Phil Spector obituary – The Guardian

Phil Spector
Tape producer prominent in 60s pop as the creator of the wall of noise who in 2009 was imprisoned for the murder of Lana Clarkson

Photo: GAB Archive/RedfernsHarvey Philip Spector was born in the Bronx, New York, to Ben and Bertha Spector, the descendants of Russian Jews. For the second song, To Know Him is to Love Him, Spector paraphrased the inscription from his daddys tombstone and confected a catchy piece of sweet-toothed pop including Kleinbards lead vocal and support harmonies from Lieb and Spector. The echo-laden drama of such late masterpieces as Dions Make the Woman Love Me and Darlene Loves Lord If Youre a Woman failed to find an audience, suggesting that Spectors approach was finally obsolete.There would be three additional cooperations, each in its way unforeseen, with Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies Man, 1977), the Ramones (End of the Century, 1980), and Yoko Ono, who invited him to assist with the album she wrote and taped after Lennons murder (Season of Glass, 1981). In between 1988 and 2000 he was likewise needed to defend suits brought by the Ronettes and Darlene Love, who were eventually awarded overdue royalties from their 1960s hits.After a 15-year absence from the studio, the acrimonious truncation of an album project with Céline Dion in 1996 elicited a declaration from Spector that could stand as his expert epitaph: “It became apparent that the people around Ms Dion were more interested in managing the project, and the people who tape-recorded her, than in making history. 8 years later Spector wed Janis Savala, a music publisher, with whom he had twins, Nicole and Phillip Jr, and who stayed on as his assistant after their separation in 1991, the year Phillip Jr passed away of leukaemia.In 1998 Spector paid $1.1 m for the Pyrenees Castle, a mock chateau in the Los Angeles residential area of Alhambra, where Clarksons dead body was found in the early hours of 8 February 2003.

