Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dec. 26: Phil Spector, of "The Wall of Sound" (and the California State Prison System,) is 73-years-old today.

Harvey Philip Spector is an American record producer and songwriter. The originator of the "Wall of Sound" production technique, Spector was a pioneer of the 1960s girl group sound and produced over 25 Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1965 alone. After this initial success, Spector later worked with artists including Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon, George Harrison, and the Ramones with similar acclaim.

He produced the Beatles' Academy Award-winning album Let It Be, and the Grammy Award-winning Concert for Bangladesh by former Beatle George Harrison. In 1989, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer. The 1965 song "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin',"  produced and co-written by Spector for The Righteous Brothers, is listed by BMI as the song with the most U.S. airplay in the 20th century.

The 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, California home led to his being charged with murder in the second degree. After a 2007 mistrial, he was convicted in 2009 and given a prison sentence of 19 years to life.

Spector was born on December 25, 1940.  His grandfather was an immigrant from Russia with the surname "Spekter"; after moving to America, he anglicized the spelling to "Spector." His father committed suicide on April 20, 1949, and in 1953, his mother moved the family to Los Angeles, California.
While Phil Spector wasn't a performer, as a producer and, to a significant extent, songwriter, label owner, and session player, he has influenced the course of rock & roll for more than all but a handful of performers.

The Wall of Sound that he perfected in the early '60s opened unlimited possibilities for arrangements and sound construction in rock and pop, and his brilliant talents imprinted the discs that he produced with an artistic vision that was much more attributable to him than the talented performers with whom he worked.

Spector entered the record business in 1958 as songwriter, guitarist, and backup singer for the L.A. group the Teddy Bears, who landed a left-field number one with their first release, "To Know Him Is to Love Him." The Teddy Bears couldn't follow their hit up and soon disbanded, but Spector almost immediately moved to New York and became a songwriter and producer.

After producing a few hits, he founded his own label, Philles, and ran off a series of brilliant smashes, primarily with girl groups the Crystals and the Ronettes.

With Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes
To an extent that had never been imagined in rock & roll, Spector pumped his records full of orchestration - strings, horns, rattling percussion - that coalesced into teenage symphonies, never overwhelming the material or the passionate vocals.

Often called a mad genius because of his eccentric and temperamental behavior, Spector's idiosyncrasies were almost always validated by the artistic and commercial results of his sessions, which combined dozens of instruments and innovative production techniques into end products which only he could combine into works of art.

His influence was immense, not only in the dozens of imitation Wall of Sound productions  that flooded the market between 1962 and 1965, but as an inspiration to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham, and others.

Spector recognized the British Invasion before it had even reached the U.S., befriending the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but had nearly as much trouble as the rest of the industry in maintaining his success. Self-contained bands were writing more adventurous material and finding more adventurous sounds, and Spector's teen operas were becoming out of fashion, although he enjoyed a lot of success with blue-eyed soul duo the Righteous Brothers in the mid-'60s.

After the failure of Ike & Tina Turner's 1966 single "River Deep, Mountain High" - which he always considered among his greatest achievements, blaming a vengeful U.S. music industry for its poor sales (although it was a big hit in Britain) - he retired to his L.A. mansion, marrying Ronnie Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes.

Spector re-emerged in the late '60s and was hired by the Beatles to do post-production on their controversial Let It Be album; critics and Paul McCartney himself found his work faulty, although it must be pointed out that the material he was given to work with didn't rank among the Beatles' best.

He did end up producing George Harrison's and John Lennon's first solo albums; though these were artistic triumphs, they were hardly Spector productions in the classic sense, owing much more of their success to the talents of the performers than the producer.
After that, he was active only sporadically, producing isolated albums by Dion, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones. He became one of rock's most legendary recluses and eccentrics, rarely appearing in public, but his accomplishments cast a shadow over all performers and producers who aspire to create works of art in the studio.

That reclusiveness took a public turn in 2003 with the death of Lana Clarkson. The actress/fashion model was shot and killed in Spector’s home, though Spector denied any involvement, citing an “accidental suicide.”

 It took four years for the case to go to trial, the first of which resulted in a mistrial, and the second of which found Spector guilty of murder in the second degree. He was sentenced on May 29, 2009 to 19 years to life in the California state prison system.


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