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Music / Phil Spector

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Spector at the control board, circa The '60s.

Harvey Phillip "Phil" Spector (born December 26, 1939) is a Record Producer, songwriter, and convicted murderer, active from 1958 to 2003.

Born in the Bronx, New York, he became famous in The '60s for pioneering the "Wall of Sound", a production technique that relied on large groups of musicians playing heavily orchestrated parts to yield a dense, full sound, specifically optimized for the top 40 AM radio of the day. Because of how dense the end result of this technique always sounds, criticisms of overproduction aren't uncommon to hear when discussing his portfolio.

Spector's credits include numerous Girl Groups (The Ronettes, The Crystals), Ike and Tina Turner, The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles' Let It Be, John Lennon's first three solo albums, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, The Ramones' End of the Century and Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies Man. His production style has served as an important influence on several subgenres of Alternative Rock, such as Chamber Pop and Shoegazing.


However, chances are you mostly know him for being totally, 100% batshit insane; there's a reason he's at the top of our "Producer from Hell" list after all. Aside from threatening Leonard Cohen with a loaded gun and stealing the tapes of Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll album at gunpoint, there's also the part where he showed his wife a coffin and threatened to kill her if she left, and also the part where he got convicted for murdering actress Lana Clarkson. As a result of the last incident, Spector is now serving out a prison sentence of 19 years to life, and will first be eligible for parole in 2025. The last album he was credited on was 2003's Silence is Easy by post-Britpop band Starsailor, and even then, they almost immediately booted him off after he produced two tracks.

The story of his murder trial was turned into the 2013 HBO movie Phil Spector, directed by David Mamet, with Al Pacino playing Spector.


