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Main » 2006 » July » 22 » The Crystals - Best of the Crystals
The Crystals - Best of the Crystals

The  Crystals - Best of the Crystals

Among  aficionados of the girl group sound, there can't be five acts more beloved than  the Crystals. Their best-known songs, which include "He's a Rebel," "Uptown,"  "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Then He Kissed Me," and "There's No Other Like My Baby," are  among the finest examples of the best that American rock & roll had to offer  in the period before the British Invasion; and decades into the CD era, the  group's records are still prized in their original vinyl pressings even by  non-collectors, who seem to recognize that there was something special about the  Crystals' work. The group was originally a quintet consisting of Barbara Alston (born 1945), Dee Dee Kennibrew (born 1945), Mary Thomas (born 1946), Patricia Wright, and Myrna Gerrard, organized by Benny Wells while they were still in high school. All of  whom had started out singing in churches; Barbara Alston was Wells' niece, and although she later became known as  their lead singer on many of their records, Alston was actually recruited as a backup singer by  her uncle. Under Wells' guidance, they began performing in more of a  pop vein, and one of the gigs that they got was cutting demos for the publisher  Hill & Range, which brought them to the Brill Building in midtown Manhattan. 
It was there, while they were rehearsing, that they chanced to be heard by 
Phil Spector, who at that time was just starting up his own  label, Philles Records. He was in the market for new talent and the Crystals —  who, by that time, had lost Gerrard and added La La Brooks to their lineup as lead singer — were just what  he was looking for, sort of. He liked their sound and their range, but he didn't  initially like Brooks' voice and insisted on Alston taking the lead, somewhat reluctantly on her  part. In September of 1961, the slightly reconfigured group cut their first hit,  "There's No Other Like My Baby," which rose to number 20 nationally. It was a  promising beginning, putting the group, Spector, and his new label on the map; although another  song cut at about the same time, "Oh, Yeah, Maybe, Baby" (which featured  Patricia Wright on lead), pointed the way to the group's  future, with its understated yet boldly played string accompaniment.

In early  1962, the Crystals recorded a
Barry  Mann/Cynthia Weil song called "Uptown," using an arrangement that  was a tiny bit lighter on the percussion (except for castanets, of which it had  many) but pushed the guitar and the strings out in front more than "Oh Yeah,  Maybe, Baby" had. Barbara  Alston's strong-yet-sensuous vocals  enunciated lyrics that were as steeped in topical subject matter, especially  about the frustrations of life in the ghetto, as they were in romance. This gave  "Uptown" a subtly two-pronged appeall; it was a gorgeous pop record, but also a  new kind of pop record, eminently listenable yet serious in its subtext. No, it  wasn't "Blowin' in the Wind," but it seemed to evoke a social realism that  heretofore eluded the pop charts. "Uptown" reached number 13 nationally. Its  production marked a major step forward in the making of rock & roll singles  in its production, and heralded a newer, bolder era in pop music and R&B,  very much of a piece with such hits as the Drifters' "Up On the Roof," but with an undercurrent of  frustration that the latter song lacked; it all pointed the way toward the more  sophisticated and socially conscious kind of songs that Sam Cooke would soon be generating. It was at this point,  in the wake of "Uptown," that the history of the Crystals gets a little more  complicated. It wasn't until June of 1962 that they had another single ready to  go, and it engendered all kinds of problems that "Uptown" had avoided. If that  song had gotten a serious lyric across with an elegant and quietly passionate  setting, "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" (co-authored by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, no less) was the reverse, presenting a  disturbing lyric about infidelity and the physical abuse of a woman by a man, in  a dark, ominous manner. Barbara  Alston and company gave it  everything they had, and Spector came up with a surprisingly subtle, bolero-like  arrangement, but it was a lost cause. Radio stations simply wouldn't play it,  and the public didn't like the song, period; according to Barbara Alston, the group didn't like it either, and to this  day nobody understands exactly what was in Spector's mind when he cajoled them into cutting it. 

