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Phil Spector

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Phil Spector

Harvey Phillip "Phil" Spector (born December 26, 1940) is a highly influential record producer who turned out some of the best-known popular music of the 1960s and 1970s. The originator of the "Wall of Sound" production technique, Spector first rose to prominence as the mastermind behind the 1960's girl group sound. Later in his career he worked with more varied artists, including The Beatles and The Ramones. In 2003 Spector returned to public awareness when he was indicted for murder.

Contents

Early life and career

Phil Spector was born into a lower-middle class family in Bronx, New York. His father committed suicide because of family indebtedness in 1949, and Spector and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1953. Despite his shyness, Spector quickly became heavily involved in the local music scene. His first band was the Teddy Bears, in which he had songwriting and guitar playing duties and was one of three vocalists. The Teddy Bears had one major hit, "To Know Him is to Love Him", which sold over 1 million copies after its release in 1958; the title of the song was taken from Spector's father's epitaph.

Record producer

Spector's career quickly moved from performing to songwriting to production. Having perfect pitch, he quickly learned how to use a studio, first as an apprentice to Lester Sill and Lee Hazelwood in Arizona and, from 1960, returning to New York, with Leiber and Stoller.

His first independent production success came in 1961 with the uptempo "Pretty Little Angel Eyes," a record by Curtis Lee, backed up by a local doo-wop group called the Halos. Next came "Every Breath I Take" by Gene Pitney, also backed by the Halos. Later that year he returned to LA, and, still less than 21 years old, formed his own record label, Philles Records, in partnership with Sill. Given full creative control, Spector began to produce an unprecedented string of hits.

He worked at first with established artists such as Johnny Nash, but soon found his vision easier to fulfill through Girl groups of his own devising. The groups — including The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and The Ronettes — were often wholly interchangeable, with lineups based on who was available and whoever's voice he thought would fit the material (though with Darlene Love a particular favorite). Although predominantly singles-based, Spector's groups did record at least one classic album: A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963).

The Wall of Sound

Spector's trademark during that era was the so-called Wall of Sound, a production technique yielding a dense, layered effect that was very effective and dramatic, and carried especially 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. Dozens of musicians and instruments would be jammed into Spector's tiny Gold Star studio, with the sound reverberating off the walls adding to the effect.

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".

After a string of girl-group hits through the early- and mid-1960s, Spector produced "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin" for the Righteous Brothers in late 1964; the record was a huge success and marked the pinnacle of the Wall of Sound production technique. Spector then became embroiled in record-company wrangles, fighting Sill for control of Philles Records and managing his own Phil Spector Records (under contractual agreement with Sill, this label only issued singles recorded by Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett of the Ronettes). Amidst these conflicts and reports of increasingly eccentric behavior, Spector produced "River Deep, Mountain High" for Ike and Tina Turner in 1966, a recording he considered his best work. A hit in the UK, the song failed to catch on in the US, and Spector announced a self-described "retirement" at age 25. Already something of a recluse, Spector withdrew almost entirely from the public eye, marrying Ronnie Bennett in 1968 and emerging briefly for a cameo as a drug dealer in the film Easy Rider (1969).

Comeback

In 1970, John Lennon, a long-time fan of Spector's, asked Spector to take on the task of making the tapes resulting from the abandoned Let It Be recording sessions into a usable album. Spector went quickly to work, using many of his well-known production techniques to sweeten and significantly change the sound of the songs. While this project was viewed as a major comeback for Spector, it was also part of the contentious break-up of the Beatles; the re-working of the album was done without the approval of Paul McCartney, who was very critical of the results.

Let It Be was not a typical Spector production. Spector applied his "Wall of Sound" technique sparingly to two songs: George Harrison's "I Me Mine" and Lennon's "Across the Universe." He also added vocal snippets and short song takes between the complete songs on the album. His most significant reworking was to Paul McCartney's "The Long and Winding Road", to which Spector added an entire orchestra, including harp, transforming McCartney's spare, piano-based ballad into a lush production. This reworking of "Winding Road" triggered a long-standing feud between McCartney and Spector and only added to the animosity that existed between The Beatles. The other performances on Let It Be he left largely alone.

Through the '70s and early '80s Spector continued a pattern of reclusiveness interrupted by occasional production projects, working on albums for Lennon, George Harrison, and The Ramones. In 1975, he created Phil Spector International, which worked with artists such as Cher, Dion, Harry Nilsson, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner, The Beach Boys, and Darlene Love.

Spector remained inactive throughout most of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. He attempted to work with CÚline Dion, but the project 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 fell through due to his murder trial.

Influence

The influence of Phil Spector's sound and recording techniques is felt far beyond the recordings he actually produced. Many lesser producers simply attempted (with limited success) to emulate the Wall of Sound. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys—a fellow adherent of mono recording—considered Spector his main competition and spent hours studying and attempting to replicate and improve upon Spector's sound. Bruce Springsteen, another outspoken fan of Spector's work, emulated the Wall of Sound technique in his recording of "Born to Run".

For his many contributions to the music industry, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

Eccentricity

Spector has shunned publicity and is widely regarded as eccentric, descending into many conflicts with the artists, songwriters, and promoters that he worked with. Stories include discharging a firearm while in the studio with John Lennon and putting a loaded pistol to Leonard Cohen's head during the sessions for Death of a Ladies' Man. Dee Dee Ramone has reported that Spector threatened the Ramones during their recording sessions with him. Spector admitted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that he suffers from bipolar disorder.

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.

Alleged homicide

On February 3, 2003, Spector was arrested for investigation of homicide after the body of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson of Los Angeles was found at his home 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 Spector was indicted for Clarkson's murder. [1] (http://www.ananova.com/entertainment/story/sm_845886.html) In September 2004 he was ordered to stand trial in Los Angeles. [2] (http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/09/27/phil.spector.ap/)

Further reading

  • "The First Tycoon of Teen", Tom Wolfe (magazine article reprinted in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby)
  • "Out of His Head," Richard Williams (biography)

Selected discography

  • A Christmas Gift To You (1963)
  • Back to Mono (1958-1969) a 4-CD box set encompassing all of Spector's important work of that period.de:Phil Spector

fr:Phil Spector nl:Phil Spector sv:Phil Spector

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