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Phil Spector

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Harvey Phillip Spector (born December 26, 1940) is an American record producer of the 1960s and 1970s. Arguably the most distinctive producer in popular music, he is the originator of the "Wall of Sound" production technique. Spector first rose to prominence as one of the pioneers of the 1960s girl group sound. Later he worked with varied artists, including The Beatles and the Ramones. In 2003 Spector returned to the public eye when he was indicted for murder.

Early life

Spector became involved in music when his family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1953. At 16, he performed Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line" at a talent show at Fairfax High School.[1] While there at Fairfax, he joined a loosely knit community of young aspirants, including Lou Adler, Bruce Johnson, and Sandy Nelson, the last of whom played drums on Spector's first record release, "To Know Him Is to Love Him."[2]


The Teddy Bears

With three friends from high school, Marshall Lieb, Harvey Goldstein, and Annette Kleinbard, Spector formed a group, the Teddy Bears, in which he had songwriting and guitar-playing duties and was one of three vocalists. In the spring of 1958 he raised enough money to buy two hours of recording time at Gold Star Studios. With Spector producing, the Teddy Bears recorded "Don't You Worry My Little Pet," which helped the group secure a deal with Era Records. At their next session, they recorded a song inspired by the epitaph on Spector's father's tombstone. Released on Era's subsidiary label, Dore Records, "To Know Him Is to Love Him" went to #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart and sold 5 million copies.[1]

Following the sucess of their first record, the group signed with Imperial Records, but their next single "I Don't Need You Anymore" went no higher than #91, while its B-side "Oh Why" only made it to #98. After several more recordings, including an album The Teddy Bears Sing!, the Teddy Bears went their separate ways in 1959.

Record producer

After the Teddy Bears split up, Spector's career quickly moved from performing and songwriting to production. While recording the Teddy Bears' album, Spector had met Lester Sill, a former promotion man who was a mentor to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. His next project, the Spectors Three, was undertaken under the aegis of Sill and his partner Lee Hazlewood. When it reaped little commercial reward, Sill in 1960 arranged for Spector to work as an apprentice to Leiber and Stoller in New York. Having perfect pitch, he learned how to use a studio. Spector contributed to Lieber and Stoller's production greatly as a composer, co-writing "Spanish Harlem" (a #10 hit in 1961) and "Young Boy Blues" for Ben E. King. He also worked as a session musician, most notably playing the guitar solo on the Drifters' "On Broadway." His own productions, while less conspicuous, included releases by LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, and Billy Storm, as well as the Topnotes' original version of "Twist and Shout."[2]

While working with Leiber and Stoller, Spector was commissioned to produce Ray Peterson's "Corrine, Corrina," which hit #9 in January 1961, and he produced another major hit for Curtis Lee, "Pretty Little Angel Eyes," which reached #7. Returning to Hollywood, Spector agreed to produce one of Lester Sill's acts. When both Liberty Records and Capitol Records turned down the master of "Be My Boy" by the Paris Sisters, Sill formed a new label, Gregmark Records with Lee Hazelwood and released it. While the record only managed to reach #56, the follow-up, "I Love How You Love Me" went to #5.[1]

Phil is the subject of a documentary by Jeremy Marre.

Philles Records

In the fall of 1961 Spector formed a partnership with Sill, who by this time had ended his business agreement with Hazelwood. Philles Records took its name from those of its founders. Through Hill and Range Publishers, Spector found three groups he wanted to produce: the Ducanes, the Creations, and The Crystals. The first two signed with other companies, but Spector managed to sign the Crystals to his new label. Their first single "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" was a success, hitting #20. Their next release, "Uptown," was even more successful, making it to #13.[1]

Spector continued to free-lance for other artists. In 1962 another record he produced, "Second Hand Love," by Connie Francis, went to #7. He also briefly took a job as head of A&R for Liberty Records. While at Liberty, he heard a song written by Gene Pitney, for whom he had produced a #41 hit, "Every Breath I Take" a year earlier. "He's a Rebel" was due to be released on Liberty by Vicki Carr, but Spector rushed into Gold Star Studios, and recorded a cover version using Darlene Love on lead vocals. The record was released on Philles, attributed to the Crystals, and quickly rose to the top of the charts.

