Mono Mania

Phil SpectorAs my sort of half-assed response to Swissmiss’ kind passing to me of the “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Me” meme, I’m going to offer just one trivia item: I generally like happy music.

This surprises a lot of people whose initial (and admittedly sometimes continual) impression of me is that I’m very serious, stern, forbidding and, well, uptight. I’m not. Well, I am, sometimes, but in general, I try to take a relaxed attitude about most things in life when I can, and music is one which I can. I like my fair share of downbeat music, sure, but given the choice, I’m more consistently amazed and enraptured by music that can capture those fleeting essences of joy and elation that occur far too infrequently in life.

Wall Flowers

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 and other outlets. See? Happy music.

  1. I checked this out on, it’s Б34.99, about $70.00! So I’ve just ordered from and it comes to $23.98 including international shipping. It won’t be a quick delivery but the wait will be worth it.

    I had just ordered a standard compliation (with the Christmas CD) but this is so much better so I have cancelled that.

    Thanks for highlighting this 🙂

  2. I have that one, too. There are some great tunes on it, obviously, and it’s well worth owning. But it doesn’t hang together as a compilation as well as “Back to Mono,” which is what I was getting at: even though it’s a compilation of many different singles, Spector’s singular genius provides a phenomenal consistency.

  3. Great find — what’s that price about? Amazon says it lists for $75!

    Another good set is “One Kiss Can Lead to Another,” though it won’t have the consistency of the Spector set.

    And my all time favorite set collecting from that period is Felix Hernandez Presents The Rhythm Revue, great for mixing the classic and familiar (Tighten Up, Twist and Shout) with great but less familiar cuts. Check it out.

  4. I’ve just checked back and it’s now at $69.99. Maybe the $16.99 price was a fluke or an error. Whatever, it’s shipped now so I’m just glad I got it at a bargain price 🙂

  5. Wow, that’s a real price jump. I’d say the US$16.99 price was a mistake, but when I ordered my copy it was just US$12.99, so at some point it was revised already. Anyway, even at its greatly increased price, it’s worth every penny.

  6. Seconding the recommendation for “One Kiss Can Lead to Another”…it’s full of amazing but lesser known gems.

    Also, Ronnie Spector sounds enervated? You mean she sounds tired?

  7. I make a big deal about You are What You Eat, and hearing happy music pretty much beats crying to torch songs. ‘Course, sometimes that feels good.

    Then there are those happy songs that are about sad things, like Had a Bad Day. How can anyone resist these things?

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