 1950s, scoring hits for two different Country stars (Carl Smith and the now-forgotten author of the tune, Al Terry). Rockabilly singer Jack Scott took “Lucille” out on the town in 1960, and his foot-stomping version is the one that cries out for an Archies cover.

Lonely Weekends
Written by Charlie Rich
Sung by Charlie Rich
Charlie Rich’s classic “Lonely Weekends” is quintessential piano-driven Rockabilly! With Veronica and Betty clapping their hands and singing righteous background vocals, Reginald Mantle III would tear this Memphis Country/Pop song up one way and down the other!

Sleepy-Eyed John
Written by Shelby Atchison
Sung by Johnny Horton
“Sleepy-Eyed John” is a circa 1950 Bluegrass ditty that posthumously became a Top Ten C & W hit for Johnny Horton in 1961. Written by an Appalachian fiddler for square-dancing (or clogging, as we call it out here on the plains), this lively tune’s nursery rhyme-styled lyrics have been “sampled” in numerous songs. One of them, appropriately enough, was The Archies’ 1969 recording “Nursery Rhyme”, found on their Jingle Jangle album. In our mind’s ear, we hear Archie, Veronica and Betty singing this one round-robin style.

Sweet Sweetheart
Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Sung by Bobby Vee
Former teen idol Bobby Vee recorded “Sweet Sweetheart” for Liberty Records in 1970, and it became his last American chart hit. For some reason, the very first time we heard this Carole King composition, we imagined Reggie singing it! Ideally, though, he and Archie would perform it in unison, Everly Brothers-style.

The Race Is On
Written by Don Rollins
Sung by Norma Jean
Country superstar George Jones cut the hit version of “The Race Is On” in 1964. We’ve chosen a cover version by RCA Victor recording artist Norma Jean Beasler for our demo. Nashville music historians remember her as the girl who preceded Dolly Parton as Porter Wagoner’s duet partner, but she was nobody's sidekick! Ms. Beasler was one of the finest female Country vocalists of the ‘60s, and she more than does justice to this Don Rollins tune. If she chooses to, Betty need only copy Norma Jean's template to turn in a perfect performance.

Love Of The Common People
Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins
Sung by The Everly Brothers
We were looking for an easy-rocking Country ballad that sounded like something Archies producer Ron Dante would write. When Stuffed Animal stumbled across “Love Of The Common People”, penned by the same writers who gave Dusty Springfield “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man”, we knew we'd found what we wanted! Wayne Newton and The Everly Brothers barely charted with their 1967 recordings; ditto for “Outlaw” Country king Waylon Jennings. No disrespect meant to ol’ Waylon, but it’s really not his kind of song! It’s much too Pop-oriented for an "outlaw" like him. The Archies would get a lot more mileage out of this Gospel-flavored number than he did; as an ensemble piece, it would be stunning.

A Satisfied Mind
Written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhoads
Sung by Glen Campbell
In the mid-1950s, Porter Wagoner scored his first #1 hit with this tune. Performed as a dirge, his recording was a stone downer! With different lyrics, it could easily have passed for an old Appalachian murder ballad . . . yipe! Not at all appropriate for The Archies. However, ‘60s star Glen Campbell heard “Satisfied Mind” differently when he cut it a decade or so later. His rousing Country/Rock arrangement changed our thinking; performed up tempo, it’s the perfect song for an Archie Country collection! Nashville veterans would really sit up and take notice when Archie and Reggie did their high-harmony thing to this beloved and much-recorded Country classic.

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Love’s Gonna Live Here
Written by Buck Owens
Sung by Buck Owens
If any Nashville songwriter was capable of writing hits for The Archies, it would’ve been the late Buck Owens. His good-natured, high-stepping Bakersfield Country sound fits the group like sky fits heaven! When we conceived this demo, Owens’s 1963 smash “Love’s Gonna Live Here” was the very first song we tagged for inclusion. The lyric works equally well sung by a man or a woman, and Connie Smith cut a very respectable cover version that almost ended up here. No doubt, Betty would do it proud!

A Wonderful Time Up There
Written by Lee Roy Abernathy
Sung by Pat Boone
Every great Country album needs a straight-ahead Gospel tune, preferably as the closing track. We’ve chosen a longtime personal favorite, Pat Boone’s popular 1958 remake of “Gospel Boogie”. We think we know why Boone decided to retitle this 1947 song: In order to avoid raising the hackles of conservative Christians! Having grown up in a Southern Baptist church, Stuffed Animal is well-acquainted with the outrage that can erupt when sacred music sounds like it’s been “secularized”. Veronica isn't one to shy away from controversy: What do you bet she'd love to sink her teeth into this number? My boy Jughead could knock it out of the park, too.

