Thursday, February 10, 2005

Phil Spector and The King of Doo-wop

Dion - Born To Be With You

In the early 70's, Phil Spector signed a production deal with Warners giving him full artistic control and an offer to produce any of their artists: his first choice was Dion Dimucci, and the album 'Born To Be With You', from which this title track is taken, was the fruits of their collaboration. And boy is it good!

Dion, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the very greatest voices. From his early doo-wop hits with the Belmonts in the late 50s, through rock 'n' roll, folk, blues, gospel, and dubious MOR rock, the production qualities and material may have wavered increasingly as the years passed, but that glorious, yearning voice is threaded through it all like silver, making much of what he's released worth hearing, if just for his god-like delivery. Of course when it comes to listening to his stuff repeatedly, you want the well-produced stuff, and there's no better place to start than here - although, if the voice gets you like it did me, you'll want to go back to the doo-wop, the 50s, the 60s and the early 70s. Another good starting point is 'The Road I'm On' - a great 2-disc compilation of 60s stuff.

The LP 'Born To Be With You' hardly sold at all in the UK, was badly received in the press, and even disappointed Dion himself (the heroin withdrawal must have messed up his mind). It was a departure in style for him and today stands alone as something of an anomaly in his back-catalogue. So yet another great album was destined to fade into oblivion, before being picked up on by a few musos, plundered for sounds and style, hailed in retrospect as a classic and finally reissued on CD. As the man who wrote the CD sleevenotes says, "if Jason Pierce has never listened to it and been inspired, then I am the monkey's uncle". I can only agree - strip away the sax and vocals of the title track and half of Spiritualized's back-catalogue starts to sound like a homage to this one song. If you care about such things, you may also like to know that Bobby Gillespie is famously a big fan of this record.

I was looking around London for a vinyl copy of this for ages. Then I tried in Manhattan (Dion, of course, being a New Yorker), but a record-store guy (and big Spector fan) said he didn't think it ever even got a release in the US - he rarely had a copy come his way and said I'd have more luck back in London! In the end, I got one from ebay for 15 quid, and then another popped up a week later and I got it for 50p, such is the wonders of the modern inter-thingy. So if you really like what you hear, I've got a spare copy I might be persuaded to part with... alternatively, you can pick up the CD, on a twofer with the dodgy 'Streetheart' album, where the rot (production-wise) started to set in.

Visit - Dion Dimucci
Buy - Dion - Born To Be With You
Buy - Dion - The Road I'm On

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