In an incident familiar to all fans of pop music scandals, a great hue and cry was raised in the press and in the music industry when the late 1980s dance sensation Milli Vanilli was exposed as mere lip-sync artists. Suddenly exposed as illegitimate, the duo that had earned a #1 hit with “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” (1989) was immediately stripped of its Grammy Award for Best New Artist. But fans of pop music hypocrisy know that the music industry’s definitions of “legitimate” and “illegitimate” have always been flexible, and that Milli Vanilli was hardly the first chart-topping act with a scandalous secret. Another such act scored a #1 hit on November 3, 1962, in fact, when their name appeared at the top the Billboard Hot 100 alongside the song “He’s A Rebel”—a record on which the credited artists, the Crystals, had not sung a single note.
Formed in Brooklyn by five high school classmates, the Crystals were a legitimate vocal group who managed to secure a contract with the newly formed Philles record label in 1961. Philles was under the creative control of the soon-to-be-legendary producer Phil Spector, who took the Crystals under his wing and helped them record two top 20 hits in “There’s No Other” (#20, December 1961) and “Uptown” (#13, May 1962). While their third release—the Gerry Goffin-Carole King-penned “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”—flopped when radio stations rejected it over subject-matter concerns, the next single released under their name would go all the way to #1.
Although few people knew it at the time, however, rightful credit for that record belongs to a group called the Blossoms, whose lead singer, Darlene Love, would earn two minor top 40 hits of her own in 1963 with “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and “Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home,” but who would receive none of the credit for “He’s A Rebel.” With the Crystals back in New York, Phil Spector chose to record “He’s A Rebel” with the Blossoms in Los Angeles in order to get the record out ahead of a competing version by Vicki Carr. Since the Blossoms and Darlene Love were complete unknowns, the record was credited to the Crystals
The Crystals would go on to “earn” one more major hit with a song recorded by Darlene Love and the Blossoms: “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” (#11, February 1963). They would also earn even bigger hits, however, with songs they actually did record: “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” (#3, June 1963) and “Then He Kissed Me” (#6, September 1963)
He's a Rebel
"He's a Rebel" is a song written by Gene Pitney that was originally recorded by the girl group the Blossoms. Produced by Phil Spector, their version was issued as a single credited to the Crystals, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November 1962. It was Spector's second chart-topper after "To Know Him Is to Love Him" (1958).
In 2004, "He's a Rebel" was ranked No. 263 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Billboard named the song No. 31 on their list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time. 
Love was born Darlene Wright on July 26, 1941 in Los Angeles, California to Ellen Maddox and Reverend Joe Wright.  Her younger sister Edna Wright grew up to be the lead singer of the group Honey Cone.  She grew up in South Los Angeles, long before the racial tension, crime and violence for which the area later became infamous had taken over the community. Love later remembered the Los Angeles of her childhood as "a city that existed mostly in people's imaginations…. But for us, Los Angeles had nothing to do with movie stars or stubbly, hard-drinking gumshoes trying to piece together broken dreams after hours. For us, Los Angeles was contained in about 20 blocks, bookended on one side by our projects and playgrounds and on the other by church." 
As a minister's daughter, she grew up listening to gospel music and was a dedicated member of her church. Wright began singing with her local church choir at age ten in Hawthorne, California. During choir practice she caught the attention of choir director Cora Martin-Moore. After singing for Martin-Moore she was asked to go to the Music Mart where she sang and did some broadcasts.  As it was her first musical experience, it was also the main influence for her to pursue a music career. Those who knew her described her vocals as "a voice of a nightingale." She claimed, "[singing in] the choir was a big influence on my life. I call it my learning ground. Singing in the choir, I learned harmony." 
Early career Edit
While still in high school (1957) she also sang with the Echoes,  a mixed sex doo-wop group. She was then invited to join a little-known girl group called the Blossoms. 
In 1962, the Blossoms were hired to sing on a session by producer Phil Spector.  His girl group, the Crystals, couldn’t make it to Los Angeles in time for the session, so Wright was paid $5,000 to sing lead on "He's a Rebel."  This was Wright's first time on a Spector recording.  The single, credited to the Crystals, was hurriedly released by Spector on Philles Records to get his version of the Gene Pitney song onto the market before that of Vikki Carr.  The ghost release of this single came as a total surprise to the Crystals who were an experienced and much traveled girl harmony group in their own right, but they were nevertheless required to perform and promote the new single on television and on tour as if it were their own.  The single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1962. 
Following the release of "He's a Rebel," Wright signed a deal with Spector, who renamed her Darlene Love.  She recorded "He’s Sure the Boy I Love," which she thought would be released under her name, but Spector credited it to the Crystals.  Cynthia Weil, who co-wrote the song with her husband Barry Mann was unaware that Love had sung on the track: "It all came out later. I think it was a terrible thing to do to her."  Spector had Love sing "Da Doo Ron Ron" in the studio, but he decided to record it with another singer at the last minute. 
Love recorded the track "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" for the 1963 holiday compilation album, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, along with Phil Spector, with the intention of being sung by Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes. According to Love, Ronnie Spector was not able to put as much emotion into the song as needed. Instead, Love was brought into the studio to record the song, which became a big success over time and one of Love's signature tunes.
As a member of the Blossoms, Love contributed backing vocals behind many of the biggest hits of the 1960s including the Ronettes' "Be My Baby", Shelley Fabares' "Johnny Angel", Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash", Frank Sinatra's version of "That's Life", and the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron". The Blossoms recorded singles, usually with little success, on Capitol 1957-58 [pre-Darlene Love], Challenge 1961-62, OKeh 1963, Reprise 1966-67, Ode 1967, MGM 1968, Bell 1969-70, and Lion 1972.)
As a solo artist, Love also contributed backing vocals to the Ronettes' "Baby, I Love You". She was also part of a trio called Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, who recorded Spector's version of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", an Oscar-winning song from the 1946 Walt Disney film Song of the South, which got into the Top 10 in 1963.
The Blossoms landed a weekly part on Shindig!, one of the top music shows of the era. They also appeared on Johnny Rivers' hits, including "Poor Side of Town" "Baby I Need Your Loving" and "The Tracks of My Tears". The Blossoms were part of the highly acclaimed Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special, which aired on NBC. Darlene and the Blossoms sang backup for Sharon Marie (Esparza) (a Brian Wilson act), as well as John Phillips' solo album John, Wolfking of L.A., recorded in 1969.
