The chances are that if you're reading these notes, then you've already bought the record or are seriously contemplating doing so; in which case you could well be aware of Jack Nltzsche's achievements over the last 20 years, his supreme importance as a producer, arranger, and composer, and, without wishing to overstate things, his unparalleled grasp of contemporary music and its possibilities.
If you are not, and this is the first Jack Nitzsche record you've ever come across (where've you been?), read on, because a whole new spectrum of rock history is about to be revealed...a conception of and involvement with 'pop' music that encompasses the likes of Doris Day, Bobby Darin, The Ronettes, The Crystals, Jackie De Shannon, P.J. Proby, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, and Mink De Ville to name but a few. Yes, Jack, or 'Specs' as Phil Spector supposedly calls him, has worked with all of the above people throughout his illustrious career, although you won't find a trace of any of them in body or spirit on this the most ambitious and perhaps most accomplished of all Jack's records. But more of that later...first a brief synopsis of the Jack Nitzsche biography so far...info whIch I've gratefully extracted from an article in 'Who Put The Bomp' magazine and an old Warner Bros. press release.
Jack Nitzsche began his musical life as most composers seem to do - taking piano lessons as a child and then going on to study music at college, in his case Westlake College of Music. That early part of his career he apparently discounts as an influence on his subsequent work claiming that any musical background he has came from making records.
Certainly he had what must have been a stimulating introduction to the record business - working as a music copyist for Sonny Bono who was head of A&R at Specialty Records. From there he went to Original Sound Records for a short while where he became responsible for looking after the 'musical development' of Preston Epps who had just had a hit single called 'Bongo Rock'. But even by now Jack Nitzsche was emerging as a very capable if not highly distinctive arranger, able to write 'musical backgrounds' for a variety of styles and with a flourish and imagination that distinguished the most mediocre material. His earliestwork included arrangements for records by Terry Day (alias Terry Melcher), Frankie Laine, Doris Day, Jimmy Griffin, Dorsey Burnette, and Merry Clayton, but some sort of turning point occurred when he met perhaps the most celebrated pop record producer of the sixties, Phil Spector. From Original Sound Records Jack went to work with Lee Hazlewood and Lester Sill and it was through Sill that he eventually met Spector and began to collaborate with him.
Their first record together (Spector as producer and Nitzsche as arranger) was The Crystals' 'He's A Rebel', and that was in 1962. From then until early 1964 he worked on something like 20 records that appeared on Spector's Philles label, and in 1963 alone he produced and/or arranged 26 chart records, 13 for Spector and the rest for other people. The list is far too long to reproduce here, but its length is matched only by its stature. As the scope of his work began to widen, so Jack's own particular talents began to flourish. Remember the classic riff to "Needles & Pins' by Jackie De Shannon, The Searchers, Bobby Vee, and Gary Lewis amongst others? Well Jack wrote that. In fact he co-wrote the whole song with Sonny Bono as well as several others with Jackie De Shannon and ended up arranging most of her records during 1963 & 64.
At this point in his career Jack's activities become so numerous and diverse that it becomes practically impossible to keep track of the sessions he did and the people he worked for or with. Suffice to say that he has been in constant demand ever since either as a producer, arranger, or composer. He arranged the immortal 'River Deep Mountain High' by Ike & Tina Turner (one of the last records he did with Spector before Philles folded), the Rolling Stones became firm friends with Jack on their first American tour and he subsequently worked on nine of their albums (an experience that he said changed his approach to working In the studio). He co-produced, wrote for, and temporarily joined Crazy Horse, Neil Young's backing band, toured wIth Young himself and has worked on 'Harvest', 'Neil Young' and Buffalo SprIngfield's 'Expecting to Fly'. Another member of that particular clan, Elliot Mazer, in fact produced this album. Nitzsche arranged the classic 'Sister Morphine' by Marianne Faithfull, co-wrote and produced 'Gone Dead Train' by Randy Newman, arranged The Tubes''Don't Touch Me There', arranged the strings on Tim Buckley's first album, produced the first Mink De Ville album, and one of his most recent achievements has been the production of Graham Parker's latest and so far best album, 'Squeezing Out Sparks'. Mention too must be made of Jack's work in the fIeld of movie sound tracks, the score for 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' being probably his most famous, but excellent sound tracks for 'Performance', 'Blue Collar', 'Heartbeat' and 'Heroes' deserving of attention.
So what relevance does all this have to 'St. Giles Cripplegate', you must be wondering. Well on the surface of it, nothing much. Hearing it for the first time you could be excused for thinking that it was the work of a highly imaginative, possibly eccentric composer from a bygone age with definitely no knowledge of, or connection with, 'rock'n'roll'. Not a guitar or set of keyboards in sight...instead we have the imposing majesty of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Measham recording six pieces of contemporary Nitzschean classical music in one of London's most famous churches - St. Giles Crlpplegate in the Barbican district of London. However, familiarity with Jack's arrangements for some of the records mentioned above, especially his sound track albums, will reveal a very powerful and dramatic element in his style which a lot of this album illustrates beautifully. The sudden changes of tempo and of volume (a ploy very rarely used in the making of 'pop' records), the intense and sometimes discordant clusters of rhythms and riffs, and the sheer energy and vitality of the music - these are all classic Nitzsche trademarks. Furthermore, as if to highlight more explicitly the drama and tension in his music there is Jack's priceless gift for writing truly memorable melodies; the sweeping grace of some of the calmer passages on 'St. Glles' will come as no surprise to those familiar with say, the 'Cuckoo's Nest' soundtrack or his string arrangements for Neil Young's 'Harvest' album...both pieces of work are stamped with really haunting melodies.
'St. Glles Crlpplegate' is not a 'new' album however, and is in no way an indication of any latest trend in Jack's activities...I think it's true to say that he is one of the few artistes who are, in the best sense of the word, directionless; Apart from the records he merely arranged or co-produced it's almost impossible to document hls work in a logical chronological order. 'St. Glles Crlpplegate' was in fact first released in America by Warner Bros. In 1972, not it must be stated with any great success. Whether or not the story about them only managing to ship out 1300 copies is true I don't know, but this record, which certainly must have bemused a lot of Warner Bros. executives, didn't make Jack Nltzsche a particularly wealthy man first time around.
If the Warner Bros. press release at the time is to be believed, the idea, if not the actual compositions for 'St.Giles' had been on Jack's mind for several years, and he began composing the individual pieces at least a year before recording began. The more observant among you wilI have noticed by now that the six tracks are numbered (as befits a piece of classical music) and not given names, "not because I wanted to be pretentious" says Jack. "I just didn't want to have to call them anything".
Jack Nitzsche is, by all accounts, an unassuming and modest fellow - hence his 'back-room' image and the regrettable lack of detailed information concerning his remarkably influential career - and when asked to describe 'St. Giles Crlpplegate' he confessed to its eclecticism, (Wagner and Ligeti mostly), and stated his liking for Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, Charles Ives, and Erik Satie. Apart from that he apparently didn't have much to say about it - a genuine and valid case for letting the music do the talking. I'm certainly not going to try and describe it. I'll just leave you to listen and hope that you'll share my belief that the man's a bona fide genius...
© 1972 Original sound recording made by Jack Nitzsche
Courtesy of EMI Records Ltd.
Produced by Elliot Mazer
Engineered by Bob Auger
Composed and orchestrated by Jack Nitzsche
Recorded at St.Giles Cripplegate
THE INITIAL RECORDING COMPANY
1 MELVILLE ROAD EDGBASTON BIRMINGHAM BI6 9LN