Oklahoma Hills
Written by Jack & Woody Guthrie
Sung by Hank Thompson
We wanted to include a Country standard dating back to the years of the Great Depression. To find one, we automatically looked to the Hank Thompson catalogue; during his lifetime, this great bandleader and singer all but defined the style known as Western Swing. The classics ol’ Hank cut with his Brazos Valley Boys, radio staples like “Humpty Dumpty Heart”, “Wild Side Of Life” “Blackboard Of My Heart” and “Oklahoma Hills” are nothing less than iconic. The latter tune, penned in the early 1940s by Folk music legend Woody Guthrie, held a special place in our hearts; Stuffed Animal remembers hearing it on the radio constantly as a child. Instead of Hank Thompson, some Folk group or other was probably singing the song, but Hank's version is certainly the best we’ve ever heard.

Waiting For You
Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Sung by Connie Francis
Jeff Barry, the Archies’ original songwriter and producer, has written numerous Country hits, including "Out Of Hand", "Lie To You For Your Love" and the Rockabilly-tinged "Savin' The Honey For The Honeymoon". However, Jeff didn’t write many two-steppers with Ellie Greenwich, his most famous songwriting partner. This rare exception was commissioned by Pop diva Connie Francis in 1964, and although intended for single release, it was only issued overseas. Kinda like The Shirelles classic “Soldier Boy” done Country-style, “Waiting For You” would benefit from a duet vocal remake by Veronica and Betty. During the instrumental break, Ms. Francis starts humming the melody; may we humbly suggest a modification? That break needs something more attention-grabbing! It would be a good place for one (or both) of the girls to do a spoken recitation, sending long-distance love to an absent boyfriend serving in the Armed Forces. Maybe something like this: I cried so hard when you went away/I wanted so much to be your bride/But Uncle Sam came in-between us/And I had to step aside/I feel so proud when I see your picture/You look so good in your gray and blue/As long you’re over there keeping us free/I’ll be here waiting for you. Yeah, it’s 'way corny, but you know what? American soldiers really do appreciate those maudlin musical tributes; and somehow, they sound more sincere when conveyed in a Country song.

Heaven Only Knows
Written by Freddie Hart
Sung by Freddie Hart
This bouncy Rockabilly track is just irresistible! Back in the ‘50s, records like “Heaven Only Knows” kept barn dance floors full-to-overflowing. Naturally, Jughead’s barrel-chested bass voice would help Archie put this whimsical call-and-response number across.

Diesel On My Tail
Written by Jimmy Fagan
Sung by Jim and Jesse
With these last few demo tracks, we want to push The Archies' music envelope a wee bit. They’re a little more mature than you’d expect, but certainly not inappropriate for the group’s younger fans. “Diesel On My Tail” is a typical Nashville truck drivin’ song, a foot-tappin’ Bluegrass number whose lyrics are dripping with dark humor. Brothers Jim and Jesse McReynolds do a musical impression of ‘60s comedian Don Knotts: In nervous singing voices, they fret over the possibility that a huge diesel truck will flatten the small sports car they’re riding in! Wouldn’t you just love to hear Archie and Reggie wail lines like There’s a diesel on my tail/Goin’ ninety miles an hour/The reflection in my mirror’s mighty pale/I can hear Saint Peter calling/I can almost smell the flowers/Can this compact take the impact? We know we would!

Just Someone I Used To Know
Written by Jack Clement
Sung by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
In the spirit of popular Archies duet singles like “Who’s Your Baby?”, “Together We Two” (both of which featured Archie and Veronica trading lines) and “A Summer Prayer For Peace” (which paired Archie with Jughead), here’s a vintage 1969 Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton crooner. Reggie and Roni could take it straight to the Grand Ole Opry stage! There’s a long tradition of male/female Country duets that The Archies could and should honor with at least one album track.

Lonely Queen
Written by Johnny McCarthy and Billy Strange
Sung by Jody Miller
Composed by Hollywood guitar great Billy Strange, this obscure Jody Miller album track would give a star turn to that queen of Southern belles, Veronica Lodge. The girl who sings it must be accustomed to riches and glamour, and who fits the bill better than Roni? “Lonely Queen” is a vintage 1965 Girl Group beat ballad, put over with a heapin’ helpin’ of Nashville Sound gloss.

Plain And Simple
Written by Gary Geld and Pete Udell
Sung by Gene Pitney
Some folks call Country music “the White man’s Blues” . . . we wouldn’t swear to that! However, we do know Country has always been tinged with the Blues, especially nowadays with artists like Wynonna Judd and Mandy Barnett on the scene. The Blues certainly isn’t alien territory for The Archies: “Hide And Seek” and several other of their early recordings fairly reek of Mississippi Delta influence (no, we're not kidding). In fact, the flipside of their first single was a bonafide Blues number: The fabulous Jeff Barry ballad “Truck Driver”! Sixties Pop star Gene Pitney was no stranger to the genre, either, as you know if you've heard him sing this hard-to-find album track. Pitney’s reading of “Plain and Simple” is quite torrid, the kind of performance guaranteed to get a female concert crowd screaming and sobbing uncontrollably! Archie Andrews could easily duplicate his passionate delivery, but we hear Arch voicing the ballad far more gently, and with more of a folksy accompaniment.

