Even the Today programme (Radio 4, 25.2.14) has now trailed the launch of the much-praised new music documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, about backing singers, so I had better post my notes, although I haven’t actually seen it yet.
It apparently proposes that Phil Spector invented the backing group as we know it with his use of The Blossoms on He’s A Rebel, in 1962.
Hear it at
Another interesting thing about this record was that it was a complete studio confection – attributed to The Crystals although they were busy touring when the record was pressed and Darlene Love of The Blossoms sang the lead, while Fanita James and Gracia Nitzsche doo-wopped.
It was an un-necessary deception. The Crystals were quite capable of recording hit records – they made Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me – and The Blossoms were quite capable of performing live. But the pressure was on Spector to come up with a new Crystals record quickly and he wanted to do something with He’s A Rebel, written by Gene Pitney.
It had already been recorded, by Vikki Carr, by the time he got his chance, but the version by Spector and the Blossoms shot to Number 1 in the US charts and Vikki Carr only got 115 – although she had the consolation of getting to Number 5 in Australia. She had to wait three more years for her first US and UK hit, It Must Be Him. Later, incidentally, she became a major star in Spanish.
According to La La Brooks, lead singer of The Crystals, the first they knew of He’s A Rebel was hearing it on the radio and then looking at each other in astonishment when the DJ said it was their record. La La, from Brooklyn, who was 14 at the time, then had to learn to enunciate like Darlene, from L.A., for the purposes of live performances. But as far as I can see, there are no recordings of her actually singing the song as opposed to miming to it.
There is a nice interview with La La about the whole episode on the website songfacts.com – http://tinyurl.com/k24s3fs/
Nobody ever paid much attention to the actual lead singer on the track, Darlene Love,until her story became the intro to 20 Feet From Stardom.
Spector used her and The Blossoms on another track attributed to The Crystals, He’s Sure The Boy I Love.
He also helped her to three modest hits under her own name in 1963 – Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home, Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry and A Fine Fine Boy.
But according to the books, her most enduring hit as Darlene was Baby Please Come Home, on Spector’s 1963 Christmas album. Hear it at http://tinyurl.com/orqzv6w/
Phil Spector used the royalties from this song to buy out his partners, with the stipulation that his ex-partners would share in the profits of the next two Crystals singles.
First, he got The Blossoms to pose as The Crystals again for He’s Sure The Boy I Love. Then he stuck two fingers up by using The Crystals as The Crystals but making their record unmarketable by calling it Let’s Dance The Screw. Only one copy of it was pressed and the royalties for Spector’s ex-partners amounted to zero, but he had become sole owner of Philles Records.
Two slightly different cuts of Let’s Dance The Screw can be found on YouTube nowadays:
Darlene Love was so upset at being left out of the credits for He’s A Rebel that she later took, for a while, to claiming that she also sang lead on the bigger Crystals hit, Da Doo Ron Ron, although it now seems to be clear that that was La La.
Find out more about the film and see some clips at www.twentyfeetfromstardom.com/
* A Crystals-related PS:
In the Gdn 29.10.13, Alexis Petridis wrote about the late Lou Reed’s first almost-hit, Do The Ostrich, with The Primitives, released December 1964, when mini dance-crazes were all over the market.
“A quick knock-off was clearly what it was. Reed could not even be bothered to write his own riff, pinching it from The Crystals’ 1963 smash Then He Kissed Me. But there it’s resemblance to a chart hit ended. Reed had tuned all the strings of his guitar to the same note, resulting in an intense clangorous din. He’d later use the same trick on Venus In Furs and All Tomorrow’s Parties.”
Petridis adds that Reed delivered the words in a way which made clear “the lyrics are not trying to start a novelty dance craze at all – they’re the sound of a drugged-out New York smartass, sneering at anyone stupid enough to indulge in a dance craze”.
Elsewhere in the same newspaper, an obituary of Reed recalled the guitar tuning trick on Do The Ostrich as the thing that impressed John Cale and got them working together.
Do The Ostrich by The Primitives? Bless YouTube, once again – http://tinyurl.com/27o2uxq/