Commercial Context

What were the conditions that led to so many Spector soul songs being recorded in the mid-60s? I think the two principal ones were commercial and historical. To begin with, because “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” was such a smash, the urge to imitate was sensibly based on the prospect of making money. However, the key element that was borrowed from “Lovin’ Feelin’” was not the vocal sound of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield; it was the wall of sound of Phil Spector

Mark Paytress explains the Walker Brothers’ debt to Spector in his booklet for the CD box set, Everything Under the Sun. Drawing on interviews with two of the Walker Brothers, Paytress shows just how the Walker Brothers’ style “echoed the booming blue-eyed soul of the Righteous Brothers,” in Stephen Holden’s phrase, which I quote in the page, Introduction. (See:

Paytress says:

“The Walker Brothers were a particularly intriguing phenomenon. With their shaggy manes, they looked like The Rolling Stones. Scott, in particular, was dubbed, ‘The Blonde Beatle’. But there was nothing raw and callow about their music, cavernous-sounding pop melodramas sung by assured, honey-dipped voices. Every perfectly crafted three-minute epic seemed to embody a lifetime’s grief.

“Records like this don’t get made any more. A studio packed with a 40-piece ensemble of strings, brass, choir and rhythm section. A couple of pop singers round a mike instructed to get it right the first time. Three songs bagged in three hours, two of which would be in the shops less than a week later.

“‘What those records represent, especially the early ones, is one big unified sound,’ maintains John Maus.

“It was [Jack] Nitzsche, engineer on many Phil Spector productions, who’d coaxed Scott into handling the vocal [on “Love Her”], determining that his deep, soulful baritone was better suited to the slow-rolling ballad. He’d also clearly attempted a fair approximation of his old boss’s cathedral-like ‘Wall Of Sound’. The template was clearly the Righteous Brothers’ Spector-produced ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,’ another Mann-Weill original, which had entered the US chart over Christmas, before becoming a huge, transatlantic Number 1 in February 1965.

“‘None of the pop groups could sing like that,’ insists Gary Leeds. ‘Scott, though, had the voice to do it.’…The Walker Brothers couldn’t have touched down [in London] at a more appropriate time.

“Widescreen, gut-wrenching tearjerkers became The Walker Brothers’ forte. Scott’s superior baritone seemed to reach a place where Pitney, Presley and PJ Proby, even at their most lachrymose, were unable to find. The overall sound, though, was more familiar.

“‘The Spector sound wasn’t really a consideration,’ reckons John Maus. ‘Everybody — Jack Nitzsche, Sony Bono, even Brian Wilson and Nik Venet — was simply trying to see how big they could make a record sound. Spector did it by adding layer after layer of overdubs. We got that big sound in one take.’”

I do not agree that Nitzsche, et. al., imitated Spector’s wall of sound simply because, as Maus would have it, they were acting out some testosterone-charged competition to see who could make the biggest sound. The Walker Brothers had hits that were not only three-minute epics that seemed to embody a lifetime’s grief, but were also cavernous-sounding. There had to have been a commercial basis for packing a studio with a 40-piece ensemble of strings, brass, choir, and rhythm section. Certainly, after hiring so many musicians, there was a commercial basis for these pop singers to be “instructed” to get it right the first time!

Ultimately, it must have been the commercial consideration — because the public had already made hits of some Spector soul records, whether produced by Spector or others — that justified writing and recording many more wall of sound soul soundalikes.

For example, the blurb about Phil’s Spectre II: Another Wall of Soundalikes, posted on the Ace records website, implies the commercial consideration for making Spector soul songs.

“When the Righteous Brothers hit worldwide with ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ a whole new set of soundalikes followed in its wake, and the best are included here: the Knickerbockers’ ‘Wishful Thinking,’ the Dreamlovers’ ‘You Gave Me Somebody To Love’…Kane and Abel’s ‘Break Down And Cry’ and the much rarer Bobby Coleman with ‘(Baby) You Don’t Have To Tell Me.'”

In other words, first there were girl-group Spector soundalikes. They were written and recorded to benefit from the huge commercial success Spector had with the Crystals and the Ronettes. Then, “a whole new set of soundalikes” were written and recorded to try to cash in on Spector’s sound with the Righteous Brothers on “Lovin’ Feelin’.”

Strong evidence of a commercial consideration to write and record songs that imitated “Lovin’ Feelin’” is provided in the liners notes for the CD, The Best of Chad and Jeremy.

“Chad’s memories of ‘I Don’t Want To Lose You Baby’ are less fond [than his memories of another song by Van McCoy, ‘Before And After,’ which went to #17 in Great Britain], as he recalls that the [Columbia] label coerced him and Jeremy into a reluctant imitation of the act that was then setting the standard for pop duos, The Righteous Brothers: ‘So here we are, folks — with Jeremy screaming at the top of his range — grumbling all the time.'”

On Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde’s website, Chad further comments on submitting to the label’s coercion.

“As far as the title track [of the album, I Don’t Want To Lose You Baby] is concerned, I’m not sure why we meekly obeyed the powers that be and suited up in our Righteous Brothers costumes. Probably because I hadn’t come up with another hit song like I was supposed to! I vividly remember being Phil Spector’s guest at one of the ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” sessions. It was fascinating to watch Phil lay down that famous wall of sound, little dreaming that one day I’d be part of an attempt to re-create it.”

Whereas John Maus’s recollections are sunny, Chad Stuart’s are dark. Although the Walker Brothers were instructed to get their songs right in one take, these were songs that they really wanted to record, and they did not mind having to re-create the Righteous Brothers’ sound.

In contrast, Chad and Jeremy believe they meekly caved in on their manhood and/or their artistic integrity by obeying their label’s demand that they try to sound like the Righteous Brothers. Columbia’s rationale for coercing Chad and Jeremy was strictly commercial — the label believed it could make money by having Chad and Jeremy record in the style that was setting the standard for vocal duos.

However, and this is crucial, Jeremy’s screaming at the top of his lungs would not, in and of itself, re-create the Righteous Brothers’ “Lovin’ Feelin’.” Two other conditions had to be met in order for the public to associate the kind of song Columbia wanted Chad and Jeremy to record with the Righteous Brothers’ style.

First, the production of the song had to resemble Spector’s production on “Lovin’ Feelin’.” Therefore, to some degree at least, there had to be a wall of sound.

Second, I believe it is not coincidental that the structure of the song resembles “Lovin’ Feelin’.” That is, “I Don’t Want To Lose You Baby” has the a-b-c structure of of the Spector soul “template,” which I describe in the page, Sound (& Structure). A song written this way would be exactly what Columbia wanted. (“I Don’t Want To Lose You Baby” reached #35 in Great Britain.)

Van McCoy wrote “I Don’t Want To Lose You Baby.” From the recollections of Kendra Spotswood, published in the liner notes for Phil’s Spectre II: Another Wall of Soundalikes, we learn about McCoy’s interest in reproducing the wall of sound and, because it seemed the right commercial thing to do, that it was the aim of many others in the recording industry. Spotswood explains her involvement with another McCoy song, “Gee What A Boy,” as a singer in the “group,” The Fantastic Vantastics, which cut the record in 1965.

“Believe it or not, The Fantastic Vantastics were just Van McCoy and I. The Phil Spector sound was the hot sound of the day. Spector used the Ronettes to showcase it, but his sound was bigger than any of his groups. Everyone wanted to copy him — and everyone did!…Abner Spector might have been credited as producer on the label, but it was Van who did all the work, of course.”

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