So we’re cleaning out the ol CH3 storage facilities- nestled safely under the majestic Chino Hills- when we came across these musty old boxes:
Wha? What’s that ya axe, you fuckin little whippersnapper?
What’s with the funny lookin rims?
Oh, I suppose you goddamn kids think you’re the bees knees with yer Power Macs and Pro Tools and Memory cards…huh?
Yeh, I know–ya stay up all night recording your autotuned whine-fests, hoping to be the next Owl City.
But when ya get done mashing that music through your computers til the songs are rendered a sterile sequence of 1’s and 0’s, I ask ya—what are ya left with the next day?
Ah, no–that’s not how it went down back in 1981 brother!
We layed that stuff down with a nerve wracking finality. Those flat black ribbons of tape racing past the heads with alarming-and expensive looking!- speed.
And when it came time to master down to a wee, precious 1/4″ reel, the editing wasn’t done on a 42″ Plasma screen with a visual seismograph, no….
It was a razor blade and splicing tape for us!
Holding these 2 inch reels in hand again–the heft of a bible, the coiled menace of a snake– it brought us back to those heady times.
After meeting with Mr. Fields that fateful evening in the garage, arrangements were quickly made to be at the Brian Elliot studio in North Hollywood that very Saturday.
An EP was to be recorded: Four songs required, that was it. (We snuck Wetspots in just under the wire, heh.)
Brian Elliot? He was a songwriter and studio cat from the day, and had a very nice working studio in a non descript strip mall out yonder. Nothing to write home about, vibe wise—but a good solid room to get the work done.
A year or so after working with him, Brian scored a major when Madonna chose one of his compositions. The song?–yeh, you got it–Papa Don’t Preach….!
Well, we did the EP in one day with David Hines, and waited for the inevitable Stardom.
We also waited for Der Weinerschnitzel to call back about that part time job, no go on either front!
Let’s skip a year or two, I’m thinkin it’s early 1983.
Robbie has us back for the 2nd full length, After the Lights Go Out. But this time he tells us to report to a different place.
What say? A little placed down on Santa Monica called Gold Star Studios!
That’s right–the Wall of Sound, Sonny and Cher–Eddie Cochran! That Gold Star!!
Let’s check a small sample of Gold Star hits from the Library of Congress’ Official list of American Archival Treasures:
Eddie Cochran. Summertime Blues, C’mon Everybody, Somethin’ Else, Three Steps To Heaven (1958-60)
Ritchie Valens, Donna, La Bamba (1958)
The Crystals, He’s A Rebel, Da Doo Ron Ron (1962, 1963)
Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (1962)
The Cascades, Rhythm Of the Rain (1963)
The Ronettes, Be My Baby (1963)
The Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1964)
Cher, All I Really Want To Do (1965)
Ike and Tina Turner, River Deep, Mountain High (1966)
Bobby Darin, If I Were A Carpenter (1966)
The Beach Boys, Good Vibrations (1966)
Channel 3, Didn’t Know (1983)
(Alright, alright…so I snuck that last track in there–sue me!)
This was hallowed ground! We walked through the lobby and wandered the maze of rooms, looking for the sound chamber, inspecting the padded walls for bullet holes.
The creepy energy of Phil Spector seemed to be watching our every move……
Fuckin Robbie. I don’t know how he pulled off some of these deals, must’ve been that boyish Anglo charm or something!
Jay Lansford was back on board for production, and he’d been working with us on this new collection of faster, darker songs.
And before we knew what was happening we were standing on those same worn planks that suffered under the symmetrical platform heels of Sonny and Cher.
We unpacked the gear wordlessly, like we were setting missals down in the pews of an empty church. Maybe we took a quick swig off a pint of Smirnoff we had in the cord bag, though Robbie didn’t allow booze in the studio……
Guitars in hand and headphones on our shaved noggins, we looked up and saw who sitting next to our boy Jay Lansford at the board but Stan Ross!
Stan was…well, Stan was the Man, dig?
He saw that room through all the glory, and now here he was, workin with us knuckleheads as we assaulted the walls with our own take on Teen angst.
He just kept the wheels rollin and grinned at the cuss words, shook his head at the tempos.
One day he even brought in a nephew and his pals to see how real musicians worked in the studio.
We looked around, eager to see how it was done as well….until we realized he was talkin about us!
It was a fun session, maybe a couple weeks, and we had all the tracks done.
Robbie came in for the dailies, and seemed to like what he was hearing.
But Jay tugged his elbow as we listened to the roughs one day, telling him to pay attention to this one:
it was a track called Didn’t Know.
I could see the wheels spinning as Robbie listened to the track, could feel the maniacal spirit of a thousand frenzied sessions haunting the room.
This was, well, a Pop song, really!
When the track ended Robbie put on his Spector sunglasses and whispered the fateful words to no one in particular:
I hear abstract background vocals on this one!
And that’s how we ended up sitting in the studio the very next day, watching 3 extremely short bald men sing along to the track.
Those little doo doo bops at the end? The Oohs and Ahhs? That, apparently, is an abstact vocal. Again, thanks to the mysterious deal making machine that was Posh Boy, we watched in amazement as these professional commercial jingle singers layed down the sweetest background harmonies.
I immediately had panicked visions of losing all hardcore credilbility we had ever somehow gained. Would there be record burnings and protests outside gigs?
Had we sold out, and worst of all, for no money?!
Oh, we had a little power struggle with Robbie. He wanted the vocals on the whole track, I mean, the whole thing!
I wanted them off altogether, tough ass punker that I
In the end, an uneasy truce, the oohs and ahhs stay, the doo doo bops only at the end.
Nobody ever beat us up for those little sweeteners, so I guess Robbie was right…I guess.
Click here to listen to Didn’t Know and be sure to listen for the Doo Doo Bops at the 4:27 mark!
That girl, she said
I feel used and dead
She whispered I love you
I pretended I was asleep
Deep down, I feel
Late nights, soft lights
What’s it all mean
There’s plenty to see
There’s plenty to learn
Without questioning life at every turn
Life means more than the meaning of life
But deep inside all the questions still burn
That man, in black
Said kneel, bow to that
If you want some answers, here read this book
I went, I heard
My prayers were never answered
I know those prayers by heart
But I forgot the words
I didn’t know
And I still don’t know
But I just gotta know
I didn’t know
I still don’t know
I guess I’ll never know
What, then, can we do?
What’s left to see us through
Maybe I’m the wrong one
But I can’t wait too long
What’s real to me
What feels good now to me
I can hold a bottle
But I can’t touch love
3 thoughts on “I Didn’t Know”
Great story! Nice to hear bout your knowledge of the history of the studio.
Stan Ross RIP