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The_Crystals

The Crystals

The Crystals, a singing group from the New York City area, were one of the most successful girl groups of the early 1960s, best remembered for the hit singles "He's A Rebel", "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me".

History

Formation and signing to Philles

In the early 1960s, Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Dolores "Dee Dee" Kenniebrew, Myrna Girard and Patricia "Patsy" Wright formed The Crystals through the help of Benny Wells, Barbara's uncle. Soon, the quintet signed with Phil Spector's label Philles Records. Spector then chose Alston to be the group's lead singer by default, which made her very uncomfortable since she had a fear of singing in front of audiences.

Their first hit was 1961's "There's No Other Like My Baby" (see 1961 in music). This song's A-side "Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby" (featuring Wright on lead) didn't generate the interest that the more late 50s R&B-flavored, "Chantels-like" B-side did. Their second release, "Uptown" was very topical and socially-aware, as it had the group crooning about loving a boy in the ghetto. After the success of "Uptown", a pregnant Girard was replaced by Dolores "LaLa" Brooks. The next single was 1962's "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)", still widely remembered though only rarely played on the radio due to the touchy subject matter of spousal abuse. Sales were sluggish.

The "Replacement" Crystals

Soon after "He Hit Me" flopped, Phil Spector began recording singer Darlene Love and her backing group The Blossoms under the name "The Crystals". Legend has it that the real Crystals were not able to travel from New York to Los Angeles fast enough to suit the LA-based Spector, who wanted to quickly record writer Gene Pitney's "He's a Rebel" before anyone else (such as Vikki Carr) could release a version. The Crystals were unavailable, but Love and the Blossoms were also based in LA, so Spector recorded and released their version under The Crystals' banner.

The song had originally been offered to The Shirelles, who turned it down because of the anti-establishment lyrics. It marked a shift in girl group thematic material, where the singer loves a "bad boy", a theme that would be amplified by later groups (especially The Shangri-La's "Leader of the Pack").

"He's A Rebel" is perhaps the Crystals' most well-remembered song, and one of the most enduring of the girl group genre. It was also their only US #1 hit. The follow-up Crystals single, "He's Sure the Boy I Love", in actuality also featured Love and The Blossoms. It reached #11 on the Billboard chart, and features a classic spoken intro by Darlene Love.

The "Let's Dance The Screw" Saga

The next single credited to The Crystals is one of the rarest -- and also possibly the strangest -- in rock music history. Reports vary as to the actual motivation behind the recording, but most agree that Phil Spector was looking for a way to annoy former business partner Lester Sill. What he came up with was a nearly six-minute song called "Let's Dance The Screw - Part I", which would be unplayable on 1963 radio. The record featured simple instrumentation (very much unlike Spector's famous Wall of Sound production style), repetitive lyrics, and Spector himself intoning the lyric "Dance The Screw" numerous times in a deadpan monotone. (The B-side, Part II, was more of the same.) The Crystals sang the song's repetitive verses, though it is unclear if these singers were the 'real' Crystals or The Blossoms. Incidentally, some accounts mention that Spector's lawyer is actually the man intoning "Dance The Screw."

The recording was never released commercially as a single, and only a few copies are known to exist (all marked D.J. COPY - NOT FOR SALE). The record was apparently only created to be a bizarre sort of joke at Sill's expense, as a single copy was specially delivered to him in early 1963. Both parts of the song have since been released on CD. Further information about this strange recording can be found at snopes.com

The "Real" Crystals Return

Though it's unclear as to the level of their participation in "Let's Dance The Screw", the 'real' Crystals definitely began recording again under their own name in 1963. However, Thomas had departed to get married, only to join another mildly successful group, The Butterflys, along with another original Crystal, Myrna Girard. This reduced the group to a quartet with Barbara Alston on lead. Alston, known for her shyness and stage fright, was never comfortable with being out front, stepped down from the lead spot giving it to Brooks. According to Brooks, she had been doing Alston's leads in their live shows for a while.

