Those who frequent this site know how much of a fan I am of legendary rock producer Phil Spector‘s work in the early ’60s with the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, etc. Flushed with success, his eccentricities began to negatively impact his work, and while he would still have occasional flashes of brilliance with the Beatles (“Let It Be“), George Harrison (“All Things Must Pass“), and John and Yoko (“Instant Karma“, “Happy Xmas“, and the “Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine” LPs), his later work (for example, the Ramones’ “End of the Century” LP) were, if not quirky, near caricatures of an earlier genius. As for his personal life, well, let’s just not go there.
But I’m not here to glorify the man, just the music that he made during those glorious years between 1962 and 1966, where he was at the top of his game, and the king of pop producers. This fine YouTube video, I think, does a good job in breaking down the so-called “mystique” of Phil’s “Wall of Sound” recording technique. When you get right down to it, there’s nothing really magical: you carefully situate a lot of instruments in a very small recording studio with exquisite, natural echo, where everything bleeds into each other’s space, and, voila!, you have yourself a unique sound.
Well, it’s not quite that easy, never was. The genius was always in his knowing what he wanted to hear from that compressed, creative environment, and working with an engineer, the late, great Larry Levine, who knew exactly how to translate what Phil wanted to hear into sound he could not just work with, but produce.
Still, there had to be talent – after all, you need something to work with, right? And Phil knew how to get the best out of the best, with the so-called “Wrecking Crew” – a reliable core of session musicians who would work with everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys to the Carpenters, churning out hit after hit in the mid-to-late ’60s – predominately featured on all his greatest recordings.
And then there were the singers. Just check out the videos of the Crystals singing their classic hit, “Da Doo Ron Ron” and the Ronettes doing “Be My Baby” in the middle of the above-mentioned video. Not only am I struck by how beautiful and sexy they look, but check out all the white folk in the audience diggin’ the sounds these black girls make! Considering this was the early ’60s, Phil was definitely a revolutionary in that regard. Sure, the Supremes and the Marvelettes had their own cool, detached thing going in Berry Gordy’s Motown Records, but the girl groups Phil brought out front to American teenagers were something else. They were not just black and talented, they were H-O-T hot, with Spector’s arrangements pushing the sensuality of their look and sound.
In addition to the above, some additional Spector triumphs for your listening pleasure:
* The Righteous Brothers, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin”
* George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”
* The Ramones, “Rock And Roll High School”
* Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift To You” LP (universally seen as his greatest collective work)
* Ike & Tina Turner, “River Deep, Mountain High”
* …and, in my view, Phil’s absolute finest production, “Baby, I Love You”
I don’t know why Spector’s sound has had such an impact on me from a musical standpoint. I’m just glad to have grown up in an era where I could enjoy the music and, yes, that “wall of sound” he made so near and dear to my ears.