So a couple of days ago I’m sitting in my local corner cafe, eating my tuna wrap, reading my F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, suddenly, unbidden, the question crossed my mind.
What exactly did we need the Brits for?
I’m sure it had nothing to do with the speaker behind my head, which was emitting a string of programmed oldies in crystal clear sound, having just yielded these two back to back…
Among other things, It made me wish all over again that I could track down the quote from Marianne Faithfull where she recalled a conversation with Jack Nitzsche, where she had repeated the Approved Narrative that rock and roll was dead until the British Invasion saved it and he proceeded to play her a bunch of records like these until she realized the error of her ways. (One reasons I’d like to track it down is to prove I’m remembering correctly. Age gets to you that way.)
Now if he only could have gotten hold of the staff at Rolling Stone!
BTW: I’m still working on the answer to that question. F. Scott Fitzgerald isn’t helping a bit. Maybe looking long enough at this will…
A few days back, Greil Marcus, who trashed Phil Spector’s Back to Mono box when it came out, recommended it to someone who wanted to know where she should start if she wanted to get to know Spector’s music.
Very Trumpian I thought–doubly so if he was just being mean–but it did put me in the mood to revisit the box…on headphones.
Listening to Spector at this distance creates an audio equivalent of double-vision for us obsessives. No matter how glorious the sound in your ears is, and no matter how completely you are able to forget the gentleman is a psychopathic murderer, there is always the high probability that someone, somewhere has written about how, in order to really hear it, you need to have the original Philles single…and maybe a Bang and Olufsen (at least) to play it on.
Or the rare European-only vinyl pressing from the sixties.
Or the original tapes that somebody heard in their “truest” form on some bootleg version that was playing down the hall while they were meditating in their college dorm in 1968.
Or when they were hanging out with Phil at his home studio during the first of his several hundred retirements back in the sixties.
I’m not sure all those people are wrong either.
I can personally attest that the reissue MGM 45 I purchased “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” on, which listed Bill Medley as the producer, blows all other versions away.
And, even if you can blow all that out of your head (and, when the best records are playing, you can), there’s still the fact that Phil Spector isn’t best heard on a box set featuring upwards of sixty tracks. His greatest work is too intense and his workaday efforts too mundane to make the experience anything but disorienting. Just when you’re thinking one more wall of *&&#@ strings will either make you drive a splinter under your eyelids or send you off to sleep, some bit of genius brings Paradise heaving back into view (though, not, I hasten to add, on the record of that name, on which the Shangri-Las blew the Ronettes away).
One thing I did notice this time around, though, was that Paradise came heaving into view most often according to a distinct pattern.
Again and again, my cheap headphones (ain’t no Bang and Olufsen at my house, alas) kept delivering the notion that Spector did his best work when he was working with a new voice.
And, usually, it was a Seasoned Pro’s voice.
Ronnie Spector (the partial exception to the Seasoned Pro rule–she had made records but was still living at home when he met her)…
In every case, Spector soon tired of whatever quality he had heard in them…and (with a brief exception for Darlene Love, whose power he diluted by parceling out her records under various names, least often her own) subsequent productions–or business arrangements–suffered accordingly.
The usual method for burying anyone who hung around too long (usually no more than a record or two), was to do just that.
Their voices anyway.
Because one thing Phil Spector liked to remind all his singers of, was his ability to make them go away, often at the very moment when one more brilliant arrangement (usually provided by Jack Nitzsche, though there were others), was begging for the Wall of Sound to be dialed back a bit and let the lead singer shine.
The one exception was the former Ronnie Bennett.
Her voice, he was never quite able to tame.
God knows he tried.
On record after record.
And when that didn’t quite work–when he couldn’t quite make her irrelevant to her own records the way he had done with literally everyone else, even Darlene Love–he found other ways. Like marrying her and locking her up in his mansion and killing her career and tormenting her for years until she ran away (carrying her shoes down the mansion’s driveway so she wouldn’t make any noise) and finally stalking her and terrorizing her with death threats everybody thought she was crazy to take so seriously until he finally acted out on Lana Clarkson.
The gift she left him was a box set that bends, but never quite breaks.
FoxGuy67’s perspicacious comments elsewhere sent me on a Jackie DeShannon YouTube journey, which yielded this….From Where the Action Is in 1966.
She had recorded it in 1963 and, if somebody had thought to add those handclaps, it might have busted out…In which case it would have been much harder to deny her the credit she still deserves for inventing folk rock. Except the precise timing, everything I said about “When You Walk in the Room” here, could have been said about “Needles and Pins.” As I’ve said elsewhere (or did I just think it? the memory hazes), the American answer to the British Invasion was out of her mouth before anybody else knew there was a question. And I don’t know if she invented air guitar, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the first person to play it on television….
[NOTE: There’s a nice interview here, where, among other things, Jackie explains the evolution of “Needles and Pins.” Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche wrote it for her….then balked at recording it. She said it was that or nothing. They recorded it. She also debunks any notion that not taking a writing credit in no way prevented her from being the driving force behind the record‘s creation.]
