Buried Beneath The Wall of Sound: The Crystals


When we honestly think of the women associated with the Wall of Sound we immediately think Ronnie Spector, then Darlene Love…. then perhaps Cher… then the 7 or so women that made up The Crystals.

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Considering they were the female act under the aegis of Spector that had the most chart impact (having 6 top 40 hits, then again, 2 of them were technically Darlene Love and the Blossoms) and trace Spectors roots from being a brill building producer of post-doo wop glazed in a little bit more echo to magnificently dense masses of sound.

Formed in Brooklyn in late 1960, they were originally Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Dolores Kennibrew, Pasty Wright and Myrna Girard… soon however Girard got pregnant and Dolores (LaLa) Brooks was bought in as a 6th member, and after their first session Girard dropped out… hence the mega catholic glee choir via doo wop street corner sound on their first hit “(There’s No Other) Like My Baby” A nice piece of string sweetened late 50s styled Chantels celebration of a guy lead by Barbara.

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The flip (and intended A-side) “Oh Yeah Maybe Baby” is more “modern” (Baion beat ripped from concurrent Drifters/Shirelles singles and all) and with a quizzically unsure lead by Patsy (with her endearing hunt for the actual note) that to me… works better than the hit.

Then came the socially conscious “Uptown” that was one of the first “realistic” depictions of urban 20something ethnic life to make the top 40 (Boyfriend goes downtown to Manhattan basically, toils in a thankless job, to return to an appreciative girlfriend back in the Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn/Jersey where he’s a “king”)… then things turned amazingly sadistic with the next single “He Hit Me (and It felt like a kiss)” the lyrics equating domestic violence to true love were enough to get the song banned/pulled after… amazingly… the song started to become a hit (well…bubbling under the Billboard hot 100).

The debacle surrounding “He Hit Me” lead to Phil Spector buying out of his contract with Liberty records, and walking out the door with a song recorded by Vicki Carr… and originally intended for The Shirelles… “He’s A Rebel.” However The actual Crystals, after a year, we’re having serious issues with Spector: 1) The lack of Royalties from record sales 2) he preferring to put Barbara in the lead spot, altho she suffered from performance anxiety and 3) the grim artistic path he had recently set them on (including such lovely ditties as “Please Hurt Me” and “No One Ever Tells You”) so they refused to take the flight to LA…

….so Spector cut the song with Love and The Blossoms. And the record sailed to #1, and hurt feelings all around. Soon Spector released other material by Love and the Blossoms under Bob B. Soxx & The BlueJeans and under Love’s name, but on the road she and The Crystals would often be on the same bill…. a fiery 15 year old LaLa Brooks out front on songs Darlene lead… while Spector released another single with Love’s voice and the Crystals name as 1962 became 1963… “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” a rockin’ recession classic if there ever was one…

it almost got worse, as Darlene Love’s voice was originally the lead for the next Crystals single “Da Doo Ran Ran (When He Walked Me Home)” but, for whatever reason, he had LaLa debut on one of the biggest classics of the Girl Group Era… it was followed by (in my opinion) the perfect vision of everything right with the Wall of Sound “Then He Kissed Me” (which actually was a more massive hit in England, peaking at #2 versus the #6 pop it scored in the states).

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In all this confusion, Mary Thomas dropped out in 1963, to resurface as a member of Red Bird Girl Group The Butterflys (notable for their blueballs classic “Goodnight, Baby”) and after the completion of their contributions to the A Christmas Gift For You LP Patsy Wright dropped out too… to be replaced with Frances Collins, just in time for their British Tour…and two overblown, dense flop singles here in the states…”Little Boy” (Somehow LaLa’s lovely tart voice finds a way out of the madness) peaked at a sad #92 and “All Grown Up” (a stripped down rocker rushed to prevent The Exciters beating The Crystals version in the can for awhile) peaked at #98.

The Crystals, now adding the passing of the girl group torch to The Ronettes, despite making Spector the majority of his money… were furious, and bought out their contract by the end of 1964…after recording very little… and jumped labels to United Artists… now as a trio…as Barbara retired from the group….

…other than a few appearances on ABC’sWhere The Action Is lip syncing to their Phil Spector hits (kinda the same weird thing that happened to Mary Wells at the time, no attention paid to their current singles, and forced to sing their hits from 2-3 years before for no apparent reason, other than their obvious designation as rock and roll classics) and a few good Northern Soul/Motown influenced moments like “Are You Trying To Get Rid of Me Baby” they were…. gone… by 1968.

In general these days it’s Phil Spector that gets all the credit for being the crazy genius behind the music, but I have to agree withy an assertion that Darlene Love made about him: Would his records sold as instrumentals, like Joe Meek’s production of “Telstar?” The unsureness of Barbara’s lead on the first songs, and The cockiness and straightforwardness of LaLa on the later songs sold the songs (that didn’t work against their vocal talents) like hotcakes…..

Gotta give it to the girls. The could tell it like it is…

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