Walk A Mile In My Shoes
Written by Joe South
Sung by Brenda Lee
Many different artists have recorded this tune; it's a musical interpretation of the Bible teaching “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”(John 8: 1-11). The most successful recording to date belongs to the songwriter, Joe South. Believe it or not, though, a woman can put the sanctified lyrics across just as well as a man, if not better! In fact, Brenda Lee’s 1971 version is definitive! Little Miss Dynamite showed the big boys how this sermon-in-song ought to be delivered, and Janis Joplin wannabe Betty Cooper could do the same thing.

When I Stop Leavin’, I’ll Be Gone
Written by Kent Robbins
Sung by Charley Pride
The great Charley Pride closes our Archies demo with the boot-scootin’est big band Country number he ever recorded. For years, Charley used “When I Stop Leavin’” to close his stage show. It’s a blow-the-roof-off blend of honky tonk and Disco (yes, Virginia, we said Disco) that would give Archie, Reggie and Jughead an opportunity to do some flashy vocal trade-offs. We think it would adapt quite well to a Bluegrass interpretation, and we’d recommend this Kent Robbins tune for the album’s final track.

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Of course, there are hundreds of other Country songs out there that would suit The Archies: Alternates like BJ Thomas' "No Love At All", Olivia Newton-John's version of "If Not For You", Stampeders' "Sweet City Woman" and Gallery's "Big City Miss Ruth Ann" spring to mind. This sampling just gives you a rough idea of how an Archie Country album could come together. Admittedly, it reflects the Pop Culture Cantina’s broad definition of what Country music is; a hardcore C & W purist would surely decry the eclecticism of our list! There’d be no end of objections to the Rockabilly inclusions, and the Pop selections would draw criticism, too. A floor-shaker like “When I Stop Leavin’, I’ll Be Gone” would probably induce a coronary!

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However, Country music has greatly expanded its range over the last 40 years. That has a lot to do with the emerging Americana movement that embraces any musical genre with down-home roots: Folk, Rockabilly, Gospel, Tex-Mex, Country/Pop, even Dixieland Jazz. This new openness makes possible the entry of a cartoon vocal group (namely, The Archies!) into the growing circle of artists who dabble in the Country idiom.

So, how does that grab you, Jon Goldwater? Are you down with the Nashville sound, Victor Gorelick?  Do you dig that twang thang, Mike Pellerito? What would happen if established Country stars like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and/or Asleep At The Wheel were contacted and invited to take part in an Archie Country music project? Might Hal Lifson and Tod Smith’s Nashville story prove prophetic? Might there even be an “Archie in Nashville” comic book series? Archie executives might find themselves generating as much publicity as they did with the recent introduction of Kevin Keller! Why not give it some thought, folks? Keep our demo on the CD player while you’re thinking . . . just a suggestion!

Nothing would thrill us more than if Country-music-loving Archie fans all over the Web would lobby to make this longtime dream of ours come true. All you Red Staters and Blue Staters . . . let's get together and git 'er done! If you crave an Archies Country Music album as much as we do here @ the Pop Culture Cantina, then tweet @archiecomics, @bmi and @CountryMusic right now!  Make your enthusiasm known!!!

On behalf of the Pop Culture Cantina . . .
  Don Charles “Stuffed Animal”
Liner notes writer for the 1996 Mercury/PolyGram Records CD compilations Connie Francis Souvenirs, The Best Of The Angels, The Best Of The Shangri-Las and Growin’ Up Too Fast: The Girl Group Anthology; contributor to the 2001 Feral House anthology Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth

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Original fanart by Don Charles "Stuffed Animal",
imagining Archie, Betty, Jughead, Reggie and Veronica as adults.
Teenage Archie character likenesses created by Bob Montana
(and perfected by the great Harry Lucey)!!!

The Archie characters and images are copyrighted by
Archie Comics, Incorporated.

08 October 2011

Philles Records (Part One)

Twist Uptown

The Phil Spector Album Collection!
The Alley Cats, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, Cher,
The Crystals, Darlene Love, The Righteous Brothers,
The Ronettes featuring Veronica and Ike & Tina Turner
Remixed and Re-Imagined
Part One
by Don Charles Hampton
For fans of 1960s Girl Group music in general, and Phil Spector Girl Group productions in particular, it was the biggest news of the spring: Sony Music’s Legacy imprint would reissue all the original Philles Records albums on CD for the very first time! That is, all but The Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner discs, whose masters Spector sold off back in the late ‘60s. (A raunchy comedy album by Lenny Bruce would be omitted as well.)

Originally scheduled to go on sale in June, the release date came and went. To be sure, Spector fans are used to such delays; a 1987 Rhino Records retrospective that promised extensive stereo remixing was cancelled after much ballyhoo; then Abkco Records’ Back To Mono boxed set was put off for several years. It finally appeared in 1991. At this writing, The Philles Album Collection is due to drop on 24 October 2011. Will it? As always, seeing is believing. At least the track selection has been made available, so buyers know what to expect. If you’ve been buying Spector reissues for a while like I have, though, you’re in for a letdown.

