Which brings me to a present I bought for myself recently in celebration of both my birthday and Christmas (even December babies combine the gifts we give ourselves):“Back to Mono,” a boxed set compiling work from legendary pop producer Phil Spector’s crucial decade from 1958 through 1969.
This is not a new or recent issue; I’ve wanted this for years but for whatever reason I never picked it up. It’s an incredible compilation of breathtakingly consistent quality: there are more unimpeachably good songs in this boxed set than have hit the charts in the past five years, I’d wager.
Spector specialized in building a complete and immersive “wall of sound” around every song he produced, using a battery of symphonic instruments to turn each single he produced into a true spectacle. His style was unmistakable and consistent, which might suggest a kind of monotony, but I’ve been listening to all sixty songs — totaling nearly three hours of music — for a week now, and I find it continually fascinating how each three-minute gem has its own particular, engrossing character.
A lot of that has to do with the talent he was producing, of course. It helps that this boxed set contains sixteen tracks that Spector produced for his onetime wife, Ronnie Spector, while she was with The Ronettes; their inclusion here practically makes for a Ronettes best of collection hidden inside of a Phil Spector best of collection. It’s nothing original for me to say that Ronnie Spector owns one of the most complexly satisfying voices in the history of pop music, but in these aging recordings, she sounded more richly ebullient and enervated than any vocalist you can name.
The best thing is that, through some inscrutable calculus that determines how much boxed sets cost fifteen years after they were originally released, the current pricing for “Back to Mono” represents a bizarrely lopsided quality-to-price ratio. You can buy it right now for just US$16.99 from Amazon.com and other outlets. See? Happy music.