Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Icons From the Age of Anxiety: Record Producer Phil Spector
One of the most disturbing freefalls from celebrated wunderkind to profoundly disturbed adult, rivaling those of chess champion Bobby Fischer, filmaker Howard Hughes, and pop star Michael Jackson, is that of Phil Spector (b. 1940), the originator of the Wall of Sound production technique (a dense, layered effect that reproduced well on AM radio and jukeboxes).
Spector was a pioneer of the 1960s girl-group sound and produced over 25 Top 40 hits in 1960–1965. Some of his famous girl groups are The Ronettes and The Crystals. After this initial success, Spector later worked with artists including Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon, George Harrison, and the Ramones with similar acclaim. He produced The Beatles' Academy Award winning album Let It Be, and the Grammy Award–winning Concert for Bangladesh by former Beatle George Harrison.
In 1989, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer. The 1965 song "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin,'" produced and co-written by Spector for The Righteous Brothers, is listed by BMI as the song with the most US airplay in the 20th century.
In late 1961, Spector formed a new record company with Lester Sill, who by this time had ended a business partnership with Lee Hazlewood. Philles Records combined the names of its two founders. Through Hill and Range Publishers, Spector found three groups he wanted to produce: the Ducanes, the Creations, and The Crystals.
Tom Wolfe, author of "The Pump-House Gang," the famous piece in which he predicted the death of surf culture in 1965, had earlier written a profile of Phil Spector. “The First Tycoon of Teen,” was Tom Wolfe’s 1964 profile of pop wunderkind Phil Spector -- “the first millionaire businessman to rise up out of the teen-age netherworld.” At 23, Spector had already produced “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Be My Baby,” “Da Do Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Uptown,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.” “I get a little angry when people say it's bad music,” Spector tells Wolfe. “It has limited chord changes, and people are always saying the words are banal and why doesn't anybody write lyrics like Cole Porter anymore, but we don’t have presidents like Lincoln anymore either.”
By 1967 Spector had lost his enthusiasm for his Philles label and the recording industry. Already something of a recluse, he withdrew temporarily from the public eye, marrying Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes, in 1968. Spector emerged briefly for a cameo as a drug dealer in the film Easy Rider, in 1969. (He had also, in 1967, appeared as himself in an episode of I Dream of Jeannie.)
In 1970, Allen Klein, manager of the Beatles, brought Spector to England. While producing John Lennon's hit solo single "Instant Karma!", which went to #3, Spector was invited by Lennon and George Harrison to take on the task of turning the Beatles' abandoned "Get Back" recording sessions into a usable album. Spector went to work using many of his production techniques, making significant changes to the arrangements and sound of some songs. The resulting album, Let It Be, was a massive commercial success and topped the US and UK charts. The album also yielded three #1 singles: "Get Back", "The Long and Winding Road" and "Let It Be". His overdubbing of "The Long and Winding Road" infuriated its composer, Paul McCartney, especially since the work was allegedly completed without his knowledge and without any opportunity for him to assess the results. In 2003, McCartney spearheaded the release of Let It Be... Naked, which stripped the songs of Spector's input.
Many producers have tried to emulate the Wall of Sound, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys—a fellow adherent of mono recording—considered Spector his main competition as a studio artist, going so far as to name the acclaimed Pet Sounds album using Spector's initials. Bruce Springsteen emulated the Wall of Sound technique in his recording of "Born to Run".
As the 1970s progressed, Spector became increasingly reclusive. The most probable and significant reason for his withdrawal, recently revealed by biographer Dave Thompson, was that in 1974 Spector was seriously injured when he was thrown through the windshield of his car in a crash in Hollywood. According to a contemporary report published in the New Musical Express, Spector was almost killed, and it was only because the attending police officer detected a faint pulse that Spector was not declared dead at the scene. He was admitted to the UCLA Medical Center on the night of March 31, 1974, suffering serious head injuries which necessitated several hours of surgery with over 300 stitches to his face and more than 400 to the back of his head. His head injuries, Thompson suggests, were the reason that Spector began his habit of wearing outlandish wigs in later years.
The 1974 accident took place shortly after Spector had established the Warner-Spector label with Warner Bros. Records, which undertook new recordings with Dion, Cher, Harry Nilsson and others, as well as several reissues. A similar relationship with Britain's Polydor Records led to the formation of the Phil Spector International label in 1975.
On February 3, 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was found dead, killed by a firearm, in Spector's mansion in Alhambra, California. Spector stated that Clarkson's death was an "accidental suicide" and that she "kissed the gun." The emergency call from Spector's home, made by Spector's driver Adriano de Souza, quotes Spector as saying, "I think I've killed someone." According to some women who were said to have met Spector, there would come a point when they wanted to leave Spector's home, whereupon he would hold them at gunpoint.
Spector remained free on $1 million bail while awaiting trial. The trial began on March 19, 2007. Presiding judge Larry Paul Fidler allowed the trial to be televised. At the start of the trial, the defense's forensic expert Henry Lee was accused of hiding crucial evidence which the District Attorney's office claimed could prove Spector's guilt. On September 26, 2007, Judge Fidler declared a mistrial because of a hung jury (10 to 2 for conviction).