Into the 1970s Love continued to work as a backup singer, before taking a break in order to raise a family. In 1973, she recorded vocals as a cheerleader along with Michelle Phillips, for the Cheech & Chong single "Basketball Jones", which peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. [ citation needed ]
1980s return Edit
Love returned to music in the early 1980s and to an appreciative audience she thought might have long since forgotten her. She had been performing at venues like the Roxy in Los Angeles, and it was a conversation with Steven Van Zandt that greased the wheels for her to go to New York and begin performing there in 1982, at places like The Bottom Line. She also sang "OOO Wee Baby" in the 1980 movie The Idolmaker. Along with performing in small venues, Love worked as a maid in Beverly Hills. One day while she was cleaning one of these homes, she heard her song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the radio. She took this as a sign that she needed to change her life and go back to singing. 
In the mid-1980s she portrayed herself in the Tony Award-nominated jukebox musical Leader of the Pack, which featured the iconic rock and roll songs written by Ellie Greenwich, many of them for the young Love. The showstopping number of that show, "River Deep - Mountain High", had been recorded by Phil Spector with Ike & Tina Turner. Leader of the Pack commenced as a revue at the Greenwich Village nightclub The Bottom Line, as did the later show about Love's life, Portrait of a Singer, which never made the move uptown. Portrait included covers of "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Don't Make Me Over", as well as "River Deep, Mountain High" and original music from some of the instrumental writers of early rock and roll, including Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Love contributed a cover of the Hollywood Argyles song "Alley Oop" to the soundtrack of the 1984 film Bachelor Party.
In 1986, Love's second chance came when she was asked to sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on David Letterman's Christmas show. This became a yearly tradition. 
In 1987, Love sang backup for U2's remake of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".
Later career Edit
In 1990, Love released the album Paint Another Picture, which included an update of her old hit "He's Sure the Man I Love", by Mann and Weill, as well as a ballad written especially for her, "I've Never Been the Same," by Judy Wieder. The album did not make the US charts. In 1990, Cher invited Love and her sister Edna Wright as her background vocalists for the Heart of Stone tour. Love released a minor single in 1992 with "All Alone on Christmas", written and composed by Steven Van Zandt, which can be found on the Home Alone 2: Lost in New York soundtrack. The song was also included in the British film Love Actually. Love also contributed vocals to the soundtrack of the film Jingle All the Way.
In 1993, Love sued Spector for unpaid royalties and was awarded $250,000. 
Love alongside Rob Hoerburger, editor and writer for the New York Times wrote her autobiography titled My Name Is Love, published in 1998.  In the memoir, Love writes about her life in the music industry, her years of struggle, and her present projects. 
Love continues to do a Christmas show every year in New York City, which is always capped by "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". In 2007, she released It's Christmas of Course, an album of Christmas-themed cover versions including "Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and "Thanks for Christmas" by XTC. Love performed with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band in November 2009 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden.
Love is featured in the documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 86th Academy Awards. 20 Feet from Stardom also won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Music Film, with the award being presented to the featured artists as well as the production crew.
Love recorded a duet, "He's Sure the Boy I Love", with Bette Midler on the latter's 2014 studio release album "It's the Girls!", a collection of songs paying tribute to girl groups.
In August 2014, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) announced that it is producing a biopic for the big screen based on Love's life, starring singing icon Toni Braxton. 
Love's most recent album Introducing Darlene Love was released September 18, 2015 on Steve Van Zandt's label, Wicked Cool Records.  There are 10 songs on this album, including singles and features by Van Zandt, two new songs by Bruce Springsteen, and covers of Joan Jett and Elvis Costello songs, among others. "Forbidden Nights", the first track, is one of the more successful songs on this album. It is a song that Elvis Costello previously produced for an unfinished Broadway musical.  In 2016, Love began touring her new album across the United States.
Darlene Love recorded her first solo video concert on February 23, 2010, at the NJPAC. Darlene Love - The Concert of Love was released as a CD and DVD later that year. The concert was also broadcast on select Public Television Stations. 
In the late 1980s and also in the 1990s, Love also began an acting career, playing Trish Murtaugh, the wife of Danny Glover's character, in the four Lethal Weapon movies. 
Love has held many star roles in various Broadway productions. She acted and sang in Grease, in the short-lived musical adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie, and starred as Motormouth Maybelle in Broadway's Hairspray from August 2005 till April 2008.  She later reprised the role in the Hollywood Bowl production of the show in 2011.
In 2019, she appeared in the Netflix original movie Holiday Rush. 
In 2020, she appeared and sang in the Netflix original movie The Christmas Chronicles 2.
Love performed the song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" each year on the last pre-Christmas episode of Late Night with David Letterman (NBC, 1986–92) and the Late Show with David Letterman (CBS, 1993–2014). Her final Christmas appearance was on December 19, 2014, nine days after the official announcement of the show's finale in May 2015.  Letterman has stated that the annual performance is his favorite part of Christmas. Due to the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, Love was unable to perform on the Letterman show in 2007  a repeat of her 2006 performance was shown instead.
Love was a special guest on the December 17, 2005, broadcast of Saturday Night Live, singing "White Christmas" with the SNL band and providing the vocals for a Robert Smigel cartoon entitled "Christmastime for the Jews."
Love was the musical guest on Late Show with David Letterman on May 7, 2007, performing "River Deep-Mountain High." With the ending of the Letterman show, Love has performed "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the ABC morning show The View each December since 2015. She has usually performed the song as a duet, being joined by Patti LaBelle in 2016, Fantasia in 2017, and Bryan Adams in 2018.
Love also performed "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in season six, episode 10 of the Fox television series New Girl (2016).
In 1995, Love received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award. 
In 2008, Love was ranked No. 84 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers list. 
On December 15, 2010, it was announced that Love had been chosen for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  On March 14, 2011, Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  with a speech by Bette Midler.   Midler said "she changed my view of the world, listening to those songs, you had to dance, you had to move, you had to keep looking for the rebel boy." Near tears, Love noted that she will turn 70 later this year, and thanked Spector "for recognizing my talent and making me the main voice in his Wall of Sound." Her speech elicited a standing ovation. Later, she sang "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" with Springsteen providing a guitar solo. 
In 2015, Love won her first Grammy Award for Best Music Film for the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. 
In 2015, Love was featured in the September issue of Entertainment Weekly. In the music section of the magazine, it introduces Love's five decades of musical accomplishments such as different solos and albums.
Love provided the inaugural performance to christen the opening of the Clermont Performing Arts Center in Clermont, Florida on September 26, 2015. 
