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Classic Tracks: The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back”

There's this: I've stumbled on the side of 12 misty mountains/I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways/I've stepped in the middle of seven

There’s this: “I’ve stumbled on the side of 12 misty mountains/I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways/I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests/I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans/I’ve been 10,000 miles in the mouth of a graveyard.”

And there’s this: “He went away and you hung around/And bothered me every night/And when I wouldn’t go out with you/You said things that weren’t very nice/My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble/Hey-la, hey-la, my boyfriend’s back/When you see him comin,’ better cut out on the double/Hey-la, hey-la, my boyfriend’s back.”

Bookends, these two lyrics, and in the chasm that separates them, the breadth and inclusiveness of rock can be found. At about the time when The Angels were stepping into Associated Recording Studios, one of Manhattan’s busiest rooms, to record “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Columbia Records was releasing The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Talk about a range of styles, and the year — 1963!

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Richard Gottehrer, who wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back” with Robert Feldman and Jerry Goldstein, remembers those days well. Gottehrer, who went on to produce The Go-Go’s, Blondie and Joan Armatrading, remains active as a producer. In fact, The Raveonettes, the band he’s currently working with, covers “Boyfriend” on their latest CD, Pretty in Black.

Gottehrer grew up in the Bronx listening to Alan Freed play R&B records on a transistor radio. Trained as a pianist from the age of six, he caught the blues bug early on, and by the age of 13, he was banging out rock ‘n’ roll numbers with a band of classmates at school dances. After earning a History degree at Adelphi University and spending a year or two at law school, Gottehrer realized that his passion for rock ‘n’ roll was not about to abate. “I wrote all through high school,” says Gottehrer. “I was a Jerry Lee Lewis freak, and at the age of 16, I wrote a song called ‘I’m on Fire’ in his style. Years later, Jerry Lee recorded the song, and it was also included in the film Great Balls of Fire!, starring Dennis Quaid.

“While I was at law school, I kept turning out songs. In those days, you’d go down to the Brill building, knock on doors and play your songs for publishers. If they liked a song, they’d give you an advance of $25 to $75. While making the rounds one day, I met two other guys [Feldman and Goldstein], who were also waiting to get into a publisher’s office, and we decided to find a piano and write some songs together.

“Boyfriend” co-songwriter Richard Gottehrer

“The Angels already had hit the Top 5 with a song called ‘’Til.’ We became friends, signed a production deal with them and started writing material. ‘Boyfriend’ came out of those songwriting sessions.”

But there was a catch. The three writers were signed to April/Blackwood Music, and the CBS-affiliated publishing company thought that “Boyfriend” was a perfect song for their very popular girl group, The Shirelles. The three partners held fast in their belief that the song was perfect for The Angels, broke away from April/Blackwood and signed the group to their new production company.

“‘Boyfriend’ was among our first production efforts,” says Gottehrer. “Associated Studios was a very well-known studio at the time, and we cut the tracks there on a 4-track machine. We learned to produce by making mono demos. Actually, we learned to work in studios monaurally. Stereo was meaningless at the time. It wasn’t until The Beatles refined the way they used stereo that it became popular.

“Brooks Arthur was the engineer on ‘Boyfriend,’ and I learned a lot from him. I remember him asking me if I thought that one of the records we were working on could use a little more top end. I told him to do what he would normally do, and he said he’d add some high end. I said, ‘Great idea!’ and that’s how I learned! We also picked up a lot from Bob Crewe.

“In 1963, you could record four tracks on many recording decks, but only certain machines had the capability of bouncing tracks. If you were working on an Ampex recorder, you had to finish and mix your track on the spot. But if you could transfer your tracks to a Scully machine — which only a few studios owned — you could bounce tracks.

“After we recorded ‘Boyfriend’ at Associated, we took the tape to CBS Studios on 7th Avenue to mix and master with Stan Levine, an engineer who was an undiscovered genius at the time. CBS had all the latest and experimental compressors and equalizers. We’d spend three days mixing a single recorded on 4-track tape, zeroing in on tones, compression and the exact balances between voices and tracks, in part because you had weird combinations on the basic tracks. You might have horns mixed onto a drum track, for example. There were problems, of course, but you’d also get combinations that made unexpected, pleasant noises together.

“We spent a lot of time getting as much bottom on our records as we could. By today’s standards, the low end on ‘Boyfriend’ is light, but by the standards of the day, it was monstrous! We doubled the electric bass with a stand-up bass and had Herbie Lavelie playing drums. He was great. The track, which was arranged by Leroy Glover, also had two or three guitar players on it.

“The girls sang their parts after all of the other parts had been tracked and they never heard a mix until the record was released. We’d thoroughly rehearse the vocal backing parts in an office somewhere that had a piano. We had a clear plan of which parts needed to be doubled or tripled, and where we needed to add an extra high background vocal to lift the track. Peggy [Santiglia] was the lead singer. She and the other two girls, Barbara [Allbut] and [Phyllis] ‘Jiggs’ [Allbut], were all from New Jersey.”

The success of “My Boyfriend’s Back” — it hit Number One in the summer of ’63 — led to a series of plum assignments for the fledgling producers, who decided to leverage their success in the studio to advance their careers as performers. In one of the more bizarre episodes in the history of rock, the three reinvented themselves as The Strangeloves — a group they claimed hailed from the nonexistent city of Armstrong, Australia — and racked up several Top 40 hits, including “I Want Candy.” While on tour, the group also became friendly with a teenage group called Rick & The Raiders, who were sharing the bill with them.

“Those kids were amazing!” says Gottehrer. “We decided to get them into the studio as quickly as possible. One of the songs we were performing was ‘Hang on Sloopy,’ which we had heard somewhere. We wanted the kids to record it, but we knew they couldn’t release anything under the name they were using, which Paul Revere had covered. The leader, Rick Zerringer, who was a fantastic guitar player, said they’d sometimes used the name The McCoys, so the single was released under that name, and Rick changed the first letter of his last name from Z to D. It shot to Number One within six weeks of its release!”

Gottehrer is excited about the work he’s doing today with The Raveonettes. “They’re an amazing group and are firmly aware of the great songwriting era. They have a thorough knowledge of the music from the ’50s and ’60s, and bring that sensibility into today. We recorded Pretty in Black at Allaire, a wonderful studio that’s located on the top of a mountain in Shokan, New York. We mixed at Sony Music Studios and mastered with Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound.”

What was it about the girl groups of the ’60s that made them so popular? Maybe the phenomenon had something to do with anonymity. Could it be that middle-class America was uncomfortable with sexuality if expressed by a single woman, but would allow it to be filtered through the image of a group whose individuals remained nameless?

Or perhaps, as Gottehrer says, it was just that the light texture of the sound these groups produced blended well with the “big beat” that was popular at the time. The Angels, who can still be seen in the mind’s eye with hips jutting acutely into the camera’s lens, never scored another major hit, but can be found on the oldies circuit and through their Website,