The name is known to anyone in the music business and most anyone else who knows about music in the 20th century. Phil Spector had a finger on many of the big hits that came out between 1960-2000, from The Ronettes to Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and the Beatles. He was known as a genius in his profession of record production. He created the “Wall of Sound” in the 1960s that would instill lasting change in music production. The technique he developed utilized high-dubbing with an onslaught of instruments, vocals and sound effects to create what he called ‘Little symphonies for the kids.’ He connected the artists he wanted to work with and provided them with the songs and music he wanted them to produce. He was often offensive in his tactics while working with artists. He could be threatening; it is widely reported that he would draw a gun during recording sessions or when angered. People had little alternative to joining forces with Phil Spector if they wanted to be or remain successful. He had control like a mafia.
He worked with the Righteous Brothers in the early 1960’s and provided the song “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” to Bill Medley. His partner, Bobby Hatfield, was off-put because his part did not come until the chorus as Bill was taking the full lead in the song. He complained to Spector and asked what he was supposed to do during all of the time Bill was singing. Spector is reported to have said, “You can use the time to walk your check to the bank.” Darleen Love said that he tried to “control [her] talent” yet “[she] felt sadness after hearing of Spector’s death.” She followed with, “He changed the sound of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what brought me to sadness.”
His former wife, Ronnie Spector, from The Ronettes, wrote on Instagram this week, “Unfortunately Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged. I still smile whenever I hear the music we made together, and always will. The music will be forever.” Together they adopted 3 children yet divorced after six years of marriage. Ronnie wrote in a memoir that Phil held her prisoner in their mansion. The report continued to explain that Phil kept a gold coffin in the basement that was prepared for her and he would put her in it if she ever tried to leave.
It was that dark side of Phil that fueled his ambitions and pushed him to entertain and express his creativity. The dark side could not be separated from his spirit or intentions, so it drove him forward and pushed him away from mainstream standards and activities. That dark side also ended the life of his then-girlfriend, Lana Clarkson, in 2003, He was convicted of murder in 2009 after years of investigations and trial to spend much of the last two decades in prison. He died on Saturday, January 16,2021, while in prison hospitalization for COVID19. He was 81 years old.
He was renowned as brilliant, not empathetic, not compassionate, but he knew how to bring money in and how to produce music. John Lennon regarded him as the best record producer in the world. Phil Spector took his presentations quite seriously and designed his character around what he wanted to be. Life was a production for Spector and he was the biggest star. The world watched him, judged him, talked about him, gracing him with an immortalization that he could add flair to. While on trial, he performed for the greatest act in his show. He faced the world, embracing the eccentricity that he built himself with, and gave the best he had. Spector presented stylish and theatrical garb in court for pretrial hearings, oft “featuring high-heeled boots, frock coats and wildly styled wigs. He arrived at one hearing in a chauffeur-driven stretch Hummer.”
He knew how to identify talent, the sound, look and feel of a good song and had the ability to pair them. He wrote, co-wrote, arranged a terrific number of hits in the 1960’s. Failure stung him and life is always full of tragedy. He drove himself into seclusion, living like a recluse. His career began with his band, The Teddy Bears, who had some top hits. His experience with The Teddy Beards lead him into music production and his career was booming by mid-1960s, There was a decline with Beatlemania and the British invasion sweeping in and he was breaking apart without being on top. He had an early retirement that lasted 3 years into 1960, when he returned on the scene ready to be on top again.
His father, who had been an iron worker, died by suicide when Phil was 9 years-old, or there about. There has been dispute over Spector’s birth year as either 1939 or 1940. His family moved to Los Angeles. It appears that they were looking for a fresh start and had prepared answers for the questions. Phil’s parents are recorded to have been first cousins and this may have attributed to his mental disturbances and conditions.
Spector’s career in music began with his band, The Teddy Bears. They were successful early on but dissolved by the time he was 20 in 1959. Performance was just his entry ticket into the music business. He took some time off to figure out where he belonged. When he reemerged on the scene it was in production. Produce, he did. By the time he was 21 or 22, he had been hired at Dune Records. There he established a reputation that allowed him to create his own production company with Lester Sill, called Philles Records. It was there that he developed his “Wall of Sound” technique that changed music forever. By 1966, he was burnt out and left the scene, along with most other scenes, for the rest of the 1960s and he became reclusive. He spent two years in seclusion
He returned in 1969 and partnered with the Beatles for several projects, including Let It Be. In 1989, he was recognized for his contributions to music history by placing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He kept working, trying to remain relevant, until his arrest in 2003. The problem was that part of Phil’s creativity came from his lack of control. His life was harder for him to manage than music. Music is a language like math that Phil understood quite well. It is neat, organized, linear. It was part of the chaos he could control. He did lose control.
During trial, he would be flashy for the cameras and shaped the publicity that was coming. It was still part of the game he was playing. Everything is an act where you are judged by those around you. Phil needed to design the image he presented and acted accordingly. Trials stretched on until 2009, in part because Phil Spector wanted more time and he had influence. When his sentence was imposed he was imprisoned and restricted from many things that those who have not experienced incarceration often take for granted. One of these restrictions hit Mr. Spector quite hard as it affected his ability to express himself; he was denied access to wigs.
As noted in the most recent Song of the Week explanation, a young and angry Paul Simon made a short yet daring jab at Phil Spector by listing him among other influencers of the time. It wasn’t a direct attack but it certainly is enough to be noticed and draw attention. View the article and videos of the two versions published and released here.