The Crystals earn a #1 hit with “He’s A Rebel” - HISTORY
This was written by the Connecticut singer/songwriter Gene Pitney, who scored 16 Top-40 hits in the '60s as a solo artist. His biggest solo hits were "Only Love Can Break A Heart" and "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," which were both written by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Pitney wrote it specifically for The Crystals after hearing their song "Uptown," which had a funky sting section contrived by their producer, Phil Spector. Pitney was determined to write something in a similar vein, and came up with "He's A Rebel."
Spector's version of this song, credited to the Crystals but sung by the Blossoms, hit #1. Vikki Carr had to wait three more years before her first chart record in the US ("It Must Be Him").
In New York, the influential disc jockey at WINS, Murray the K, figured out that Phil Spector used a different set of Crystals on this song, and broke the story on the air. As La La Brooks tells us, Murray called her to ask about it, and she told him that the actual Crystals had nothing to do with the song.
The story was far from a scandal, since producers were known to switch out musicians, sometimes having a completely different group front the band. For La La, it was a relief that the story was out, although when The Crystals toured around the world, they never explained that they didn't sing on "He's A Rebel."
This song is a big part of Darlene Love's story, which is told in the 2013 movie 20 Feet From Stardom. Although she was the lead singer on this track, she was not credited and remained unknown. She claims she was paid $5,000 for her work, but she expected a solo release from Spector that never materialized.
When she recorded the song, she was still going by her real name, Darlene Wright. Phil Spector signed her to a contract and renamed her Darlene Love. He recorded her on the song "He's Sure The Boy I Love," but released it as The Crystals, keeping Love anonymous. Under her own name, she had three modest chart hits in 1963 for Spector's Philles label: "Wait Til' My Bobby Gets Home" (#26), "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" (#39), and "A Fine Fine Boy" (#53).
The most enduring song credited to Darlene Love is "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," which was released on Phil Spector's 1963 Christmas album.
Phil Spector used the royalties from this song to buy out his partners, with the stipulation that his ex-partners would share in the profits of the next two Crystals singles.
Spector used The Blossoms to pose as the Crystals (again) for the #11 hit "He's Sure the Boy I Love" but the Crystals actually sang on the next single credited to them, entitled "(Let's Do) The Screw" - a five-minute song punctuated with the voice of Phil Spector's lawyer saying "Do the Screw." Only one copy of the 45 was pressed and distributed: to ex-partner Lester Sill. It garnered zero airplay and earned zero royalties. Spector was now sole owner of Philles Records.
When The Crystals performed this song live, La La Brooks, who sang lead on their hits "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," did the lead vocals. When we spoke with La La in 2013, she explained that Phil Spector was being strongly encouraged to get another Crystals record out when he relocated to California. As La La tells it, the group's manager Joe Scandore sent a thug to Los Angeles to help encourage Spector. What they didn't count on was the producer using a different group to record the single they were asking for.
"The next thing you know we're riding in a car, all of us girls going on a gig, and we hear: 'He's a rebel and he'll never never be any good.'," La La said. "We hear 'He's a Rebel,' but we don't think anything of it. At the end, the DJ said, 'The Crystals, 'He's a Rebel.'' We looked at each other like, 'The Crystals? Where did that come from?' So we were confused."
The Crystals had to learn the song, along with the other Love-sung release "He's Sure the Boy I Love," in time for their next gig. La La did her best to extinguish her Brooklyn accent and match Darlene's voice for the performances.
Phil Spector's arrangement was ominous and ambiguous. 
It was a brutal song, as any attempt to justify such violence must be, and Spector’s arrangement only amplified its savagery, framing Barbara Alston’s lone vocal amid a sea of caustic strings and funereal drums, while the backing vocals almost trilled their own belief that the boy had done nothing wrong. In more ironic hands (and a more understanding age), 'He Hit Me' might have passed at least as satire. But Spector showed no sign of appreciating that, nor did he feel any need to. No less than the song’s writers, he was not preaching, he was merely documenting.
Upon its initial release, "He Hit Me" received some airplay, but then there was a widespread protest of the song, with many concluding that the song was an endorsement of spousal abuse.  Soon, the song was played only rarely on the radio, as now.
The 1930 Frank Borzage film Liliom contains the line "He hit me and it felt like a kiss" in its final scene. The film was not a success and nothing suggests that Goffin or King had seen it. Liliom, originally a play by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical classic, Carousel. While King and Goffin may not have seen Liliom, it is possible that they were familiar with the successful 1956 film version of Carousel, which contains essentially the same line. However, King has stated that Little Eva, their babysitter who inspired the song, had used that exact phrase to them. 
Carole King, in that same radio interview, said that she was sorry she had ever had anything to do with the song. She was a survivor of repeated domestic abuse (but not from Goffin, who had been her husband from 1959 to 1969). 
Phil Spector brought joy to pop music – and misery to so many lives
T hree years before his death in 2006, I interviewed Gene Pitney. Talk inevitably turned to Phil Spector. He had written Spector’s real breakthrough record – the Crystals’ 1962 No 1 He’s a Rebel – unequivocally one of the greatest singles in pop history, a perfect cocktail of soaring melody, echo-drenched production and Darlene Love’s exuberant vocal. A year before that, he’d sung Every Breath I Take, which, with its rumbling timpani, overload of backing vocals and dramatic orchestration, was one of the few early Spector productions to hint at the more-is-more Wall of Sound approach that would make him a legend. And, moreover, Spector was, as Pitney put it, “kind of a hot news item”: he was awaiting trial for murder.
Like a lot of people who knew Spector, Pitney seemed horrified yet oddly unsurprised at this turn of events, as if something like that was bound to happen sooner or later: the booze, the drugs, the evident instability, the obsession with guns and the history of violence towards women. Spector, he suggested, had been in trouble from the start. “I had dinner with him the first day he arrived in New York, and he said to me that his sister was in an asylum and she was the sane one in the family,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’”
Ronnie Spector, circa 1964. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The truth is that everybody knew what Phil Spector was like long before he killed Lana Clarkson: by his own account, a childhood scarred by his father’s suicide and riven with bullying – by his mother, by his schoolmates – had left him “with devils inside me”. His ex-wife Ronnie Spector’s 1990 autobiography Be My Baby laid bare the full horror of their marriage: the house surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs the threats to kill her, either himself or via a hitman the gold-plated, glass-topped coffin he installed in the basement and threatened to display her body in after she was murdered.
