Phil Spector was one of the most influential producers of pop music of the 1960s. He pioneered the ‘wall of sound’ production technique, which layered the work of literally dozens of musicians and vocalists to create a dense, reverberant sound. Here, in the first of a two-part special, we present a celebration of his work – with a selection of many rare and unusual versions of his hits by European female singers of the 1960s.
Phil Spector is most frequently associated with the girl group sound of 1960s New York. But in the mid-1960s, as London became the centre of the pop world, Spector turned his attention towards Europe – performing in the studio with the Rolling Stones, introducing Britain to The Ronettes and Ike and Tina Turner and, at the end of the decade, producing the Beatles’ Let it be album.
What he would make of the fact that so many of his songs were covered by European artists is open to debate. That said, France held a great interest for him – his mother was from Paris and he was a keen student of the French language at school – so maybe he would forgive us this tribute.
Jerry Leiber had originally written the melody to Spanish Harlem with the Drifters in mind. When Ben E King quit the group and Leiber’s usual writing partner, Mike Stoller, was away, the songwriter asked Spector to pen some lyrics. The result was recorded in autumn 1960 – with Spector playing guitar on the session – and soared into the US top ten.
In Europe, Dalida, the Egyptian-born singer of Italian descent, cut the song as Nuits d’Espagne for the French market and the oddly titled Der Joe hat mir das Herz gestohlen for the German one. Despite selling some 130 million records during her career, she remains practically unknown in the English-speaking world.
Darlene Love has said she became convinced
Spector was crazy when she heard the name
he’d given his newest group and the song he’d
picked for their first release. She was one third of
Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans, along with Fanita
James and Bobby Sheen. Although she may not
have thought much of the idea of reworking
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, an old Disney number, as
a gospel pop song, the 45 made the US top ten
in November 1962.
It was followed by Why do lovers break each
other’s hearts and Not too young to get
married in 1963 – and both were re-recorded
for the European market.
The former was cut by Brit girl Beverley Jones
and it became Oui les filles in the hands of French girl group Les Gam’s. The latter was overhauled to become Je ne suis pas trop jeune by Les Surfs. In fact, the Paris-based Madagascan six-some practically carved a career for themselves out of covering Spector songs, with The Ronettes their principal source of inspiration.
Bobby Sheen was the Bob of Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans. He also provided backing vocals for He’s a rebel. In 1962, he cut How many nights (how many days) during Spector’s short stay at the Liberty label, but it flopped.
Two years later, British singer Alma Cogan recorded a version as the B-side of her Snakes and snails. The single was part of a move to reinvent herself as a contemporary artist in beat-tastic Britain. Sadly, neither the record nor the new image proved a success.
Spector launched the label Phi-Dan with his friend Danny Davis in 1965, though he didn’t actually produce any of the label’s eight singles. Of them, Bonnie and the Treasures’ Home of the brave proved Phi-Dan’s only hit, and a small one at that. Interest was raised in this slice of teen angst penned by husband-and-wife team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil due to the release a rival version by Jody Miller, which went on to become the bigger hit of the two.
In the UK, the song was given a bratty overhaul the same year by Trinidad-born singer Peanut, who later became better known as half of brother-and-sister act Mac and Katie Kissoon in the 1970s.
Radio bans often have the effect of sending a record to the top of the charts. But that wasn’t the case for Brooklyn girl group The Crystals’ third 45, He hit me (it felt like a kiss). Its failure sent Phil Spector searching for a truly first-rate follow up. The Gene Pitney-penned He’s a rebel proved just such a track. The song spent two weeks at the top of the US charts.
It also became The Crystals’ first European hit, reaching number 19 in the UK charts. And it prompted some hit-or-miss covers, including versions by both The Breakaways and Helen Shapiro in the UK and by Monika Lind – with the song retitled Vilken slyngel – in Sweden.
The only trouble was that The Crystals hadn’t actually recorded the song – that duty had been passed to the LA-based Blossoms, with Darlene Love on lead vocals. The Blossoms also stepped in to record the follow up, He’s sure the boy I love. In the UK, Scottish singer Lulu recorded an energetic version of the song for her Something to shout about LP.
