Hit Record

Little Eva, she of The Locomotion and other bubblegum pop hits used to babysit for master songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King. One night she turned up covered in brusies and disclosed that she received regular beatings from her boyfriend. When Goffin and King asked why on earth she stayed with him, Eva told them in total sincerity that her boyfriend’s beatings were done out of *love for her. Shocked, they sat down and penned an uncomfortable classic.

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) was like nothing else the songwriting team had written. Goffin and King’s subject matter tended to focus on the highs and lows of teenage relationships; make-up songs (The Best Part Of Breaking Up Is When We’re Making Up), break-up songs (Take Good Care Of My Baby) and ‘what if’ songs (Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?) but never the delicate matter of domestic abuse. To take that subject and stick it in a pop song for Phil Spector to throw the kitchen sink at was very….well, what, exactly?

Can you imagine 80s hit makers Stock, Aitken and Waterman following up Kylie’s version of The Locomotion with a production line hit record cataloguing domestic abuse? Or one of Simon Cowell’s pop charges power ballading their way through similar themes, key changes, sweeping strings ‘n all? It’s unthinkable, but that’s the modern day equivalent, which is why Goffin & King’s decision to write the song and Phil Spector’s decision to record the song was nothing short of revolutionary. And a little bit stupid.

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) was given to The Crystals to record. Presumably, Phil felt he couldn’t give it to The Ronettes or he’d have had all sorts of accusatory fingers pointing at him. Quite ironic really, given how he treated Ronnie (or where he currently resides).

The CrystalsHe Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)

Spector treated this song with (for him) a rare understatement. There are still reverberating walls of shimmering strings (when they see-saw their way in at the start of the second verse it’s unnervingly fantastic) and there’s multitracked female choirs in the background every other line, but (only after Spector had her do take after take to get the requisite downtrodden vocal) Barbara Alston’s main vocal line is stark and nervy. The creeping bassline only adds to the sense of unease. By the time the key change has arrived most listeners are well aware they’re listening to something that shouldn’t really be in a pop song, least of all a Spector production, which was until this point the audible equivalent of the American Dream in under 3 minutes.

Almost immediately Spector’s Wall Of Sound was met with a wall of outrage and the record was banned. Radio stations refused to play it, the record was quickly withdrawn and the only way to hear it, if you were brave enough, was on The Crystals’ He’s A Rebel LP.

Time hasn’t been kind to the song. The golden oldies stations that pump out wall-to-wall 60s hits will never play it, yet it’s there like the bad apple that can’t be thrown away. It’s an undeniable part of Spector’s terrific back catalogue but doesn’t appear on (m)any of the hit compilations, although it does find its chronological way onto the Back To Mono box set, the black yin to the sun-kissed golden yang of Spector’s output.

In 2012 Carole King expressed her regret at having a part in it. “I wrote the music to He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). Obviously, I’m complicit in having written that song. I kind of wish I hadn’t written any part of that song, but Gerry wrote that lyric. … And I think in some ways – I’m only speculating – that for some women that may be the only manifestation of what they perceive as love. And that’s certainly true for the woman in that song. And you know, that’s all wrong. So, again, that’s one song I kind of wish I hadn’t had any part of writing.”

The song hasn’t quite been swept under the carpet though. Courtney Love and Hole did a particularly caustic version at many live shows for a while, Love ironically introducing it as a feminist anthem. Amy Winehouse, no stranger to disfunction and domestic abuse has often cited He Hit Me… as her favourite-ever song. And Spiritualized, never ones to miss a 60’s-influenced druggy reference point recorded She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit) on their 2003 album Amazing Grace. It’s far more Iggy than Phil though, but you probably knew that already.

SpiritualizedShe Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)

*As an aside, Little Eva married that same boyfriend.

