The originator of the "Wall of Sound" production technique, Spector was a pioneer of the 1960s' girl group sound and clocked in over twenty-five Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1965. In later years he worked with such artists as Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ramones with similar success, including production work on the Academy Award winning Let It Be and Grammy Award winning Concert For Bangladesh soundtracks. In 1989, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer.
Following his father's death by suicide in 1949, Spector and his mother and sister moved to Los Angeles, California in 1953, where he became involved with music, learning the guitar. At 16, he performed Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line", at a talent show at Fairfax High School. While there at Fairfax, he joined a loosely knit community of young aspirants, including Lou Adler, Bruce Johnston, Steve Douglas, and Sandy Nelson, the last of whom played drums on Spector's first record release, "To Know Him Is To Love Him."
By the spring of 1958, Spector and his bandmates had raised enough money to buy two hours of recording time at Gold Star. With Spector producing, the Teddy Bears recorded the Spector-penned "Don't You Worry My Little Pet," which helped them secure a deal with Era Records. At their next session, they recorded another song Spector had written — this one inspired by the epitaph on Spector's father's tombstone. Released on Era's subsidiary label, Dore Records, "To Know Him Is to Love Him" went to #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart, selling over a million copies by year's end.
Following the success of their debut, the group signed with Imperial Records, but their next single, "I Don't Need You Anymore," only reached #91. While several more recordings were released, including an album The Teddy Bears Sing!, the group never again charted in the Hot 100. The Teddy Bears went their separate ways in 1959.
Spector quickly learned how to use a studio. He co-wrote the Ben E. King Top 10 hit "Spanish Harlem", with Jerry Leiber and also worked as a session musician, most notably playing the guitar solo on the The Drifters' song, "On Broadway". His own productions during this time, while less conspicuous, included releases by LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, and Billy Storm, as well as The Top Notes' original version of "Twist and Shout".
Leiber and Stoller recommended Spector to produce Ray Peterson's "Corrina, Corrina," which reached #9 in January of 1961. Later, he produced another major hit for Curtis Lee, "Pretty Little Angel Eyes," which made it to #7.
Returning to Hollywood, Spector agreed to produce one of Lester Sill's acts. After both Liberty Records and Capitol Records turned down the master of "Be My Boy" by The Paris Sisters, Sill formed a new label, Gregmark Records, with Lee Hazlewood and released it. It only managed to reach #56, but the follow-up, "I Love How You Love Me", was a smash, reaching #5.
Spector continued to work freelance with other artists. In 1962, he produced "Second Hand Love" by Connie Francis, which reached #7. In the early '60s, he briefly worked with Atlantic Records' R&B artists Ruth Brown and LaVerne Baker. Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic paired Spector with Broadway star Jean DuShon for "Talk to Me", the b-side of which was "Tired of Trying", written by DuShon.
Spector briefly took a job as head of A&R for Liberty Records. It was while working at Liberty that he heard a song written by Gene Pitney, for whom he had produced a #41 hit, "Every Breath I Take", a year earlier. "He's a Rebel" was due to be released on Liberty by Vicki Carr, but Spector rushed into Gold Star Studios and recorded a cover version using Darlene Love on lead vocals. The record was released on Philles, attributed to The Crystals, and quickly rose to the top of the charts.
By the time "He's a Rebel" went to #1, Lester Sill was out of the company, and Spector had Philles all to himself. He created a new act, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, featuring Darlene Love and Bobby Sheen, a singer he had worked with at Liberty. The group had hits with "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" (#8), "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?" (#38), and "Not Too Young To Get Married" (#63). Spector also released solo material by Darlene Love in 1963. In the same year, he released "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, which went to #2.
Although predominantly a singles-based label, Philles did release a few albums, one of which was the perennial seller A Christmas Gift for You in 1963.