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By the time he reached his mid-20s, Phil Spector, who has actually died aged 81, had attained his aspiration of making records that raised the craft of producing pop songs to something near to an art, the prodigious commercial success of his miniature legendaries leading Tom Wolfe to explain him, in a celebrated 1964 essay, as “the very first tycoon of teen”. Even as those words appeared, nevertheless, the first signs of Spectors decrease were starting to appear, and the rest of his life represented an accelerating series of strange behavioural episodes ending with the death by gunshot at his Los Angeles estate in 2003 of Lana Clarkson, an actor whom he had actually fulfilled that night in a Hollywood bar where she worked as a waitress. 6 years and two extremely publicised trials later, a jurys consentaneous decision finally pronounced him guilty of murder.
Throughout his months in court, Spector paraded a succession of increasingly elaborate wigs, his appearance supporting the popular picture of him as an eccentric recluse and the real-life design for Z-Man Barzell, the crazed record producer at the centre of Russ Meyers movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Stories of his manipulative, paranoid behaviour were endlessly recycled: they consisted of the time he bought an arranged flight to be stopped on the runway to allow him to disembark, the violent jealousy that made a virtual prisoner of his second partner, the continuous presence of quiet bodyguards and the routine of pulling guns on the artists whose recordings he monitored. Even his good friends were careful of his sudden, unreasonable rages, fuelled by alcohol and a neurotic compulsion to pay back slights genuine or imagined, current or historic.To pop fans who grew up in the 1960s, his name will always be associated with recordings that embodied both the musics early innocence and its increasing sense of experience. A number of them, such as the Crystals Hes a Rebel, Da Doo Ron and Then He Kissed Me, and the Ronettes Be My Baby and Baby I Love You, set the enticing voices of New York woman groups versus a grand background that became known as the “wall of noise”, developed through luxurious usage of critical resources.
He reached an imaginative peak in 1964, with the Righteous Brothers Youve Lost That Lovin Feelin, and 2 years later on with Ike and Tina Turners River Deep– Mountain High.His career as a hit-maker started in 1958 and came to an unexpected stop in 1966, but his work affected artists from Brian Wilson to Bruce Springsteen and drew in long-lasting loyalty, not least through the efforts of the British-based Phil Spector Appreciation Society. John Lennon and George Harrison were ardent admirers of his early records and in 1969 they invited him to rescue a haphazard collection of material from the Beatles last studio recordings and to turn it into an acceptable album.The outcome, titled Let It Be, may have upset Paul McCartney (who later authorised the release of an undoctored version of the album), but Lennon and Harrison both went on to invite Spector to team up on their subsequent solo albums, consisting of the previouss Imagine and the latters All Things Must Pass, both extremely successful.Spector, left, with George Harrison, an ardent admirer of this work, in the late 60s. Photograph: GAB Archive/RedfernsHarvey Philip Spector was born in the Bronx, New York, to Ben and Bertha Spector, the descendants of Russian Jews.
While Bertha took jobs as a seamstress and as a bookkeeper, her child, now demanding to be dealt with as “Phillip” (with two ls), participated in Fairfax High school. Keen on music– jazz and rhythm and blues in specific– from an early age, he learned to play a range of instruments, including the accordion and the French horn, and for his 13th birthday his mother offered him a guitar. Lessons with 2 West Coast guitarists, Howard Roberts and Barney Kessel, offered him the basis of a technique and, in the latter case, a lifelong friendship.Now a pale, skinny teenager, and not an attractive figure to his schoolmates, Spector utilized his wit, sense of humour and musical ability to advance his popularity. In 1957 he teamed up with a Fairfax High schoolmate, Marshall Lieb, to sing the Five Satins In the Still of the Night on a radio skill contest, their success validating his aspiration to make it in the music industry. After leaving school, nevertheless, he enrolled at Los Angeles City College to train as a court stenographer– an occupation made appealing by his interest in criminal procedures.
In the spring of 1958 he and Lieb, accompanied by 16-year-old Annette Kleinbard and another schoolmate, Harvey Goldstein, strolled into the Gold Star taping studios, where Eddie Cochrans Summertime Blues had been taped previously in the year. Having actually scraped together $40 to pay for the costs, they tape-recorded a tune called Dont You Worry My Little Pet, which was great enough to make them a recording contract with a local label and the cash to record another track for the B-side. For the second tune, To Know Him is to Love Him, Spector paraphrased the engraving from his fathers tombstone and confected a catchy piece of sweet-toothed pop featuring Kleinbards lead vocal and backing harmonies from Lieb and Spector. Goldstein had actually currently delegated sign up with the navy, however not prior to bestowing the group its name: the Teddy Bears. When the single was launched on the Doré label, in a preliminary pressing of 500 copies, the song was on the B-side, however the interest of a couple of regional radio disc jockeys convinced the labels owner to turn the record over. An appearance on American Bandstand, the nationally telecasted show hosted by Dick Clark, sufficed to provide it the momentum that would take it to No 1 in Billboards Hot 100 and to sales approaching 1.5 m copies.Phil Spector with the Ronettes, with whom he made Be My Baby and Baby I Love You. Photo: Ray Avery/RedfernsAlthough the Teddy Bears never duplicated that exceptional success, Spector was on his way. It was while recording the groups only album that he had satisfied Lester Sill, a well linked Hollywood record salesperson who would become his coach. Sill put him in touch with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, 2 successful producers who had actually made the move from Los Angeles to New York and were taking pleasure in success with the Coasters and the Drifters. In the spring of 1960 Spector reached their office on West 57th Street, where they signed him to their company as a writer and producer and allowed him to sleep on the flooring until he had found lodging.
Over the next two years Spector was fast-tracked through the music service, making contacts and monitoring sessions with artists both odd (Billy Storm, the Top Notes) and well understood (Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker). That fall he reached the Top 5 with the Paris Sisters swooning I Love How You Love Me, a reword of To Know Him is to Love Him on which he was able to show his command of studio resources, in particular a gift for including echo to strings and voices to develop a sense of romantic yearning.
