Here, we continue our tribute to Phil Spector, one of the most influential producers in the history of pop music, with a selection of rare and unusual cover versions of his work by European female singers of the 1960s.
In part one, we presented versions of songs originally recorded by artists from Ben E King to Ike and Tina Turner. Here, we continue with the husband-and-wife duo’s best-known hit and move onwards through the alphabet via Johnny Nash, The Paris Sisters, The Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes to Spector’s earliest work, with The Teddy Bears.
The real star track of Spector’s sessions with Tina Turner was River deep – mountain high, a production so colossal that, for many, it eclipsed all his previous work. There were a few dissenters, however, that claimed the production overwhelmed the song (“It was a wall of water and everyone was drowning,” Darlene Love is said to have commented).
As it turned out, the song bombed in the US. Whether this was due to Spector having failed to grease enough palms to secure airplay or because of industry prejudice against Spector is open to debate.
In Europe, however, the record was a success and open many doors for Ike and Tina Turner. In the UK, it proved their breakthrough hit, reaching number three in the charts. It also prompted umpteen cover versions. Perhaps the most unlikely of which was a very prim one by British singer Anita Harris on her 1969 Cuddle toy LP.
In Denmark, Annisette and the Dandy
Swingers issued a version, and in Germany
studio group Die Cornflakes cut a translation,
Kein Weg ist zu weit, though, sadly, few record
buyers noticed or cared.
In Italy, Iva Zanicchi used her strong, soulful
vocals to great effect on a single called Le
montagne, while fellow Italian Patty Pravo
issued an alternative version with a different
title – Ci amiamo troppo – and different lyrics
on her 1968 debut LP.
Early in his career, Phil Spector cut a clutch of
tracks with country-soul singer Johnny Nash,
including I’m counting on you, which was issued
as a B-side in 1961.
In Britain, Petula Clark’s take on the song stalled just outside the UK top 40 in early 1962.
Petula would later get to work with Spector when he booked her to appear in The big TNT show, which was staged in November 1965 and also featured Ray Charles, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Byrds and, of course, The Ronettes.
It’s said that part of the appeal for Phil Spector of working with San Francisco’s Paris Sisters – Priscilla, Sherrell and Albeth – was the opportunity to be seen as a producer who could be successful on both east and west coasts of the States. If that was indeed his aim, he achieved it. I love how you love me, issued in late 1961, proved a top five hit in the US.
In the UK, Welsh songbird Maureen Evans reached number 34 in the charts in 1964 with her version of the song. (Meanwhile in France, Dalida cut a version of the B-side, All through the night, as Toutes les nuits.)
Showing a distinct lack of imagination, Maureen Evans also recorded The Paris Sisters’ follow up. He knows I love him too much, for her own follow up, though this time as the B-side.
Much better was the version issued a year later by Londoner Glo Macari. Ivor Raymonde used a Spector-esque larger-than-life production style to give some oomph to what had been a somewhat understated tune in the hands of The Paris Sisters. The combination has made this a much sought-after release among collectors.
The Righteous Brothers – Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield – had a contract with California’s Moonglow record company before Spector leased them to his Philles label. He had a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition in mind for them, You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’.
The result was considered Spector’s most ambitious work to date. It hit the top spot in the US and is reported to be the most played song in radio history.
However, the hit also hid private sorrow. Spector’s wife, Annette, is said to have known that their marriage was over when she heard the opening line, “You don’t close your eyes anymore.” (The first song Spector wrote after meeting her began, “I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me.”)
Pity Cilla Black too. She watched as her version stalled at number two in the charts while the original leapfogged to the top spot. She also faced humiliation when Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham took out an ad in Britain’s Melody maker magazine extolling the virtue of the original over hers.
Given the flak meted out to Cilla, it is perhaps surprising that fellow Liver bird Barbara Ann and Somerset’s Anita Harris also issued takes on the song. And what Oldham would have made of Dutch doll Trea Dobbs’s cover is anybody’s guess.
Spector’s association with The Righteous Brothers was relatively short lived, but the duo enjoyed several further hits, including Unchained melody, which reached number 24 in the UK charts and number 27 in Germany. The release prompted not one but two Italian versions – star Iva Zanicchi scored big with hers, retitled Senza catente, while unknown Tihm’s went unnoticed.
Once Phil Spector found The Ronettes his
interest waned in his other groups. The reason
for this, of course, is that he had fallen head over
heels for lead singer Ronnie. The pair began a
clandestine relationship and, after Spector’s
divorce from Annette, eventually they married
Spector often used the titles of his songs as
messages – meaning that The Ronettes’ first
two hits, Be my baby and Baby I love you,
were not only great songs in their own right,
but also odes to his new love.
Europe also began a love affair with the group,
and their records prompted more cover
versions than any other Spector act.
In the UK, Be my baby gave the group a top three hit in the autumn of 1963, and little-known
Aida Foster stage school graduate Grazina (Frame) also cut a version. In Sweden, Ann-Cathrine Widlund recorded Tro mej, älskling!, while in Germany, the translation – Sei mein Baby – was issued as a B-side by Suzanne Doucet.
In France, the original gave The Ronettes their biggest hit. It was also reworked to become Reviens vite et oublie for homegrown singer Sophie. However, she was beaten in a sales war by Les Surfs – and the Paris-based Madagascan six-some liked the song so much they also recorded it in Spanish, as Tu serás mi baby. In fact, the group almost made a career out of covering the New York trio’s hits – with Baby I love you overhauled to become Je te pardonne and Do I love you transformed into Reste avec moi.
Presenting the fabulous Ronettes became the group’s first full LP in 1964. In addition to their singles, it also included new material including You baby. The song was chosen for release as a 45 – but not by the Manhattan maidens. Instead, British singer-songwriter Jackie Trent issued her take on it, and Belgium singer Ariane cut it as C’est pour toi.
Born to be together became The Ronettes’ first single of 1965, but it failed to match the success of earlier releases. Interestingly, it was later covered by British-based US singer PP Arnold, who had launched a solo career after quitting the Ikettes during a tour of the UK. She also cut a version of The Ronettes’ follow up, the marvellous Is this what I get for loving you, and Marianne Faithfull’s near-chart hit version is also highly regarded among fans of the genre.
Spector then began to lose interest in The Ronettes as a group, preferring instead to concentrate on Ronnie as a solo artist.
Tellingly, he handed over production duties on I can hear music, issued in August 1966, to Jeff Barry. The song lucked out in the US, and Brit girl group The Breakaways fared no better with their later version.
Ronnie recorded 1969’s You came, you saw, you conquered on her own, though the release was credited to The Ronettes all the same. Sadly, it proved the group’s final 45. Behind the Iron Curtain, the song became Tvuj krém, tvuj nuz, tvuj ruzenec in the hands of Czechoslovak star Marta Kubišová.
“To know him was to love him” was the inscription on Phil Spector’s father’s tombstone. In 1958 the then budding songwriter altered those words slightly to make them the title of the debut hit of his group, The Teddy Bears. The gentle ballad, featuring vocals by Annette Kleinbard, hit the top spot in the US in December 1958.
In Europe, the song passed unnoticed. However, in Germany, Melitta Berg released it as Nur du, du, du allein on a single in 1965, and French singer Michèle Torr cut a version, Tout doucement, for her 1966 Ce soir je t’attendais LP.
The success of the original demonstrated to Spector that teen angst was a highly marketable product... The rest, as they say, is history.
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