14 May 2010

The Angels (Part Two)

The Angels EP
Starlets, Halos and Jersey Girl Jive

The Angels
The Amazing True Story of An Incredible
Morphing Girl Group

by Donny Jacobs

In 1982, Richard Gottehrer took time out from producing The Go-Go's to reminisce about The Angels' record dates: "We would first do the tracks, usually at Associated Recording, and then we'd take the tapes over to Stea-Phillips (Studios) in the Hotel Victoria ballroom, where we'd do the vocals . . . we used a fourth girl, Bernadette Carroll, on a lot of The Angels' records (because) she had that kind of Jersey nasal sound we wanted. We'd always double the vocals, both the leads and the backgrounds. We tried as much as possible to mix at Columbia (Studios) with an incredible guy, Stanley Weiss. We just liked each place for different things. We'd try to do four songs in one session, (and) we'd use the same musicians: Herbie Lovelle on drums, Billy Butler and Bobby Comstock on guitar; we'd use both a stand-up and an electric bass with Bob Bushnell, and LeRoy Glover did a lot of the arrangements." Alan Lorber arranged some of the dates, too, and in addition to the aforementioned players, Artie Kaplan directed the horn section. Kaplan blew a mean tenor saxophone himself! With assorted bent notes and wobbly chords, production values got a bit wild sometimes, but as Jiggs Allbut once observed, "It was just fun . . . just great fun!"

F-G-G's work with The Angels triggered their own transformation into a Rock 'n' Roll act. In 1964, they cut a song demo with the girls called "Love, Love (That's All I Want From You)". The growing proliferation of British beat groups inspired them to record it themselves, and when they leased the master to Swan Records, it became their first chart record as The Strangeloves. With faux Australian pedigree, leopardskin fashion sense, and a fetish for primitive percussion instruments, the boys went on to score a trio of booming best-sellers for the Bang label. The most memorable was "I Want Candy" (Bang 501), which rose to #11 Pop in the summer of 1965. Nearly all of The Strangeloves' waxings featured the same brash playfulness as The Angels' releases of 1963-4. Also in 1965, The Angels and The Strangeloves went into the studio with session singer Jeannie Thomas and recorded together as The Beach Nuts. "Out In The Sun" (Bang 504), their wacky send-up of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song" quickly became a cult favorite. The Angels didn't appear on follow-up Beach Nut singles, because they were busy undergoing yet another transformation.

In October of 1963, the Flamenco-flavored "I Adore Him" b/w a gorgeous slow dance ballad called "Thank You And Goodnight"(Smash 1854) followed "My Boyfriend's Back" into the Pop charts. Unfortunately, it was the last Angels single to break Top Forty. After "Wow Wow Wee" ended The Angels' chart run in early '64, radio programmers proved stubbornly resistant to their new product. With Bob Gaudio of The Four Seasons, Peggy Santiglia wrote a delightful seasonal song called "Snow Man", and decided to cut it as a solo single. Released on the Tollie label (9018) under the name Peggy Sans, the single failed to chart, but it got her thinking seriously about a solo career. By 1965, The Angels' contract with Smash/Mercury had run its course and nothing much was happening, so with the blessing of Jiggs and Bibbs, Peggy took an extended leave of absence.

She got more deeply involved with Bob Gaudio and his Four Seasons production company. Peggy sang background on Frankie Valli's 1966 flop "You're Ready Now" (Smash 2037, later a British hit), co-wrote the Seasons' 1967 best-seller "Beggin'"(Philips 40433), and cut a pair of bouncy mid-'60s singles as Jessica James, the leader of a girl group called The Outlaws. (Bernadette Carroll and ex-Delicate Denise Ferri were her partners-in-crime at the recording session.) "Give Her Up, Baby"(DynoVoice 213) and "We'll Be Makin' Out"(DynoVoice) married her Angel sassiness to a funky, foot-stomping rhythm sensibility. During the same time period, producer Jack Gold hired Peggy to dub in Patty Duke's singing voice on a string of singles released under the actress's name; "Don't Just Stand There" (United Artists 875) was the biggest hit, going Top Ten Pop. Later, the always-in-demand Ms. Santiglia toured with The Serendipity Singers and appeared on the folk group's 1967 album Love Is A State Of Mind (United Artists 6619).

Meanwhile, Jiggs and Bibbs Allbut decided to re-invent The Angels as a sophisticated nightclub act. "We changed our name to The Halos, and sang in supper clubs. (This) was a time when we didn't do our own songs. There was no nostalgia back then. It wasn't until the ('60s Rock 'n' Roll) revival that we started singing our hits again." The sisters executed this radical left turn by recruiting a Timi Yuro-style Soul chanteuse to fill Peggy Santiglia's lead spot. Reportedly, they met Toni Mason during background vocal sessions for "Treat Him Tender, Maureen"(Apt 25080), a one-off single that F-G-G released under the bogus girl group name Angie and The Chicklettes.

