When Phil Spector formed his own label, Philles Records, in 1961, he had written, played guitar, and sung backup vocals on 1958’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (which hit the top of the pop charts that year) as part of the Teddy Bears, and worked for a time as part of the production team for Leiber & Stoller, co-writing “Spanish Harlem” for Ben E. King and playing guitar on the Drifters' “On Broadway,” and had produced minor sides for LaVern Baker and Ruth Brown, among others, but there was really little to distinguish him from any number of other hopefuls clustered around the pop music scene at the time. But Spector was driven, single-minded, and stubborn, and he had a sound in his head. Now with his own label in place, he set out to record a series of singles he termed “little symphonies for the kids” that are now regarded among the most distinctive and influential recordings in the history of pop music. Combining massed pianos, guitars, string arrangements by Jack Nitzsche, tons of layered percussion, and huge washes of echo, working with the West Coast’s best session players (including Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, and Harold Battiste -- the so-called Wrecking Crew), and leaning heavily on his engineer Larry Levine to catch all of this in the small confines of Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, Spector developed his “Wall of Sound” production approach, controlling every aspect of the recordings until, even though he wasn’t singing or even playing an instrument, they became -- in essence -- Phil Spector records. This is not to diminish the singers he used -- the Crystals, in the case here. Already an intact quartet led by vocalists La La Brooks and Barbara Alston when they fell into Spector's world, he ended up owning the Crystals name and inserting other vocalists -- most notably Darlene Love -- into the equation whenever it suited him. One can say, that’s the music business, and Spector was far from a humanitarian to be sure, but the results are indisputable. The records he produced under the Crystals name -- “There’s No Other Like My Baby,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “Then He Kissed Me” among them and all included in this 18-track set -- are classic gems and they set the template and standard high for girl groups in the '60s, no matter who was singing lead. Spector did his production thing, yeah, and brilliantly, but the Crystals brought that sassy and yearning human touch to everything -- without it, Spector had a Wall of Sound with no heart.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett