Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The Harri Spector Show
With the Harri-Spector Show, Strawberry Records is proud to present a well-balanced cd of rarities by ex-Beatle George Harrison. The Quiet One, as he's often referred to by Beatle-scholars. The Fab Four's lead-guitarist from whom we, unfortunately, rarely see new cds being released. It is therefore that we at Strawberry treasure 50 much what we have found searching his rich musical archive. All tracks presented here are heard for the very first time. So know, before you've even heard a note, that what you're holding in your hands now is an extreme rarity.
The first half hour of this new Strawberry disc is taken up by a unique, only recently surfaced Apple Studios-acetate. The disc, with handwritten labels that read 'The Harri-Spector Show', contained a never before heard jam-session of George and his American producer-pal Phil Spector. The exact date of recording remains unclear, but judging from the songs the two are picking we can freely suggest this jam should be dated somewhere late 1970, early 1971. Two of the songs briefly 'touched' are John Lennon's 'Remember' and 'God', tracks from his Plastic Ono Band album; released on December 11, 1970. One of the other songs is an acoustic run-through of George's let It Down', one of the tracks from 'All Things Must Pass'. Sessions for this Phil Spector produced triple longplay took place from May to late August 1970. Expecting you to know literally all about the life and times of George, how he became a Quarry Man, a Beatle and an ex-Beatle, we thought it'd be nice instead to give you some details on Spector's whereabouts before he met Harri (and the other three Fabs). Phil Spector was born Philip Harvey Spector in the city of New York on November 26, 1940. He became interested in popular music after hearing Lonnie Donegan's hit 'Rock Island Line' (yes, the very same song that inspired John to form his Quarry Men). Young Phil bought himself a guitar and performed Donegan's hit in a talent contest in 1957. That same year he formed his first group, The Sleepwalkers. It split the next year, when Spector simply founded his next group, the Teddybears. It was with them that he had his first No.1: To Know Him Is To Love Him', a song he'd penned himself. In 1960 Spector started working as a record-producer and launched his own record-iabei called Philie. Amongst the stars he produced were The Crystals. In 1963 he released his famous Christmas Album, the one that would later be re-released by Apple. The four Beatles first met Phil Spector on their first visit to New York in February 1964 when he offered himself as their new producer. By then he had made himself famous with his 'Wall Of Sound', a distinctive system of multiple recording creating a denser, voluminous sound. Wisely enough The Beatles chose to rather continue working with sir George Martin. Later that same year Spector produced the recording of a Beatles-novelty single by Bonnie Jo Mason: 'I Love Ringo' backed with 'Beatle Blues'. Not a very big hit for Bonnie, who would later acquire more success under the name of Cher. In the mid-sixties Phil moved on to produce artists such as The Righteous Brothers ('You've Lost That Loving Feeling') and The Ronettes, a trio including Ronnie and Estelle Bennett. Phil married Ronnie, who sought her own career as Ronnie Spector.
The Beatles met Spector again in 1969, following their ill-fated sessions for their new film and longplay, to be called Get Back. Having taped some hundred hours of rehearsals and run-throughs of covers and newly penned songs at the January-cold Twickenham Film Studios and their newly built Apple studios mostly The Beatles themselves were tired of it all. By then the group was already desintegrating, showing more interest in their solo careers than in playing together as a group.
After Stones-manager Allen Klein took over The Beatles' business one of the problems was this pile of Get Back tapes. Producers George Martin and the young Glynn Johns had each given it their attempt, but couldn't really satisfy The Beatles' expectations. Klein thought of 'old friend' Phil Spector and asked him for a helping hand.
We all know how that ended. Spector's work on 'Get Back' resulted in the let It Be' longplay and a very disappointed Paul McCartney. Without priorly notifying him, mister 'Wall Of Sound' had overloaded 'The Long And Winding Road' with orchestral backing and celestial choirs whereas Paul had intended it to be a simple-production. He complained, but no one listened. It was only a matter of weeks before he announced he'd left The Beatles and the group was history. Spector went on to produce records for George and John Lennon (the Plastic Ono Band, Imagine and Sometime In New York City longplays and the singles Instant Karma, Power To The People and Happy X-Mas). Harri and Phil soon became close friends. Spector produced the triple of George's Bangladesh concert and was also asked to sit in on sessions for 'All Things Must Pass', Harrison's most successful solo album ever.