The Halos

Toni's bluesy wail couldn't have been more different from Peggy's voice, but the Allbut sisters managed to adapt, and their new blend sounded awfully good to A & R executives at Congress Records. Four Congress singles, produced for The Halos by Phil Spector acolyte Pierre Maheu, sounded even better: "Just Keep On Lovin' Me!" (Congress 244), "You're Never Gonna Find" (Congress 249), "Hey, Hey, Love Me" (Congress 253) and a Motown-ish remake of the 1959 Fleetwoods hit "Come Softly To Me" (Congress 262) were artistic triumphs; it's no exaggeration to call them some of the finest samples of Girlpop ever waxed. Toni Mason's leads were superb, Jiggs and Bibbs' harmonies sparkled, and LeRoy Glover and Artie Butler outdid themselves writing the stellar arrangements.

By the late 1970s, these Spectorized singles had become highly-coveted collectibles in British Northern Soul circles. In 1965, though, they all stiffed, prompting Congress Records to abandon plans for a Halos album. The trio haunted the East Coast supper club circuit for another year or so, but Jiggs and Bibbs eventually had to admit that Blue-eyed Soul wasn't such a good fit for them. Amicably, they parted company with Toni Mason (who'd later morph into a high-powered talent agent for the William Morris company) and The Angels were reborn. Peggy Santiglia was still freelancing, so the Allbut sisters asked ex-Pixies Three vocalist Debbie Swisher to fill in for her. She wasn't always available, though, so when she wasn't, old friend Bernadette Carroll would front the group. Bernadette and Debbie sang lead on a rotating basis during the late '60s, and both can be heard on a series of unsuccessful RCA Victor singles The Angels cut in 1967 and '68.

The Angels with Bernadette Carroll

The same year Peggy Santiglia finally returned to the fold, 1969, impresario Richard Nader staged an oldies concert at New York City's Felt Forum. The show was so well-received, it kicked off a nationwide classic Rock 'n' Roll revival. The girls couldn't have been more delighted; suddenly, all their old songs were in demand again! The Angels have been riding the wave of '60s nostalgia ever since, making sure to sneak new records onto the market every now and then. Today, the Allbut sisters are celebrating their 50th year as performers! Bibbs Allbut retired from the stage many years ago, but her talented niece, Karalyn Hugo has now taken her place in the group. The latest CD by Jiggs, Peggy and Kara, titled Love, The Angels, includes a 21st century update of "My Boyfriend's Back". F-G-G's most successful tune won a new generation of fans after Bob Gaudio featured it in Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based on the life of Frankie Valli.

The Angels Today

And what of The Strangeloves? They broke up 'way back in 1968 after scoring one final chart single, the Jeff Barry/Marty Sanders-penned "Honey Do" (Sire 4102). Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer went on to have varying degrees of individual success (Richard worked with Blondie and other Punk/New Wave bands, Jerry produced War and managed Sly Stone, and Bob is the father of actor Corey Feldman); separately, they remain active in the entertainment industry. Recently, though, they found themselves reunited as legal defendants in a court case! In 2009, The Angels sued their former producers for back royalties. To be sure, this won't be the last time million-dollar music made in a recording studio led to a million-dollar settlement-making in an attorney's office. Our lighthearted tale of two vocal groups won't necessarily end on a sour note, though; music people litigate against each other all the time, and often, hard feelings vanish once the dust has settled. That's the nature of show business! Whatever the lawsuit's outcome, the sterling quality of F-G-G's work with The Angels will never be tarnished.

The Girl Group era is perhaps best described as an intersection in time where great producers, great singers and great songs came together. That certainly was the case with F-G-G, The Angels, and "My Boyfriend's Back." Funny, isn't it, how the idea for this legendary rock number practically fell into the songwriters' laps? It might've been fate, coincidence, or just a stroke of good luck. When you think about it, though, there's only one likely explanation: Angels were smiling down on them! Listen to the heavenly singing voices of Phyllis and Barbara Allbut, Peggy Santiglia, Linda Jankowski and Toni Mason, and you'll believe in angels, too.

A Halo To You

*lyrics to "My Boyfriend's Back" 

copyright ©1963 EMI/Blackwood Music, Incorporated

A different version of this essay was used as liner notes for the 1996 Mercury/Chronicles CD release The Best of The Angels.

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