Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection

Phil Spector is known for a great many things but he is not known as an album artist. Yes, there is the great ‘70s exception: during the golden age of the album, he produced George Harrison, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones -- but he received these gigs on the strength of his early-‘60s productions, his jewel-like hits for the Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers, among others. It’s hard to imagine American pop without “He’s a Rebel,” “Be My Baby,” or any number of his smash singles, but apart from his celebrated 1963 Christmas album, there was not one single album from this era that is considered a classic. Legacy’s handsome 2011 box set The Philles Album Collection attempts to mount a case for Spector as an album artist by collecting six original LPs -- the Crystals’ Twist Uptown, He’s a Rebel, and Sing the Greatest Hits, Vol. 1; Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans’ Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah; the Ronettes’ Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica; and Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits (not one of them previously issued on CD) -- and pairing them with a disc of rarities and outtakes, yet it winds up underlining the point that LPs really weren’t Spector’s format. First of all, there is an astonishing amount of overlap between these six LPs: Twist Uptown and He’s a Rebel are virtually the same album, containing nine of the same tracks -- the former runs 11 cuts, the latter 12, the differences being singles -- then the Crystals' hits are repeated on their Greatest Hits and the Philles Records collection, too, the latter problem also surfacing on the Bob B. Soxx and Ronettes albums. Repetition makes The Philles Album Collection a tedious listen as a box set, but the real disappointment is the realization how Spector poured all of his efforts into the singles and then tossed off everything else; they shine brighter as songs and records than everything else here, so no wonder they were repurposed over and over again. Very few of the album tracks possess the same fearless imagination as the singles, although, oddly enough, the extra disc of rarities does show signs of life; it’s as if this was a place for Spector to experiment with ideas he’d later develop on the singles while the albums were merely an obligation. As interesting as this bonus disc is, it -- like the rest of the set -- winds up being not much more than a historical curio, the kind of thing that’s interesting for archivists, scholars, and fanatics but difficult to enjoy as sheer entertainment. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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