By the time "He's a Rebel" went to #1, Lester Sill was out of the company, and Spector had Philles all to himself. He created a new act, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, featuring Darlene Love and Bobby Sheen, with whom he had worked while at Liberty. The group had hits with "Zip-a-dee Doo-dah" (#8), "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts" (#38), and "Not Too Young to Get Married" (#63). Spector also released solo material by Darlene Love in 1963 and in the same year released "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes. The record went to #2.[1]

Although predominantly a singles-based label, Philles did release a few albums, one of which was A Christmas Gift for You in 1963.

The Wall of Sound

A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

A Christmas Gift for You was poorly received on its initial release in 1963. Spector's trademark during that era was the so-called Wall of Sound, a production technique yielding a dense, layered effect that was carried well on AM radio and jukeboxes. To attain this signature sound, Spector gathered large groups of musicians (playing some instruments not generally used for ensemble playing, such as electric and acoustic guitars) playing orchestrated parts — often using many instruments playing in unison — for a fuller sound. Spector himself called his technique "a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids."

While Spector directed the overall sound of his recordings, he took a relatively hands-off approach to working with the musicians themselves (usually a core group that became known as The Wrecking Crew, including session players such as Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Mac Rebennack, (a.k.a. "Dr. John"), Cher, Glen Campbell and Leon Russell), delegating arrangement duties to Jack Nitzsche and having Sonny Bono oversee the performances, viewing these two as his "lieutenants".

Spector used songs from songwriters employed at The Brill Building, such as the teams of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Spector often receiving co-credit for compositions.

Spector was already known as a temperamental and quirky personality with strong, often unconventional ideas about musical and recording techniques. Despite the trend towards multi-channel recording, Spector was also vehemently opposed to stereo releases, claiming that it took control of the record's sound away from the producer in favor of the listener. Spector also greatly preferred singles to albums, describing LPs as "two hits and ten pieces of junk".

The first time Spector put the same amount of effort into an LP as he had for 45s was when utilizing the full Philles roster and the Wrecking Crew, to produce what he felt would become a hit for the 1963 Christmas season. A Christmas Gift for You arrived in the shops the day of the assassination of President Kennedy, November 22, 1963. While eventually recognized for its quality over the course of time, the mood of the country in late 1963 most likely contributed to Christmas Gift being a flop in its initial release.

The mid-Sixties

In 1964 the Ronettes appeared at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Also on the bill were The Righteous Brothers. Spector, who was conducting the band for all the acts, was so impressed with Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield that he bought their contract from Moonglow Records and signed them to Philles. In early 1965 "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" became the label's second #1 single. Three more major hits with the group followed: "Just Once in My Life" (#9), "Unchained Melody" (#4) and "Ebb Tide" (#5).[1]

Spector's final signing to Philles was the husband-and-wife team of Ike and Tina Turner in 1966. When "River Deep - Mountain High," a recording he considered his best work, failed to go any higher than #88 in the US, Spector lost interest in his label and the recording industry, even though it reached #6 in the UK. Already something of a recluse, he withdrew almost entirely from the public eye, marrying Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes, in 1968 and emerging briefly for a cameo as a drug dealer in the film Easy Rider in 1969.[1]


In 1969 Spector made a brief return to the music business by signing a production deal with A&M Records. A Ronettes single flopped, but Spector returned to the Hot 100 with "Black Pearl" by Sonny Charles and the Checkmates, Ltd. Although the record hit #13, the A&M deal was short-lived.[1]

In 1970, Allen Klein, manager of the Beatles, brought Spector to England. After producing John Lennon's solo single "Instant Karma," which went to #3, Spector was invited by Lennon and George Harrison to take on the task of turning the tapes from the abandoned "Get Back" recording sessions into a usable album. Spector went to work using many of his production techniques to significantly change the sound of the songs. The resulting album, Let It Be, was a massive commercial sucess and yielded a #1 single, 'The Long and Winding Road." Although viewed as a major comeback for Spector, it is also often cited as contributing to the contentious break-up of the Beatles, as Spector added what many considered inappropriate choir and orchestral arrangements to Lennon's "Across the Universe" and Harrison's "I Me Mine". His alteration of "The Long and Winding Road" infuriated its composer, Paul McCartney, especially since the work had been done allegedly without his knowledge or opportunity to assess the results. McCartney succeeded in 2003 with the release of Let It Be... Naked, to have the album stripped of Spector's techniques.

