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 Donny Jacobs
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.