The Crystals are an American pop and R&B vocal group formed in New York, one of Phil Spector’s stable of artists and also one of the most popular girl groups in the 60s music scene. The original lineup consisted of Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Dee Dee Kenniebrew, Myrna Giraud and Patsy Wright; the group were formed by big band sideman Benny Wells, who happened to be Alston’s uncle. Their first single “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” produced by Phil Spector, became their first hit on the R&B as well as pop charts. Bigger hits came their way: “Uptown,” “He’s A Rebel,” “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me.” Despite enjoying these big hits, the group’s relationship with Spector took a sour turn after he forced them to record a song titled “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” that seemed to promote spousal abuse; because of this it received little radio airplay. Despite the hits “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” were credited nominally to the Crystals, these songs were actually performed by Darlene Love and The Blossoms (the “replacement Crystals”). The Crystals also felt more slighted when Spector turned his focus more on the other girl group The Ronnettes. In 1967, the Crystals broke up. However, the Crystals reformed in 1971 to tour and perform for the oldies circuit.
Formation and early successes
The Crystals were formed in New York City, New York in 1960 or 1961. Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Dee Dee Kenniebrew, Myrna Giraud and Patricia Wright made up of the original Crystals lineup, an idea formed by big band sideman Benny Wells (Alston’s uncle).
Along the way, illustrious and controversial producer Phil Spector happened to hear the Crystals rehearsing and liked what he heard, so he signed them to his Philles label in 1961.
The Crystals scored their first hit with “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” a Top 20 pop hit and a Top 10 R&B hit in 1961. They followed this up with another Top 20 hit with “Uptown,” a Mann-Weill composition. It reached #13 on the Hot 100 and #18 on the R&B singles chart in 1962. By that time Giraud was pregnant and had to take a leave; she was then replaced by Dolores “LaLa” Brooks.
Spector brought a Goffin-King song titled “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” and forced the girls to record it. Because of the controversial subject matter, the song was met with widespread protests stating it promoted domestic abuse. Predictably, the single flopped.
Since the scandal that surrounded “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” and its commercial failure, Spector’s working relationship with the Crystals had taken a sour turn. For his next recording session he hired Darlene Love and her backing group The Blossoms to record a song, but he would still bill it under the Crystals name. Spector had the legal right to own the Crystals name and also as the group’s producer, he would use this privilege to do anything he wanted, such as assigning other singers apart from the original Crystals.
Since the original Crystals were from New York, they weren’t immediately available for the Los Angeles-based Spector, while Love and the Blossoms also lived in Los Angeles. So Spector recruited Love and the Blossoms to record the next single “He’s a Rebel,” and still released it under the Crystals moniker.
“He’s a Rebel” went to #1 on the Hot 100 in 1962, making it as the Crystals’ only chart-topping hit. It peaked at #2 on the R&B singles chart and #19 in the UK during the same year. “He’s a Rebel” is now considered a pop classic. The follow-up Crystals single “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” went to #11 on the Hot 100. The single was also recorded by Love and the Blossoms.
The return of the real Crystals
The original Crystals started recording again under their own name in 1963, and released the single “Da Doo Ron Ron” which was co-written and produced by Spector. It went to #3 on the Billboard pop chart, #5 on the R&B singles chart and #5 in the UK, and also had the makings of another pop classic.
The Crystals followed this up with another successful single “Then He Kissed Me” also in 1963. It went to #6 and #8 on the Billboard pop and R&B singles charts respectively, and #8 on the British chart. The group had flown to the UK where they had their series of successful shows.
Escalating tensions with Spector and eventual disbandment
Despite the success the Crystals were getting, their tensions with Spectors only escalated. The Crystals had already been frustrated at the thought of being replaced by Love and the Blossoms. But they were even more upset when Spector turned his attention to the new girl group named The Ronettes, who even sang four tracks on the 1963 compilation album, ironically titled The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits.
After Spector scrapped his own Philles label to work for the United Artists imprint in 1964, the group’s following singles now received little attention. Despite shifting personnel, the Crystals evenntually broke up in 1967.
Reformation and present career
Alston, Kenniebrew and Thomas brought back the Crystals in 1971 to tour for the nostalgic circuit. As of present Kenniebrew remains the only original Crystal in the new lineup, which also consists of Patricia Pritchett-Lewis and Melissa Antoinette Grant.