Friday, March 16, 2012

Song #157 of 9999 - He's a Rebel by The Crystals

Song #157 of 9999

Title: He's a Rebel
Artist: The Crystals
Year: 1962
Album: N/A - single release

One of the many things I love about writing this blog is being surprised while doing my research. I had intended to feature "He's a Rebel" because a) it's a great example of Phil Spector's role in the rise of the early-60s girl groups; and b) it was written by Gene Pitney who (if you've been following my blog at all) you know I can't get enough of at the moment.

But it's the stuff I didn't know that you're going to love. Apparently, Spector recognized the song's hit potential and wanted to record it. When he found out it was going to be released as a single by a competing artist and record company, he decided to quickly make a record and get it released. Unfortunately, The Crystals were on tour and he could not get them into the recording studio. No problem! He just tapped Darlene Love and The Blossoms to record the vocals and released it as The Crystals anyway. The song went straight to the top of the charts, holding off "Only Love Can Break a Heart" which peaked at number two becoming the highest charting single for.......Gene Pitney! (who never did make it to #1)

Harmonically, this song does something really peculiar and interesting. Set in the key of F, the song unfolds in normal fashion with the common I-vi-IV-V turnaround. But right before the first chorus, the song modulates up a half-step to F#! This is the kind of thing one might expect for the final chorus to heighten the dramatic impact and elongate the track in an interesting manner. But who can wait for such moments? Spector ratchets up the drama the first chance he gets, just 42 seconds into the track. Perhaps most impressively, he resists the urge to go to the same well twice: the rest of the song plays out in F# as if nothing ever happened. It's a fascinating trick and a delightful discovery. (Disclaimer: I'm just assuming Spector is responsible for the structure of the arrangement, but it could have been Gene Pitney's decision as part of the songwriting. In which case, he is even more brilliant than I thought.)

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