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Phil Spector (1939-2021)

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Phil Spector
Phil Spector, a record producer, songwriter and co-founder of Philles Records whose “wall of sound" studio formula launched a new, influential approach to pop-rock orchestration in the early 1960s, died at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton on January 16 at age 81. He was 11 years into a 19-year prison sentence for killing actress-model Lana Clarkson in 2003 with a gun in his home just hours after meeting her at a club.

Known for his eccentricity, cruelty, egomania and, later, severe paranoia, Spector was part of a new generation of producers to emerge after the 1959-'60 Congressional payola hearings who geared R&B and rock for a younger and more innocent generation. His R&B and pop-rock songs were less sexually explicit than those in the 1950s and his vision for instrumentation was more dense and sophisticated than anything that preceded him. He referred to his signature layered sound as “little symphonies for the kiddies."

In the early 1960s, he produced and co-wrote songs for a range of unknown artists, including the Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes, the Crystals, the Dixie Cups, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans and Darlene Love. Many of the songs on his label became hits thanks to the anxious arrangements, rocketing some of these artists to stardom.

Born in the Bronx in 1939, Spector moved to Los Angeles with his mother in 1951, returned briefly to New York in 1960 before returning to L.A. Despite his passion for L.A., Spector's singles on Philles had a distinctive New York urban vibe. His so-called “wall of sound" approach behind singers used a staggering number of musicians in small studio space, a formula that was rather ingenious.

While Motown, Stax, Fame, American Sound and other R&B studios used house bands on the records produced there, Spector brought in a cavalry of young Hollywood studio musicians who were shunned by an older and more traditional generation of session players. These musicians were encouraged to be creative and invent the mood Spector was seeking. Spector's studio musicians came to be known as the Wrecking Crew, many of whom recorded on pop-rock hits of the 1960s and '70s, including singles and albums by the Beach Boys, the Carpenters and, eventually, Frank Sinatra. By the late 1960s and early '70s, Spector was producing the Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison.

Here are 10 of my favorite Phil Spector productions:

Here are the Righteous Brothers singing Cynthia Weill, Barry Mann and Spector's You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'...



Here are the Ronettes singing Be My Baby...



Here are the Ronettes singing How Does It Feel?...



Here are the Ronettes singing Walking in the Rain...



Here are the Ronettes singing Do I Love You?...



Here's Darlene Love and the Crystals singing Gene Pitney's He's a Rebel...



Here are Ike and Tina Turner singing Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich's River Deep, Mountain High...



Here's the Beatles' The Long and Winding Road...



Here's John Lennon's Instant Karma!...



And here's John Lennon and Yoko Ono's masterpiece, Imagine...



Bonus: Here are takes 38 and 39 of the backing track (the basic instrumental) to You've Lost That Lovin Feelin' with the Wrecking Crew. And yes, it's great to pull up the lyrics and sing along as the track backs you...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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