Whatever one’s opinion on Phil Spector, there’s never been any argument over the merits of his music.
With the Phil Spector Records/Legacy release of the limited edition seven-CD, 87-song box set Phil Spector Presents The Philles Album Collection–along with a two-disc, 35-song The Essential Phil Spector–the greatness of Spector’s artistry is once again brought back front and center and in all its storied glory.
The box contains the first six original Philles label albums produced by Spector from 1962 to 1964: The Crystals’ The Crystals Twist Uptown, He’s A Rebel and The Crystals Sing The Greatest Hits, Volume 1, and featuring hits like “He’s A Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” with respective lead vocals by Darlene Love and La La Brooks; Zip-A Dee-Doo-Dah by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans (“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others Heart?”); Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (“Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You”); and Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits (hits by The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and The Alley Cats).
Each of the discs, some of which were never fully released officially in CD, is packaged in a mini-replica LP sleeve; the seventh disc, Phil’s Flipsides by The Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra, is a new compilation of Spector’s instrumental B-sides. Girl Groups authority Mick Patrick, a reissue producer/consultant to U.K.-based Ace Records, wrote the box set essay.
Released simultaneously with the box is a new two-disc, 35-song collection, The Essential Phil Spector, containing all the major Spector hits and also featuring those by The Teddy Bears (“To Know Him Is To Love Him”), Darlene Love (“Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home”), Ben E. King (“Spanish Harlem”), Gene Pitney (“Every Breath I Take”), The Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”) and Ike & Tina Turner (“River Deep, Moutain High”). Liner notes for this set are by Domenic Priore, ’60s West Coast rock aficionado, compilation producer, annotator, and author of Riot On Sunset Strip: Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Last Stand In Hollywood.
The new Phil Spector Records/Legacy releases continue the label’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Philles Records label and follow previous reissue compilations focusing on The Crystals, The Ronettes and Darlene Love, as well as a Spector best-of set (Wall Of Sound: The Very Best Of Phil Spector 1961-1966) and a reissue of the legendary 1963 Spector Christmas album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. The Philles album box set is the biggest single Spector release since ABKCO’s 1991 Back To Mono (1958-1969) Spector box, which included three CDs of hits and a single-disc reissue of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector.
Philles Records was the indie label formed in 1961 by Spector and label executive Lester Sill (it took its name by combining the partners’ first names). After it ceased operations in 1967, Spector took his catalog–and future production projects–to a series of other labels, including Warner Bros., where he established the Warner-Spector label in 1974 and recorded the likes of Dion and Cher.
Then heading Warner Bros. Records publicity, top independent music publicist Bob Merlis worked with Spector during the Warner-Spector period.
“When his original tapes came into the building, I actually went to the tape library and looked at them!” says a reverential Merlis. “The spines, the bindings–the master reels! They were really in there!”
He recalls how the tapes provided the contents for a Warner-Spector double-LP set of Spector’s hits entitled Phil Spector’s Greatest Hits and featuring a cover illustration of a Spector Thanksgiving Parade-like balloon being held aloft by his stable of artists including Darlene Love, The Righteous Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans.
“Darlene was pictured hanging out of a window holding up a sign saying ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him,'” continues Merlis. “There was another sign saying ‘Philles’ and a billboard saying ‘Back To Mono.'”
“Back To Mono” was Spector’s signature slogan, and signified his desired return to the single-channel monoraul monophonic sound reproduction of pre-stereo recordings. Some versions of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector carry cover art showing Spector in a Santa Claus costume and wearing a red “Back To Mono” button.
“When I did the publicity for Phil’s Greatest Hits album, I went to the merchandising department and replicated the button and sent it out to all the press folk,” says Merlis. “It had the white type on the red background and had the Warner-Spector logo, which had Phil’s initials in a heart–a parody of the Warner Bros. logo of the WB initials in a shield. I had the buttons mounted on a card that said ‘At last: Phil Spector’s Greatest Hits on Warner-Spector Records and Tapes.’ It was thrilling to have all those singles in one place: Stuff like that was hard to aggregate unless you had all the 45’s and albums.”
Promoting Spector was “a big charge for me,” adds Merlis, “and I wanted be proactive and let people know about the album because I was such a fan of those records–and I was intrigued by the enigma of Phil Spector in how brilliant they sounded: Mean Streets was one of my favorite movies, and hearing ‘Be My Baby’ on its soundtrack was so amazing and really set the tone. Nothing sounds like that!”
The way Spector’s recordings were constructed and produced was “so mysterious,” notes Merlis.
“It really got you involved,” he says. “I’ve long said that Phil’s ‘Wall of Sound’ is like the music of the spheres–celestial music. It doesn’t exist in the temporal world–but it does: Phil did it!”
“I’ve always had a Phil Spector presence on my wall throughout most of my professional life,” he relates. “It’s so hackneyed to say he’s iconic, but he really is iconic. Right now as I’m speaking, I’m looking at a picture of him and Ike Turner shot at the House of Blues when The Blues Foundation honored Jerry Wexler. And right above it is the ‘At last’ card with the ‘Back to Mono’ button!”
[The Examiner wrote the liner notes for a reissue of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector as well as The Sound Of Love: The Very Best Of Darlene Love and Wall Of Sound: The Very Best Of Phil Spector, 1961-1966.]
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