Writing a piece on the death of the world’s greatest record producer should be easy, but alas there are so many caveats – for each great record that Harvey Phillip Spector AKA Phil Spector gave us, there is a horror story of what a piece of shit human he was behind the scenes. In the old days, those shots of him behind the wheel with a gun made me laugh and I revelled in the fact that he was addicted it his art and always striving for perfection. Then, as I got older, I began to read more into my ‘hero’ and discovered that once the lights went out in the studio, he was a violent threatening man, impossible to live with and constantly telling his wife that he would bury her in the coffin he kept in the basement if she ever tried to leave.
I discovered that what I originally thought was rock n roll bravado (days in the studio! Guns in the studio!) was actually the behaviour of an abuser. The death of actress Lana Clarkson was perhaps the only way this story was going to end. I wish I could just talk about one of the only Christmas albums I love or Let It Be or Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On, but I must also mention the real Spector before we discuss the romanticised genius. No RIP was written for Lana Clarkson, she never touched my life but I think it is important to mention her here, before the glowing review of THE CAREER of Spector, which remains untouchable.
His career began with a number one single in 1958 for his vocal group The Teddy Bears with the classic To Know Him Is To Love Him. At this time, he was learning his craft at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studio, working with Leiber And Stoller. Next would come his own label Philles Records and He’s A Rebel by The Crystals also hitting number one in 1962. And so began the untouchable part of his story, his work with session musicians The Wrecking Crew (also featured on Pet Sounds) and his Wagner style Wall Of Sound which mixed intense orchestration with booming drums, one of the most effective and iconic sixties motifs. Without this work of Spector’s, Brian Wilson’s life may have turned out very different as he spent much of his career attempting to equal or better this incredible work.
Looking at Spector’s work at this time, well, the songs speak for themselves – Be My Baby, Baby, I Love You, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Unchained Melody, River Deep-Mountain High. Untouchable.
His rebirth began in 1969, mixing with England’s greatest band and producing tracks for The Beatles for Let It Be, notoriously annoying Paul McCartney but gaining the love of Lennon and Harrison who used him on their future records.
After another period out of the spotlight, he worked with Leonard Cohen on the excellent Dearth Of A Ladies Man, The Ramones’ End Of A Century and Starsailor’s Silence Is Easy.
Alas, the same year that he worked on Starsailor’s sophomore record, he also killed Lana Clarkson at his mansion, later claiming it was ‘accidental suicide’, which are two words which just don’t work together.
Phil Spector was the greatest producer of all time, hit after hit, the Wrecking Crew, the Wall Of Sound, the best Christmas album ever, Be My Baby. He was also a dark individual with a whole host of problems, abusive, violent and eventually, a killer.
For the music I say, godspeed sir, you made some of the greatest sounds I ever heard. RIP, Lana Clarkson, also.