The credit “Arranged and conducted by Jack Nitzsche” should be familiar to any collector of those little black vinyl platters we used to call 45s. Such a credit – or a similar one – graced records by Frankie Laine and Doris Day, The Paris Sisters and The Righteous Brothers, The Tubes and The Crystals, Graham Parker and Bobby Vee. Jack “Specs” Nitzsche (1973-2000) made his mark across multiple genres and many decades, the common factor being the quality of his work. Nitzsche the orchestrator helped define Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound; Nitzsche the film composer picked up an Academy Award for writing “Up Where We Belong” for the film An Officer and a Gentleman; Nitzsche the producer played an integral role in the early days of Crazy Horse; Nitzsche the session sideman added keyboard textures to many of The Rolling Stones’ most memorable hits; Nitzsche the vocal arranger created the unforgettable choral sound of the latter band’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Ace Records documented much of this musical renaissance man’s astounding (and astoundingly diverse) career on two volumes of The Jack Nitzsche Story in 2005 and 2006. A most unexpected treat has just arrived from the label, however, in the form of a third installment in the series. Night Walker: The Jack Nitzsche Story Volume 3 presents another 26 stunning examples of the man’s diverse art.
Of course, the style most closely associated with the name “Jack Nitzsche” is that of the thunderous, echo-laden, era-defining Wall of Sound. Beginning with The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” Nitzsche arranged most of the recordings of Phil Spector’s golden age, including Darlene Love’s “A Long Way to Be Happy” (recorded in 1965 but unissued until 1976), The Crystals’ “Little Boy” and The Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get for Loving You?,” all of which are reprised here. (Most of the Philles recordings were previously unavailable for licensing on the first two volumes of this series.) All three songs are instantly recognizable from their first seconds, so distinctive was the sound created by Spector, Nitzsche and the hand-picked session men of the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew recording at Gold Star Studios. (In a nice touch, the Ace CD label bears the logo and colors of Gold Star.) Love, who had actually sung the lead on “Rebel” despite The Crystals’ credit, is commanding as she rides the urgent pulse of Nitzsche’s driving arrangement of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin “A Long Way to Be Happy.” La La Brooks handles the lead on The Crystals’ 1964 “Little Boy” from the Spector/Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich team, with Sonny Bono on the exciting, Latin-style percussion. Ronnie Spector was out front on the Goffin/King/Spector melodrama “Is This What I Get for Loving You,” another grandly moving production.
The Spector/Nitzsche magic doesn’t end there. Steve Douglas’ saxophone cuts loose on another Philles track here, “Puddin’ n’ Tain,” with Bobby Sheen (whose career has already been anthologized by Ace) handling its memorable falsetto. One Philles hit that Nitzsche famously didn’t arrange, however, was The Righteous Brothers’ immortal “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” (He did do the honors on its Top 10 follow-up, the stirring “Just Once in My Life.”) Though Gene Page spelled Nitzsche on “Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Specs” was no stranger to the Righteous Brothers. Ace has included a track arranged and conducted by Nitzsche from the duo’s pre-Philles Moonglow period. “I Still Love You” was written by Spector pal Nino Tempo, and if its breezy Latin flavor and more restrained delivery doesn’t recall the heights that were soon to be scaled, it’s a fascinating inclusion nonetheless.
The title of Night Walker is derived from the 1965 Reprise single which makes its CD debut here. The evocative Billy Strange tune might be the best proof of just how well Nitzsche knew the powers of the Wrecking Crew; the strengths of its busy, talented players are all evident on this sweeping two-minutes-and-change of musical electricity. Wrecking Crew guitarist Jerry Cole (already the subject of one Ace CD) enlisted Nitzsche to arrange his own singles for Capitol including the dramatic “Every Window in the City” which was produced by that famously honking saxophonist, Steve Douglas, and written by the “Under the Boardwalk” team of Artie Resnick and Kenny Young. The chiming track recalls Gene Pitney (think: “Looking Through the Eyes of Love”), but if Cole wasn’t as strong a vocalist as Pitney, the production and arrangement give his perfectly-good vocals a push into the realm of pop heaven. Another CD debut is The Fleetwoods’ hypnotic “Come Softly to Me,” a 1965 Nitzsche-guided remake of their 1959 hit.
If Nitzsche’s makeover of “Come Softly to Me” was subtly contemporary, his take on Richard Berry’s oft-recorded “Louie, Louie” was something else altogether. Nitzsche arranged the truly offbeat, murky treatment (“Louie, sock it to me!”) for Honey Ltd., a girl group recorded by producer Lee Hazlewood for his own LHI label. Nitzsche and Hazlewood blended woozy brass and aggressive electric guitar with the girls’ harmonies, shifting moods and feels to give the familiar song a completely fresh feel. Hazlewood was also the guiding force behind the earlier Eden Records label. The company only released six singles, but all bore Nitzsche’s imprimatur – including the choice cut here, Ramona King’s sublimely soulful spin on a girl-group record, “What About You.”
Nitzsche’s association with Neil Young was a famous and long one, taking in recordings by Young solo (including both the smash 1972 Harvest and its 1992 sequel Harvest Moon), Crazy Horse and The Buffalo Springfield. Night Walker features “Expecting to Fly” from the Springfield, on which Nitzsche fused a classical sensibility to psychedelia and folk-rock. Nitzsche’s haunting production of Young’s song remains an undisputed high point of the band’s small but influential catalogue.
There’s plenty more, including the track listing with discography and order links, after the jump!