Finally, in autumn 1963, The Crystals were asked – or at least lead singer La La Brooks was asked – to sing on a Crystals 45. The result, Da doo ron ron, is considered one of Spector’s finest. It reached number three in the US, number five in the UK and gave the group their first hit in Germany, reaching number 22. It was another popular choice for European cover versions. In Denmark sister act Eva & Inge did the honours, and in the Netherlands home-grown heroine Anneke Grönloh stepped in with Da doe ron ron. In Sweden garage girl band The Plommons issued their take on it as a B-side, as did Dutch-born singer Suzie in Germany, although somewhat belatedly, in 1969.
Then he kissed me proved The Crystals’ last US top 40 hit. It reached number six in the States in the early autumn of 1963 and number two in the UK. In Germany, where The Crystals’ original had just missed the top 40, Die Hully Gully Girls cut the German version of the song, Hully gully.
The less immediate I wonder became The Crystals’ final European hit when it made number six in the UK charts in March 1964, coinciding with the group’s British tour.
If any singer got a raw deal from Phil Spector, it was Darlene Love. As lead singer with the Los Angeles-based Blossoms, she kept being promised that Spector would give her top billing. But instead, he carried on releasing her vocals in the names of other groups, notably The Crystals, and she sat back and watched them become huge hits.
Ultimately, however, Spector relented and Darlene released Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry as a single in spring 1963. It’s understood that Spector offered her a choice between the rights to the song and $3,000. Though the song stalled at number 39, we’re guessing she probably wishes now she hadn’t taken the money...
Wait ‘til my Bobby gets home gave her a bigger hit that summer when it reached number 26. In the UK, it was covered by Coventry’s little-known Beverley Jones.
A fine, fine boy, issued later that year, proved Darlene’s last US chart hit. In France, Jocelyne – a kind of French answer to Brenda Lee – included her version, Il a tout pour lui, on her debut EP.
Even quality releases such as 1966’s Too late to say you’re sorry were overlooked by record-buyers, though France’s little-known Maguy honoured the song with a cover, Baby-ness, a year later.
The Dixie Cups’ Chapel of love was the first release on Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s Red Bird label in 1964. Phil Spector had written the song with the couple and had cut versions with both The Ronettes and Darlene Love. When he showed little interest in releasing either version, Barry and Greenwich re-recorded it with New Orleans girl group The Dixie Cups. They were rewarded with a US chart topper for their efforts.
The song also charted for the group in the UK, reaching number 22. In Germany, it made a disappointing number 48 – perhaps that’s why unknown domestic dolls The Chicks re-recorded it as Ich will deine Liebe, though their version fared no better.
In Italy, meanwhile, girl group Le Amiche scored a top 40 hit with their version, Se mi vuoi un pò di bene, and Caterina Valente also recorded a version in Italian. In France, the song became Le pays du rêve in the hands – and mouths – of Les Gadget.
(The Dixie Cups went on to score further hits, and if you’re a fan of the Red Bird label, you might be interested to know that we’ll be publishing a tribute special later this year.)
Phil Spector had had his eye on Tina Turner for a while and was quite surprised when her husband, Ike, agreed so readily to work with him. But Turner argued that what he cared about most was to have a big hit for the couple. Fortunately, so did Spector.
Tina went to work with Spector on five tracks for an album. They included Everyday I have to cry – a song that has been recorded by a host of artists. In Europe, Julie Grant had previously issued it as a single in the UK, as had Swedish doll Anita Lindblom in Germany, with her recording retitled Dafür will ich keine Rosen. British star Dusty Springfield included a version on her debut solo LP, A girl called Dusty, and re-recorded it for release in Italy as Tanto so che poi mi passa. In France, it became an EP track for Marianne Mille, Oublie de pleurer,.
But the real star track of Spector’s sessions with Tina Turner was River deep – mountain high...
In part two we pay further tribute to Phil Spector, with a selection of European versions of that Ike and Tina Turner track plus other takes on his songs for The Paris Sisters, The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, The Teddy Bears and others.