For the discerning collector, Legacy’s package offers very little value. There is a great deal of track duplication between the CDs (The Crystals' Twist Uptown and He's A Rebel are practically the same album, with only two unique tracks between them). Worse, every album will be presented in a mono mix, even though the Ronettes release was originally marketed in a stereo version, and the Christmas album was mixed to stereo decades ago. Most if not all Philles recording sessions were recorded in multi-track. An album collection would be the ideal place to debut stereophonic mixes that have only been available as bootlogs thus far; but Sony Music has not chosen that course of action. No doubt, they are following Phil "Back to Mono" Spector’s wishes in doing so.

Also, no rare bonus tracks have been programmed. There will be a “bonus CD” filled with the throwaway instrumentals that Spector habitually slapped on the flipside of singles, and a handful of album cuts have never been reissued; but essentially, fans will be paying for the packaging! When you think about what this box set might have been . . . how much excitement would’ve been generated just by the reissue of previously-available stereo cuts, you just have to shake your head in disgust. Think of the huge profits that might’ve been realized! Only hardcore Spector collectors are likely to shell out money for this set. These days, catalog A & R staff seem determined to give consumers the least amount of bang for their bucks; it’s a cynical and short-sighted strategy, to be sure.

You’ll see the vintage music blogosphere posting reviews galore of The Philles Album Collection once it hits the streets. Here at the Pop Culture Cantina, we’ve decided to approach this release a bit differently. We’re not going to review it at all! Instead, we present the following description of a virtual Philles box set, the kind we’d prefer to buy. The Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina albums are miraculously restored to the catalog, tracks are re-sequenced for maximum listening pleasure, all song duplication is eliminated, and . . . well, you’ll see!

He's A Rebel

Gee Whiz (Carla Thomas)*
featuring La La Brooks
Oh, Yeah! Maybe Baby (Hank Hunter, Phil Spector)*
featuring Patsy Wright
There’s No Other Like My Baby (Leroy Bates, Phil Spector)*
On Broadway (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil)**
I Love You, Eddie (Hank Hunter, Phil Spector)***
He Hit Me (Gerry Goffin, Carole King)*
He’s Sure The Boy I Love (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil)
featuring Darlene Love
Frankenstein Twist (Kate Henry, Leo McCorkle)*
featuring La La Brooks
What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen! (Jack Keller, Larry Kolber)***
Please Hurt Me (Gerry Goffin, Carole King)*
Uptown (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil)**
Another Country, Another World (Doc Pomus, Phil Spector)***
No One Ever Tells You (Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Phil Spector)**
He’s A Rebel (Gene Pitney)
featuring Darlene Love
He’s A Rebel
The Crystals featuring Barbara Alston
*Arranged by Phil Spector and Arnold Goland
**Arranged by Phil Spector and Hank Levine
***Arranged by Phil Spector
Arranged by Jack “Specs” Nitzsche
A Phil Spector Production
Produced by Phil Spector
Recorded at Mirasound Studios, New York City
and Gold Star Studios, Hollywood
1961 - 1962

In the summer of 1962, Philles Records issued its first album, The Crystals’ Twist Uptown. As the title indicates, it capitalized on the success of the group’s recent big hit “Uptown”. There were eleven tracks; the twelfth song would certainly have been the withdrawn-from-sale “He Hit Me”, very conspicuous in its absence. By the time 1963 rolled around, The Crystals had scored two more best-sellers, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” and the chart-topping “He’s A Rebel”. Twist Uptown was discontinued, and a new LP titled He’s A Rebel was rushed out that spring. Basically the same album, it restored “He Hit Me” to the line-up, but stingily deleted “Please Hurt Me” and La La Brooks' excellent cover of “Gee Whiz”. The new hits appeared in their place. What if Spector had tacked them on as bonus tracks instead? Then Crystals fans would’ve had a pip of an LP to enjoy, and it probably would’ve charted much higher than #131 on Billboard's album chart.

No matter the track line-up, this disc would’ve been a showcase for the serene vocal style of Barbara Alston. Arguably less than memorable, it was nevertheless a perfect sound for the Rock ballad records Spector was cutting at the time. Barbara was at her best with Latin-flavored accompaniment, and “On Broadway” (featuring the original, pre-Leiber and Stoller lyrics) is her standout performance, along with the aforementioned “Uptown”. A brisk Latin arrangement backs Patsy Wright on “Oh, Yeah! Maybe Baby” and enables a very weak singer to sound presentable. The cuts featuring Darlene Love and La La Brooks are a taste of Spector productions to come, sung with Gospel fervor and powered by a much more brash Wall of Sound. Again, Latin licks sell the numbers: “He’s A Rebel” is one of the best rock-a-tangos of the early ‘60s, while an echo-drenched cha-cha beat turns “Gee Whiz” into a song Carla Thomas, the original composer and vocalist, would hardly recognize. Before the end of ’63, Miss Brooks would distinguish herself as a true Latin Pop diva.