The tougher side of Nitzsche’s sound is explored on tracks like C.C. Adcock’s 1999 “Castin’ My Spell,” and Nitzsche’s own 1970 “Poor White Hound Dog” but, ironically, not on Mink DeVille’s “Just Your Friends.” As recounted in Mick Patrick’s tremendous track-by-track liner notes, Willy DeVille wanted the Jack Nitzsche of the 1970 Performance soundtrack (which included “Poor White Hound Dog”) to produce his band Mink DeVille; on 1978’s “Just Your Friends,” however, he got the Wall of Sound Jack Nitzsche, swirling strings, castanets, and all –deliciously so on this throwback co-written by Nitzsche and DeVille. Nitzsche would periodically revisit his vibrantly groundbreaking sixties style, such as on 1977’s Michelle Phillips single “Victim of Romance.” He even called on Steve Douglas to supply the sax solo for Mama Michelle’s upbeat track.
Typical for Ace’s Songwriters and Producers volumes, Night Walker includes an eclectic variety of hidden gems to show off the breadth of the subject’s talents. Jackie DeShannon, herself the subject of numerous CDs from Ace, cuts loose on the rocking and raw “Try to Forget Him,” arranged by her frequent collaborator Jack in 1965. (Jackie, we wouldn’t dream of forgetting him or you!) Nitzsche also provided, well, the vehicle for Lou Christie’s falsetto to soar on “If My Car Could Only Talk,” a hidden gem in the Wall of Sound style from the “Lightnin’ Strikes” vocalist circa 1966. Another track in that style comes courtesy of Nitzsche’s wife Gracia, who leads The Satisfactions on another ’66 nugget, “Daddy, You Just Gotta Let Him In.” The Everly Brothers brought their angelic harmonies to “June is as Cold as December” from that same busy year, with Nitzsche adding the baroque folk-rock textures. If the sound of “June” was far-removed from the Everlys’ original Nashville stylings, The Rip Chords’ rather martial “Here I Stand” is likewise light years away from “Hey, Little Cobra.”
A couple of rare cuts were penned by Nitzsche, as well. The 1960 boogie-woogie-flavored “Bongo Bongo Bongo” was one of his earliest credits, recorded by Preston Epps for Art Laboe’s Original Sound label. It’s also the oldest track here. “Lower California,” co-written and co-produced (“directed” as per the credit) by Nitzsche and Robert Downey Sr. affords the rare chance to hear Nitzsche sing. His voice is arguably the weakest part of the track (recorded in 1974 and unreleased until 2001) which recalls the Beach Boys’ style of the early 1970s on which grit and aching beauty could co-exist.
The 28-page booklet with copious track-by-track notes and illustrations accompanies this splendid set; Nick Robbins has remastered. Night Walker: The Jack Nitzsche Story Volume 3 is yet another integral chapter of the tale of a man whose style shaped the sound of American popular music. Jack Nitzsche brought true heart and soul to his orchestrations, imbuing each of his works – whether tough rock or luxuriant pop – with a beating pulse. These 26 examples are a stellar starting point or an invitation for longtime fans to dig deeper into his singular discography.
You can order Night Walker: The Jack Nitzsche Story Volume 3 at the links below!
- Castin’ My Spell – C.C. Adcock (Antone’s CD TMG-ANT 0049, 2001) (*)
- Poor White Hound Dog – Jack Nitzsche with vocal by Merry Clayton (Warner Bros. LP BS 2554, 1970) (*)
- A Long Way to Be Happy – Darlene Love (rec. 1965 – released Phil Spector International LP 2307 009, 1976)
- Night Time Girl – Modern Folk Quintet (Dunhill 4025, 1966)
- Expecting to Fly – Buffalo Springfield (Atco LP SD 33-226, 1967) (*)
- If My Car Could Only Talk – Lou Christie (MGM 13576, 1966)
- Night Walker – Jack Nitzsche (Reprise 0337, 1965)
- Every Window in the City – Jerry Cole (Capitol 5394, 1965)
- Little Boy – The Crystals (Philles 119, 1964)
- Just Your Friends – Mink DeVille (Capitol LP 11780, 1978) (*)
- Louie, Louie – Honey Ltd. (LHI 1216, 1968)
- Lower California – Jack Nitzsche (rec. 1974 – released Rhino Handmade CD RHM2 7787, 2001) (*)
- Is This What I Get For Loving You – The Ronettes featuring Veronica (Philles 128, 1965)
- Come Softly to Me – The Fleetwoods (Dolton 307, 1965)
- June is as Cold as December – The Everly Brothers (Warner Bros. LP WS 1620, 1966) (*)
- Daddy You Just Gotta Let Him In – The Satisfactions (Imperial 66170, 1966)
- Try to Forget Him – Jackie DeShannon (Imperial LP 12294, 1965) (*)
- Educated Fool – Billy Storm (Infinity 023, 1962)
- What About You – Ramona King (Eden 5, 1963)
- Puddin’ n’ Tain (Ask Me Again, I’ll Tell You the Same) – The Alley Cats (Philles 108, 1963)
- Victim of Romance – Michelle Phillips (A&M 2021, 1977) (*)
- Yes Sir That’s My Baby – Hale and the Hushabyes (Apogee 104, 1964)
- The Wayward Wind – Vince Howard and the Vin-ettes (Big R 2000, 1963)
- I Still Love You – The Righteous Brothers (Moonglow 231, 1964) (*)
- Here I Stand – The Rip Chords (Columbia 42687, 1963)
- Bongo Bongo Bongo – Preston Epps (Original Sound 9, 1960) (*)
All tracks mono except (*) denotes stereo