Phil Spector

Greatly Appreciated

Phil Spector  (born December 26, 1939) is an American record producer, songwriter, and the originator of the Wall of Sound production method.  At the height of his career, Spector was a pioneer of the 1960s girl-group sound, and produced more than twenty-five Top 40 hits from 1960 to 1965, writing or co-writing many of them for artists such as the Ronettes and the Crystals.  Following collaborations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, Dion DiMucci, and the Ramones in the 1970’s, Spector remained largely inactive.  In the 2000’s, he became infamous as the subject of two trials for murder and a second-degree conviction.  (More from Wikipedia)
Phil Kelsey was a hustler, and his band Phil and the Frantics was playing at the Arizona State Fair by 1963.  They even had their own nightclub called The Cave, where his band was the headliner.  The band attracted the attention of a local character named Jim Musil, Jr., who had a lot of friends in Los Angeles, including the now infamous Phil Spector.  Jim Musil, Sr. owned several night spots and leased one of them to Phil Kelsey, who reopened it as the Frantic Den in 1965; but problems with the Fire Marshal led to their relocation to the club downstairs called JD’s
(August 2012)
*       *       *

The idea for the magazine Who Put the Bomp originally was that the title of each issue would be taken from the name of a great rock song; thus, the second issue was to have been called Da Doo Ron Ron.  Greg Shaw was persuaded that this was not a good idea for an ongoing publication, so the issue was named Who Put the Bomp #2, with Da Doo Ron Ron as the subtitle.  This practice was dropped after the third issue, although the initials R.I.A.W.O.L. were frequently present on the front page, standing for “Rock Is a Way of Life”.  


Da Doo Ron Ron” was a #3 hit in 1963 for the girl-group the Crystals; and it was written by another famous 1960’s songwriter couple, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, together with Phil Spector (now infamous for his 2009 conviction for a murder in his home in 2003).  This song is a classic example of Spector’s legendary Wall of Sound production technique. 


(May 2013)

*       *       *

Phil Spector perfected his renowned “Wall of Sound” technique while making girl group records, where massive amounts of music were recorded together with a subtle echo effect.  “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes and “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals are cited as being prime examples of this technique.  Phil Spector himself says that he reached his peak with the recording of “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina TurnerGeorge Harrison has called that song “a perfect record from start to finish”. 


Phil Spector’s work with the Beatles on their final album, Let it Be is more controversial, with many contending that it was more overproduction than production in that case.  Ultimately, the album was re-released in 2003 without Spector’s production and overdubs under the name Let it Be . . . Naked.  Still, Phil Spector worked with John Lennon on several of his solo albums. 


*       *       *


The Beatles performed a sort of mini-Wall of Sound at the close of their masterful Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, not long after Phil Spector came along.  Following the second symphonic build-up within “A Day in the Life”, the orchestra swelled into a crescendo, and then there was a thunderous piano chord (an E-major chord to be exact).  Many people who have been around a piano marvel at how long the instrument can hold a note; and here, the Beatles were dealing that expectation up in spades with a long, slow fade for nearly one full minute before the sound faded into background hiss. 


Actually though, it wasn’t just one piano:  John LennonPaul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and one of the Beatles’ roadies, Mal Evans were manning different pianos; while George Martin was playing the same chord on a harmonium.  What’s more, the gain was gradually turned up as the chord faded in order to prolong the effect – at the end (they tell me), it is possible to hear background sounds in the recording studio:  rustling papers, a squeaking chair, and the air conditioners.  


(October 2013)


*       *       *


Greg Shaw was quoted as saying of Les Hell on Heels:  “I feel the same way that Phil Spector must have felt when he first saw the Ronettes.” 


(December 2013)


*       *       *


Fleshing out the details (via Wikipedia), Kim Fowley’s first venture into music was to become the manager in 1957 for a band called the Sleepwalkers that included Bruce Johnston and drummer Sandy Nelson; future superstar record producer Phil Spector was also occasionally with the band.  Last month I mentioned a band called the Gamblers which released an instrumental in 1961 called LSD-25; Johnston and Nelson were both in that band also. 


*       *       *


The following year (1958), Phil Spector assembled the Teddy Bears (the only vocal group that included Spector as a member); Sandy Nelson was a last-minute addition, with other bandmembers including Marshall Leib and lead singer Annette Kleinbard.  Phil Spector wrote a song for the group called “To Know Him Is to Love Him”, based upon an inscription on his father’s tombstone, and the song became a Number One hit in December 1958.  As Wikipedia put it:  “At 19 years old, Spector had written, arranged, played, sung, and produced the best-selling record in the country.” 