Phil Spector provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: He was just as cruel to his children as he was to everyone else. His two adopted sons, Donte and Gary, claim that he kept them confined in their home and even subjected them to sexual abuse at the hands of a girlfriend.
  • Bald of Evil / Thousand-Yard Stare: His mugshot.
  • Bipolar Disorder: He claims to have been diagnosed and treated for this.
  • Blatant Lies: Despite all evidence to the contrary, he insists that he doesn't wear a toupee.
  • Broken Ace: The defining producer of 60's pop, while also suffering from severe mental problems.
  • Brooklyn Rage: He was born and raised in the Bronx and possesses a famously short fuse.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He's regarded as one of the greatest producers of all time. He's also regarded as completely, mouth-frothingly insane.
  • The Cameo: As a cocaine dealer in Easy Rider.
  • Christmas Songs: The 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, regarded by many as his masterpiece, features rock arrangements of Yuletide favorites performed by such artists as The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Darlene Love. It also influenced many future Christmas recordings over the next several decades (Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" being the really obvious examples).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Phil certainly had an, shall we say interesting way of thinking. David Mamet made this a central element of the HBO film.
  • Cool Shades: Wears these often.
  • Control Freak: Disagreeing with him about any aspect of an album was a good way to send him into a rage and he was domineering of Ronnie Spector during their marriage, only allowing her to leave the house once a month.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: He threatened to murder his wife if she left and other women he's been linked with have reported similar instances of jealous behavior.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: His father committed suicide when he nine, his mother was very domineering, and he was subjected to bullying throughout his childhood and adolescence.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: He was fond of pulling loaded guns on people at the slightest provocation.
  • Domestic Abuser: Ronnie Spector claims that Phil kept her secluded away in their home and subjected her to years of psychological torment before she got away.
  • Dodgy Toupee: He's fond of wearing these though you're advised never to bring them up with him. It's believed that he began doing this to cover up scars from a near fatal car accident he suffered in 1974.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: His first hit as a performer, The Teddy Bears' "To Know Him is to Love Him", is a spare Doo Wop influenced ballad. His first big hits as a producer, before he developed the Wall of Sound, were a sappy pop ballad ("I Love How You Love Me" by the Paris Sisters), an orchestrated version of an old Blues song ("Corrina Corrina" by Ray Peterson), and an uptempo Doo Wop number ("Pretty Little Angel Eyes" by Curtis Lee).
  • Echoing Acoustics: A critical part of his "Wall of Sound" production style, meant to evoke a chamber orchestra sound with popular music.
  • Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: Spector (whose birthday is December 26) is Jewish, but produced one of the definitive Christmas albums.
  • Evil Old Folks: He finally crossed the line from threatening people to killing them in his sixties.
  • Funny Afro: Phil famously sported a large blonde afro during his murder court case. Al Pacino even recreated it in the 2013 HBO tv movie.
  • Gun Nut: He is quite notorious for several stories involving him, loaded guns, and musicians.
    • John Lennon was at the receiving end of Spector's bizarre and rather dangerous antics with guns several times when he was working on the album Rock 'n' Roll in 1973. During recording, Spector routinely showed up late, usually high as a kite, dressed in elaborate costumes, and always armed with a gun. At one time, Spector, while dressed a surgeon, allegedly as a prank, fired his gun in the control room, inches from the former Beatle's ear. An outraged Lennon responded with "Phil, if you're going to kill me, kill me. But don't fuck with my ears. I need 'em." Another time, Spector pulled his gun and chased Lennon through the hallways of the studio, while screaming threats. Matters with the album got even more complicated when Spector at one point stole the mastertapes from the studio at gunpoint, and then disappeared for several months.
    • He repeatedly threatened to shoot Leonard Cohen point-blank in the face (according to Cohen, Spector was wielding a crossbow at one such incident).
    • He once used a gun to force the The Ramones to stay at his place for an entire night and listen to music he considered genius. One member (accounts varies whether it was Dee Dee or Johnny Ramone) got fed up with this and left with the comment: "What are you going to do, shoot me? Go ahead. I'm leaving. Goodbye."
    • Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, was once invited over to Spector's mansion in the late '70s to discuss a studio collaboration, as he hoped to make a comeback. When the discussion turned sour, Spector suddenly stuck a gun in one of Harry's boots and said "Bang!" Harry wisely took it as a sign to get the hell out of dodge.
    • And of course, there is the fact that Lana Clarkson, whose murder Spector was convicted for, was found dead from a gunshot to the mouth.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: As noted above, Phil is as famous for his explosive temper as he is for his musical genius.
  • Insufferable Genius: An example where the "insufferable" part overshadowed his genius.
  • Jerkass: As you've probably noticed from the rest of this page, Phil was not the nicest guy in the music industry.
  • Lean and Mean: He was noted for being very short and skinny. As for mean, just look at the rest of this page.
  • Long-Runners: Had a producing career that spanned just over 44 years.
  • Mad Artist: Perhaps a little too mad if his murder conviction is any indication.
  • The Napoleon: He stands at about 5'4 and his short fuse and abrasive personality are legendary. A few people have said that he wore lifts in his shoes.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Phil loved producing, and wasn't above death threats to get the musicians under his control. Of course, there's also the fact that he murdered a woman.
  • Record Producer: This trope's patron saint, for better or worse.
  • Signature Style: The "Wall of Sound", in which he used complicated mixing techniques and effects like reverb, alongside arrangements that utilized large numbers of musicians, to produce a dense style in which it's often hard to pick out any individual instruments (in fact, it's the drumming, usually by Hal Blaine, that typically stands out in the mix).
  • The Sociopath: Again, he's a convicted murderer with a history of using a loaded gun to control the musicians he worked with as well as abusive behavior towards women.
  • Teen Genius: He was a millionaire with twenty consecutive hit songs by the age of twenty-one.
  • The Tyson Zone: The man is so crazy that some particularly outrageous stories about him are at least somewhat plausible. This trope may in fact have played a role in his 2009 murder conviction; he had such a colorful history of borderline-psychopathic behavior that him killing someone would've been as atypical as buying groceries.


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