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

Let The Good Times Roll! (Leonard Lee)*
I Shook The World (Jackie DeShannon, Jack Nitzsche)
White Cliffs Of Dover (Nat Burton, Walter Kent)*
Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Heart?
(Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers, Phil Spector)
Here Comes My Baby (Phil Spector)*
featuring Bobby Sheen
My Heart Beat A Little Bit Faster
(Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers, Phil Spector)
Everything's Gonna Be All Right (Phil Spector)*
featuring Bobby Sheen
Jimmy, Baby (Jackie DeShannon, Jack Nitzsche)
This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)*
Not Too Young To Get Married
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
Do The Walk (Phil Spector)*
featuring Bobby Sheen
I Love You, Baby (Phil Spector)*
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (Ray Gilbert, Allie Wrubel)
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
featuring Darlene Love

*Arranged by Arnold Goland
Arranged by Jack "Specs" Nitzsche
A Phil Spector Production
Produced by Phil Spector
Recorded at Gold Star Studios, Hollywood

and Mirasound Studios, New York City
1962 - 1963

Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans, comprised of session singer Bobby Sheen with Darlene Love and Fanita James of The Blossoms, only had a trio of hits. It might’ve only been one hit single, had Spector not decided to extend the shelf life of the group’s name with two follow-ups led by Darlene Love; but the biggest by far was their remake of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, and the only release that deserved to become the title track of an album. Still, fans must’ve been disappointed to find that the next biggest seller, “Not Too Young To Get Married” was missing from the track line-up. Had the LP been issued a little later in the year, it probably would’ve been included. In its place we find “Dr. Kaplan’s Office”, which had been the instrumental flipside of “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart?” Instrumental tracks are fine, as long as they’re played by the artists they’re credited to; however, there’s nary a Blue Jean on “Kaplan”; it’s played entirely by Phil Spector’s studio cats, informally known as The Wrecking Crew. Its merits as a dance tune aside, it doesn’t belong on the album!

Let’s explore how the LP might’ve sounded if “Lovers” had been included, along with an unreleased tune that might be the most danceable thing Bobby, Darlene and Fanita ever cut together. In either form, Darlene Love’s voice is the main event; as good a singer as Bobby Sheen was, Spector just wasn’t interested in him with Darlene around! He successfully passes her off as teenage boy on both Bob. B. Soxx follow-ups, and lets her sing from an obviously female point of view on most of the album tracks. She shines on two Jackie DeShannon-penned cha-cha rockers, “Jimmy Baby” and “I Shook The World". Either would’ve made an excellent single. Lady Love aquits herself well on a cover of Woody Guthrie’s folk anthem “This Land Is Your Land”, and she brings down the house on a Gospel-cum-Blues tour-de-force, “My Heart Beat A Little Bit Faster”. The latter tune backed some copies of her debut single, “Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”, and fully deserved getting a long-play showcase. (Curiously, the charting topside was left off Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah).

Bobby Sheen does get a few moments in the sun: A haunting Blues called “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right” and the frantic “Here Comes My Baby”, soon to be covered by Toni Jones on Smash Records. He also makes the best of his brief solo spots on “White Cliffs Of Dover”. Bobby’s wailing lead on “Do The Walk” would’ve challenged Darlene’s vocal dominance; but the track wouldn’t be issued until 1981, on a British-only compilation of Philles rarities. Soon, Bobby would be at Capitol Records, pursuing a solo career that never took flight. Always more successful as the member of a group, he’d later join The Coasters.

Today's Hits

Anyone But You (Jeff Barry)*
Ruth Brown
Why Lead Me On? (Howard Guyton, Esther Navarro)**
The Top Notes
Hey, Memphis! (Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)*
LaVern Baker
Hearts Of Stone (Rudy Jackson, Ed Ray)**
The Top Notes
A Kiss From Your Lips (Billy Davis, Russ Fratto)***
Billy Storm
When You Dance (Andy Jones)***
Billy Storm
Talk To Me, Talk To Me (Joe Seneca)*
Jean DuShon
Honey Love (Clyde McPhatter, Jerry Wexler)****
Billy Storm
Dear One (Fred Parris)***
Billy Storm
Tired Of Tryin’ (Jean DuShon)*
Jean DuShon
Twist And Shout (Bert Berns, Phil Medley)**
The Top Notes
The Basic Things (Derek Martin, Esther Navarro)**
The Top Notes
Puddin’ N’ Tain (Bryce Coefield, Gary Pipkin, Alonzo Willis)
The Alley Cats
Today’s Hits
Phil Spector Artists
*Arranged by Phil Spector
**Arranged by Teddy Randazzo
***Arranged by Lee Hazlewood and Hank Levine
****Arranged by Stan Applebaum