The stories about recording sessions that had gone wildly awry were legion too: he shot a gun into the ceiling of LA’s A&M Studios while working with John Lennon in 1973 he pointed a loaded gun at Leonard Cohen’s throat – Cohen subsequently compared him to Hitler – and according to their bassist, Dee Dee, he held the Ramones hostage at gunpoint during the making of 1980s End of the Century. As writer Sean O’Hagan once noted, in a sense even the extraordinary music he made between 1962 and 1966 was an “act of revenge on a world that had wounded him beyond repair as a child” every hit a vindication that he hoped would assuage his own deep-rooted feelings of inferiority.
But He’s a Rebel, Da Doo Ron Ron and Be My Baby don’t sound like acts of revenge they sound utterly joyful, innocent. A lot of attention is understandably drawn by Spector’s tendency to overload as a producer – the umpteen musicians required to make his singles, the doubling and tripling up of instrumentation. But Spector’s excess baggage never weighed his records down. They barrel gleefully along, even the gloomiest of his ballads – the Ronettes’ extraordinary Is This What I Get for Loving You? and I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine, the latter arguably the artistic pinnacle of the Wall of Sound years – feel remarkably light on their feet. He was somehow capable of creating singles that were sonically dense but also had a sense of space. They never sound over the top or claustrophobic, with the possible exception of Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High – Spector’s favourite among his works, but a song that might have benefited from a more stripped-back approach.
The US failure of the latter sent Spector into a tailspin from which he never truly recovered. His next high-profile job, on the Beatles’ Let It Be, was a mess. The source material wasn’t their finest – John Lennon memorably called it “the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever” – but nevertheless, Spector submerged good songs in inappropriate orchestral and choral syrup. His production of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was similarly controversial – “Too much echo,” Harrison complained years later, his son Dhani claiming that “making the album sound clearer was one of my dad’s greatest wishes” – but his work on Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and Imagine albums was fantastic: stark, minimal, the opposite of what you might expect, with only the fabulously explosive drums on the 1970 single Instant Karma! an echo of his 60s work.
The rest of his career yielded only scattered moments that suggested his former greatness, most notably the tracks he recorded for Dion’s Born To Be With You in 1975. He ended his recording career being fired by, of all people, British indie rock band Starsailor. At the time, it seemed an ignoble fate for someone who had once presided over a succession of era-defining classics, whose work spurred Brian Wilson into creating the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, regularly heralded as the greatest album of all time, and whose 60s sound you heard echoes of everywhere, not least in the blare of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. But, as it turned out, far worse was to come.
The Crystals earn a #1 hit with “He’s A Rebel” - HISTORY
Phil Spector produced this song, marking his first real "Wall of Sound" production. He had a massive hit a few years earlier with To Know Him Is To Love Him by The Teddy Bears, but "Da Doo Ron Ron" provided the template for his unique studio sound that he would replicate on classic songs like "Be My Baby."
He recorded it at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, packing all the musicians into a room that measured just 19 x 24 feet. Spector was meticulous about microphone placement, especially when it came to the drums (played on this track and many other Spector productions by Hal Blaine). He recorded the song in mono, which meant that every instrument was coming out of both speakers at full force, eschewing the nuance of stereo for the power of a single track.
Spector wasn't big on editing or post-production, so he spent a lot of his studio time having the musicians run through the track before he would roll tape. Typically, he would have the guitarists play for a while while he worked out the song, then bring in pianos, bass, and drums. Vocals were recorded in an echo chamber located behind the control room at Gold Star. Among the background singers was one of Spector's favorites: Cher.
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote this song. The refrain of "da doo ron ron" came from nonsense syllables they stuck in as filler, but it was exactly what Phil Spector was looking for, since he didn't want a cerebral lyric getting in the way of his massive production and the tidy boy-meets-girl story line. Sonny Bono, who was also a record producer at the time and was hanging out at the sessions, recalls Spector asking if the song was "dumb enough," meaning is was accessible to the teenagers who were the target audience. Spector knew he had a hit with this one, telling Bono on playback, "That's solid gold coming out of that speaker."
The song was gold for Spector, who was not just the producer of the track, but also got credit as a songwriter along with Barry and Greenwich, which is a testament to his influence in the studio.
There is a great deal of dispute over who sang lead on this track. Darlene Love, who was featured in the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, has said that she was the lead singer on this song, which was recorded at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. Love sang lead on The Crystals' previous hits "He's A Rebel" and "He's Sure the Boy I Love" because Phil Spector called in her group The Blossoms to record those songs when The Crystals couldn't make it to Los Angeles. The songs were still credited to The Crystals, and Love claims that she expected her own single release to follow.
Love has given various accounts of her side of the story, telling Katie Couric that she sang lead on "Da Doo Ron Ron," but backing off that claim in later interviews, saying that her lead vocals were wiped out and replaced by Crystals lead singer Dolores "La La" Brooks in retaliation by Spector when she asked him for an artist's contract. When the movie 20 Feet From Stardom - which featured Love - was released in 2013, The New York Times ran a story about the film that claimed Love sang lead on the song. Two weeks later, they ran a correction, stating: "While she did sing, it was as backup, not as the lead."
Whether she appeared on the song at all is in dispute. The person who can best answer that question is Phil Spector, but since he was in jail when 20 Feet From Stardom was released, journalists couldn't use him to fact check Love's claims. La La Brooks, however, has her own account, which includes a phone call Spector made to his wife, Rachelle, who married him while his trial was going on. Brooks' friend, Roger L. Chemel, provided us with this photo of Brooks, Rachelle Spector, and Art Cohen (Brooks' manager), taken where this conversation took place. Here's the account:
On August 27, 2012, La La Brooks and Art Cohen, La La's manager, met with Rachelle Spector after an attendance at the David Letterman Show in New York City. As the three of them joined to have dinner together at a local restaurant, Phil Spector called his wife Rachelle from the prison where he is incarcerated. La La recalls telling Rachelle to say "hi" to Phil. After the conclusion of this telephone call, La La Brooks explained the situation with Darlene Love claiming to have sung the original track of "Da Doo Ron Ron."