Spector's trademark during that era was the so-called Wall of Sound, a production technique yielding a dense, layered effect that reproduced well on AM radio and jukeboxes. To attain this signature sound, Spector gathered large groups of musicians (playing some instruments not generally used for ensemble playing, such as electric and acoustic guitars) playing orchestrated parts — often doubling and tripling many instruments playing in unison — for a fuller sound. Spector himself called his technique "a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids".
While Spector directed the overall sound of his recordings, he took a relatively hands-off approach to working with the musicians themselves (usually a core group that became known as The Wrecking Crew, including session players such as Hal Blaine, Steve Douglas, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell, and Leon Russell), delegating arrangement duties to Jack Nitzsche and having Sonny Bono oversee the performances, viewing these two as his "lieutenants".
Spector frequently used songs from songwriters employed at the Brill Building (Trio Music) and at 1650 Broadway (Aldon Music), such as the teams of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Spector often worked with the songwriters, receiving co-credit for compositions.
Spector was already known as a temperamental and quirky personality with strong, often unconventional ideas about musical and recording techniques. Despite the trend towards multi-channel recording, Spector was vehemently opposed to stereo releases, claiming that it took control of the record's sound away from the producer in favor of the listener. Spector also greatly preferred singles to albums, describing LPs as, "two hits and ten pieces of junk".
The first time Spector put the same amount of effort into an LP as he did into 45s was when he utilized the full Philles roster and the Wrecking Crew to make what he felt would become a hit for the 1963 Christmas season. A Christmas Gift for You arrived in stores the day of the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The somber mood of the country may have contributed to the album being a flop in its initial release. Despite its initially poor reception, selections from the album are now Yuletide mainstays on radio stations, and the album has since been a regular seller during the holiday season.
The Spector-produced recording of "Unchained Melody" had a second wave of popularity 25 years after its initial release, when it was featured prominently in the 1990 hit movie, Ghost. A re-release of the single re-charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and went to number one on the Adult Contemporary charts. This also put Spector (as a producer) back on the U.S. Top 40 charts for the first time since his last appearance in 1971 with John Lennon's "Imagine", although he did have U.K. top 40 hits between this time with bands like The Ramones.
Spector's final signing to Philles was the husband-and-wife team of Ike and Tina Turner in 1966. Spector considered their recording of "River Deep - Mountain High", to be his best work, but it failed to go any higher than #88 in the United States. The single, which was essentially a solo Tina Turner record, was more successful in Britain, reaching #3.
Spector subsequently lost enthusiasm for his label and the recording industry. Already something of a recluse, he withdrew temporarily from the public eye, marrying Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes, in 1968. Spector emerged briefly for a cameo as a drug dealer in the film Easy Rider, in 1969. He also appeared as himself in an episode of I Dream of Jeannie in 1967.
In 1970, Allen Klein, manager of The Beatles, brought Spector to England. While producing John Lennon's hit solo single "Instant Karma!", which went to #3, Spector was invited by Lennon and George Harrison to take on the task of turning the Beatles abandoned "Get Back" recording sessions into a usable album. Spector went to work using many of his production techniques, making significant changes to the arrangements and sound of some songs. The resulting album, Let It Be, was a massive commercial success and topped the US and UK charts. The album also yielded the #1 single, "The Long and Winding Road". Although viewed as a major creative comeback for Spector, it may also have contributed to the contentious Beatles breakup, as Spector added what some considered inappropriate choir and orchestral arrangements to Lennon's "Across the Universe", and Harrison's "I Me Mine". His overdubbing of "The Long and Winding Road" infuriated its composer, Paul McCartney, especially since the work was allegedly completed without his knowledge and without any opportunity for him to assess the results. In 2003, McCartney spearheaded the release of Let It Be... Naked, which stripped the songs of Spector's input. Spector later stated that McCartney's complaints were "bullshit" and did not stop McCartney from accepting the "Best Musical Score" award at the 1971 Academy Awards for the Let It Be soundtrack.