Let It Be led to Spector co-producing albums with both Harrison and Lennon. For George Harrison's multi-platinum album All Things Must Pass (1970), he provided a cathedral-like sonic ambiance, complete with ornate orchestrations and gospel choirs. The LP yielded two major hits: "My Sweet Lord," topped the charts for five weeks, and "What Is Life," which hit #10. The same year Spector co-produced John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album, the sound of which was bare guitar, bass, drums, piano and vocal.

In 1971 Spector was named director of A&R for Apple Records. He only held the post for a year, but during that time he co-produced the single "Power to the People" with John Lennon (#11), as well as Lennon's Imagine album, the title track of which reached #3. With George Harrison Spector also co-produced not only Harrison's "Bangla-Desh" (a #23 hit) and Ronnie Spector's "Try Some, Buy Some" (which made it to #77), but also the music for The Concert for Bangla Desh.[1]

Lennon retained him for the 1971 Christmas single "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," the 1972 album Some Time in New York City and the 1973 sessions for the album Rock 'n' Roll. Spector's relationship with Lennon ended after the producer suffered a breakdown in the studio, brandishing a gun and disappearing with the Rock 'n' Roll tapes. After several months, Lennon retrieved the tapes and finished the album himself.

Later years

In 1974 Spector established the Warner-Spector label 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.

As the seventies progressed, Spector became a recluse. He emerged to produce albums by Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies Man, 1977) and the Ramones (End of the Century, 1980). He also re-teamed with Yoko Ono in 1981 to co-produce Season of Glass, her first work after her husband's death.

Spector remained inactive throughout most of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. He attempted to work with Celine Dion on her album Falling Into You, but that fell through. His most recent released project has been Silence Is Easy by Starsailor, released in 2003. He was originally supposed to produce the entire album, but was fired due to personal and creative differences. Plans to work with The Vines were halted due to his murder trial.


Many producers attempted to emulate the Wall of Sound, while Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys—a fellow adherent of mono recording—considered Spector his main competition. Bruce Springsteen emulated the Wall of Sound technique in his recording of "Born to Run". Shoegazing, a brief musical movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was heavily influenced by the Wall of Sound. For his contributions to the music industry, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Much of Phil's early musical influences was Latin music in general and Latin percussion in particular. This is heralded in many of his hit songs: shakers, guiros (gourds) and maracas in "Be My Baby" and the son montuno in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" heard clearly in the song's bridge. Phil would visit Spanish Harlem clubs and schools to hone his listening and practical skills. He'd ask his pre-teen coffee boy from "El Barrio", Roberto Tirado, to borrow his parent's best Puerto Rican and Spanish LPs in order to listen to these at odd times. Unknowingly, Phil instilled some of his musical influence on little Roberto as he also became enmeshed in the music field later as an adult. But the Latin influence is keenly perceptible in most, if not all, of Spector's recordings. Session bassist Carole Kaye plays the haunting son montuno in "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" while the same repeating refrain is played on harpsichord by keyboardist Larry Knechtel.


Spector has descended into many conflicts with the artists, songwriters, and promoters that he worked with. Stories include his discharging a firearm while in the studio with John Lennon during the recording of his cover album Rock 'n' Roll and placing a loaded pistol at Leonard Cohen's head during the sessions for Death of a Ladies' Man (1977). Dee Dee Ramone also reported that Spector threatened his bandmates during their recording sessions with the Ramones, going so far as to make Dee Dee play bass at gunpoint.

Shortly after Lester Sill's departure from Philles Records, Spector wrote, and had The Crystals record, a single entitled "(Let's Dance) The Screw". Six minutes long and completely lacking Spector's customary Wall of Sound production techniques, "The Screw" was neither releasable (by 1963 music industry standards) nor intended for general release. Indeed, only a handful of copies of the single were pressed, one of which Spector had delivered to Sill as a parting shot at his former partner. (Legend has it that the recording of "The Screw" served a second purpose: to cheat Sill out of royalties due him from sales of the next Philles recording. However, this claim has never been verified.) [1]

Phil and Ronnie Spector divorced in 1974. In 2000, Ronnie Spector successfully sued him for over $2 million for breach of contract over unpaid royalties to the Ronettes.

