Born Harvey Phillip Spector, 26 December 1939, The Bronx, New York City, New York
Between 1962 and 1966, Phil Spector's so-called 'Wall of Sound' made him the most successful pop record producer in the world, with more than twenty Top 40 hits by such artists as the Crystals, the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers. Undoubtedly he was a musical genius who changed the face of pop music for ever. But he was also a control freak and a severely disturbed individual. Born in New York of Russian descent, Spector moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1953. Having learned to play the guitar, he joined a group called the Sleepwalkers with future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, future producer Kim Fowley and drummer Sandy Nelson. In 1958 he formed the vocal group the Teddy Bears with Annette Kleinbard (born 1940, later a successful songwriter under the name Carol Connors) and Marshall Lieb (1939-2002). The group had a # 1 hit with their very first record, "To Know Him Is To Love Him". Spector's inspiration for writing the song came from the epitaph on the tombstone of his father, who committed suicide in 1949. Phil also produced the record. The Teddy Bears didn't last long, but the hit established Spector's name on the Hollywood rock and roll scene. An ubiquitous figure in the West Coast rock scene was Lester Sill, with whom Phil signed a songwriting contract, and who became his intro- duction to Lee Hazlewood (Spector observed Duane Eddy's sessions in Phoenix and learned a lot about producing) and later Mike Stoller.
In 1960-61 Spector worked with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for Atlantic in NYC as an apprentice and songwriter. With Leiber he co-wrote "Spanish Harlem", a # 10 hit for Ben E. King, later recorded by many others. While at Atlantic, Spector also produced sessions for other companies, scoring hits with "Corinna, Corinna" (Ray Peterson), "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" and "Under the Moon Of Love" (both by Curtis Lee), "I Love How You Love Me" (The Paris Sisters) and "Every Breath I Take" (Gene Pitney). But Phil's productions for Atlantic - including "Hey Memphis" by LaVern Baker and the original version of "Twist and Shout" by the Top Notes - were less successful.
Spector's burning ambition, though, was to make records for his own label. After returning to Los Angeles in late 1961, he launched the Philles label, with Lester Sill as co-owner (who was soon bought out). The first Philles single, "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" by the Crystals, was an immediate hit, peaking at # 20. The second Crystals single, "Uptown", did even better, reaching # 13. However, it was the fourth Crystals single, the Gene Pitney composition "He's A Rebel", that really put Spector on the map. It topped the charts in October 1962, although the Crystals didn't even sing on it ; the vocal was by Darlene Love. She was also the lead singer on "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, recorded in August 1962 (a # 8 hit). This can be considered as Phil's first 'Wall of Sound' production, with a line-up of two guitarists, three (!) bass players, two pianos, two sax players, a drummer and a percussionist. Spector tried to pack as many musicians as possible into the small Gold Star Studio, using echo, tape loops, etc., with the invaluable help of engineer Larry Levine. Then came his most successful year, 1963, with big hits by the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, the Ronettes (whose lead singer, Veronica Bennett, would become Mrs Phil Spector, 1968-1974) and Darlene Love. Standouts were "Da Doo Ron Ron" by the Crystals (# 3) and "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes (# 2).
The name of the artist on the label was of secondary importance to Spector. He was the man who established the record producer as a star in his own right and elevated the monaural 45 rpm single to an art form. "Little symphonies for the kiddies" he called them.
A Christmas album featuring Spector artists ("A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records") was released on the day President Kennedy was shot. It was a relative failure at the time (1963), but was reissued by Apple Records in 1972 (under the title "Phil Spector's Christmas Album"). Since then it has grown in popularity and is now considered to be a holiday classic.
1964, the year of the British Invasion, was less successful for Spector, with three Top 40 hits by the Ronettes, until the release - in December - of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by the Righteous Brothers, perhaps the high point in Phil's career. Not only did the song (co-written by Spector and the husband-and-wife team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) top the charts in the US and the UK ; it has become the most played song of the 20th century on radio and television. The Righteous Brothers (Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield) had three more Top 10 hits in 1965 on Philles ("Just Once In My Life", "Unchained Melody", "Ebb Tide") before they moved to MGM/Verve.
Then, in 1966, came what Spector himself saw as his best work : "River Deep, Mountain High", credited to Ike and Tina Turner, although Ike is nowhere to be heard on the record. (Spector even paid him to stay away from the studio.) The record featured 21 session musicians and 21 back-up vocalists and cost a then- unheard of $ 22,000 to make. Although the record was successful in Europe (# 3 in the UK), it got no higher than # 88 in the USA, to Spector's enormous frustration. He withdrew from the music industry for two years ; his time was already passing.
In 1968 Herb Alpert asked Spector to work for his A&M label as a producer, resulting in a # 13 hit for Sonny Charles and the the Checkmates Ltd. with "Black Pearl" (1969). In 1970 Spector was responsible for piecing together the "Let It Be" Beatles LP from many hours of live recordings. His overdubbing of "The Long and Winding Road" (a # 1 hit in the US) infuriated its composer, Paul McCartney. Keeping to former Beatles, Spector lent his production skills to George Harrison's triple-LP "All Things Must Pass" and John Lennon's best- selling albums "Plastic Ono Band" (1970) and "Imagine" (1971). Later in the 1970s Spector worked with Cher, Dion, Lenny Bruce and the Ramones. Since then he has remained in seclusion for most of the time. In 1989 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer.
Former Philles artists have sued him for backward royalties, claiming they hadn't been paid since 1963 : Darlene Love in 1997 and the Ronettes in 1998. They both won their cases.
In 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, California home. He is serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.
More info :
Official website : http://www.philspector.com/
Discography : http://www.spectropop.com/hspector2.html
Acknowledgements : Mick Brown, Mark Ribowsky, Eric Olsen, Wikipedia
Dik, September 2013
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