However, both John Lennon and George Harrison were satisfied with the results, and Let It Be led to Spector co-producing albums with both ex-Beatles. For George Harrison's multi-platinum album All Things Must Pass (#1, 1970), Spector provided a cathedral-like sonic ambiance, complete with ornate orchestrations and gospel-like choirs. The LP yielded two major hits: "My Sweet Lord" (#1) and "What Is Life" (#10). That same year, Spector co-produced John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (#6) album, which featured a very different, sparse and raw sound.
In 1971, Spector was named director of A&R for Apple Records. He only held the post for a year, but during that time he co-produced the single "Power to the People" with John Lennon (#11), as well as Lennon's chart-topping Imagine album. The album's title track, which hit #3 upon its release and #1 after Lennon's murder, is frequently considered to be one of the greatest pop songs of all time. With George Harrison, Spector co-produced Harrison's "Bangla-Desh" (a #23 hit) and wife Ronnie Spector's "Try Some, Buy Some" (which made it to #77). Also that year, Spector recorded the music for the #1 triple album The Concert For Bangla Desh. The album later won the "Album of the Year" award at the 1972 Grammys. Despite being recorded live, Spector used up to 44 microphones simultaneously while recording to create his trademark Wall of Sound.
Lennon retained Spector for the 1971 Christmas single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and the poorly-reviewed 1972 album Some Time In New York City (#48). Similar to the unusual pattern of success that Spector's A Christmas Gift For You experienced, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" also stalled in sales upon its initial release, only later to become a fixture on radio station playlists during the holiday season. In 1973, Spector participated in the recording sessions for what would be Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll album (#6). It was during these sessions that Spector's relationship with Lennon ended; some versions claim that the producer suffered a breakdown in the studio, brandishing a gun and disappearing with the Rock 'n' Roll tapes, although Spector biographer Dave Thompson places most of the blame on the out-of-control behavior of Lennon and his entourage. After several months, Lennon retrieved the tapes and finished the album himself.
The 1974 accident took place shortly after Spector had established the Warner-Spector label, which undertook new recordings with Dion, Cher, Harry Nilsson and others, as well as several reissues. A similar relationship with Britain's Polydor Records led to the formation of the Phil Spector International label in 1975.
After a pair of failed dirge-like singles with Cher, Spector produced Dion’s "Born To Be With You." A set of slow and mid-tempo songs recorded against a darker Wall of Sound, drenched in sinister portent, the release was initially panned and released only in the UK, but has since grown in stature.
The majority of Spector's classic Philles recordings had been out of print in the U.S. since the original label's demise, although Spector had released several Philles Records compilations in Britain. Finally, he released an American compilation of his Philles recordings in 1977 which put most of the better known Spector hits back into circulation after many years.
Spector began to re-emerge in the late 1970s, producing and co-writing a controversial 1977 album by Leonard Cohen, entitled Death of a Ladies' Man. The album angered many devout Cohen fans who were used to his stark acoustic sound versus the orchestral and choral wall of sound the album contains. Despite initial negative critiques, the album is now considered one of Cohen's best. The recording of the album was fraught with difficulty; Spector reportedly mixed the album in secret studio sessions and Cohen said Spector once threatened him with a crossbow. Cohen has remarked that the end result is "grotesque", but also "semi-virtuous". Cohen, however, still includes a re-worked version of the track "Memories" in live concerts. Bob Dylan also participated in the recording of "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On," which is the second time Spector indirectly produced Dylan - the first being Dylan's live recordings on The Concert For Bangladesh.
Spector also produced the much-publicized Ramones album, End of the Century in 1980. Similar to his work with Leonard Cohen, End of the Century received negative backlash from Ramones fans who were angered over the radio-friendly sound the album adopted. However, End of the Century contains some of the most well known and successful Ramones singles such as Rock 'n' Roll High School, Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? and their cover of a previously released Spector song for the Ronettes, Baby, I Love You. He also worked with Yoko Ono in 1981, and co-produced Season of Glass, her first work after her husband's death.
