Back when I was a keen record buyer I was also an avid reader of liner notes, always keen to know who’d produced or engineered a disc, when and where it was recorded, what guest musicians were involved and so on. (Incidentally, of course, this aspect of music scanning is something that’s fast disappearing in the download age.)
It didn’t mean, though, that I was always on top of things enough to make some crucial connections. I’m therefore grateful to Richard Williams, who pointed out something I hadn’t realised in his obituary of the producer Shadow Morton – his work on two sixties records which, while not particularly celebrated these days, were deeply influential back then…and do echo on into today.
Morton’s first ever production and by all accounts first ever song (though I suspect there might have been a bit of myth manufacture going on there) was “Remember (walking in the sand)” by the Shangri-las. When this came out in ’63 it was a revelation, a fully-formed piece of (for those of us so inclined) pop art/drama. It had something of Spector’s widescreen sonics but more importantly had loads of semi-visible, not quite explained story going on. The girls’ delivery was astounding – they were teenagers at the time – and the stop/starts were unprecedented for the then world of the three minute single. It really did hit that Spector desire for “opera for the kids”.
The follow up was “Leader of the pack”. Need I say more?
Well, the more I need to say is that these records made a great impression on this particular teenager back in the day and that while some of that was on an entirely visceral level another way in which they hit me was in exactly how sound and music could be put together, of how one could build up a story by small inferences.
I suppose most people don’t see much of John Lee Hoooker or Howling Wolf in my riff constructions, still less the Shangri-las in the shaping of pieces of music. They’re there, nonetheless…
(And, of course, excellent use of brackets in the song title to boot!)
Spool on a couple of years…. (or lifetimes, actually, things happened so very fast between ’63 and ’68).
Shadow Morton produced bands by this time. One particular record really changed things up and, I’m sure, had a great effect on everything that followed thereafter, particularly from British bands.
It was “You keep me hanging on” by Vanilla Fudge. They were virtuoso musicians and the production and concept was equally startling. They took an out and out pop hit and made it into something which was emphatically rock…before such a categorisation really existed.
And it was done by, well, addition to/bigging up of riffs, of course… But also, most importantly, by slowing the whole thing down. And that in turn actually made it heavier. In a way it started that whole idea of heaviness (as opposed to excitement) as a component of music.
And believe me, a lot of UK bands of that time paid a lot of attention, learnt a lot of lessons, from that disc.
Morton also produced In-a-gada-da-vida. Personally I didn’t go for that so much but of course it *was* highly influential in a “we’re going to take this riff and beat it to death” way. Which obviously continues to this day.
After this Shadow Morton then drifted away from music completely. But what a legacy he left….
And how many inspirational people there have been in those liner notes down the years!