Rachelle Spector tells La La Brooks and Art Cohen that she was flying back to California on August 28, 2012 and that she would explain the situation to Phil Spector. Rachelle Spector flies back to California for her allowed once a month visit on that date, and Rachelle explains to Phil what Darlene Love is saying. Phil Spector tells his wife that Darlene Love did not record a track of DDRR that Darlene Love never sang background and that Darlene Love was never a Crystal. Phil told Rachelle that he thought Darlene Love's voice was too mature and gospely for DDRR and never considered Darlene at all for the song. Rachelle called La La Brooks that day and told her what she found out from Phil Spector.
interview with La La Brooks, she talked about recording this song:
"When I went to the studio to do 'Da Doo Ron Ron,' Phil had taught me the song. When I walked in the studio, all the musicians were there, and after they finished putting down the track, I sat there for hours. Me and Cher went out to get something to eat. We come back, they're still putting down the track. All of the sudden, when the track is finished, Phil says, 'La La, go in the booth and put down the song now.' I went in there, put down the song. I had trouble with (singing) 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.' I had trouble with that because he liked my ending, because it was my ending in my head, and he said, 'I want that again.' I had to double it, and it was hard for me to double it, because I couldn't get together with the 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,' and then (in lower voice), 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.' It was confusing. He said, 'La La, try it again.' And that's how we recorded it."
A version by Shaun Cassidy reached US #1 in 1977 (switching gender for the lyrics so "Bill" becomes "Jill").Cassidy, who was 18 years old at the time and better known as the half-brother of The Partridge Family star David Cassidy, claimed that he wanted to record it because it was the first record he ever bought. His version was his first hit, and it introduced the song to a new generation.
Other artists who have covered this song include the Carpenters, Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas, Jack Nitzsche, The Raindrops, and The Searchers.
During the same year of this song's release, a French version by Frank Alamo was released in France and a German version by Ted Herold was released in Germany. >>
- Tony Vossbrink from Honolulu, Hi . TOo bad lead- singer of the BLOSSOMS didnt get full-credit for several of the the songs as i heard that crook Phill Spector stole,from her for the Crystals, just ask some of the Old Timers, Cher, Bette Midler, etc whata bum he was.
- Aiken Nutz from Tahlequah Ok Phenomenal hit. In 1963, I was in junior high & heard it on the radio when it first entered the Top 40. Wow! That "Wall of Sound" was wild back then!! I just had to have that record. And I got it just a few days later at a Woolworth's Dept. Store. That intense beat, fast pace, and the piano made this one of rock & roll's best! I don't think any other record had the drums going "full tilt" like that. Very cool classic !!
- Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On April 9th 1977, Shaun Cassidy lip-synced "Da Doo Ron Ron" on ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'.
One month later, saved a day, on May 8th, 1977 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #89.
- Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On February 13th 1972, Ian Matthews' covered version of "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #97 and for the next two weeks it was at #96 and then fell off the chart.
As a solo artist, Ian Matthews had two other Top 100 records, "Shake It" <#13 in 1979>and "Give Me An Inch" <#67 in 1979>.
And he charted three times as a member of Matthews' Southern Comfort "Woodstock" <#23>, "Mare, Take Me Home" <#96>, and "Tell Me Why" <#98>, and they all charted in 1971.
- Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On January 30th 1977, the TV series "The Hardy Boys Mystery Show", starring Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. debut on the ABC-TV network
And just over three months later on May 8th, 1977 Shaun Cassidy's covered version of "Da Doo Ron Ron" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #89 and nine weeks later on July 10th, 1977 it peaked at #1
and spent 22 weeks on the Top 100.
One week after reaching #1 on the Top 100 it peaked at #1
on the Canadian RPM 100 chart.
He had five records make the Top 100 and three of them made the Top 10, this one, "That's Rock 'N Roll"
, and "Hey Deanie" .
- Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On October 6th, 1984, Karen Kamon performed "Da Do Ron Ron"* on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'.
The song was track five from her 1984 album 'Heart of You' and it never made the Top 100 chart.
Her main claim to fame was performing the song "Manhunt" from the soundtrack album for the 1983 movie 'Flashdance'.
Earlier in 1984 she did make Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart with "Loverboy", it peaked at #89.
* Ms. Kamon's version is on You Tube.
- Barry from Sauquoit, Ny On April 21st 1963, "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)" by the Crystals entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #80 and on June 2nd it peaked at #3 (for 1 week) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100.
And the week it was at #3 the #1 record was "It's My Party" by Lesley Gore and at #2 was "Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto.
Between 1960 and 1964 the group had eight Top 100 hits with three making the Top 10 and one reaching #1 ("He's A Rebel" for 2 weeks in 1962).
Two covered version of "Da Doo Ron Ron" have charted on the Top 100 Ian Matthews (#96 in 1972) and Shaun Cassidy (#1 for 1 week in 1977).
- Bubblesk from Memphis, Tn Back in '63 there was nothing else similar to "Da Doo Ron Ron" on the record charts. Those frantic drums & the girls' vocals put this one solidly into rock & roll history. Then before rock & roll fans could catch their breathes, along came the Crystals' follow-up, "Then He Kissed Me" (often called one of Phil Spector's first masterpieces of The Wall of Sound). When I was a teenager in '63, this song was simply stunning to hear on our mono radios in our cars of the times. And The Crystals were awarded a gold record for this exceptional recording.
- Jon from Destin, Fl Agree with Eisso. The original had it all.
- Eisso from Groningen, Netherlands Great song! It should be forbidden for anybody but the Crystals to sing it. The covers sound allright, but mostly for people who never heard the original, which sound like an avalanche, a thunderstorm, extasis, you name it.
- Matt from Galway, Ireland I'm a sucker for this kind of songs. Love them, and sometimes I would listen to nothing else. Phil Spector's wall of sound sure was hard hitting!
- Barry from Sauquoit, Ny Bruce Springsteen sang this song in concert at the United Center in Chicago on 09-20-2009, he also mentioned Ellie Greenwick and praised her as a great songwriter.
- Teresa from Mechelen, Belgium My dear and wonderful Ellie Greenwich, you left us on August 26 and I feel sad. R.I.P. and thanks for the beautiful songs you wrote with Jeff Barry and with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector.
- Kevin from Birmingham, United Kingdom This Song was also featured in two Mcdonald's Adverts With Ronald McDonald dancing around a hall and a house,
There was two of these adverts the hall was the first one then the one in the house was the second one telling the children that they should love their mother
One was in I think it was in a school hall with pre school children dancing around
Ronald McDonald singing his own words and the children singing we do ron ron ron we do ron ron
Then there was one in a house
With the children singing we do ron ron ron we do ron ron
Kids or anyone remember thse two adverts
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The Crystals earn a #1 hit with “He’s A Rebel” - HISTORY
The Blossoms were probably the most successful unknown group of the '60s. They made a career of singing backup for scores of artists from Paul Anka to Elvis Presley with a versatility that allowed them to be a choral group one minute and a surf sound doo wop group for Jan and Dean's hits the next minute.