Spector remained inactive throughout most of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. He attempted to work with Céline Dion on her album Falling Into You, but that fell through. His most recent released project has been "Silence Is Easy" by Starsailor, released in 2003. He was originally supposed to produce the entire album, but was fired owing to personal and creative differences — however, one of the two Spector-produced songs on the album was a U.K. top 10 single. Plans to work with The Vines were halted because of his murder trial.
The latest song to be produced by Spector is a track by singer-songwriter, Hargo. The track, "Crying For John Lennon", originally appears on Hargo's 2006 album In Your Eyes, but on a visit to Spector's mansion for an interview for the John Lennon tribute movie, Strawberry Fields, Hargo played Spector the song and asked him to produce it. Spector and former Paul McCartney drummer Graham Ward produced it in the classic wall of sound style on nights after his murder trial.
In December 2007, the song B Boy Baby by Mutya Buena and Amy Winehouse featured melodic and lyrical passages heavily influenced from the Ronettes song Be My Baby. As a result, Spector was given a song writing credit on the single. Contrary to popular belief, the sections from Be My Baby are sung by Winehouse, not directly sampled from the mono single. Winehouse has made reference to her admiration of Spector's work with 1960s girl groups. She is known to cover Spector's first hit, To Know Him Is To Love Him.
Also in December 2007, Spector attended the funeral for Ike Turner whom he previously produced in the mid-late 1960s with his then wife Tina Turner. While delivering a eulogy, Spector lashed out at Tina Turner and stated that "Ike made Tina the jewel she was. When I went to see Ike play at the Cinegrill in the 90s…there were at least five Tina Turners on the stage performing that night, any one of them could have been Tina Turner.” Spector then lashed out at Oprah Winfrey for promoting Tina Turner's autobiography that "demonized and vilified Ike.
In mid-April 2008, BBC2 will be broadcasting a special entitled, Phil Spector: The Agony and The Ecstasy. It will consist of Spector's first screen interview - breaking a long stage of media silence. The network states that Spector will pledge to clear his name of the murder charges against him. He will speak, too, about the musical instincts that led him to create some of the most enduring hit records of all time, from 'You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin' to 'River Deep, Mountain High' and The Beatles album Let it Be.
For his contributions to the music industry, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #63 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time
Spector's early musical influences included Latin music in general, and Latin percussion in particular. This is is keenly perceptible in many, if not all, of Spector's recordings from the percussion in many of his hit songs: shakers, guiros (gourds) and maracas in "Be My Baby," and the son montuno in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," heard clearly in the song's bridge played by session bassist Carol Kaye while the same repeating refrain is played on harpsichord by keyboardist Larry Knechtel. Phil would visit Spanish Harlem clubs and schools to hone his listening and practical skills. He would ask his pre-teen coffee boy from "El Barrio," Roberto Tirado, to borrow his parents' best Puerto Rican recordings in order to listen to these at odd times. Unknowingly, Phil instilled some of his musical influence on little Roberto as he also became enmeshed in the music field later as an adult.
As a peevish farewell gesture, shortly after Lester Sill's departure from Philles Records, Spector wrote, and had The Crystals record, a single entitled "(Let's Dance) The Screw". Six minutes long and completely lacking Spector's customary Wall of Sound production techniques, "The Screw" was neither releasable (by 1963 music industry standards) nor intended for general release. Indeed, only a handful of copies of the single were pressed, one of which Spector had delivered to Sill as a parting shot at his former partner. (Legend has it that the recording of "The Screw" served a second purpose: to cheat Sill out of royalties due him from sales of the next Philles recording. However, this claim is considered unlikely.) It has also been said that Spector brought one of his own lawyers into the recording studio to yell out the chorus of the song ("—do the screw!" ). Both Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love have included stories of poor treatment towards his artists in their autobiographies.
