There isn’t much Annie Clark, AKA St. Vincent, could do that would upset us. However, by diving into the guitar hero’s subverted cover of ‘And Then He Kissed Me’ by The Crystals, we’re reminded just why she’s such an icon so early on in her career. Below, we’re listening back to that cover and reminding ourselves all over again just how great Clark really is.
‘And Then He Kissed Me’ is one of those classic songs that define an era. During the 1960s, the song was a behemoth of pop sensibilities. Though it was sung by The Crystals, the real mastermind behind the track was the now-disgraced producer and ‘Wall of Sound’ developer, Phil Spector. The track, composed alongside Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, has remained an archetype of the era ever since and found its way onto a multitude of wedding playlists over the decades.
It was out of this unique notion that St. Vincent took on the song. The track was covered by the songwriter as part of the 2018 EP Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined. The EP was first released digitally but will also be pressed onto 10,000 vinyl albums, on sale on Record Store Day, April 21, 2018, and allowed artists to cover some classic love songs but change the lyrics and pronouns to make them about same-sex relationships.
It saw Ben Gibbard take on The Beatles ‘And I Love Her’ but changed to ‘And I Love Him. Bob Dylan covered Gene Austin with ‘He’s Funny That Way’ while Kele Okereke from Bloc Party covered the Temptations’ hit ‘My Guy’. It proved to be a fruitful project as almost all of the covers on the EP are worthy of their originals’ prowess. However, there was something a little more special about St. Vincent’s take on the girl group classic.
The Crystals had already enjoyed some success with Spector before this release; after ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ had seen the group find a willing audience, Spector arrived at the studio determined to get another hit. The producer’s engineer Larry Levine recalled: “He didn’t want to give them a bathroom break. Not because he wanted to work them to death, but because he didn’t want them to move microphones or bodies or anything. He wanted everything to stay as it was in the studio. But he would work for three hours or more before we ever put anything on tape. And I think the reason was he wanted to tire these great musicians so that they weren’t playing individualistic; they were too tired. And so they just melded into this wall of sound.”
Delores ‘La La’ Brooks was the only member of The crystals to feature on this record. “He said, ‘Think of somebody kissing you,'” Brooks told Songfacts. “I was a kid, so I’m not going to think like that. So he would turn off the lights, I would have a little light on my music, on my words, and then he said, ‘Now, concentrate.’ And I said (singing), ‘Well, he walked up to me, and he asked me if I wanted to dance.’ He said, ‘That’s the way you do it!’ So I guess he had to train my mind to think that I was talking about a boy. He knew how to get things out of you.”
However, in the hands of St. Vincent all that changed. She drops the sweet melodies for electro-punk riffery, decapitates the wall of sound and produces a thin but scything sound that feels fresh and vibrant, even if it is on a nearly 60-year-old song. Thundering in with the energy of an electrified disco ball, St. Vincent only neds a guitar and a drum machine to make this one f her best covers.