It’s not quite the Wall of Sound just yet, but the foundations are clearly being scoped and the bricks picked out. Twist Uptown was the first full-length album from super-producer Phil Spector, and it’s a solid historical document as well as being a uniformly strong pop album. Not quite a masterpiece on par with Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica or A Christmas Gift for You, but damn fine nonetheless.
Songs like “There’s No Other (Like My Baby” and “Uptown” are the earliest glimpses of Spector’s producing genius as he manages to leave ample space for Barbara Alston’s tender vocals to shine in addition to a Spanish-style guitar lick or thundering drum. Harmonies by the other girls in the group enrich the environs of these songs, look at how deepen the ache of “Please Hurt Me” or add a hallucinatory texture to “On Broadway.” The Drifters made that one a classic, but the Crystals turn it from a joyous big-dreamer ideal to a haunted, ethereal dream appearing through the mind’s fog.
There’s plenty of songs on here that reappear on albums like Da Doo Ron Ron: The Best of the Crystals, yet it’s the ones that only appear here that immediately pop out to me. Perhaps it’s because they’re less familiar, or maybe it’s just from the strangeness of a few of them. “Frankenstein Twist” is a hoot as led by LaLa Brooks’ rougher vocals as she demands we all do the title dance. Same goes for “Gee Whiz Look at His Eyes (Twist),” which is one of the many “little symphonies for the kids,” as Spector infamously described his creations, found on here.
If there’s any downside to Twist Uptown it’s this, before the Crystals confidently engaged in both nonsense (“Da Doo Ron Ron”), anthems (“He’s a Rebel”), or winking provocations (“Then He Kissed Me”) they were downbeat romantic pessimists. “I Love You Eddie” finds Alston in love with a boy and competing for his affections with another girl. “Another Country – Another World” keeps the Homefront fires burning while her boyfriend is shipped off overseas, and Alston’s yearning approaches mythic proportions of grief and partial hope. Girl group pop never sounded quite as doomed as it can here.
Still, Twist Uptown proves that Spector’s description of a typical album, something along the lines of two hits singles and ten pieces of junk, was an outright lie. Twist Uptown is both a remarkably strong pop album of sweet/tough vocals and expanding production technique. It’s the growing pains of the Wall of Sound as Spector is just starting to take the recording studio into strange, new territories with his first great pop group. The Crystals would go on to release bigger, better classics, but this remains a strong introduction to the group.
DOWNLOAD: “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)”