Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I heard Darlene Love
’s Phil-Spector-produced version of “White Christmas” tonight and caught their cop of a Clyde McPhatter vocal lick from the Drifters’ classic doo-wop version. Elvis’s cover had copped the same lick, giving McPhatter’s line to the piano where Spector later gave it to the Wall of Sound.

Before the 20th century, the arranger would have been called a co-composer. I’m not sure how the switch happened, but it sure has been to the benefit of popular songwriters. Clyde McPhatter didn’t get paid for his lovely obligato when Spector and Elvis quoted it, but Irving Berlin sure did.

* * *

Whenever I hear Bobby Helms’s record of “Jingle Bell Rock,” I think of Hank Williams. Helms doesn’t have anything like Hank’s intensity -- few singers do -- but his timbre partakes of the Hank-source, especially when he lets the pitch fall off and fade at the end of the phrase, “Jingle Bell time is a swell time to go riding on a one horse sleigh.”

“Jingle Bells,” add sleigh bells, and you got yourself a Christmas record. Put the “Jingle Bells” quote on a vaguely Chuck-Berry-esque electric guitar, call it “rock” and you’re good to go.

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