Murder charges

On February 3, 2003, Spector was arrested for murder after the body of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson of Los Angeles was found at his faux-castle mansion (called Pyrenees Castle) in Alhambra, California. Police responded to a 9-1-1 phone call from one of Spector's neighbors and discovered Clarkson, who had been shot and was pronounced dead at the scene. On November 20, 2003, Spector was indicted for Clarkson's murder.

Four weeks prior to the death of Clarkson, Spector had admitted in an interview with the British Daily Telegraph that he suffers from bipolar disorder and that he considered himself "relatively insane". [3][4] In September 2004 he was ordered to stand trial in Los Angeles.

On October 28, 2005, a judge ruled that potentially damning statements Spector allegedly made to police may be used against him at trial. Spector's lawyers had sought to suppress an apparent statement made by Spector after Clarkson was found dead. Spector allegedly said, "I didn't mean to shoot her." His lawyer argued that comments attributed to the music producer should be thrown out because he was suffering from prescription-drug withdrawal symptoms at the time. The judge has also ruled that transcripts from a deposition taken of Spector several months before Clarkson's death may also be introduced by the prosecution at trial.

So far Spector has gone through three attorneys. Defense attorney Robert Shapiro represented Spector at his arraignment and early pretrial hearings, and arranged for his release on bail. He was later replaced by Leslie Abramson and Marcia Morrissey. They, in turn, were later replaced by Bruce Cutler, the former lawyer of John Gotti. [5] Spector is also involved in a civil suit against Shapiro, who refused to return his $1 million retainer. [6]

Phil Spector, currently free on $1 million bail, had been scheduled to stand trial on April 24, 2006. It was announced April 25, 2006 that due to scheduling conflicts, the judge involved has postponed the date of the trial until January 16, 2007. Spector additionally faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Lana Clarkson's mother, Donna Clarkson, but it won't go ahead until after the criminal trial proceedings. [7]

Hit records produced or co-produced by Phil Spector

  • “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” Teddy Bears (12/01/58, #1)
  • “I Don’t Need You Anymore,” Teddy Bears (2/16/59, #91)
  • “Oh Why,” Teddy Bears (3/16/59, #98)
  • “Corrine, Corrina,” Ray Peterson (1/09/61, #9)
  • “Be My Boy,” Paris Sisters (5/15/61, #56)
  • “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,” Paris Sisters (10/30/61, #5)
  • “Under The Moon of Love,” Curtis Lee (11/27/61, #46)
  • “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” Crystals (1/06/62, #20)
  • “I Could Have Loved You So Well,” Ray Peterson (1/27/62, #57)
  • “He Knows I Love Him Too Much,” Paris Sisters (3/10/62, #34)
  • “Uptown,” Crystals (5/26/62, #13)
  • “Let Me Be the One,” Paris Sisters (5/26/62, #87)
  • “Second Hand Love,” Connie Francis (6/09/62, #7)
  • “He’s a Rebel,” Crystals (11/03/62, #1)
  • “Zip-a-dee Doo-dah,” Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (1/12/63, #8)
  • “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” Crystals (2/16/63, #11)
  • “Puddin N’ Tain (Ask Me Again, I’ll Tell You the Same),” 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,” Crystals (6/08/63, #3)
  • “Not Too Young to Get Married,” Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (7/13/63, #63)
  • “Wait ’Til My Bobby Gets Home,” Darlene Love (9/07/63, #26)
  • “Then He Kissed Me,” Crystals (9/14/63, #6)
  • “Be My Baby,” Ronettes (10/12/63, #2)
  • “A Fine Fine Boy,” Darlene Love (11/23/63, #53)
  • “Baby, I Love You,” Ronettes (2/01/64, #24)
  • “Little Boy,” Crystals (2/08/64, #92)
  • “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up,” Ronettes (5/16/64, #39)
  • “Do I Love You?,” Ronettes (8/01/64, #34)
  • “All Grown Up,” Crystals (8/01/64, #98)
  • “Walking In the Rain,” Ronettes (12/05/64, #23)
  • “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Righteous Brothers (2/06/65, #1)
  • “Born to Be Together,” Ronettes (3/06/65, #52)
  • “Just Once in My Life,” Righteous Brothers (5/15/65, #9)
  • “Is This What I Get for Loving You?,” Ronettes (6/12/65, #75)
  • “Hung on You” Righteous Brothers (8/21/65, #47)
  • “Unchained Melody” Righteous Brothers (8/28/65, #4)
  • “Ebb Tide,” Righteous Brothers (1/08/66, #5)
  • “River Deep - Mountain High,” Ike and Tina Turner (6/18/66, #88)
  • “Love Is All I Have to Give,” Checkmates, Ltd. (5/03/69, #65)
  • “Black Pearl,” Sonny Charles and the Checkmates, Ltd. (7/05/69, #13)
  • “Proud Mary,” Checkmates, Ltd. (11/01/69, #69)
  • “Instant Karma” John Lennon (3/28/70, #3)
  • “The Long and Winding Road” / “For You Blue,” Beatles (6/13/70, #1)
  • “My Sweet Lord” / “Isn’t It a Pity,” George Harrison (12/26/70, #1)
  • “Mother,” John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band (1/20/71, #43)
  • “What Is Life,” George Harrison (3/27/71, #10)
  • “Power to the People,” John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band (5/15/71, #11)
  • “Try Some, Buy Some” Ronnie Spector (5/22/71, #77)
  • “Bangla-Desh” / “Deep Blue,” George Harrison (9/11/71, #23)
  • “Imagine,” John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band (11/13/71, #3)
  • “Woman Is the Nigger of the World,” John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band with Elephants Memory (6/10/72, #57)
  • "The Beatles' Movie Medley," Beatles (5/08/82, #12)
  • “Jealous Guy,” John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band (10/22/88, #80)
  • “Unchained Melody,” Righteous Brothers (reissue) (10/20/90, #13)