The following month,
Spector was back in the studio running another Crystals  session, except that this time it wasn't really the Crystals that he was  recording, but Darlene  Love. As the owner of the Crystals'  name and, as their producer, possessing the right to record anyone he wanted (or  anything he wanted) and label it as being from "the Crystals," he decided to  forego any further battles over who should sing lead, and forego using the group  entirely for "He's a Rebel." A celebration of street-level machismo like no  other, it was an upbeat number with gorgeous hooks and, with none of the baggage  of its failed predecessor, became a number one hit, as well as engraining itself  in pop culture history as a quintessential girl group classic. Darlene Love was the lead singer on the next hit by "the  Crystals," "He's Sure the Boy I Love," as well. It wasn't until early 1963 that  the group again sang on one of their own records, "Da Doo Ron Ron," and by that  time, Spector had accepted La La Brooks in lieu of Alston as lead singer. That record rose to number  three in America and became their second biggest British hit, reaching the  number five spot in the U.K. That placement, along with the U.K. number two  position for "Then He Kissed Me" (which also got to number six in America), was  very important, because at the time a lot of major British bands were about to  break onto the charts at home, before coming to dominate American music a year  later. "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me" became among the most popular  American rock & roll songs of the period in England, covered by all manner  of acts on-stage and on-record. The Crystals were in a seemingly enviable  position, except for the fact that they and Spector were increasingly at odds over what he was  doing with them. They'd been unhappy from the time when Spector began using their name on behalf of records  made by Darlene Love, and every time they were obliged to perform  those songs on-stage it grated against them, and in 1963 they were almost  constantly touring and performing. By 1964, they also perceived Spector's growing inattention; he had lately discovered  a girl trio called the  Ronettes on whose music and lead  singer, Veronica  Bennett, he was lavishing ever more  of his time and energy.

Meanwhile, the Crystals were making good and interesting  songs, such as the beautiful "Another Country, Another World," "Please Hurt Me,"  and "Look in My Eyes," the latter a bluesy ballad that showed a side of their  sound that
Spector seldom tried to explore. The group had released  two LPs hooked around their major hits, Twist Uptown and He's a Rebel, in 1962 and 1963, respectively, that had some  good songs on them, but Spector's attention and enthusiasm was increasingly  directed elsewhere. Spector's seeming dismissive attitude toward the group  may have been best illustrated by the most bizarre record with which he, the  group, his label, or almost anyone else in the music business had ever been  associated: "(Let's Dance) The Screw." Spector had never been one to keep business partners  very long — in that regard, he was a lot like the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn — and in 1964, he'd settled a lawsuit against  Lester Sill, the man with whom he'd started the Philles  label. As a parting shot at Sill — and, it is rumored, to fulfill the terms of a  settlement that required him to pay a share of the proceeds from the next  Crystals single — he devised an otherwise un-releasable single that Philles  pressed, called "(Let's Dance) The Screw." On it, Spector talked the lyrics while the Crystals sang  backup, in a five-minute musical joke that is also one of the rarest records of  the 1960s (supposedly only a handful were ever produced, one of which was sent  to Sill). Personal jokes by their producer were all  well and good, but by 1964, following the failure of two consecutive genuine  Crystals singles, the group — with Frances Collins replacing Patricia Wright — was no longer interested in working with  Spector.

The following year they bought out their  contract and headed to the seemingly greener pastures of the Imperial label,  where they found no success; by that time, the only girl groups that were still  competitive in the music marketplace were associated with Motown. By 1966, the  Crystals had disbanded, and for five years no one heard anything about the group  except in airplay on oldies stations.
Spector had even closed down Philles Records, and the  resulting unavailability of their records except on the radio only raised the  value of the old copies that were out there, and made his periodic reissues of  the group's work that much more prized by fans. Then, in 1971, with the rock  & roll revival in full swing, the groupmembers reunited and spent a few  years delighting audiences on the oldies circuit. Various incarnations of the  group resurfaced every so often in the late '70s and 1980s, but at the dawn of  the 21st century, Dee Dee  Kennibrew was still leading a  version of the group and had even managed to get them  recorded.

Category: Soul/Funk/Ethnic | Views: 2418 | Added by: innocent76 | Rating: 0.0/0 |

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