However, it wasn't always sunshine with Phil Spector as a producer in the studio. In his book The Quiet One', a fine biography of Beatle George, British writer Alan Clayson portraits Spector as a man who didn't always know when to finish drinking. Often he was late arriving at the studio, not rarely inebriated upon arrival. He was also a moody man, who didn't like to be disagreed with. Alan Clayson quotes George remembering Phil as follows: "He was a bit outrageous, but very sweet. He was like a giant person inside this frail, little body". In 1987, being interviewed for Musician-magazine, George looked back upon the recording-sessions for 'All Things Must Pass', also remembering the producer: "In bad shape he used to have eighteen cherry brandies before he could get himself down to the studio. I got so tired of that because I needed someone to help. I was ending up with more work than if I'd just been doing it on my own."
Still, George must have liked the job Spector did. 'cause the two worked together for years to come. Whether they're still the closest friends these days, we wouldn't dare to say. But in the colourful booklet that came with the cd-re-release of 'All Things Must Pass' earlier this year, the producer is given all the personal credits he could ever wish for: "It's been thirty years since 'All Things Must Pass' was recorded. All these years later I would like to liberate some of the songs from the big production that seemed appropriate at the time, but now seem a bit over the top with the reverb in the wall of sound... Last but certainly not least, thanks to the amazing Mr. Phil Spector, who produced so many fantastic records in the sixties. He helped me so much to get this record made. In his company I came to realize the true value of the Hare Krishna Mantra. God bless you Phil, George Harrison."
Going back now to the Harri-Spector acetate, back to 1971, we can hear George and Phil clearly enjoying themselves going impromptu through a wide range of popclassics and rock 'n roll-standards. Spanning from the more obvious choices like Buddy Holly's That'll Be The Day (one Harri will have remembered as the very first Beatles-record), Bluebird Over The Mountain and Down In The Valley; there's also some surprising choices like Ike and Tina Turner's big hit 'River Deep Mountain High'.
The selection of songs reveals quite a lot about Harri and Specter's state of musical mind and taste at the time. Covering his friend Dylan's 'I'll Be Your Baby Tonight' must have been Harrison's choice, whilst songs like The Great Pretender' and 'You Better Move On' were almost certainly more amongst Phil's favourites.
Noteworthy as well is the relatively large number of tunes, - remembering late 1970 or early 1971 as most possible date of recording -, The Beatles and George had only recently gone through rehearsing their new film and longplay Get Back. Songs that Spector, having listened to all of these 'most miserable sessions on earth' [to quote the late Mr. Winston O'Boogie) must have also remembered the words to.
Some mixed memories of The Beatles' split will certainly come back to you listening to Harri and Spector going through songs like The Drifters' 'Save The Last Dance For Me', The Animals' 'Bring It On Home To Me' and the old little tune of 'Leaning On A Lamppost'. As a special treat George and Phil also please us with their own version of one Beatles-tune. Here's a unique opportunity to hear George take the lead in McCartney's Obladi-Oblada. But there's more. Like we said before, for close listeners, hidden away between the various run-throughs at the start of track 2) there's a short version (a line or two) of John Lennon's song 'God', again with fellow ex-Beatle George taking the lead.
All of this Harri-Spector session is acoustic. It's just George and Phil plugging their guitars, singing to it. In most of the songs it's mister Wall Of Sound taking the lead, with George joining in on the chorus. George takes the lead in 'Down In The Valley', 'Obladi-Oblada', 'Leaning On A Lamppost' and two alternate versions of 'Let It Down' (hidden away between the fragments in tracks 4 and 5). Most of the songs are only fragments in George and Phil's medley down memory-lane. Whenever they feel like they change to the next song. It's nice to notice, throughout the session, that both of them know the words to so many unexpected songs. Although to be frank sometimes one has to ask the other what this or that song went like and whether he remembered the right words to it.
Tracks 6 and 7 are two previously unreieased instrumental tracks for one of George's finest-ever love-songs: You. Again taken from a recently surfaced original Apple-acetate the song was written for Phil Specter's wife Ronnie (Bennett). In his autobiography I Me Mine George remembers how the song, first rehearsed in the summer of 1970 during sessions for 'All Things Must Pass', actually came about. "I wrote it and laid the track down with Leon Russell. I tried to write a Ronette sort of song. We never got to make a whole album because we only did four or five tracks before Phil fell over, and then he decided to release 'Try Some Buy Some' as a single."
'Try Some Buy Some' was released on Apple 33 on April 16, 1971. Backed with 'Tandoori Chicken', co-written by George, it didn't do much in the US-charts, topping at no.77. George would later use Try Some Buy Some on his 'Living In The Material World' longplay.
The acetate-recordings preserved here were probably made at London's Abbey Road Studios on February 9, 1971. Playing on track are, besides George, Leon Russell (piano), Jim Gordon (drums), Carl Radle (bass) and Gary Wright (electric piano). In the years that followed George, again quoting him from his I Me Mine, more or less 'forgot about' the wonderful song. Until May 1975 when he dug out this old instrumental track and re-worked it for his new album Extra Texture, released in September that year. "I overdubbed the original instrumental track, put my own vocals to it, even though it was recorded in Ronnie Spector's register, a bit high for me".
Tracks 8 to 19 of this Strawberry-tribute to the musical legend of George Harrison, are taken from another unique find. A tape of rough mixes and alternate takes previously unheard by the big crowd. Saved here is George Harrison's job as a producer for Splinter, the best known group from the stables of his own Dark Horse label. One of Splinter's most successful albums was The Place I Love', released on September 20, 1974. Strawberry somehow managed to lay their hands on a collection of five rough mixes for that album, recorded and produced months before its initial release.
On the very tracks (10, 12, 13, 15 and 16) we can also hear the producer in all his wide musical variety. George plays guitar, bass, dobro, mandolin, harmonica, synthesizer and percussion. And if that's not enough mister Dark Horse himself also takes care of most of the backing-vocals. George loved Splinter, he was convinced of their potential hit-success. Sorry for him it didn't work quite the way he hoped it would, the group never made it big. Tracks 17 and 18, still the same previously unheard tape, are rough mixes of finished versions that were later released on the Ravi Shankar longplay 'Shankar family And Friends' (released September 20, 1974). This album as well was produced by George. Tracks 9 and 19 are to be treasured rarities, previously unheard rough mixes of two songs that eventually turned up on George's own 'Dark Horse' longplay, released December 20, 1974. The album's title song and Harrison's song for Christmas, 'Ding Dong, Ding Dong' sound quite different without the many backing vocals and Phil Spector-alike orchestration that would later be added to them. A unique glance at two Harrison-classics in the making, alternates from an album we'd previously not heard any embroynic versions of.
In a personal spoken message, to 'David', producer Harrison adds some personal info to the tracks collected on this unique tape. "Hello David, this is the tape that I made for you. I made it very quickly, cause I'm in a rush to get packed and go away. All of them are rough mixes, nothing on the tape should be considered finished other than whatever Ravi is concerned. Everything else from Splinter is unfinished. Some of the songs don't even have finished vocals, they're just guide vocals or rough vocals. In some cases the vocals are okay, but they don't have harmonies or overdubs or solos. (...) The ones that are mine are in the same condition. They're just the basic tracks in a quick mix, not even in a smart mix. Also I wanna add that on this one called 'Ding Dong, Ding Dong' I did the guide-vocals on the night Some of it is okay and I'll use it. (...) Also I'd appreciate it if you don't let anybody steal it, cause I want the hit myself. So don't let David Geffen get it! Okay, have fun and see you in March. God bless you all..."
Finishing this Strawberry collection of Harrison-rarities is track 19, a song by Phil Spector's wife Ronnie Bennett, hitting the road of pop via Spector. Under contract of The Beatles' Apple-label it's this nothing-going-on little love-tune was found on yet another original Apple-acetate. From the first note you will no doubt recognize the producer's hand of this singalong. Very Ronettes-like, very wall of Sound-like, ail Phil's. The song, previously unheard, was most probably recorded at Abbey Road Studios in February 1971. Apart from Ronnie on lead vocals we have George on lead-guitar, Jim Gordon (drums), Leon Russell and Phil Spector (keyboards), Klaus Voormann and Carl Radle (bass) and (possibly) Ringo Starr on drums.