Arranged by Jack “Specs” Nitzsche
A Phil Spector Production
Produced by Phil Spector
Executive Producers:
Jerry Wexler and Lester Sill
Recorded at Atlantic Studios, New York City
and Gold Star Studios, Hollywood
1961 - 1963

If The Crystals’ He’s A Rebel was a rip-off for consumers, the various artists compilation Today’s Hits was even worse: It cannibalized songs from that album as well as The Crystals’ Greatest Hits collection (more about that album later), Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans’ Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah set and The Ronettes’ forthcoming debut on long play. For his money, the buyer did get several non-LP tracks by The Crystals (“Then He Kissed Me”) and Darlene Love (A and B-sides, including one issued under the Bob B. Soxx moniker). This is the second (and final) Philles album Darlene’s vocals would dominate, and for that reason, it’s highly sought-after by her fans. Why shouldn’t she have had a collection of her own, though? We’ll address that oversight later on. For now, let’s re-imagine Today’s Hits as a showcase for both The Alley Cats and several artists Phil Spector worked with in the year he founded Philles Records, 1961.

Phil’s early productions were usually one-off projects released on small independent labels like Dunes, Trey, or Gregmark. However, he was a staff producer at both Liberty and Atlantic Records, and it was at Atlantic that he did most of his studio work. Under the supervision of Jerry Wexler, he cut sessions with two of the label’s biggest stars: Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker. He also tried to pull hits on three lesser-known acts: Former Valiants member Billy Storm, doo-wop duo The Top Notes, and Jazz singer Jean DuShon. In 1989, Japanese catalog A & R producers decided that the best of those releases would make one hell of a good album. They compiled Twist And Shout, a Japan-only compact disc that’s now so rare it’s almost frightening. So what if, instead of recycling masters and selling Darlene Love short on long-playing vinyl, Phil had given those non-hit Atlantic singles a second lease on life? He could have licensed them to fill up Today’s Hits, and tacked on “Puddin’ N’ Tain” as a bonus track and sample of his current work. OK, we know it’s a far-fetched concept, but it works!!!

These waxings may not have made the charts, but they kick ass! There's nothing second-rate about Billy Storm doing his dead ringer Clyde McPhatter impression over Phil’s deliciously Latinized backing tracks for “When You Dance” and “Honey Love”; nothing lacking in The Top Notes’ feverish Blues deliveries on “Hearts Of Stone” and “Twist And Shout” (the original version!); nothing shabby when Jean DuShon informs her lowdown, cheatin’ hubby that she’s “Tired Of Tryin’”; and when LaVern Baker reveals her cougar lust for Elvis Presley on “Hey, Memphis!” as Phil frets his electric guitar within an inch of its life, it sure ain't nothing to be ashamed of! The Ruth Brown record does drag a bit, but arguably, these Atlantic rarities are just as engaging as the Philles sides that ended up on Today’s Hits. By the way, Bobby Sheen scores one last star turn singing “Puddin’ N’ Tain”, a suggestively-titled update of the Gary “US” Bonds house party sound. Ironically, Phil hired Bobby to sing lead in place of Billy Storm, who’d recently left The Alley Cats to cut a solo album for Buena Vista Records.

A Christmas Gift For You

Stereo
White Christmas (Irving Berlin)
Darlene Love
Frosty, The Snowman (Steve Nelson, Jack Rollins)
The Ronettes featuring Veronica
The Bells Of Saint-Mary’s (Emmett Adams, Douglas Furber)
Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
(John Frederick Coots, Henry Gillespie)
The Crystals featuring La La Brooks
Sleigh Ride (Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish)
The Ronettes featuring Veronica
Marshmallow World (Peter De Rose, Carl Sigman)
Darlene Love
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Tommie Connor)
The Ronettes featuring Veronica
Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Johnny Marks)
The Crystals featuring La La Brooks
Winter Wonderland (Felix Bernard, Richard Smith)
Darlene Love
Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers (Leon Jessel, Ballard MacDonald)
The Crystals featuring La La Brooks and Nedra
Here Comes Santa Claus! (Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman)
Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home!
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
Darlene Love
Silent Night (Franz Gruber, Joseph Mohr)
Phil Spector
A Christmas Gift For You!
Phil Spector Artists
Vocal Arrangements by Phil Spector and Darlene Love
Arranged by Jack “Specs” Nitzsche
A Phil Spector Production
Produced by Phil Spector
Recorded at Mirasound Studios, New York City
and Gold Star Studios, Hollywood
1963

Here’s the album that’s been reissued so many times, it’s become a music industry cliché! Like most (all?) of the Philles masters, it was recorded on multiple tracks, but originally issued in a mono version only. Later, when Spector was working with individual members of The Beatles, he secured a reissue for his Christmas spectacular on their imprint, Apple Records. That pressing was also monaural. In 1974, Phil cut a deal that resulted in the short-lived Warner-Spector label, and the LP was reissued yet again. The cover said “authentic mono”, but this time, there was a surprise in store for loyal fans. When they lay their phonograph needles down in its grooves, glorious stereo sound burst forth for the very first time! Not long afterward, a stereo reissue surfaced in England on the Phil Spector International label. These are the only Christmas album releases that are worth tracking down; avoid like the plague the re-monaural-ized versions later issued by Rhino, Abkco and Sony Music! Their mono mastering sounds amateurish in comparison to Larry Levine’s bold mixes on the original Philles LP.