Spector's domineering attitude toward Ronnie Spector led to the dissolution of their marriage. Ronnie Spector has claimed that Spector showed her a gold coffin with a glass top in his basement, promising to kill and display her should she ever choose to leave him; he had earlier forbidden her from speaking to the Rolling Stones or touring with the Beatles, for fear of infidelity. During Spector's reclusive period in the late 1960s, he reportedly kept his wife locked inside their mansion. She claimed he also hid her shoes to dissuade her from walking outside, and kept the house dark because he didn't want anyone to see his balding head. Spector's son later claimed that he was kept locked inside his room, with a pot in the corner to be used as a toilet. Ronnie Spector did leave the producer and filed for divorce in 1972. She wrote a book about her experiences, and said years later, "I can only say that when I left in the early '70s, I knew that if I didn't leave at that time, I was going to die there." In 1998, Ronnie Spector and the other Ronettes sued Phil Spector for allegedly cheating them of royalties and licensing fees, winning a $3 million judgment; however, an appeals court later reversed the decision, upholding the terms of the group's 1963 contract as binding. In 2007, Ronnie Spector discussed her Ronettes' much-delayed entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "He wrote the Hall of Fame to tell them not to put me in. He did everything he could to stop me. He's bitter that I left him. He wants everyone to think he's the mastermind. He thought everything was because of him.
Stories of Phil Spector's gunplay mounted over the years, including his discharging a firearm while in the studio with John Lennon during the recording of his cover album Rock 'n' Roll, placing a loaded pistol at Leonard Cohen's head during the sessions for Death of a Ladies' Man, and forcing Dee Dee Ramone to play bass guitar to Spector's specifications at gunpoint. Cohen told "Rolling Stone" magazine in 1978 that, "Phil couldn't resist annihilating me. I don't think he can tolerate any other shadows in his darkness."
The Ramones reportedly had to play the opening chord to the song, "Rock and Roll High School", for eight hours straight; years later, Johnny Ramone described Spector as "a little man with lifts in his shoes, the wig on top of his head and four guns". But he also described the session philosophically: "It was a positive learning experience. And that chord does sound really good." Marky Ramone said, "A lot of these things were overblown, and a lot of these things were alcohol-induced."
On February 3, 2003, Spector was arrested on suspicion of murder after the body of 40-year-old nightclub hostess and B movie-actress Lana Clarkson of Los Angeles was found at his mansion, Pyrenees Castle, in Alhambra, California. Police responded to a 9-1-1 phone call from Spector's driver and discovered Clarkson, who had been shot. She was pronounced dead at the scene. On November 20, 2003, Spector was indicted for Clarkson's murder. In September 2004 he was ordered to stand trial in Los Angeles.
Spector has stated that Clarkson's death was an "accidental suicide". However, on October 28, 2005, a judge ruled that potentially damning statements Spector allegedly made to police could be used against him at trial. Spector's lawyers had sought to suppress an apparent statement made by Spector after Clarkson was found dead. Spector allegedly said, "I think I killed somebody." His lawyer argued that comments attributed to the music producer should be thrown out because he was suffering from prescription-drug withdrawal symptoms at the time. Two months before the night of the crime in question, Spector had stated in an interview with the British Daily Telegraph that he had bipolar disorder and that he considered himself "relatively insane". The judge has also ruled that transcripts from a deposition Spector made several months before Clarkson's death could also be introduced by the prosecution at trial.
Prior to and during the trial itself, Spector went through at least three sets of attorneys. Defense attorney Robert Shapiro, an original O.J. Simpson "dream team" member, was first to represent Spector at his arraignment and early pre-trial hearings. Shapiro also arranged for his release on $1 million bail. Spector eventually fired and entered in a civil suit with Shapiro in order to re-claim a $1 million retainer paid to the defense attorney. In December 2005, Spector dropped all claims against Shapiro. Shapiro was replaced by Leslie Abramson and Marcia Morrissey. They, in turn, were later replaced by Bruce Cutler, the former long-time lawyer of New York City mafia boss John Gotti. Cutler left Spector's defense on August 27, 2007 claiming "a difference of opinion between Mr. Spector and me on strategy." Attorney Roger Rosen then became lead lawyer for closing arguments.
