Phil Spector turned “Unchained Melody” into a 20th-century classic with his Wall of Sound Righteous Brothers production. On a Triple J radio session, Lykke Li strips all that away on an intimate acoustic cover. She teased the audience about the song’s prominent placement in Ghost before unveiling her plaintive version.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Phil Spector collection Back to Mono (1958–1969), the landmark set that compiles all of the early productions by the one-in-a-million wunderkind. Phil Spector’s abhorrent personal life and criminal history notwithstanding, the man’s influence on American music is indisputable.
So much in music circles back to this now-infamous sociopath. Music seems to channel Spector now more than ever: She and Him spearhead a resurgence of doo-wop sounds; Best Coast rebuild the Wall of Sound in fuzzier, shoegaze form; and, while it is no longer 1999, there are still millions of teenage generations to come that will have to see Top Gun and download the song all over again. So let’s celebrate the music that defined a generation and changed the landscape of popular American music forever. Here are five of the most well-known and oft-cited covers of classic Phil Spector productions. Old and new, these tracks have contributed to the ongoing resurrection of the Wall of Sound.
Live Collection brings together every live cover we can find from an artist. And we find a lot.
You think Vermont music, you might think flanneled hippies strumming mandolins. Not Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. They may come from the great wooded north, but their big soul sound comes straight from Dixie with a side of south-side Chicago. Potter is a vocal tour de force, a skinny white girl with an enormous voice. She can do a two-hour show without fading a bit and her hot four-piece band keeps right in step. Searing guitar solos abound, but nothing can upstage that voice.
Through years of near-constant touring, the band has amassed quite a stack of covers. In our latest Live Collection, we collect every concert cover we could find (thanks archive.org!). That includes blasts through Blondie, My Morning Jacket, and a whole lot of Neil Young – including a 14-minute “Cortez the Killer” that should be required listening for any rock band. Josh Ritter joins the band on John Prine’s “Pretty Good,” but otherwise they don’t need any help in blowing the roof off any building they play.
As a special bonus, below the main set we have the thematic new covers from their 2009 New Year’s Eve show. The band had clearly been spinning the Top Gun soundtrack a lot; they cover seven songs from the darn thing! And not just the original soundtrack either. The band apparently took to the 1999 Special Edition CD, cause they run through three of the four old-school bonus tracks as well. In between ’80s classics like “Take My Breath Away” and “Danger Zone,” the band throws out Top Gun lines as a wink to clued-in audience members. “This is Ghost Rider requesting permission for a flyby!” Permission granted.
You’ve probably heard that last week Phil Spector was finally sentenced for second-degree murder in a verdict that surprised no one. Now sure, it’s easy to make fun of his eccentric courtroom hairstyles, but that makes it no less sad that such a man has sunk so far. Arguably the most favorite producer ever, Spector built an empire with his “Wall of Sound,” churning out hit after hit. The stories of his obsessive need for perfection in the studio are the stuff of legend, him driving artists to the brink of exhaustion to reproduce what he had in his head. Many of his classic girl group tracks are given new interpretations below, as well as some of his more surprising work doing albums like Let It Be.
Glasvegas – Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Perhaps the quintessential Spector production, the original is a pop masterpiece. It’s been covered from everyone from John Lennon to We Are Scientists (which you can get at this Girl Groups post, with many other Spector covers), and here Scottish foursome drenches the pep in reverb, sounding like a pleading breakdown. [Buy]
Bruce Springsteen – Then She Kissed Me (The Crystals)
For the opener of one of the final shows on last year’s Magic tour, Bruce surprised everyone by doing a cover he hadn’t done since ’75, a slightly gender-altered take on the Crystals classic. Check out the stadium-sized roar when he starts singing and the crowd realizes what it is. Thirty-four years later, it hasn’t aged a bit. Speaking of Springsteen, I’m seeing him in Boston tomorrow and Wednesday. Here are two Bruce posts to celebrate. [Buy]
Frurk – Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (The Ramones)
The fact that the Ramones picked Spector to produce them for End of the Century is bizarre, and one wonders how they put up with his famous eccentricity. This song in particularly is noteworthy for the eight hours Spector had Johnny Ramone play the opening chord to get it perfect. One chord, eight hours. Listen to the original and see if it was worth it, then come back for this slowed-down lo-fi take. [Buy]
The Ramones – Baby I Love You (The Ronettes)
In a tribute to Phil Spector’s production, it’s nice to actually post a track that was produced by Spector. When Spector produced the Ramones, it seems he couldn’t resist throwing a track he produced twenty years prior at ‘em. Here he tries to navigate the difference between punk and girl groups, bringing out Joey Ramone as a real singer in the process. [Buy]
The Morning Benders – He’s a Rebel (The Crystals)
A strange fact about many of Spectors’ groups is that he held the rights to their name, so he could have recorded Donovan and called it “The Crystals” if he wanted. While he never went that far, guess who wasn’t on the Crystals’ only number one hit…the Crystals! Not wanting to wait for the group to return from touring to record this new song, Spector used Darlene Love and the Blossoms on this track. Word has it that the Crystals heard their hit on the radio one day and, needless to say, were quite confused. [Buy]
Gladys Knight and the Pips – Let It Be (The Beatles)
Trying to cover the Beatles is an idea best avoided. Unless you’re Gladys Knight, in which case you can bust the hell out of any song you please. When it begins, you might think you’re in for a reasonably by-the-numbers cover. And you would be wrong. Hold on to your eardrums, cause voices like this don’t come along every day. [Buy]
Jeff Mangum – I Love How You Love Me (The Paris Sisters)
The man behind indie legends Neutral Milk Hotel released Live at Jittery Joe’s a few years back, showcasing a concert from 1997 where through audience requests he worked through early versions of songs that would end up on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. [Buy]
David McComb & Adam Peters – Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On (Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen doesn’t write many stupid songs, but I guess even poet gods need to let lose sometime. So enter this little instructional ditty from the Spector-produced Death of a Ladies’ Man to remind you, “You can’t melt it down in the rain.” Because apparently that’s something you might want to do. [Buy]
The Saints – River Deep Mountain High (Ike & Tina Turner)
Spector caused a stir in 2007 when during his euology for wife-beater Ike he said “Ike made Tina the jewel she was. When I went to see Ike play at the Cinegrill in the 90s…there were at least five Tina Turners on the stage performing that night, any one of them could have been Tina Turner.” He then continued by attacking Oprah for promoting Tina’s autobiography. Another sign that Phil Spector may not be the authority on how a man should treat a woman. All Covered in Punk features vintage groups covering everything from Blondie to Frank Sinatra. Here we find a brawling Saint’s b-side from ’77 resurrected in all its fuck-you glory. [Buy]
Phosphorescent – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (The Righteous Brothers)
A heartbreaking live one here, the slide acoustic cracks in the voice. The mood is apparently lost on the asshole laughing in the background and I’m not sure the sing-along chorus helps the vibe. If there’s ever a studio version released of this, I want to be the first to know. [Buy]