Phil Spector – The Troubled Genius of Pop Production Part 2

By 1965 Phil Spector was riding high on the massive success of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. But having used the Wall of Sound production technique for so long, it was starting to look a bit tired. The music industry was beginning to turn against girl group hits written by professional songwriters. Spector suddenly found himself out of step with the trends of the day; The Beatles had arrived in America.

As Beatle-mania swept across the states, the so called “British Invasion” began. Guitar groups of young men with long Beatles style hair began swamping the charts and the touring circuits. They wrote their own songs and did not need help from tunesmiths or producers. The kind of records Spector had been producing were suddenly looking passe, in the face of this fresh new, exciting music. Not finding any inspiration from these new guitar groups, Spector began looking for a new act to put his efforts into.

Spector discovered Husband and wife team, Ike and Tina Turner. He was impressed with Tina’s powerful voice and raw, emotional performance style, but had heard that her husband Ike could be quite difficult and domineering. He offered them both the chance to record a song with him, as long as Ike had nothing to do with it. Ike asked for a songwriting credit but was happy to let Spector work his magic.

Spector helped co-write a song for Tina. The result was a strangely disjointed song called “River Deep, Mountain High”  He implemented all of the studio tricks he had picked up during his career, lots of echo, pounding drums and an orchestra. Once he had completed it, Spector considered it to be the peak of his career, everyone agreed it was a culmination of everything the wall of sound could achieve, he knew it would be a big hit.

It was a great sounding record, but for some reason only managed to scrape in at #88 on the US charts, possibly due to pop DJs not playing it as they thought it was an R n B record, and R n B DJs not playing it as it was too pop for them. The Brits had no issues with it though, and it got to number #3. Spector saw this as a betrayal by the American public, he truly believed that this song was the best he could do. Because of this failure, he began to lose interest in the music industry.

Around this time The Manson Family murders occurred. A group of young runaways and drug users, under the orders of self styled cult leader Charles Manson broke into some houses in the Laurel Canyon area of California, and viciously murdered some well known people, including the actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child. These events affected Spector badly, and he stepped up the security in his home and acquired two viscous guard dogs to protect him.

In 2009, Charles Manson asked Phil Spector if they could record some of Manson’s songs whilst the two of them were in prison. Spector did not respond.

Between 1966 – 69 Spector remained largely out of public sight. he had completely lost interest in the music industry and attempted to produce a movie by Dennis Hopper called The Last Movie, which didn’t work out. Spector became good friends with Hopper and agreed to make a brief cameo as a drug dealer in his new film Easy Rider. Hopper later said

“We got Phil to be in the movie so we could use his Rolls Royce”

Meanwhile the biggest band in the world were having some major internal problems. The Beatles had recorded some material for a proposed album called “Get Back” (later renamed “Let it Be) The recording sessions were very tense due to various personal reasons, and the material had been left on the shelf as none of the band could face the task of piecing it together.

The Beatles were all fans of Spectors work and arranged for him to come to England to try and salvage the aborted recordings sessions. The first thing he did when he arrived in London was to record Lennon’s solo song “Instant Karma!” which got to #3 in the charts.

Spector then began the laborious process of listening to the spools of tape the band had recorded, piecing together the best takes and adding  orchestral backing to boost the sound. The Beatles were happy with his work and the resulting album, Let It Be was a major success. However, Spector’s overdubbing of strings on The Long and Winding Road infuriated it’s author, Paul McCartney. He hadn’t had a chance to give his verdict on the results before the song had been released as a single, without his permission. This just added to the personal problems and disagreements The Beatles were having at the time. They would not be around for much longer.

Spector became good friends with John Lennon, they had both lost their fathers at a young age (Lennon’s had left him when he was a child) and so felt theyhad a common bond. Spector went on to produce Lennon’s solo albums, including Plastic Ono Band and Imagine to great success. Below is footage of the two in the studio, with a technician having one hell of a bad day, getting grief from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, in the presence of Phil Spector…

Spector was also asked to produce George Harrison’s first solo album, “All Things Must Pass” adding his trademark reverb and orchestral accompaniment to the record, which went to #1. He also went on to record and produce Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh

Spector worked with John Lennon on his next solo album, Stories From New York, but the record didn’t do very well, and shook Lennon’s faith in his own ability. He later hired Spector again to work on an album of covers from the 50’s called Rock and Roll. Spector had by now become even stranger and unpredictable than before, drinking a lot and behaving erratically. His marriage to Ronnie Spector was now falling apart, she filed for divorce which began many legal wrangles,which ended with Spector writing her cheques with the words “Fuck Off” on every one.

In the studio Spector started to annoy an already unhinged Lennon (this was during his infamous Lost Weekend period). He came into the sessions  wearing fancy dress, and often brought guns into the recording sessions. One time he fired a gun into the ceiling, causing Lennon, whilst clutching his ears, to utter the fateful words  –

“Phillip, if you’re going to shoot me, shoot me, but don’t ruin my ears, I need them!”

Things got worse when Spector decided to take all the studios tapes with him, forcing Lennon to track him down and get them back.

Jim Keltner was a drummer for the sessions – “John was exercising all his bad habits, as were we all, including Phil. The only problem with that was that Phil was the producer, and somebody had to be, you know, sane. Phil’s style was always to have as many people playing at one time as possible – that was how he made his old, great records, and that’s how it was with the Rock ‘n’ Roll album.  The stuff we did with Spector, I was so messed up doing that stuff that I was looking forward to hearing that back. I didn’t realize how bad it was.

Lennon then finished the record himself, without Spector. The album reached #6 in the US and UK but was critically derided. Lennon then decided to take a break from music to look after his newborn son, Sean.

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