Halloween was over and so was the two week run at the top of the charts by Bobby “Boris Pickett’s hit “Monster Mash.” It was replaced by “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals, but the story was not as simple as that. The group consisted of Dee Kennibrew, Barbara Alston, Patricia Wright, LaLa Brooks, and Mary Thomas, but not one of them sang a note on their biggest hit.
Enter Phil Spector. The Crystals were an important part of his wall of sound and one of the more commercially successful groups signed to his Phillies Label. During 1961 and 1962 they produced the hits “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown.”
Enter Gene Pitney. Today he is best remembered for his Rock And Roll Hall of Fame singing career, but during the early 1960s he composed a number of songs that became big hits for other artists including “Rubber Ball” by Bobby Vee, “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson, and the subject of this article, “He’s a Rebel.” The irony was Gene Pitney never had a number one song in the United States. His highest charting single was the number two “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” which was kept from the top position by you guessed it, “He’s a Rebel.”
Enter Phil Spector. He loved the song and thought it would be perfect for The Crystals. The problem was Vikki Carr was planning to release the song and Spector wanted to issue The Crystals version first. The real problem was he was on the west coast and The Crystals were back east.
Enter The Blossoms. They were a vocal group formed during the late 1950s. They had a number of personnel changes and by 1962 Darlene Love had emerged as the lead singer. Spector hired Love to sing the lead vocal on “He’s a Rebel” and another song, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” and two others Blossoms, Fanita James and Gracia Nitzsche, to provide the backing vocals. Needless to say, the original Crystals were not amused. Neither were The Blossoms for that matter, as after years of struggle, their first hit was attributed to another group. On the other hand, Phil Specter was very happy.
If you want a crash course in the girl sound of the pre-Beatles era, then the two and a half minute “He’s a Rebel” is the song to turn too. It was a Spector song that did not have strings. Instead, saxophonist Steve Douglas and pianist Al De Lory provided the memorable sounds. It was Love’s voice, however, that provided the catchy song with its most important element. It was a voice that would ultimately lead to her induction into The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
The actual performers may have been a mystery at the time, but 50 years ago this week, “He’s a Rebel” ruled the music world.