Spector, Philip Harvey ("Phil")
SPECTOR, Philip Harvey ("Phil")
(b. 26 December 1940 in New York City), regarded as rock music's most influential and distinctive record producer, songwriter, and director, whose internationally known "wall of sound" musical invention and style had a prominent effect on rock and roll during the 1960s and beyond.
Spector was the only son and second child of Benjamin, an ironworker, and Bertha Spector. His father died when he was nine years old, and his mother moved with him and his sister to Los Angeles in 1953. There, Spector attended Fairfax High School, but he had little interest in academic studies. He became interested in music, studied guitar and piano, and later excelled in drums, bass, and French horn. He was especially drawn to the rhythm-and-blues sound of the rock-and-roll explosion that was playing constantly on radio stations. He dreamed of one day making his own records, and while spending time around recording studios, he persuaded the independent record producers Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood to teach him the recording business.
While he was still in high school, the seventeen-yearold Spector debuted in the music industry, writing and producing his first hit, "To Know Him Was to Love Him" (1958) for the Teddy Bears, a vocal trio he put together with two of his classmates. The title of the song was inspired by the inscription on his father's tombstone. This record sold more than a million copies and remained in the number-one position on the Billboard pop chart for twenty-three weeks.
In the spring of 1958 Spector graduated from Fairfax High School and started taking courses to become a court reporter, but soon he decided that was not the direction in which he wanted to go. He enrolled for one year at the University of California, Los Angeles, but left in 1960 for New York City, where he worked with the songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller on a variety of projects, trying to get experience and make a name for himself. He wrote and co-wrote songs and was a freelance producer for several famous musicians, including Ben E. King, Ray Peterson, Gene Pitney, and the Paris Sisters. Spector became head of the artists and repertoire division of Atlantic Records at the age of nineteen.
The 1960s marked an important stage in Spector's life. In 1961 he was offered a partnership in Philles Records with Lester Sill, whose slogan was "Tomorrow's sound today." In late 1962 Spector bought out his partner and became sole owner of Philles Records, where he and his arranger, Jack Nitzsche, and later, Larry Levine, began to develop the Spector sound, or the "wall of sound," and turning out numerous hits. His most original and influential work came after he had full ownership of the label, which gave him creative and financial control. He left an indelible impression on every record he produced, and his style had a powerful impact on rock-and-roll artists over the years.
Spector's record-producing vision was artistic and expansive, and he worked closely with various artists to create the "wall of sound" effect. To achieve this new art form, he used a variety of techniques, including the integration of guitarists, bass players, pianists, drummers, strings, percussionists, and vocalists as well as the manipulation of tape speeds and overdubbing to weave a musical texture that was both winning and exhilarating. He was involved throughout the recording production process, from co-writing the materials to getting the very best work out of the artists. He often seemed obsessed, spending weeks or months on individual tracks until he was satisfied that the record was perfect. Spector maintained that the work he was trying to create was a serious art form, in which he used the recording studio to create distinctive and relevant masterpieces in sound—regardless of the critics' views.
During the years 1962–1965, Spector did his most renowned work, producing a number of rock classics—singles as well as albums—and making stars of such groups as the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. It was during this period that Spector had twenty-one consecutive hits, including "He's a Rebel," "Then He Kissed Me," "Be My Baby", "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," "Da Doo Ron Ron," and "Walking in the Rain," some of the most recognizable hits of the 1960s, which sold more than thirteen million copies. It was the Crystals' "He's a Rebel" and subsequent hits that introduced the "wall of sound" to international prominence. His Christmas album collection, A Christmas Gift for You (1963), is still popular. In 1963 Spector married Annette Merar; they divorced in 1965.
When the Beatles were to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in American in 1964, they asked Spector, who was in London at the time, to tell them about New York City and what they could expect. Indeed, they even asked Spector to join them on the flight to the United States. When they arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport, Spector was able to observe at firsthand the crowds of screaming fans welcoming the Beatles and the beginning of rock's new age. In 1966 Spector closed Philles Records and went into a period of isolation. Some critics claimed that this was because Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" failed to be as successful as he had wished and that as British rock, notably the Beatles, came into prominence, Spector's influence declined. It was also believed that the music industry was changing and that listeners were becoming interested in full-length albums instead of singles.
In 1968 Spector married Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett of the Ronettes; they adopted three children and divorced in 1974. In 1969 and into the 1970s Spector reentered the music scene with a series of releases for A&M, with albums for Sonny Charles and the Checkmates, John Lennon, and George Harrison, among others. He also established the Warner-Spector outlet and formed Phil Spector International, which undertook new recordings. Spector produced the Beatles' album Let It Be (1970), widely regarded as the weakest release of their career as a group, but he rebounded strongly with George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (1970), which is thought to be both his and Harrison's finest work.
Spector became detached from music and reclusive throughout the latter part of the 1970s and the 1980s. His projects and behavior were increasingly controversial, owing to the many stories about him. Spector has been described as a mad genius and an eccentric megalomaniac known for throwing tantrums in the studio. Among his many awards are induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1989) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1996) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philadelphia Music Alliance (1994). His four-disc box set, which includes sixty of his most famous recordings and the 1963 Christmas album, was released in 1991 as Phil Spector: Back to Mono (1958–1969).
A pop music legend, Spector was credited with revolutionizing the recording industry. A successful entrepreneur at the age of seventeen, he was a millionaire at the age of twenty-one and a multimillionaire by the time he was twenty-five—far from his first hurdle of raising the initial forty dollars to book a recording session. He also captured the new wave in pop music—the girl groups, as they were called—and was dubbed the "Tycoon of Teen." He described his records as "symphonies for the kids," and many of them became classics, from his first hit with the Teddy Bears to his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
For further information on Spector, see Richard Williams, Out of His Head: The Sound of Phil Spector (1972); Rob Fennis, The Phil Spector Story (1975); and Mark Ribowsky, He's a Rebel (1989). John J. Fitzpatrick and James E. Fogerty, Collecting Phil Spector: The Man, the Legend and His Music (1991), documents in words and pictures Spector's influence and legend up to the present. There is also an informative interview with Spector by Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times (10 Nov. 1991).
Hope E. Young