Phil Spector says he doesn't like to judge art, including his own, so he was wary when I asked him to react to my list of the 10 best selections in "Phil Spector: Back to Mono (1958-1969)," the four-disc box set that will be released Tuesday.
But when he agreed, I didn't have to listen to his answers to tell which of his own creations he feels closest to--I just timed the answers. Spector spent less than 10 seconds on the Crystals' "Uptown," which he dismissed as one of his "commercial" efforts.
By contrast, he spent almost 10 minutes each on the records that are generally considered to be the masterpieces from his own Philles Records collection: the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " and Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep--Mountain High." These are excerpts from the conversations about the records, which are listed chronologically:
Recorded by Ben E. King, the 1960 single reached No. 10 on the national pop charts. It is the only record in the box set that Spector didn't produce. The producers: Jerry Leiber (who co-wrote the song with Spector) and Mike Stoller.
I wouldn't put it on my personal (Top 10) list, but I feel strongly about the song. It was definitely intended as social commentary. I had come back to New York from California, where there were all these green lawns and trees, and there was just this poverty and decay in Harlem. There were no roses in Spanish Harlem, but the song was an expression of hope and faith in the young people of Harlem . . . that there would be better times ahead.
The Crystals, 1962, No. 13. Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Again, it's a protest song in a sense. It had a certain strut to it . . . a real underdog attitude, kinda like the Drifters' "On Broadway." But it wouldn't be in my Top 10. I was thinking more commercial.
"He's a Rebel"
The Crystals, 1962, No. 1. Written by Gene Pitney.
This record is special to me because it was the real start of Philles Records--and it introduced me to Darlene Love, whose voice I just loved. I knew it was going to be a hit song. I like Gene's writing a lot . . . this and things like "Hello Mary Lou" (a hit for Ricky Nelson). This song had a great attitude about it, and I was able to build a sound around it.
Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, 1962, No. 8. Written by Ray Gilbert and Allie Wrubel.
One of several songs that was a childhood favorite of mine. "Goodnight Irene" was another one and "Corinna, Corinna," which I did (in 1960) with Ray Peterson before I started my own label. I first heard "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" in Walt Disney's "Song of the South." I didn't know until later about all the controversy surrounding the movie--that it was supposed to be racist and all that. I just loved the song. . . . There was just this warmth.
I knew some people would say that teen-agers wouldn't want to listen to a kid's song, but I thought I could make the record work. Some of the artists (on the session) weren't familiar with the song, and they thought I was just making up words. But the song had won an Academy Award, and I was thrilled when Ray Gilbert called to say he was touched by the record.
"Da Doo Ron Ron"
The Crystals, 1963, No. 3. Written by Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry.
I was so thrilled when George Goldner (who had produced Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love") called to say it was the best rock record he had ever heard. It was a record that I envisioned from the first note. That's the way I usually worked. I never just heard the song, but the finished record.
"Be My Baby"
The Ronettes, 1963, No. 2. Written by Spector, Greenwich and Barry.
Of all my records at Philles, that's probably a sentimental favorite of most people. When Paul Shaffer first met me, he said he still remembered the first time he heard "Be My Baby." He said it felt like (Ronnie Spector's) voice was calling him over the radio and saying, "Here I am . . . everything you want in life." And that's just the feel we wanted.
That was the first time I felt confident that I had a No. 1 record. After working with Ronnie for a year, I felt I finally was able to put the kind of simplicity in a record that Frankie Lymon used to have.
In fact, I felt so secure about this record that for the first time I put one of those "signing" pictures in the trades. I had always dreamed of doing that. As a kid, I'd see a picture of Mitch Miller or whoever with the words inks so and so . So this was me "inking" the Ronettes. Maybe I was just trying to show how much I believed in the record . . . lend some personal support.
"Then He Kissed Me"
The Crystals, 1963, No. 6. Written by Spector, Greenwich and Barry.