Alternative Version, Get This!, Hard-to-find



monophonic sound; monophony, the favoured recording method pioneered in the 1960s by Phil Spector.



characterised by massiveness, total uniformity, rigidity, invulnerability, etc.

darlene love phil spector

Darlene Love‘s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is massiveness incarnate. Invulnerable, invincible and right at the top of the Christmas tree when it comes to the best musical festive fare ever recorded. The only original track to appear on Phil Spector‘s A Christmas Gift For You LP, it’s a thumping major to minor rock ‘n roll tearjerker about lost love. Phil Spector originally put it together with the intention of having his wife Ronnie along with the other Ronettes record it. But after a few false starts and failed takes, he quickly realised she wasn’t singing it with the requisite oomph and instead drafted in Darlene Love.

Ronnie recalls her time in the studio with Specctor:

“Phil worked everybody so hard on the album and the days kind of blurred into each other, thinking about it now. But there was a real Christmas party atmosphere in the studio, even though it was the height of summer, and a lot of great musicians were involved. They weren’t that well-known at the time but so many of them went on to become famous in their own right, like Leon Russell. Sonny Bono and Cher were involved in a lot of the stuff too, so was Glen Campbell. We worked hard, though, some days we’d be in the studio for eight or nine hours just doing one verse of one song.”

Darlene was way down the pecking order with Spector. She’d sang lead on He’s A Rebel for The Crystals and had applied her Noo Yoik drawl to umpteen of Spector’s kitchen sink productions, but Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was one of the first times she’d been allowed to fly solo and, as you’ll know if you’ve heard the record, she soars gloriously.

The song was released with high hopes ahead of Christmas 1963, but in a bizarre twist of fate found itself released on the very day JFK was assassinated in Dallas. Holiday spirit instantly ruined, the record failed to find airplay amongst the bulletins lamenting the President’s death and was quickly withdrawn from sale. What could’ve been the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time never came to be.

Darlene LoveChristmas (Please Come Home)

darlene love phil spector 2

Spector loved the finished version. So much in fact, (and no doubt stung by the record’s withdrawal), he felt the record had year-round appeal. Such a brilliant cacophony of sound shouldn’t be kept under lock and key and only let out for one month in twelve, so he asked Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich to re-write it as a ‘boyfriend song’. Minus a few sleigh bells but not much else, it still sounds brilliant, yet somehow not quite right. Years of associating it with Christmas makes it a bit of a strange one.

Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

This version was hidden away on an obscure b-side and failed to live up to Spector’s wish. Indeed, not a lot of people know it even exists. There you have it.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Born To Be With You Triple Whammy


Born To Be With You was an American top 5 single for The Chordettes in 1956. A largely forgotten piece of bobbysox balladeering, it’s a proto doo wop, proto girl group paen to a just-out-of-reach romance, all minor key melodrama and vocal harmonies. It was quite clearly an influence on the young Phil Spector a few years later. A few short calendar years maybe, but it might as well have been several lightyears, given what happened in the intervening years betwixt and between The Chordettes and the golden touch of Phil Spector. 1956 was Year Zero for rock ‘n roll. The year that Elvis and his gyrating pelvis appeared on television screens with the dual effect of horrifying the moral majority of Americans whilst galvanising youths everywhere into action.

Before Elvis there was nothing.”

John Lennon said that. And after Elvis there was everything. I’ll say that. Firstly, Tin Pan Alley songwriters and their ‘moon in June‘ blandfest of lyrics were given a huge boot up the arse and out the door. As they were leaving, in came bands who played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, presented themselves as a gang and dressed accordingly. In a few short years, the thrill of rock ‘n roll and all its attendant detritus was well in motion. But you knew that already.

Phil Spector was a bit of a throwback to that pre-Elvis era. The auteur of teen angst, he used assorted songwriters to pen the hits, before introducing the song to the musicians who would bend and shape it into Spector’s vision of a 3 minute symphony, before finally introducing the singers to the song and pushing them to the very edge of their limits in order to create pop perfection. Goffin & King. Ellie Greenwich. Jeff Barry. Writing for The Ronettes. The Crystals. Darlene Love. I’m sure you know them all. Phil even got himself a writing credit for coming up with the “woah-woah-woah” part at the end of Mann & Weill’s ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling‘. Clever man, that Phil Spector. Well, he was at one time…