The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and nineteen days later, on April 13, the jury returned a guilty verdict of second-degree murder. In addition, he was found guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a crime. Spector was immediately taken into custody and was formally sentenced on May 29, 2009, to 19 years to life in the California state prison system.
1959: The Teddy Bears Sing – The Teddy Bears
1963: A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records – Various Artists
1963: Twist Uptown – The Crystals
1963: He's A Rebel – The Crystals
1963: Zip-A Dee-Doo-Dah - Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans
1964: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica – The Ronettes
1965: Ronettes – The Ronettes
1966: River Deep - Mountain High – Ike and Tina Turner
1969: Love Is All We Have to Give - Sonny Charles and the Checkmates, Ltd.
1970: Let It Be – The Beatles
1970: All Things Must Pass (co-producer) – George Harrison
1970: Plastic Ono Band (co-producer) – John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band
1971: Imagine (co-producer) – John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band with the Flux Fiddlers
1971: The Concert for Bangladesh (co-producer) – George Harrison and friends
1972: Some Time in New York City (co-producer) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Elephant's Memory plus Invisible Strings
1975: Rock N' Roll (co-producer) – John Lennon
1975: Born To Be With You – Dion
1977: Death of a Ladies' Man – Leonard Cohen
1980: End of the Century – Ramones
1981: Season of Glass (co-producer) – Yoko Ono
1986: Menlove Ave. (co-producer) – John Lennon
1991: Back to Mono (1958-1969) (box set compilation) – Various Artists
2003: Silence Is Easy (co-producer) – Starsailor
"To Know Him Is to Love Him" – The Teddy Bears (12/01/58, #1)
"Corrina, Corrina" – Ray Peterson (1/09/61, #9)
"Pretty Little Angel Eyes" – Curtis Lee (8/07/61, #7)
"Every Breath I Take" – Gene Pitney (9/11/61, #42)
"I Love How You Love Me" – The Paris Sisters (10/30/61, #5)
"Under the Moon of Love" – Curtis Lee (11/27/61, #46)
"There's No Other (Like My Baby)" – The Crystals (1/22/62, #20)
"I Could Have Loved You So Well" – Ray Peterson (1/27/62, #57)
"Uptown" – The Crystals (3/03/62, #13)
"He Knows I Love Him Too Much" – The Paris Sisters (3/10/62, #34)
"Let Me Be the One" – The Paris Sisters (5/26/62, #87)
"Second Hand Love" – Connie Francis (6/09/62, #7)
"He's A Rebel" – The Crystals (11/03/62, #1)
"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" – Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans (1/12/63, #8)
"He's Sure the Boy I Love" – The Crystals (1/19/63, #11)
"Puddin N’ Tain (Ask Me Again, I’ll Tell You the Same)" – The Alley Cats (2/16/63, #43)
"Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts" – Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (3/30/63, #38)
"(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry" – Darlene Love (5/11/63, #39)
"Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)" – The Crystals (6/08/63, #3)
"Not Too Young to Get Married" – Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (7/13/63, #63)
"Then He Kissed Me" – The Crystals (8/17/63, #6)
"Wait ’Til My Bobby Gets Home" – Darlene Love (9/07/63, #26)
"Be My Baby" – The Ronettes (10/12/63, #2)
"A Fine Fine Boy" – Darlene Love (11/23/63, #53)
"Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" – Darlene Love
"Baby, I Love You" – The Ronettes (2/01/64, #24)
"(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up" – The Ronettes (5/16/64, #39)
"Do I Love You?" – The Ronettes (8/01/64, #34)
"Walking In the Rain" – The Ronettes (12/05/64, #23)
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" – The Righteous Brothers (2/06/65 #1, UK #1)
"Just Once in My Life" – The Righteous Brothers (5/15/65, #9)
"Unchained Melody" – The Righteous Brothers (8/28/65, #4)
"Ebb Tide" – The Righteous Brothers (1/08/66, #5)
"River Deep - Mountain High" – Ike and Tina Turner (6/18/66, #88 UK #3)
"Love Is All I Have to Give" – The Checkmates, Ltd. (5/03/69, #65)
"Black Pearl" – The Checkmates, Ltd. (7/05/69, #13)
"Proud Mary" – The Checkmates, Ltd. (11/01/69, #69)
"Instant Karma (We All Shine On)" – John Lennon (3/28/70, #3)
"The Long and Winding Road"/"For You Blue" – The Beatles (6/13/70, #1)
"My Sweet Lord" – George Harrison (12/26/70, #1)
"What Is Life" – George Harrison (3/27/71, #10)
"Power To The People" – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (5/15/71, #11)
"Try Some, Buy Some" – Ronnie Spector (5/22/71, #77)
"Bangla-Desh" – George Harrison (9/11/71, #23)
"Imagine" – John Lennon (11/13/71, #3)
"Rock 'n' Roll High School" – Ramones (8/04/79, UK #67)
"Baby, I Love You" – Ramones (2/04/80, UK #8)
"Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" – Ramones (5/16/80, #54)
"Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers (10/20/90 Reissue, #13)
"Silence Is Easy" – Starsailor (01/09/03, UK #8)
Easy Rider (The Connection)
I Dream of Jeannie (Himself)