Selected discography

  • All Things Must Pass, George Harrison
  • Back to Mono (1958-1969), Various Artists
  • The Best of the Crystals, Crystals
  • The Best of the Darlene Love, Darlene Love
  • The Best of the Ronettes, Ronettes
  • A Christmas Gift for You, Various Artists
  • The Concert for Bangla Desh, George Harrison
  • Imagine, John Lennon
  • Let It Be, Beatles
  • Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon
  • Some Time in New York City, John Lennon and Yoko Ono
  • Season Of Glass, Yoko Ono
  • End of Century, Ramones

Further reading

  • He's a Rebel: The Truth About Phil Spector – Rock and Roll's Legendary Madman, by Mark Ribowsky (biography). ISBN 0-306-81471-4.
  • "The First Tycoon of Teen", Tom Wolfe (magazine article reprinted in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, ISBN 0-553-38058-3, and in the Back to Mono liner notes.)
  • Out of His Head, by Richard Williams (biography). ISBN 0-7119-9864-7
  • Wall of Pain: The Biography of Phil Spector, by Dave Thompson. ISBN 1-86074-543-1
  • Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era, by Ken Emerson, (ISBN 0-670-03456-8)
  • Fuel-Injected Dreams (novel whose central character is based on Phil Spector), by James Robert Baker. ISBN 0-4522-5815-4


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bronson, Fred (December 2002). Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits. Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0-8230-7646-6.
  2. ^ a b Larkin, Colin (March 2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Virgin Publishing. ISBN 1-85227-923-0.
  3. ^ Moss, Corey. "Phil Spector Recently Claimed To Be 'Relatively Insane'", MTV News, February 6, 2003. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  4. ^ "Court records reveal Spector 'crime scene'", Ananova. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
  5. ^ CBS News, "Gotti Lawyer To Rep Phil Spector"
  6. ^ Deutsch, Linda (January 27, 2006). "Phil Spector's deposition to be released", Associated Press via the San Jose Mercury News.
  7. ^ World Entertainment News Network, "Spector wrongful death suit delayed".

External links

  • Music related:
    • Phil Spector at the All Music Guide
    • A select guide to Phil Spector compact discs
    • Snopes article: "(Let's Dance) The Screw"
  • Legal related:
    • Tabloid Column news about Phil Spector
    • Search warrant and affidavit at The Smoking Gun.
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