dave edmunds

Spector’s influence reached far and wide, as far even as that hotbed of rock action, south Wales. In 1973, following the huge success of I Hear You Knocking (a favourite of John Lennon, coincidentally), and after a part in David Essex’s Stardust, Dave Edmunds combined his love of early 50s rock ‘n roll with the technique of Phil Spector and produced his own version of The Chordettes’ Born To Be With You. It’s terrific! A wall of 12 string guitars, stratosphere-scraping vocals and galloping, clattering rat-ticky-tat percussion. It’s measured. Precise. Perfect. By the time the brass ‘n slide guitar part comes soaring in, you’ll already have convinced yourself this is the best record you’ve heard all year. Someone like Glasvegas could waltz in and do it in the same style and make it sound even huger. “Coz ah wiz borrrrn…tae be wi’ yooo!” But for the moment, content yourself with Dave Edmund’s 40-year old version. I think you’ll like it a lot.

Pop Quiz Interlude

Q. Aside from The Beatles, name the only other rock/pop artists on the cover of the Sgt Peppers LP.

sgt pepper

A. Bob Dylan (top right, back row) and Dion (7th from left, 2nd back row. Just next to Tony Curtis and behind a wee bit from Oscar Wilde).

Dylan you’ve probably heard of. Dion too, for that matter. Dion was a duh-duh-duh-d’-duh-duh duh dude. His rasping, doo-wopping Noo Yoik Bronx vocal created monster hits. The Wanderer. Runaround Sue. A Teenager In Love. I’m sure you’re singing them now, ingrained as they are in the very fabric of rock ‘n roll.  Dion was also the Marti Pellow of his day – pop idol on the outside whilst rattling to the bones with heroin on the inside. When the hits dried up, Dion found himself label-less, friendless and definitely down and out in New York City. Following a religious epiphany (c’mon! what did you expect?!?) and subsequently ditching the drugs, 1975 found Dion working with Phil Spector on his own version of Born To Be With You.

dion 7

Ironically, it’s less Spectorish than Edmunds’ rollin’ and tumblin’ version. Dion’s is downbeat, introspective and melancholy, sounding exactly like the kind of record an artist makes when they know they’re in the last chance saloon; measured (again) and majestic. At just short of 7 minutes, it’s something of an epic. Jason Pierce of Spiritualized is said to be a huge fan of this record, which makes perfect sense. It’s almost Spiritualized in template, with it’s steady, pulsing riff and inter-woven sax breaks. And the background drugs story was no doubt the icing on the cake for our Jason.

Good records. That’s what they are. Play them. Enjoy them. Pass it on.

demo, Most downloaded tracks, studio outtakes

Well, flip your wig!

So Phil Spector is finally found guilty. Six years to reach the only obvious conclusion, although, most music fans could tell you he’d committed murder as soon as he got his tiny little hands on the master tapes to ‘Let It Be’. But it’s official – it’s moiduh and Phil Spector will probably spend the rest of his life in a cushy corner of some state penitentiary or other, bald and friendless.


Murder 1

Of course, as you know, the music he worked on is mostly sublime. Timeless, not set by generation. You could be 5 or 95. There’s something there for all of us. Some of those tracks are practically folk songs. I’m going to remember him this way. And you should too. Listen to The Ronettes in the studio doing ‘My One And Only Baby’ as it was called before becoming ‘Be My Baby’. Here‘s an amalgamation of takes 21-25, mostly instrumental, with the odd backing vocal and studio chatter flung in for good measure. A Wall of Sound production in production.


Murder 2

Here‘s an unrecorded take of the same track, complete with  lead and backing vocals and that ricketty-ticketty percussion at the end of every line. The wee tape rewind at the beginning makes me think this is Spector’s first play back of the completed track, but that’s only my thoughts. I guess we’ll never know now.

Finally, here‘s that Ronettes ‘Baby I Love You’ isolated vocal track that everybody still emails me about. *Note. I incorrectly labelled this as Be My Baby Vocals. But before you get yer knickers in a twist I just checked, and it’s definitely the vocal track of Baby I love You. OK!

Last time I posted tracks of this ilk, they were removed tout de suite by the DMCA. Make like Phil with a .45 and act fast!

Later everyone, gotta shoot…….!


Murder 3