I thought I’d cash a mental check I wrote to myself a while back, when I told the story of early pop star Ray Peterson (“Tell Laura I Love Her”). At that time I mentioned that Ray eventually moved into producing, working with the then-young (and presumably trouble-free) Phil Spector to promote other performers. One of the best of those was Curtis Lee.
Although he’s now mostly remembered for his Top Ten hit, “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” Curtis Lee was one of those who helped bridge a transitional period in pop music that began in the late Fifties. The early rockabilly-based sound was beginning to give way to newer influences that included folk-pop, beach music, and the coming British invasion. Performers like Curtis Lee helped fill the void.
A native of Yuma, Arizona; Curtis Lee was still a teenager in the late Fifties when he secured a recording contract with a regional label. He soon moved to New York, where he began working with Peterson and his new record company, Dune. Although Lee didn’t sell a lot of records at first, his song-writing partnership with friend Tommy Boyce began to pay dividends with a new composition, one that also enlisted the aid of producer Spector.
The young producer, then in the early stages of his colorful career, added some special touches that included loading up on musical accompaniment, adding a chorus, and cranking up the doo-wop factor. Spector’s presentation of Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” (video below) became a best-seller.
The song-writing team also came up with a winner on Lee’s next release, “Under The Moon Of Love,” which might have been a better song even though it didn’t climb anywhere near the Top Ten on the charts. (But the song itself had a revitalization in 1976, climbing to the top of UK charts when the British group Showaddywaddy remade it.)
Although Lee continued to make some good records it was pretty much downhill from there, and by the end of the decade Boyce and Lee had gone their separate ways. Boyce did have later success as a songwriter, while Curtis Lee returned to Yuma and built a successful career as a real estate developer. And of course producer Phil Spector ended up as the most famous — or infamous — of all the participants.