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Music / Phil Spector

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

"People tell me they idolize me, want to be like me, but I tell them, 'Trust me, you don't want my life.' I've been a very tortured soul."

Harvey Phillip "Phil" Spector (December 26, 1939 January 16, 2021) was an American 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 recordings by 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. Moreover, 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 "Producers from Hell" list, after all. Aside from allegedly threatening five artists with loaded guns and stealing the tapes of Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll album at gunpoint, there's also the part where he showed his then-wife Ronnie Spector a coffin and threatened to kill her if she left. The culmination of Spector's violent behavior was his conviction for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, who was found dead of a gunshot wound in his mansion in 2003. Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life and would've been eligible for parole in 2025. He ultimately died in prison of COVID-19 in January of 2021, at the age of 81. 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 Spector's 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:

  • The Cameo: As a cocaine dealer in Easy Rider.
  • Christmas Songs: The 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector,note  regarded by many as his masterpiece, features "Wall of Sound" arrangements of Yuletide favorites performed by such artists as The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Darlene Love. It also influenced many future pop/rock Christmas recordings over the next several decades (with Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", Elton John's "Step Into Christmas", and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" being the really obvious examples).
  • Covers Always Lie: The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " runs 3:44, but, since Top 40 radio at the time tended to shy away from songs that ran well past 3:00, Spector listed the run time as "3:05" on the single label.
  • 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 was December 26) was Jewish, but produced one of the definitive Christmas albums.
  • Long-Runners: Had a producing career that spanned just over 44 years.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " is one of the most famous examples, and he used it as a trademark for most of his further songs with The Righteous Brothers.
  • Record Producer: This trope's patron saint, for better or worse.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The Righteous Brothers' follow-up to "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' ", "Just Once in My Life", has an almost identical structure. "Unchained Melody" and its successor "Ebb Tide" are also really similar.
  • 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).