Dion and Phil Spector Go To The Moon

While we bide our time waiting for the long-awaited Phil Spector documentary, The Agony and […]

David Zahl / 8.18.10
While we bide our time waiting for the long-awaited Phil Spector documentary, The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector to find distribution, the convicted producer’s monumental collaboration with Dion, Born To Be With You begs for some (re-)consideration. Also known as Pete Townshend’s and Jason Pierce’s (of Spiritualized) favorite record, it received close to no attention when it came out in 1974. Partly because it was never released in the States, but mainly because Spector was out of fashion and fading fast, both mentally and commercially, and Dion, whose biggest hits were more than a decade behind him, was still emerging from his recovery from heroin addiction, which would be followed a few years later by an equally dramatic conversion to Christianity. Out of this suitably Nazareth set of circumstances, a masterpiece emerged, one that still resonates with feeling, beauty, madness and an almost impossible amount of reverb.

There’s not a weak cut on the record. The first side is particularly stunning, kicking off with the title track, an absurdly prolonged cover of a Chordettes’ single from the 50s. Next comes “Make The Woman Love Me,” my personal choice for album highlight, a heart-wrenching yet gloriously non-pious prayer that Spector wrote with the same crew as “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling” (Weil/Mann). Dion really gives it all he’s got:

“Make The Woman Love Me” is followed by the non-Spector-ized “Your Own Backyard,” perhaps the greatest pop song ever written about drug addiction/recovery, composed by Dion himself. Then, as if to up the ante even more, we are given a version of “(He’s Got) The Whole World In His Hands” that sounds like it was recorded on the moon. Spector remakes the hokey children’s worship song into funeral march, complete with a disembodied female choir and what sounds like a heavily phased Dion vocal. I find it to be very powerful, one of my top-ten Christian recordings, if it can be called such, probably because it borders on insanity in an almost Ezekiel-like fashion:

The second side is no slouch either: “Only You Know” was prominently sampled by Jarvis Cocker a few years back on “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” and may be the vocal peak of the record (which is saying something, as Dion’s pipes are really something to behold). “In and Out of the Shadows” rides a monolithic Wall-of-Sound to haunting effect.

But nothing can touch that first side. And probably nothing ever should… Like many of Spector’s later productions, the sessions ended prematurely, in fog of bewilderment and acrimony. Perhaps the murky spirit of the record couldn’t have been taken any further. Which is probably for the best. But it means that, as far as the intersection of doo-wop, Christianity and insanity is concerned, Born To Be With You stands alone. A record truly out of time but one very much worth yours.

Born To Be With You was finally re-released on CD a few years ago. Check it out!