The man behind the Wall of Sound
September 8, 2007 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Arguments have ended in the murder trial of Phil Spector, renowned record producer and mastermind of the Wall of Sound.

In December 2002 Spector welcomed Mick Brown of the Telegraph Magazine into his LA home, and gave his first major interview for 25 years. The interview was published on February 4, 2003; thirty-six hours later actress Lana Clarkson was shot dead in that same mansion.

This MeFi post from 2003 includes links to more information on Lana Clarkson.

Here's the MeFi post from his 2003 arrest.

Here's an interesting little essay on Spector's work with Tina Turner, including links to various videos that illustrate the author's points.

Another essay, by Ken Emerson, from the Huffington Post.

Spector's NNDB page.

Here are some YouTube clips, all from an interview with Spector, excerpted from a documentary on John Lennon: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

And this clip concerns his production of the Ramones' End of the Century.

This clip, using his production of White Christmas as its audio tack, is a collection of stills and film snippets from various Spector recording sessions.

The Ronettes: Be My Baby, Be My Baby, Baby, I Love You

The Righteous Brothers: You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'

The Crystals: He's A Rebel

Here's an odd little piece of 21st Century YouTube folk art: Phil Spector - A Short Tribute

Another YouTube Tribute, consisting of photos and film snippets, with musical accompaniment in the form of one of Phil's lesser known productions, "Love Is All I Have To Give" by Sonny Charles and the Checkmates Ltd.

Spector's involvement in Let It Be.

Gallery of outrageous hair.

Official site:

And, last BUT NOT LEAST: This totally unexpected and rather bizarre TV spot, featuring one of the most ill-advised collaborations ever. EVER. Joan Baez and Phil Spector!! Doing "You've Lost That Loving Feeling". Phil's at the piano, and the TV studio big band is doing its best to recreate that Wall Of Sound, live! Amazing. (Oh, and yes, that's Donovan introducing them at the top of the clip.)
posted by flapjax at midnite (49 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Spector is a certified genius and may be the most important record producer ever and i'm a huge fan of his work. But if he's guilty he deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life. It always a horrible feeling when someone you admired shows himself capable of something horrific.
posted by jonmc at 5:28 PM on September 8, 2007

I'm not a big fan of Spector's sound - it's got no dynamic range, no contrast between instruments, which can often be good things. At the time though, it was certainly different, and I think his contribution was to envision the producer as a creative force in the production of the final recording. Contrast this with the view than the producer is an engineer - responsible only for recording and "accurately" reproducing sounds.
posted by phrontist at 5:40 PM on September 8, 2007

(Not to derail: In 1984, I lived in Copenhagen, and my life was in complete upheaval. I lost what I thought was the greatest love of my life, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Joan Baez was opening a Bob Dylan concert the next evening, and I had a ticket for the soccer stadium where they played.

There was some kind of a summer festival in the streets, and I was renting a booth on the main street, where I offered various cooked meats for sale to the festival-goers (Even though I was a vegetarian). I bought hundreds of kilos of meat, and dressings, and whatnot, and was busy planning this little one-time hectic business. I was confused, to say the least.

At one point, I left the booth and let my helpers keep working the customers. I took a walk around the beautiful, crowded square and who is coming toward me if not Joan Baez herself. Without any hesitation, I introduced myself to her & started crying. I told her how important she was to my first wife, (from whom I hadn’t heard then for over 10 years) and to myself, etc. We spoke for about 5 minutes and before she turned away, she kissed me goodbye on the lips.

I was flying. I also must have smelt terribly of fried steaks.

The next evening it drizzled during the concert, and a perfect, double rainbow shone right behind the stage during one of them symbolic songs, Forever Young, or something.

This was June 10. Within four months, I sold my house, packed all my books and left Denmark for the States. And I actually never been back there)
posted by growabrain at 6:02 PM on September 8, 2007 [11 favorites]

More YouTubery: Phil Spector cameos as a cocaine importer.