Now, there are mono-only snobs galore who circle the Spector catalog like a constellation of evil stars; they flare in outrage at the thought of a Wall of Sound heard on multi-tracks. As far as we're concerned, these people should be locked in a warehouse filled with old overstock transistor radios! The Christmas album should only be heard in stereo! What joy, to experience Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector, Bobby Sheen and La La Brooks in the aural equivalent of Technicolor: It’s great to hear the cross-speaker panning of footsteps on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, stereo sound effects on “Sleigh Ride”, isolated handclappings on “White Christmas”, and isolated string sections shimmering like an aurora on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”!

Needless to say, the vocal performances are perfect (except for Phil Spector’s, but maybe that’s an unfair assessment since he isn’t singing)! A Christmas Gift For You! is almost sequenced perfectly, too; even if there were bonus tracks available, we wouldn’t dare try to add them. The only change we'd make would be to switch the placements of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Christmas” on Side Two; Darlene Love’s most famous Philles record deserves to be the album’s penultimate track. A maudlin Spector monologue spoken over the strains of “Silent Night” is the only thing that should follow such a bravura performance!

And contrary to common mono snob wisdom, stereo does not break up the Wall of Sound! That massive rhythm section still exists in its own channel, instruments stacked on top of each other just the way Spector intended them to be heard. If he’d wanted vocals and strings to be part of that mix, he surely would’ve recorded them at the same time as everything else.  Now, is a stereo Wall of Sound the same one people heard over their sound equipment in 1963? Of course not, but that exact sound will never be heard again unless you listen using 1960s-era sound systems. Who the @#%$ wants to do that? Modern mono mixes try to preserve Spector productions in amber, draining them of vitality and introducing a low-fi distortion that wasn’t present on the original sides. To our ears, none of the modern reissues measure up to them. Done with an ear for aural impact, stereo mixes would update Philles albums for the 21st century equipment they’d surely be played on.

Fabulous Ronettes

Stereo
What'd I Say? (Ray Charles)
Walkin' In The Rain (Barry Mann, Phil Spector, Cynthia Weil)
Be My Baby (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
Do I Love You? (Pete Anders, Vini Poncia, Phil Spector)
The Best Part Of Breakin' Up (Pete Anders, Vini Poncia, Phil Spector)
So Young (Phil Spector, William Tyus)
I Wonder (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
You, Baby (Barry Mann, Phil Spector, Cynthia Weil)
Baby, I Love You (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
How Does It Feel? (Pete Anders, Vini Poncia, Phil Spector)
When I Saw You (Phil Spector)
Chapel Of Love (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes
The Ronettes featuring Veronica
Arranged by Jack "Specs" Nitzsche
A Phil Spector Production
Produced by Phil Spector
Recorded at Gold Star Studios and United Western Recordings,

Hollywood
1963 - 1964

Phil Spector lavished more time and attention on the tracks that make up this album than any other Philles Records release save the Christmas album. Significantly, while he delayed mixing his holiday masterpiece in stereo, Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes was issued in stereophonic sound right from the start. In fact, it was the first Philles album made available in that format. Many if not most Spector fans consider it his finest LP production, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Phil agreed with them. Kinda calls into question the notion that he despised multi-track, doesn’t it?

What we know for sure is that he adored Veronica Bennett's baby doll voice, and he spent hours recording it at Gold Star and United Western Studios prior to their marriage in 1968. Arguably, he wanted to give it the best aural showcase he could devise; that meant stereo sound, and still does. We've heard the monaural version of The Ronettes LP: It sucks! 45 RPM singles are the best vehicle for mono, and that record proves it. Compared to the multi-track mix, it sounds flat and dull on modern sound systems. The extra reverb Spector dubbed onto the stereo version adds more majesty to majestic recordings like “Walkin’ In The Rain”, “Baby, I Love You”, “Be My Baby” and “I Wonder”. To my ears, “What’d I Say?” (a studio recording with fake “live-in-concert” sound effects) is much less exciting in mono; and the widescreen effect stereo provides is a tremendous enhancement to quivering Rock ballads like “So Young” and “Then I Saw You.” Veronica’s Spanish Harlem vibrato may have been sharp enough to pierce through waves of orchestrated noise, but we like how she sounded when it didn’t have to.