After "Let's Dance The Screw", the group's next release was the classic "Da Doo Ron Ron." According to Darlene Love, the track was originally recorded by The Blossoms, with Love on lead vocal. Prior to release, Spector erased Love's lead vocal and replaced it with a vocal by LaLa Brooks, although he kept the Blossoms' backing vocals in place. [If you listen closely to the bottom note, you can hear Cher's unmistakable voice beefing up the backing vocals.] The song was a top 10 hit in both the US and the UK, as was the follow-up single "Then He Kissed Me" the first Crystals single since "He Hit Me" to feature all members of the Crystals as a definite group.

Both "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me" were penned by Spector with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.

Mounting tension and break-up

Despite the steady flow of hit singles, tensions between Spector and the Crystals mounted. Already unhappy with having been replaced by Love and company on two singles, The Crystals were even more upset when in 1964, Spector began focusing much of his time on his other girl group The Ronettes. As well, there were disputes about royalties, with The Crystals feeling that Spector was withholding royalty money that was owed to them.

Two failed Crystals singles followed before the band left Spector's Philles Records for United Artists Records later in 1964. "Little Boy" (#92) was a Wall Of Sound production of monstrous proportions, with the girls' voices barely distinguishable from the music; "All Grown Up," their final Philles single (two versions exist) only reached #98.

1964 also saw the departure of Wright who was replaced by Frances Collins, a dancer who they had met while touring; toward the end of that year Alston departed leaving the group a trio. As a trio, they recorded two singles for United Artists, "My Place" and "You Can't Tie a Good Girl Down". One more single was released by Barbara, Dee Dee and Mary on the tiny Michelle Records in 1967 ("Ring-a-Ting-a-Ling"). They disbanded in 1967 (see 1967 in music). They reunited in 1971 (see 1971 in music) and still perform today. Kenniebrew is the only original Crystal who remained active throughout their touring from the seventies to the present. Dee Dee carries on The Crystals legacy by performing with dynamic vocalists Patricia Pritchett-Lewis (Member since 2005) and is Melissa MelSoulTree Antoinette (Member since 2002).

Trivia and cultural use

  • "Then He Kissed Me" is the opening song to which Elisabeth Shue dances around her bedroom in Adventures in Babysitting (1987); it is the song in which Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco enter the Copacabana on their first real date in the movie Goodfellas (1990); and it is used during the "Kiss Cam" during 'Homer and Marge Turn a Double Play' on The Simpsons (2006). It was also covered by Asobi Seksu and used on their live album.
  • Crystal is the name of one of the girl group-inspired street urchin characters in the musical Little Shop of Horrors, along with Chiffon and Ronnette.
  • Miley Cyrus will do a cover of Then He Kissed Me for the remake of Adventures in Babysitting which is called Further Adventures in Babysitting in (2008).
  • British singer Amy Winehouse has citied their song "He hit me.." as an influence when writing her acclaimed second album "Back to Black".
  • "All Grown Up"___ the track on the Crystals C.D. (the C.D.supervised by Spector) is a much different arrangement of the song than the original single.

Albums

Standard albums

  • 1962: Twist Uptown
  • 1963: He's a Rebel (US #131)

9 of the 12 tracks on "He's A Rebel" had also appeared on "Twist Uptown"

Compilations

  • 1963: The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits, Volume 1
  • 1992: The Best of the Crystals

Singles

Barbara Alston on lead vocals

Darlene Love on lead vocals

  • 1962: "He's a Rebel" (US #1, UK #19)
  • 1963: "He's Sure the Boy I Love" (US #11)

Dolores "LaLa" Brooks on lead vocals

  • 1963: "Da Doo Ron Ron" (US #3, UK #5 (#15 1974 re-issue))
  • 1963: "Then He Kissed Me" (US #6, UK #2)
  • 1964: "I Wonder" (UK #36)
  • 1964: "Little Boy" (US #92)
  • 1964: "All Grown Up" (US #98)

Footnotes

External links

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