Currently smart in the methods of the industry, he was eager to run on his own terms, and in 1961 he and Sill began their own label. Its name, Philles, indicated their intention to merge Spectors imagination with Sills service acumen. Their first release featured the Crystals, a New York girl group whose lead vocalist, Barbara Alston, invested a gospel-derived song called Theres No Other (Like My Baby) with a youthful ardour that brought it into the Top 20. It remained in the summer of 1962 that he discovered the tune that developed his identity. Hes a Rebel, written by Pitney, ended up being the perfect car for the Crystals, but just when Spector had actually returned to Los Angeles to tape-record the track at Gold Star and had used Darlene Love, an experienced Hollywood session vocalist, as the lead voice. An infectious Latin rhythm and Loves bold delivery took the song to No 1 in the charts and made Philles a power in the music service. Love was likewise the lead singer on Spectors next hit, an imaginative recasting of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, a tune from a 1940s Disney film. Given a downbeat support and a weird, echoing guitar solo, it was launched under the name of Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans. To Spector, the identity of the artist was secondary to the noise: Tomorrows Sound Today, as it stated on the sleeve of every Philles record.
In 1963 the Crystals were again enabled to sing on their own records, La Brooks taking the lead on the 2 songs that brought them back into the Top 10. With Da Doo Ron and Then He Kissed Me, both composed by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Spector approached the apogee of his approach: squadrons of musicians nearly swallowed up the voices with thunderous backing tracks, boosted by the result of Gold Stars popular echo chamber, that threatened to burst the tiny speakers of transistor radios and portable record players in teenage bedrooms throughout America.His attention, however, had actually already turned to his next group of female singers: the Ronettes, 2 sis and a cousin from Harlem. The compellingly sultry lead voice of Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett– appearing to echo the womens appearances, which emphasised extravagant beehive hairdos and the heavy application of mascara– received its ideal setting in their very first 2 singles, Be My Baby and Baby I Love You, both huge hits.Phil Spector, left, with Ike and Tina Turner while tape-recording in Los Angeles at Gold Star Studios in 1966. Photograph: Ray Avery/Getty ImagesThe Ronettes, the Crystals, Bob B Soxx and heaven Jeans and Darlene Love were the artists featured at the end of the year on A Christmas Gift for You, in which Spector brought the old-fashioned idea of a seasonal album approximately date with the luxurious application of the wall of sound method to such apparently unsuitable tunes as Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Winter Wonderland and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The assassination of President John F Kennedy had dulled the hunger for Christmas entertainment that year, nevertheless, and the album went unnoticed.
At a time when the US was in thrall to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Spector appeared to be among the couple of figures in American pop music efficient in resisting the British invasion. He ended up being friendly with both groups, their flamboyant Carnaby Street look– the Cuban heels, the frilly shirts, the capes and the long hair– attracting his dandyish instincts.When Cilla Blacks inferior cover of Youve Lost that Lovin Feelin threatened to deprive the Righteous Brothers of a hit in Britain, Andrew Oldham, the Stones manager, took ads in the music papers to promote the cause of the Spector-produced original.The British audience reacted to Oldhams advocacy, as it did a few months later on to the splendour of River Deep– Mountain High. The Ike and Tina Turner record was a mystical failure in the US, where it was stated that the market was taking its revenge for Spectors incorrigible conceit. Stung by its failure, depressed by the heroin-induced death of his pal Lenny Bruce, the comic, and perhaps mindful he was ending up being a metachronism in a world where musicians were taking their destinies out of the hands of manufacturers and executives, he quickly closed Philles.A three-year retirement from music saw him serve as producer on Dennis Hoppers aborted The Last Movie and take a bit part as a drug dealer, along with Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, in Easy Rider. In 1969 he reappeared to produce records for the A&M label and Black Pearl, by the Checkmates Ltd, provided him a comeback hit prior to his association with the Beatles.Spector in court in California in 2004, charged with the 2003 shooting of Lana Clarkson at his house. Picture: Getty ImagesFor a time he and Lennon were inseparable, delighting in each others company as they worked together on Instant Karma, the Plastic Ono Band and Imagine albums and, with Yoko Ono, Happy Xmas (War is Over), all subtly boosted– as was Harrisons My Sweet Lord– by Spectors guaranteed touch in the recording studio. A Christmas Gift for You was reissued on Apple, the Beatles label, and became a vacation preferred, however he fell out with Lennon while making an album of cover versions of old hits, a procedure undermined by drink and drugs.Renewed attention motivated him to begin a brand-new label, Phil Spector International, with the help of his old buddy Allen Klein, who had briefly and controversially replaced Brian Epstein as the Beatles manager. The echo-laden drama of such late work of arts as Dions Make the Woman Love Me and Darlene Loves Lord If Youre a Woman failed to discover an audience, recommending that Spectors method was lastly obsolete.There would be 3 further collaborations, each in its way unexpected, with Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies Man, 1977), the Ramones (End of the Century, 1980), and Yoko Ono, who welcomed him to help with the album she recorded and composed after Lennons murder (Season of Glass, 1981). In between 1988 and 2000 he was also required to safeguard lawsuits brought by the Ronettes and Darlene Love, who were eventually awarded unpaid royalties from their 1960s hits.After a 15-year absence from the studio, the acrimonious truncation of an album job with Céline Dion in 1996 elicited a statement from Spector that could stand as his professional epitaph: “It ended up being evident that the people around Ms Dion were more interested in managing the task, and the individuals who taped her, than in making history. One thing they need to have discovered long ago. You do not inform Shakespeare what plays to write, or how to compose them. You dont inform Mozart what operas to write, or how to write them. And you definitely do not tell Phil Spector what tunes to compose, or how to compose them; or what records to produce and how to produce them.” Spector was first wed in 1962 to Annette Merar, whom he had satisfied at school; they were separated in 1965. Three years later on he wed Ronnie Bennett, and together they adopted three kids: Donte Phillip and twins, Gary and Louis. They separated in 1974. 8 years later on Spector married Janis Savala, a music publisher, with whom he had twins, Nicole and Phillip Jr, and who remained on as his assistant after their separation in 1991, the year Phillip Jr died of leukaemia.In 1998 Spector paid $1.1 m for the Pyrenees Castle, a mock chateau in the Los Angeles residential area of Alhambra, where Clarksons dead body was discovered in the early hours of 8 February 2003. Three years later on, while waiting for trial, he wed Rachelle Short, a vocalist and star, in a personal event. They divorced in 2019. He is survived by Donte Phillip, Gary, Louis and Nicole. – Harvey Philip Spector, record manufacturer, born 26 December 1939; passed away 16 January 2021

Sun 17 Jan 2021 19.52 GMT

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