Both versions of the album left something to be desired in terms of sequencing, so Pop Culture Cantina staff imagines a track line-up that allows the mood of the selections to rise and fall, as music does during a classical concert. Classical music was Phil Spector’s main inspiration, after all . . . “What’d I Say?” makes for a splashy, colorful opening number. “Walkin’ In The Rain” and “Be My Baby” present the orchestra at its best. “Breakin’ Up” and “So Young” soothe the crowd. After the intermission, “I Wonder” thrills them with its spicy Flamenco flourishes. A sultry “You, Baby” gives the audience a chance to bask in serene choral harmonies; then those voices explode into the anthemic glory that is “Baby, I Love You”. The mood modulates down through “How Does It Feel?” and “When I Saw You”, and a superb concert ends in a crescendo of Latin percussion and doo-wop Soul: “Chapel Of Love”! There couldn’t be a more appropriate finale; Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s #1 smash closed the original track listing, too.

Would you believe that, after such a stunning debut, The Ronettes were denied a follow-up album? (A Ronettes Lp issued on Colpix Records the following year was a compilation of pre-Philles recordings.) Just like the lack of a Darlene Love album, this is an injustice that begs to be made right. Stay tuned!

The Crystals Greatest Hits

I Wonder (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)*
A Woman In Love (Barry Mann, Phil Spector, Cynthia Weil)
Mashed Potato Time
(Robert Bateman, Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman,
Brian Holland, Kal Mann)
featuring Veronica
Da Doo Ron Ron (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
All Grown Up, Part One (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
Hot Pastrami (Dessie Rozier)
featuring Veronica
Then He Kissed Me (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
Look In My Eyes (Ritchie & Vinne Barrett)*
featuring Dee Dee Kennibrew
Girls Can Tell (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
The Twist (Hank Ballard)
featuring Veronica
Heartbreaker (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
All Grown Up, Part Two (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)*
Wah-Watusi (Dave Appell, Kal Mann)
featuring Nedra
Little Boy (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector)
The Greatest Hits
The Crystals featuring La La Brooks
*Arranged by Phil Spector and Arnold Goland
Arranged by Jack "Specs" Nitzsche
A Phil Spector Production
Produced by Phil Spector
Recorded at Gold Star Studios, Hollywood
and Mirasound Studios, New York City
1961 - 1964

Pity the poor Crystals! Their biggest hits are recordings they had nothing to do with; Phil put out Darlene Love singles under their name, and didn’t even bother to tell them beforehand. They didn't find out until the singles got played on the radio. As you see, Darlene wasn’t the only Crystal who never was a Crystal, either. Adding insult to injury, Spector put very little thought into the group's albums. He dubbed their second (third?) long-player Greatest Hits, a curious move in the fall of ’63; they were on such a roll that releasing a hits compilation was certainly premature.

Cynically, Spector used this album as a vehicle to promote his newest act, The Ronettes. Ronnie Spector sings lead on “Mashed Potato Time”, “Hot Pastrami” and “The Twist”, while her cousin Nedra does the honors on “Wah-Watusi”. To complete this hodgepodge of old and new masters, Phil recycled already recycled material from the He’s A Rebel and Today’s Hits albums and added one new song: A previously-unreleased remake of The Chantels’ “Look In My Eyes”. Dee Dee Kenniebrew, a Crystal he didn’t get along with, sings the lead, and he mixed her vocal track so poorly, you can barely hear the lyrics! By contrast, Ronnie’s voice is front-and-center on her sassy covers of early ‘60s dance rockers. The real Crystals must’ve been hopping mad when they heard this so-called hits collection; once again, Phil had made illegitimate use of their name! However, there was nothing that the girls could do, because he owned their name.

It’s nearly 50 years after the fact, but let’s see if we can’t do right by The Crystals. Let’s imagine a Greatest Hits that’s as good as it could possibly be! To accomplish that feat, we’ll load it up with performances by The Crystals’ finest vocalist, La La Brooks. Despite her fabulous leads on “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me”, La La (appropriately born with the Spanish name Dolores) has never gotten the credit she deserves. To this day, some listeners assume those aforementioned Top Ten smashes feature Darlene Love’s voice. Not so! Our Miss Brooks shared Darlene’s Gospel background, but she had a singing style all her own. We'd say it lay halfway between Darlene’s Sunday morning blaze and Veronica´s midnight smoulder.

She wasn’t particularly fond of Latin-flavored tunes, but she excelled at singing them; in Spain, the talented mulata would probably have been hailed as a master interpreter of the pasodoble. Just listen to her commanding vocals on castanet-laden gems like “I Wonder”, “Girls Can Tell”, the outstanding “Little Boy”, and the aforementioned tour-de-force, “Then He Kissed Me.” “Heartbreaker”, not released on wax until 1976, reveals La La as a mean Latin boogaloo singer, too! She dares to invade Ronnie Spector ballad territory with a Diana Ross-styled reading of Mann and Weil’s “Woman In Love”; Veronica cut the song, too, but many fans regard La La’s version as definitive.  If you can't decide which one of her readings of "All Grown Up" is best, you don't have to; both are included here!

La La Brooks and Phil

DOLORES "LA LA" BROOKS with PHIL SPECTOR

“The Phil Spector Album Collection” concludes with Part Two.