Jury selection began Monday, March 19, 2007 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. Three hundred prospective jurors were screened over two days. Those not granted hardship exemptions by Fidler completed 18-page questionnaires including queries as to whether celebrities are entitled to act as they please, and whether police treat celebrities with greater leniency. Voir dire began April 16, 2007. A jury of nine men and three women (along with four male and three female alternate jurors) were sworn in on April 19, 2007. A list of possible witnesses shown to prospective jurors included long-time Spector studio associates Hal Blaine and Nino Tempo, limo driver Adriano de Souza and writer Anne Beatts. Opening statements in the trial began April 25, 2007 in Los Angeles.
Since the beginning of the trial, controversy had surrounded it. Famed forensic expert Henry Lee (who provided key evidence in the O. J. Simpson trial) was accused of hiding crucial evidence that the District Attorney's office claimed could prove Spector's guilt. Furthermore, a coroner who examined Clarkson's body concluded that bruising on her tongue indicated that the gun was shoved in her mouth. Despite these setbacks, Spector's defense team had a breakthrough on June 12, 2007 when the Los Angeles Sheriff's criminalist DNA expert stated that only Clarkson's DNA was found on the handgun, which aided Spector's defense that she shot herself. The DNA expert also found none of Spector's DNA on Clarkson's fingernails, which hurt the prosecution's argument that Clarkson struggled with Spector.
On September 18, 2007, the jury reported that they had "reached an impasse" and judge Fidler adjourned the case for attorneys to review the position. The jury was split 7-5; however, no indication was given as to which side was which. Fidler stated he would consider whether or not the charge of involuntary manslaughter would fit the profile of the case. At the urging of the defense, Fidler, however, decided against the addition of the lesser included charge as he considered it tantamount to an instruction to convict. On September 20, 2007, the jury resumed deliberations. Prior to the deliberation, Fidler removed "Special Instruction 3", which he characterized as a misstatement of the law.
The charge in the case against Spector was second-degree murder. Spector could have received a 15-year-to-life sentence (with another ten years added automatically since the crime involved a gun) if convicted.
On September 26, 2007 at 1:45pm PST, the jury stated that it could not reach a verdict. The jurors announced a deadlock of ten for guilty and two for not guilty. Judge Fidler then declared a mistrial in the murder case against Phil Spector.
In early December 2007, it was announced that San Francisco lawyer Doron Weinberg had agreed to serve as Spector's attorney and had proposed that the retrial begin in September 2008. The only remaining member of Spector's defense team is Christopher Plourd, who Weinberg told Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler will not be available to resume the case until the autumn of 2008. All of the remaining members of Spector's previous defense team have either resigned or were dismissed after the mistrial. Also, in the same month, Spector decided to once again sue former attorney Robert Shapiro for a one million dollar retainer paid before the first trial. Spector also claimed that Shapiro inadequately prepared the trial and may have been responsible for the prosecution filing charges in the first place.
On April 11, 2008, Spector lost another battle in his bid to disqualify the judge presiding at his murder retrial. Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler, who presided over Spector's 2007 mistrial, has been accused by the defense as showing a bias against Spector. A state appellate panel refused to order the appointment of a neutral judge to determine whether Judge Fidler should be removed from the retrial of the case. Fidler previously refused to remove himself from the retrial.
Spector married aspiring singer and actress Rachelle Short on September 1, 2006. According to IMDb, the Pennsylvania native had a small role in 2000 film Tigerland, which starred Colin Farrell. She also appeared in Playboy before her marriage to Spector, although the appearance was not in a nude pictorial spread, the magazine said. Rather, a single, black & white topless photo of Short appeared in the magazine's "Grapevine" section.
Prior to the move to California, Short was a music major at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, North Carolina, near Charlotte. Short also sang and modeled in the Charlotte area, and was a member of a short-lived group of promotional swimsuit models.