(January 2015/1)


*       *       *


Superstar record producer Phil Spector used members of the Wrecking Crew to create his famed Wall of Sound; while Beach Boys bandleader Brian Wilson used these musicians on their acclaimed Pet Sounds album and their Number One hit Good Vibrations”.  


Wikipedia reports:  “[Carol Kaye]’s intense solo bass line, reverberating in quiet moments in [Phil] Spector’s production of [Ike and Tina Turner’s] ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, lent drama to the song’s ‘Wall of Sound’ and helped lift the record into the Grammy Hall of Fame.” 


(February 2015)

*       *       *
Kum Back was essentially recorded live, though evidently in a studio setting; and Get Back was planned for release in this same manner, as a back-to-roots move.  As it turned out, the album Let it Be as it was ultimately released on May 8, 1970 (more than a year after most if not all of the actual recordings by members of the Beatles had been made) was greatly different from this earlier intention as Get Back, with superstar producer Phil Spector remixing all of the songs – adding orchestra and choir sections to some songs; and editing, splicing and overdubs on others.  By the time Let it Be was released, the Beatles had already officially broken up. 
Ultimately, a revised edition of Let it Be came out in 2003, due to the hostility by many to Phil Spector’s production efforts on the original album.  It was called Let it Be . . . Naked and purportedly stripped the additions and corrections made by Spector to the original Beatles recordings.  As with the Iggy Pop remix of the Stooges album Raw Power, however, successfully redoing an album that has been heard for many years by basically everyone having any interest at all in the music is easier said than done.  Mark Deming notes in Allmusic:  “In 1997, when Columbia made plans to issue a new edition of Raw Power, they brought in [Iggy] Pop to remix the original tapes and (at least in theory) give us the ‘real’ version we’d been denied all these years.  Then the world heard Pop’s painfully harsh and distorted version of Raw Power, and suddenly [David] Bowie’s tamer but more dynamic mix didn’t sound so bad, after all.” 
As to the Beatles’ attitudes toward the Let it Be . . . Naked reissue, Wikipedia notes:  “[Paul] McCartney in particular was always dissatisfied with the ‘Wall of Sound’ production style of the Phil Spector mixes of three tracks, especially for his song ‘The Long and Winding Road’, which he believed was ruined by the process.  George Harrison gave his approval for the Naked project before he died.  McCartney’s attitude contrasted with [John] Lennon’s from over two decades earlier.  In his December 1970 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Lennon had defended Spector’s work, saying, ‘He was given the s--ttiest load of badly recorded s--t – and with a lousy feeling to it – ever. And he made something out of it. . . .  When I heard it, I didn’t puke.’  Harrison and Ringo Starr also remained complimentary about Spector’s contribution, with Starr saying:  ‘I like what Phil did. . . .  There’s no point bringing him in if you’re not going to like the way he does it – because that’s [Wall of Sound] what he does.’” 
So how did Let it Be . . . Naked go down 33 years after the original release of Let it Be?  The same sort of muted comments that greeted the new version of Raw Power were in evidence here as well; Wikipedia lists some of them:  Allmusic notes that Let it Be . . . Naked “is overall slightly stronger [than Let it Be] . . . a sleeker, slicker album”; Pitchfork notes that Let it Be . . . Naked is “not essential [. . .] though immaculately presented”; and Salon commented that Let it Be . . . Naked “stripped the original album of both John [Lennon]’s sense of humor and Phil Spector’s wacky, and at least slightly tongue-in-cheek, grandiosity.” 
For myself, some tacky items stood out when I scanned the changes made in Let it Be . . . Naked that are listed in Wikipedia; they seem to go beyond adjusting whatever Phil Spector had added to the recordings.  For “Dig a Pony”, Wikipedia states:  “[The] error in second verse (the ‘because’ in [John] Lennon’s vocal track) [was] digitally corrected.”  Similarly, in “Two of Us”, a “minor error in Lennon’s acoustic guitar performance [was] digitally corrected.”  One of the live tracks, “I’ve Got a Feeling” is actually composed of “[a] composite edit of two takes from the rooftop concert”.  After reading this, I have an image in my mind of a high school art student touching up an old master. 
(September 2017)
Last edited: March 22, 2021