Opinions were divided about the music producer: his “Wall of Sound” may have played a role in the separation of the Beatles.
Phil Spector’s musical contribution is easy to name: as a producer, he shaped the “Wall of Sound”, a tightly woven, massive wall of sound in front of which singers could stage themselves.
Every song, every recording was a gigantic event: where a drum kit was enough for others, Spector often had three of them compete. Guitars, basses, keyboard instruments – everything was filled and layered several times and interspersed with a lot of reverb for even more effect.
Dense and powerful
That was the case with Teddy Bears’ first recording “To Know Him Is to Love Him” in 1958, at a time when there was still no possibility for multi-track recording. Spector filled the positions twice, if not three times.
He stayed true to the same format later, and that had a massive influence: the atmospherically dense, unmistakably powerful recordings of soul hits such as “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes became a template for all kinds of musicians, for example for the Beach Boys Mitte the 1960s or for Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” a decade later.
Phil Spector left deep marks, both positive and negative. With “River Deep Mountain High” he wrote one of the most sensational singles of the 1960s, which he had Ike & Tina Turner interpret. But the piece that he produced on expressive did not become the expected mega-hit.
Phil Spector and the Beatles
Not everyone liked Spector’s mode of production; it might even have played a role in the breakup of the Beatles. When it came to correcting the slightly unsuccessful recordings for the planned “Get Back” project, John Lennon invited Phil Spector as producer.
Spector was the precise antithesis of the return to the simple rock band format that Paul McCartney had envisaged. Spector provided the material with strings and choral arrangements and put it together in the album “Let It Be”.
A trench battle arose over his work: While Lennon and George Harrison were recording their first solo albums with him, McCartney was so bothered by “Let It Be” that he published it again decades later without Spector’s contributions. The revision was published in 2003 under the title “Let It Be … Naked”.
Does the “Wall of Sound” suit Leonard Cohen?
Phil Spector was a controversial figure: he recorded with punk pioneers Ramones and the sensitive Canadian troubadour Leonard Cohen, and in any case one wondered if his sense of sound really suited these performers.
Above all, however, one heard more and more disturbing stories about the eccentric producer from the Bronx: He was quick-tempered and often put a revolver on the mixer to enforce his demands in another way if necessary.
Sentenced to 19 years in prison
But there was also talk of excessive drug use and outbreaks of violence, the victims of which were mainly women. In 2003, actress Lana Jean Clarkson was shot in the mouth by a revolver at his home.
Six years later, Phil Spector was found guilty of murder and received 19 years in prison. The sensational producer died there at the age of 81.
Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur-Nachrichten, January 18, 2021, 7:00 a.m.