First recorded by Vikki Carr (US #115/AUS #5 1962).
Hit version by The Crystals née The Blossoms (US #1/UK #19 1962).
From the wiki: “‘He’s a Rebel’ was written by Gene Pitney (‘Town Without Pity’, ‘Only Love Can Break a Heart’), and was originally intended for The Shirelles to record but they declined. Instead, Snuff Garrett produced the first recording of ‘He’s a Rebel’ for Vikki Carr that would be released as her debut single. It did not go well, ‘bubbling under’ the Hot 100 but peaking Top-5 in Australia.
“Phil Spector, then employed as Liberty Records’ West Coast A&R head (the same labeled where Garrett was employed), also heard the same Pitney demo being played for Carr. Instinctively knowing the song could be a big hit, Spector promptly resigned from his position at Liberty to avoid any conflict-of-interest, intending to release the song on his own Philles Record label.
“‘He’s a Rebel’ looms large in the Phil Spector mythology. His production of the song is credited to The Crystals but that group was on an East Coast tour, on the other side of the country, when the recording session in Los Angeles took place. Instead, Spector brought into the studio Darlene Love to sing lead and backed her with L.A. session singers, The Blossoms (‘Stoney End‘). The song also forms a big part of Love’s story, told in the 2013 movie 20 Feet From Stardom. Although she was the lead singer on this track, she was not credited and remained unknown. Love claims she was paid $5,000 for her work, but also expected a solo recording that never materialized.
“The Crystals’ Mary Thomas later recalled that ‘our mouths fell open’ when she and her group-mates heard a radio disc jockey announce ‘the new Crystals song.’ The quintet was then obliged to add ‘He’s a Rebel’ to their live repertoire, even though lead singer Barbara Alston’s soft voice could not mimic Love’s original hearty delivery.
“Spector used the royalties from the success of ‘He’s a Rebel’ to buy out his partners, including Lester Sill (the ‘Les’ in ‘Phil-Les’ Records), with the stipulation that the ex-partners would share in the profits of the next two Crystals singles. He again used The Blossoms to pose as the Crystals for the #11 hit ‘He’s Sure the Boy I Love’; but had the Crystals actually sing on the follow-up release, ‘(Let’s Do) The Screw’ – a five-minute song punctuated with the voice of Phil Spector’s lawyer saying ‘Do the Screw.’ However, only one copy of that song was pressed and distributed: to ex-partner Sill. It garnered zero airplay and earned zero royalties. Spector was now sole owner of Philles Records.”
The Crystals née The Blossoms, “He’s a Rebel” (1962):