Fanita Wright Bennett - first tenor
Annette Williams - first tenor - left 1961
Nanette Williams Jackson - second tenor - left 1961
Gloria Jones - baritone
Darlene Wright - joined 1961
The Dreamers with Johnny Otis
Starting out as the Dreamers, the Blossoms were students at Fremont High School in Los Angeles in 1954 and were discovered by singer Richard Berry at a school talent show. At that time the group consisted of Fanita James, sisters Annette and Nanette Williams, and Gloria Jones. They backed Richard Berry on several of his singles that were recorded in 1954 and released in 1955 on the Flair label. All three of the releases received local air play, but only "Bye, Bye" sold, and made the national R&B charts. By late 1956 the Dreamers had their first chance to record on their own. The results were two beautiful R&B ballads. "Since You've Been Gone" and "Do Not Forget," both written by Richard Berry and are recognized as forerunners of the girl group sound.
"Since You've Been Gone" never got the full support that tiny Flip Records had to offer the reason being that the label had its hands full following the success of the Six Teens' "A Casual Look" with their new release "Far into the Night." They were also preparing a recording by Richard Berry and his new group the Pharaohs "Louie, Louie."
Though their records weren't hits, the Dreamers stirred interest from numerous places in the music business, garnering the group a great deal of backup work. Their first chart record came as backup vocalists with Jessie Belvin on Etta James' 1955 hit "Good Rockin' Daddy."
The Blossoms circa 1957 (clockwise from top left) Fanita James, Gloria Jones, Annette Williams and Nanette Williams
It was through vocal coach Eddie Beale that the Dreamers were brought to their first major label, Capitol Records. Executive Tom Fransend renamed the group the Blossoms. Between 1957 and 1958 the group had three singles that didn't do much. However, they did have another backup hit with Ed Townsend on "For Your Love" in April 1958.
That year also brought a lineup change: Fanita James attended a wedding and heard a twenty-year old Darlene Wright sing. James then invited the gifted Wright to become the lead of the Blossoms. By 1960, the Williams twins had left and the group was now a trio.
The Blossoms' first solo chart record was for the small Challenge label. The group just barely cracked the Billboard's top 100 with "Son-In- Law' (#79) in May 1961, but neither that nor immediate follow-ups were enough to make the public aware of them. Still, they kept earning a good living doing backup, as on Sam Cooke's hit "Everybody Love's to Cha-Cha-Cha" (#13, 1959) and as Duane Eddy's Rebelettes on "Dance with the Guitar Man" (#12, 1962).
In the summer of 1962, fate stepped in to make the Blossoms the ultimate unaccredited group of the '60s. Producer Phil Spector was in Los Angeles with newest discovery "He's a Rebel." Convinced that this was #1 hit, Spector was mortified to learn that the Crystals were reluctant to come to Los Angeles from Brooklyn because they were afraid of flying. Knowing that if he sat on the song someone else would certainly record it, Spector consulted with his Philles Record's partner Lester Sill who recommended the Blossoms. So on July 13 one of the classic rock and roll songs of the '60s was cut with the Blossoms and with vocalist Bobby Sheen singing high tenor. The Blossoms never imagined that "He's a Rebel" would be released under the name of the Crystals, nor did they guess that by November that it would be the #1 record in the U.S. and reach #19 in England.
Bobby Sheen and Darlene Love
A few weeks after the release of "He's a Rebel," Darlene Wright was signed by Spector, but she never knew whose named would be used on released records. For example, on August 24, they recorded a "wall of sound" version of the Disney classic "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," with Bobby Sheen singing lead and the Blossoms doing the backup. When it was released in November the label read Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans.Though the Blossoms continued backing artists as diverse as Doris Day and Duane Eddy, their main claim to fame came from their Spector recordings from 1962-1964. They began in 1963 with "He's Sure the Buy I Love" (#11), which again was credited to the Crystals. In February it was back up the charts as Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans with "Why Do Lover's Break Each Other's Heart?" (#38).
In April, "(Today I Met) the Boy I'm Going to Marry" was released and credited to the new name Spector had given Wright, Darlene Love.
When we went to record with Phil we never which record was going to be by who. After "He's a Rebel," the next thing he wanted was another record by the Crystals. i said that this time you're going to pay me a royalty, not just no $1500. But I didn't get it. Well the next record was :He's Sure the Boy I Love which was suposed to be my Darlene Love record - I was going to record it under my own name. But no. When I heard it on the radio, they announced it by the Crystals.
I asked for a contract again with Da Doo Ron Ron". Phil said OK, but I wasn't convinced and I never gave him a clean finish of the song so brought La La Broks in from the Crystals and put her voice on top of what I already had done. We didn't sign contracts in the end until after Da Doo Ron Ron".
Just as it had become predictable that Sheen or Wright would lead the Blossoms on Spector's new recordings, Darlene's lead was removed from what would be another Crystal classic. Lala Brooks, second lead of the Crystals, replaced Wright's lead vocal on "Da Doo Run Run" while all three Blossoms did their usual backup ( that's three Blossoms that included Wright, since they had already recorded the backup track. "Da Doo Run Run" went to #3 and became the Blossoms last unaccredited or credited top 10 record. They finished out the year with and another Bob B.Soxx and the Bluejeans song and three more Darlene Love singles.
The first was "Wait Until My Bobby Gets Home" reminiscent of the Angel's "My Boyfriends Back," and "A Fine, Fine Boy" (#53), which showed some nice vocal work.. However, by this time it was apparent that Spector was more interested in his new find, the Ronettes, than in developing his backup vocalists into stars, even though they had collectively had more hits than most groups at the time ( nine in one year for Philles Records alone). The fourth Darlene Love and the Blossoms single of 1963 was what might be the most exciting, emotion wrenching Christmas recording ever made " Christmas Baby Please Come Home." It included not only the Blossoms' vocals, but also the Ronettes, the Crystals and Cher. It could have been a number one record, but the assassination of John F. Kennedy put a shroud over anything that was not traditionally Christmas for that season.
The Blossoms on Shindig
In 1964, the Blossoms with Jeanie King, now in place of Gloria Jones, were introduced to producer Jack Goode by recording artist Jackie DeShannon. Goode brought the group to an audition for the television show Shindig, which led to two years as regulars on the show.. They issued one record under the name the Wildcats ("What Are You Gonna Do" in 1964), but it wasn't until 1966 that they recorded under their own name with "Good, Good Lovin'," written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They released several non-charting singles, while singing backup for Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, and Buck Owens.
