Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love and more recall the creation of a classic
TEMPO: Gold Star was the only place Phil would record. As a studio I’d give it a seven out of 10, but they had an echo chamber there, and they had an inability to do much. They were working with antiquated equipment. I don’t know what the hell it was, but you’d sometimes get a take that you couldn’t get anywhere else. And why, you didn’t know, because their equipment wasn’t as good – but they had an incredible echo chamber, which was a room built below a garage, and that’s where the echo came from. It was the best. That was the secret of the wall of sound, the echo chamber and the amount of echo. Phil would think of these string lines and Jack Nitzsche would write them out. It was mostly Phil, 90%, he really was phenomenal in those days. To be honest, though, I don’t think the songwriting was a straight collaboration. That’s just my opinion, but I think Jeff and Ellie would write 100% of the song, and Phil would come in and change a word, change a little something here and there, which might or might not really improve the song.
LOVE: The Blossoms learned our own parts away from the musicians. We had our own harmony, and we’d sung harmony all our lives. It was all cut live, then Phil would bring in another drummer, more percussion, maybe horns and things like that. At that time we only had two tracks to work with – it wasn’t like it is today when you have over 100 tracks you can use. Phil Spector was probably one of the first that used overdubs. We called it ‘sweetening’ back in the day, to make it sound bigger, and with Phil it was bigger than ever.
TEMPO: We were in the studio, and “Be My Baby” is up. As they’re running it down, I didn’t like what I was hearing. I can’t lie, I can’t hide my emotions, so Phil looked at me and said, “You don’t like this… what don’t you like?” I said, “I think the drum part is boring, the drummer’s just playing straight four.” And Phil said, “What would you have him do?” I said, “I would have him do this – kick kick kick snare, kick kick kick snare snare snare – until we get to the chorus, then go straight four.” He said, “Tell Hal [Blaine] over the microphone.” So I did, and it worked fabulously! It still does. I was very delighted. Hal was a very talented guy, and it just sailed.
LOVE: The Blossoms were the well-known background singers, but a lot of times there were other singers with us too. Sometimes, they would even throw Sonny Bono in, which we hated. Why? Because he couldn’t sing! And we used to tease him all the time – in a lot of the playbacks you would hear me saying, “Hell, if you get Sonny out of here we could finish this.” He wasn’t a back-up singer! But Phil didn’t care, that was his whole thing.
TEMPO: I had been dating Cher, and I was introducing her to the recording industry. She met Phil and Sonny and all the rest of the people at that session. Phil said, “Hey, can you sing? Why don’t you sing with the group?” I was already out there singing the “be my baby” background part. But Phil was smart, he liked voices which sounded non-professional. It just worked beautifully.
LOVE: People try to make me remember that Cher was there for “Be My Baby”, and I don’t.
TEMPO: Me, Sonny Bono, Cher and the Blossoms – there might have been one other person, like the janitor. Anybody who walked by, Phil would ask them to come in and sing… also didn’t have to pay them that way.
SPECTOR: Sonny and Cher were there, and the Blossoms – all of these people were on the backgrounds of our records, and it made it so full because of all the voices.
LOVE: Back in those days we had one mic between us. If you couldn’t ‘blend’, you couldn’t work. I remember times working with Cher, and Phil had to tell her she was too loud, he would push her back further from the other singers.
SPECTOR: The Wrecking Crew were very important. I never really met all of them, but they did every record that I was on. They were great guys! At various points we had Harry Nilsson, Glen Campbell, Earl Palmer… Sometimes we had two drummers on my songs, so it was quite exciting times.