I’m working on a CD review of The Intimate Keely Smith from 1965 (it’s fantastic–still getting my head around it). The election is rushing in, and, with work and my Eve of Destruction-by-Election Soundtrack consuming most of my time, I would be remiss if I didn’t use an intervening breath to share this atypical-but-lovely bonus track…It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the album, but it works beautifully on its own, and a look at those names, all in one place, can only bring a smile to even the grimmest face of anyone who either recalls or studies the history they conjure:
And, if that doesn’t, surely this will:
Keely, flanked by Louis Prima and You Know Who. Never did she bat an eye!
This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions will take place this weekend. There’s been some predictable kerfluffle about Ringo Starr’s second induction (this time in the “Musical Excellence” category, this in addition, of course, to his induction with the Beatles). You can look it up on the net if you’re interested but it’s basically just politics as usual (something about the deal finally going down when Paul McCartney agreed to do the induction if it happened and then making cheeky comments about the simplicity of it all after it did happen…meaning who knows what really happened.)
This is not actually about that. Ringo’s not the first insider to benefit from his connections at the Hall nor will be be the last (or, I suspect, least deserving). It’s a human institution after all.
But we shouldn’t forget that plenty of others are more deserving. Plenty who haven’t been inducted once…which really ought to finally, at long last, become a major criteria in the Hall’s very human future.
So, in the spirit of improvement and striving ever upward and onward, I’ll post my top ten (of many) picks for future recognition in the Musical Excellence category with a list of their basic credentials and an understood “Visionary Spirit” implied next to each name (I didn’t include Glen Campbell since I already got into that recently and holding it to ten is strain enough as it is):
Thom Bell (Producer, Writer, Arranger):
The greatest record man of the 1970s. Would be extra nice if he were inducted with his frequent songwriting partner Linda Creed, if only because there’s no way she’ll get in otherwise.
Pick to Click:
Leslie Kong (Producer, Entrepreneur, Talent Scout, Trailblazer):
There are other great and deserving Jamaican producers. But, whenever the local music broke off the island in the age of its transcendence, it was Kong’s beautiful records–“The Israelites,” “Long Shot Kick The Bucket,” “Vietnam,” significant portions of The Harder They Come soundtrack–forever leading the way.
Pick to Click:
Jackie DeShannon (Singer, Songwriter, Scenester):
With Sharon Sheeley, half of the first successful all-female songwriting team in the history of American music. On her own, the spiritual godmother of “folk rock” and “singer-songwriter” and relentless behind-the-scenes promoter of both Bob Dylan and the Byrds long before it was cool…even behind the scenes. A member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame who was, against all odds and all sense, an even greater singer.
Pick to Click:
Joe South (Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Sideman par excellence):
Worthy for his studio session work alone and writer of as many standards as say, the already inducted Laura Nyro (more than the already inducted Leonard Cohen…I could go on). Beyond that, he made records on his own that embodied the best spirit of a great, turbulent age like little else.
Pick to Click:
Jack Nitzsche (Writer, Arranger, Producer, Sideman, Cynosure of Cool):
One way or another he was in the marrow of career-making and/or groundbreaking records made by practically everybody: Phil Spector, the Wrecking Crew, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Monkees, Neil Young. Oh yeah, he was also the musical supervisor for The T.A.M.I. Show, which ought to be enough to punch his ticket if he had spent the rest of his life at the beach.
Pick to Click:
Al Kooper (Writer, Producer, Sideman, Raconteur):
This category could have basically been invented for Kooper and frankly, I don’t know what they’re waiting for…Oh, that’s right…McCartney was gabbing with Springsteen and they got to talking about Ringo and one thing led to another and…Oh well, Kooper should be in if he never did anything but play the organ on this little number…
In the 1950s alone, he produced “Tutti Frutti” for Little Richard and “You Send Me” for Sam Cooke (pictured with Blackwell above). He did more–lot’s more. But, really isn’t that enough?
Pick to Click:
Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams (Writer, Producer, Singer, Mastermind, Keeper of the Cosmos’ Most Closely Guarded Secrets):
I mean, Lou Reed is being inducted (for the second time) this year for being…interesting. Well, that and being dead. But believe me, alive or dead, he ain’t nearly as interesting as the man who, in his own inimitable words, sang about “sex, niggers, love, rednecks, war, peace, dead flies, home wreckers, Sly Stone, my daughters, politics, revolution and blood transfusions (just to name a few).” Then again, neither was anybody else.
Pick to Click:
Chips Moman (Writer, Producer, Entrepreneur):
He ran the studio with the best name: American. Where Wilson Pickett came to do a ballad. Where Dusty Springfield came when she came to Memphis. Where Elvis came when he came back to Memphis. Where, for a few years, the world came. Believe me, whatever that little studio’s faults, if the world still had such a place, we’d all be a lot better off.
Pick to Click:
Willie Mitchell (Writer, Producer, Band Leader, Sideman, Entrepreneur, Hit-Maker):
The spirit of Hi Records (home of Al Green, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles in the last truly powerful moment of southern soul’s grip on the national spirit) during its reign of glory.
Pick to Click:
There’s a nice, appropriate way to end a list could be a lot longer.
Suffice it to say there’s a lot of work left to do before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is everything it should be. Hope they get started soon, I’d like to live to see it.