The Blossoms with their 1965 Teen Screen magazine award
From 1967 through 1972, the Blossoms recorded ten records on various labels, most notably covers of the Righteous Brothers' hits "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" and "Soul and Inspiration" in 1969. In the early '70s the group toured with Elvis Presley. The Blossoms also toured with Tom Jones from the early70s through the mid-80s. Love left the group in the '80s, performing first in Las Vegas and then singing in Jeff Barry's soundtrack for the film The Idolmaker while doing backup work for Dionne Warwick in 1982. She did The Darlene Love Music Special on cable TV, performing old Crystals, Bob. B. Soxx, and Darlene Love songs backed by her sister Edna and Gloria Jones. In 1985 she appeared in Ellie Greenwich's musical The Leader of the Pack, for which a cast album was released. As the '80s ended, Love had a budding film career (Hairspray and Lethal Weapon) and a Columbia album was released in 1988.
In 1989, a Blossoms released a single under their own name for the first time in seventeen years when they recorded "Lonely Friday Night" for Classic Artists Records. The song was reminiscent of the Chiffons' "One Fine Day," but was even more reminiscent of the time the Blossoms were the premier West Coast hit vocal group that the public never knew.
The Crystals earn a #1 hit with “He’s A Rebel” - HISTORY
Dolores "La La" Brooks is the only Crystal to perform on this song. Spector recorded the group's first recordings in New York City, where they were from. When he relocated to Los Angeles, he had a group called The Blossoms (with Darlene Love singing lead) record the songs "He's A Rebel" and "He's Sure the Boy I Love," which he issued as The Crystals.
On all subsequent Crystals recordings, Spector flew Brooks from New York to Los Angeles to perform the lead vocals, but the other Crystals never made the trip, as Spector preferred to use local backup singers.
This was also around the time when the group shrunk from five members to four, losing Mary Thomas, who left to get married.
To coax the vocal performance out of La La Brooks, Phil Spector dimmed the lights in the studio and gave her specific instructions. "He said, 'Think of somebody kissing you,'" Brooks told us. "I was a kid, so I'm not going to think like that. So he would turn off the lights, I would have a little light on my music, on my words, and then he said, 'Now, concentrate.' And I said (singing), 'Well, he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance.' He said, 'That's the way you do it!'
So I guess he had to train my mind to think that I was talking about a boy. He knew how to get things out of you."
The Crystals earn a #1 hit with “He’s A Rebel” - HISTORY
Grammy Award-winning producer Keith Olsen mugs for the camera behind the mixing console with client and pal Ozzy Osbourne in 1988 inside Olsen's Goodnight L.A. recording studio as the pair work on Osbourne's upcoming album, No Rest for the Wicked. Photo courtesy of Keith Olsen.
By Kent Hartman
March 1, 2018
It was 1962, and the rock and roll record business was on the rise after the multiyear slump that had followed the debuts of artists like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. The industry’s savior, in large part, was a manic, diminutive, wig-wearing, Hollywood-based record producer (and future convicted murderer) named Phil Spector.
The mastermind behind such throbbing, multi-instrumental hits as “He’s a Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “Be My Baby,” Spector was a gesticulating wunderkind on the other side of the control room glass. And the effects of his so-called “Wall of Sound” were immediate and profound 14 Top 40 singles from 1962 through 1963 dwarfed that of Spector’s competition. Soon seemingly everyone wanted to work with the tiny titan, or copy him, or both. Rock and roll had found its bombastic rebirth—and L.A. had solidified its place at the center of the action.
The late ’50s and early ’60s represented a time and place like no other in American history, particularly in sun-drenched Southern California. Convertibles, palm trees, bikinis, surfboards, and ever-present transistor radios advertised a post-war optimism that reigned supreme among teens and twentysomethings. And the record business’s rebound into a new kind of hot-sounding (and selling) style of rock and roll, exemplified in the simultaneous rise of many of Los Angeles’ vaunted recording studios, was a critical part of the story.
Starting during Spector’s heyday, one iconic studio after another came to prominence in the city: Gold Star, at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine Crystal Sound, just two blocks south TTG, about a mile away from them both, near Hollywood High and a few dozen more. The windowless, nondescript buildings, jammed with expensive recording gear, would become the epicenter of America’s musical universe, humming with activity 24/7, for the better part of almost four decades. They generated an unprecedented string of million-seller singles and albums, and attracted all the hottest musicians: Neil Young. Steppenwolf. Joni Mitchell. Three Dog Night. Paul Revere and the Raiders. Van Halen. Tina Turner. Fleetwood Mac. Sam Cooke. The Doors. Cheap Trick. REO Speedwagon. Madonna. Earth, Wind and Fire. Steely Dan. The Eagles. Guns N’ Roses. Sly and the Family Stone. Even Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones made frequent pilgrimages.
Producers like Spector fueled the studios’ rise. Picking the right studio for the right project was a crucial task, and—at least at first—was a producer’s domain. Many record labels, including A&M, Motown, Liberty, Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros., and CBS maintained their own L.A. recording studios, which their artists were expected to use. But stature had its privileges, and successful producers found ways to get back to their favorite haunts.
Spector, who mostly worked with artists on his own Philles Records label (until 1966 when he faded from the business after the stinging, much-publicized failure of “River Deep, Mountain High,” sung by a young Tina Turner), liked recording at Gold Star. Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ production mastermind, loved the cozy confines of Studio 3 at Western Recorders—even though the Beach Boys’ label, Capitol Records, had a world-class, in-house studio nearby that the band could have used for free.
Sometimes a producer’s preference came down to superstition, not wanting to mess with a good thing. If a producer had recorded a big hit or two at a certain studio, then the odds were good that he (in those days, producers were virtually all male) would be back for more. Paul Rothchild, the Doors’ producer, only wanted to record at Sunset Sound after the surprise chart-topping success of the band’s second single, “Light My Fire,” in 1967. Peter Asher stuck with the Sound Factory after he scored a No. 1 hit there with Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” in 1974.
By the ’70s and into the ’80s, when album rock became the dominant force in popular music, the power balance in picking where to record began to tilt even further from label executives—this time, in favor of musicians, who also had pet studios. Jackson Browne initially favored the Sound Factory, then later Record One, on the other side of the Hollywood Hills in Sherman Oaks. Though the ’80s version of the light-rock hit-makers Chicago were signed to Full Moon Records, distributed (and eventually owned) by Warner Bros., the band recorded at West Hollywood’s Record Plant, in part because of its “artist-friendly” policies concerning in-studio partying.
