In 1958 at the age of 18 a brash young singer/songwriter from Los Angeles named Phil Spector wrote a song called "To Know Him Is To Love Him". Together with three friends from high school Phil formed a group called The Teddy Bears and eventually recorded the song for the Dore label who released it as a single. Within months "To Know Him Is To Love" streaked to the top of the Billboard charts and remained there for three weeks. While he enjoyed performing Phil Spector's real ambition was to become a record producer. Phil moved to New York and honed his skills for a couple of years at the legendary Brill Building. While there he had a hand in making a half dozen hit records including the Ben E. King classic "Spanish Harlem". Encouraged by his success he launched his very own Philles record label in 1961. And the rest as they say is history. Phil Spector would go on to become one of the most successful and respected producers in the history of rock and roll. He perfected a multi-track recording technique he dubbed his "Wall of Sound". There had never been anything quite like it and utilizing this approach Phil Spector would go on to make some of the biggest and brightest pop hits of the 1960's. Now in 2011 Sony Legacy has seen fit to release a superb two-disc set "The Essential Phil Spector" which features 34 of these sensational tunes. If you dig the oldies or pop music in general this is a collection you should seriously consider owning.
"The Essential Phil Spector" is a career-spanning anthology that offers up all of those terrific Brill Building hits. Perhaps my favorite among this group is Curtis Lee's "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" from the summer of 1961 that was a staple on "oldies" stations for so many decades. Also, at the beginning of Disc One you will find one of Gene Pitney's earliest hits "Every Breath I Take", Ray Peterson's Top Ten recording of "Corinna, Corinna" and The Paris Sisters splendid version of "To Know Him Is To Love Him" from 1961. Great stuff! But as you might expect the vast majority of the tunes on "The Essential Phil Spector" were culled from the vaults of Philles Records. For me it was a joy to sample once again the timeless music of The Ronettes and their extraordinary lead singer Ronnie Spector singing great hits like "Be My Baby", "Walking In The Rain" and "Baby, I Love You". Meanwhile, I was happy to see that all of those great early 60's hits by The Crystals including the #1 smash "He's A Rebel", "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)", "Uptown", "Then He Kissed Me" and the rollicking "He's Sure The Boy I Love" were also included. All in all there are 21 tracks in this collection featuring that "girl group" sound and you will find that each and every one of them is impeccably produced and an absolute joy to listen to.
The Righteous Brothers had experienced some moderate chart success in the early 1960's when they caught the eye of Phil Spector. He signed them to his Philles label in the autumn of 1964 and immediately set about to create a new and distinctive sound for the boys. Their debut single on Philles was "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and it shot right to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in early 1965. Several more Top 10 hits would follow in relatively short order including "Ebb Tide" and "Unchained Melody". All three of these tunes appear on "The Essential Phil Spector". Now hidden among the 34 tracks in this collection are a pair of gems that I feel compelled to call to your attention. R&B legends Ike and Tina Turner recorded a tune called "River Deep-Mountain High" with Phil in 1966. By all accounts this was to be Phil Spector's crowning achievement and everyone expected it to be a monster hit. Inexplicably the record fell flat on its face and rose no higher than #88 on the Billboard charts. Despite its lack of commercial success most critics agree that "River Deep-Mountain High" was one the best things Phil Spector ever recorded and you have an opportunity to sample it here. Likewise, I would urge you to check out the final song on Disc Two. "Black Pearl" was a tune recorded by Sonny Charles and The Checkmates Ltd. back in 1969. As I recall this was essentially a lounge act that Phil spotted and decided to bring in for a recording session. The results are pure magic.
"The Essential Phil Spector" should be considered a "must" for any collector of American popular music. The liner notes are excellent, the sound quality is superb and as I mentioned earlier the price is definitely right. As best as I can determine you will find 5 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees associated with the anthology including Ike and Tina Turner, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, The Righteous Brothers and of course the great Phil Spector himself. This is a well thought out and exquisitely produced tribute to one rock and rolls biggest and most innovative hitmakers. Very highly recommended!
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