Multi-platinum producer Val Garay shares a laugh with Martha Davis of The Motels in the early ’80s during a recording session inside Garay’s recording studio, Record One, in Sherman Oaks. With Garay at the helm, the Motels made the Top Ten twice with “Only the Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer.” Photo courtesy of Val Garay.
Costs of making an album in Los Angeles could get hefty, but it really made little economic sense to set up shop anywhere else. It was still cheaper to record in a city where everybody knew everybody, nobody needed a plane ticket or a hotel room, and there were plenty of well-known local session musicians at the ready. Great recording gear also set the Los Angeles studios apart. The incessant push for better sound led, by the early ’60s, to the creation of some of the most revered equipment in the business.
David Gold, the co-owner and co-founder (with Stan Ross) of Gold Star, hand-built that popular studio’s coveted microphone preamps and world-famous echo chamber. Nearby, at Western Recorders, owner and technical wizard Bill Putnam built most of his own equipment, too—from mixing consoles to EQ units to limiters and compressors—and started a separate business to sell his gear to other studios around the world.
Also distinguishing L.A. studios was the “hang,” a shorthand word among musicians for the vibe, accommodations, and/or people in any given recording studio. Smart owners knew how to cater to the specific, if sometimes decadent, demands of their clientele. Niceties varied from studio to studio: sumptuous lounge areas, gourmet kitchens with chefs, private bedrooms, hot tubs, waterbeds, 24-hour personal assistants known as runners. Sunset Sound, the Village Recorder, and Cherokee were all known for the quality of their hang.
Coffee, tobacco, liquor, and depending on the artist, marijuana all were standard issue during recording sessions sometimes harder drugs were, too (particularly cocaine, which some saw as a good tool to help stay awake). Liquor bottles might be everywhere. Ashtrays routinely overflowed with butts. About the only real no-no was spilling anything on the mixing console. That could actually get a person in trouble.
By the mid-’80s, the record industry was modernizing. Vinyl albums started falling out of favor, supplanted first by analog cassette tapes and then by digital CDs. At the same time, studios began moving away from analog recording equipment, which required engineers to use a razor blade to slice out a section of magnetic recording tape when they wanted to alter a portion of a song. Suddenly, a few clicks of a computer mouse could achieve the same result.
Despite the obvious benefits of digital technology, some classic L.A. studios, such as Sound City in the San Fernando Valley, didn’t want to make a hefty investment in new equipment and decided instead to ride out what they hoped would be a passing fad. It was a losing gamble the demand to record on digital equipment only increased. Sound City managed to remain open for a time, bolstered by the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991. But the studio never regained its previous level of popularity and ultimately closed for good in 2011. (Note: an effort to revive Sound City, by the daughter of its late owner, occurred in 2017.)
The introduction of ProTools recording software in the ’90s further sped the old studios’ decline by lowering barriers to entry. Today, spare bedrooms and garages are routinely used to cut “professionally” recorded songs.
A full-throttle phase of record industry mergers and acquisitions during the 1980s, involving some very big companies, had an impact, too. The bottom line became far more important. Gone were the warm-and-fuzzy late ’60s and early ’70s, when labels—largely run by hustlers, dreamers, and music lovers—frequently covered the cost for fledgling acts to cut two or three albums before seeing a hit record out of the deal, if ever.
Inadvertently ushering in the new era of fiscal responsibility, in 1979 Fleetwood Mac—with the colossal success of 1977’s Rumours still reverberating—got their label, Warner Bros., to provide a custom, million-dollar rebuild of the Village Recorder’s Studio D in Westwood to record a follow-up album. When Tusk didn’t sell as well, Warner Bros. began taking a much harder look at album-related expenditures, no matter how big the musical act. As did most of the other labels in town.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Walter Egan (middle) joins Fleetwood Mac members Lindsey Buckingham (second from right) and Stevie Nicks (far right) in the studio at Sound City in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles in late 1977. Both Nicks and Buckingham were on hand to help Egan cut his second LP, Not Shy, upon which they added backing vocals to his breakthrough hit single, 1978’s “Magnet and Steel.” Photo courtesy of Walter Egan.
Today, some landmark recording studio buildings in Los Angeles remain standing—a few with functioning studios still inside—but gentrification has rendered many nearly unrecognizable. At the corner of Sunset and Gower, in the heart of old Hollywood, sit the remains of the celebrated CBS Columbia Square facility, birthplace of hit singles such as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Now a mixed-use complex called Columbia Square, the site features an upscale sushi bar, a high-end jewelry store, and about 200 high-rise condos.
Gone too are Wally Heider, Record One, RCA, Cherokee, Larrabee, Motown, Goodnight L.A., Crystal, TTG, Kendun, American Recording, Rumbo, Davlen, Clover, Amigo, Grandmaster Recorders, and more—names that were once commonplace on the jacket backs of scores of gold and platinum albums.
Radio Recorders on Santa Monica Boulevard, where Elvis cut many of his hits, is now an art exhibition space. Gold Star mysteriously burned to the ground in 1984, and is now a strip mall. Even A&M Records’ venerated in-house studios on La Brea Avenue in West Hollywood—the birthplace of Carole King’s Tapestry, Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, Aerosmith’s Get a Grip, and “We Are the World,” the 1985 anthem that helped raise money for African famine relief—has morphed, becoming the headquarters of the Jim Henson Company, home of the Muppets.
Most of L.A.’s irreplaceable temples of sound have gone silent, leaving only a handful of still-intact studios— Capitol Records’ in-house facilities, Sunset Sound, the Village Recorder (now the Village Studios), the Record Plant, the Sound Factory and a few more. The glory days in the ’70s or ’80s of seeing Linda Ronstadt, Mick Jagger, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers laying down tracks at the same time, in the same building, are long gone.
Yet there may be hope. RCA’s historic Studio A in Nashville recently escaped the wrecking ball with the help of some well-heeled philanthropists. So did the revered Power Station in New York. A visionary local businessman saved Sun Studio in Memphis, where some very cool cats called Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee, and Carl all got their start. Perhaps the same kind of preservationist efforts could emerge in the City of Angels, to save the literal building blocks of its rich musical heritage.
Kent Hartman is the author of two books about the glory years of the Los Angeles music and recording scene during the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s: The Wrecking Crew and Goodnight, L.A. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Primary Editor: Reed Johnson | Secondary Editor: Eryn Brown