(Pick anything from the 60s counter-culture, and it's probably somehow connected to Easy Rider in a sort of 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon style, but with more like 2 degrees. Of course, that requires relaxing the rules to allow things like "dropped acid with Peter Fonda" as well as "starred in a movie with Dennis Hopper.")
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:03 PM on September 8, 2007

The only thing I know about Phil Spector is that he has a funny haircut. And he likes to intimidate women with guns.
posted by puke & cry at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2007

several other women testified that spector threatened them with a gun. there was an odd bit of business about dr. henry lee supposedly removing a piece of evidence (fingernail?) from the scene and not turning it over to the prosecutors. the testimony of any expert married to defense counsel is worthless. one witness had spector emerging from the house with a gun, saying he may have shot somebody. flapjax's musical erudition and post-crafting skills are impressive, but those links are utterly weightless, and indeed tasteless, in this context. as foreman of the internet jury, i pronounce him guilty, guilty, guilty!
posted by bruce at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2007

flapjax's musical erudition and post-crafting skills are impressive

Well, at least they usually are.
posted by dhammond at 6:15 PM on September 8, 2007

I hope he walks so we'll be able to see more of those zany haircuts!
posted by matteo at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

those links are utterly weightless...

Which links are you referring to, bruce?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:27 PM on September 8, 2007

I wasn't there, so I don't know if he shot her or not, but for as long as I've been aware of Spector, I've known, from some eyewitness accounts, and some second-hand gossip, that he has had a serious reputation for flying into rages and brandishing weapons. It's only a matter of time before someone gets shot, with that kind of shit going on.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:34 PM on September 8, 2007

For all the masturbatory applause given to Spector's Wall of Sound and its influence on contemporary music, I have yet to even see a picture of the damn thing.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:35 PM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

his musical resume, flapjax. he's accused of murder, and there's quite a bit of probative evidence in support of this accusation. that's the issue before the court, and it eclipses all other issues such as his place in rock and roll history. the celebrity backstory seems like a distraction now, and considering other instances of celebrity justice, i regard it as a negative distraction. any attention paid to this backstory now is necessarily subtracted from the attention owed the dead woman, lana clarkson, and the paramount issue of how she died.
posted by bruce at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

The man was insane. I understand a lot of certified geniuses (really jonmc? thats certified somewhere?) are considered a little crazy. But watch the Ramones clip. The guy was pulling his gun on Johnny Ramone because he didn't want to stick around and watch a movie. He held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head during the sessions for Death of a Ladies' Man. In Ronnie Spectors autobiography, she said that he would force her to watch the film Citizen Kane as a way to remind her that she would be nothing without him. By her own account, he kept her a near-prisoner. Ronnie Spector has claimed that Phil 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(wiki)
posted by Sailormom at 7:26 PM on September 8, 2007

I interviewed Mick Brown on my show a few weeks ago... you can find my site in my profile, I don't want to self-link. We did about 40 minutes on Spector, almost exclusively his music career.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:31 PM on September 8, 2007

In one of Dee Dee Ramone's books, he mentioned the "end of the century" record and how Phil Spector pulled a gun on them in the studio. Dee Dee ended up leaving (or getting kicked out i don't remember exactly) but the most memorable comment was when Dee Dee mentioned that he never knew who it was that ended up playing bass on that record...
posted by punkrockrat at 7:48 PM on September 8, 2007

I heard/read that when he pressed the gun into Cohen's neck and said "I love you Leonard" Cohens reply was "I certainly hope you do...." no batshit insane tag?
posted by hortense at 8:19 PM on September 8, 2007

flapjaxx, you really should've included a link to He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss) in your post.

You're absolutely right, item. I don't know how I missed that one in my Spector searches. I'm glad you've linked to it now, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:36 PM on September 8, 2007

The only thing I know about Phil Spector is that he has a funny haircut.

I hope he walks so we'll be able to see more of those zany haircuts!

Those aren't haircuts. He has a vast collection of elaborate wigs.
posted by amyms at 8:52 PM on September 8, 2007

Since YoungAmerican didn't want to self-link (though there's really nothing wrong with that, YA, in a comment and on-topic) I'm happy to do so for him. Here's his interview with Spector's biographer Mick Brown, whose recently published "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector" is excerpted in the mastermind link of this FPP.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:59 PM on September 8, 2007

I'm not a big fan of Spector's sound - it's got no dynamic range, no contrast between instruments, which can often be good things.

generally, i think you're right but there were times he transcended it

and there was one record he did that remains absolutely awesome

river deep, mountain high (warning - extreme dorkiness by internet goof - just listen to the music and don't watch)
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 PM on September 8, 2007

Aim I crazy or is the bit where Joan Baez is humming at the end (starting just after 4:15) exactly like Summer Nights, off the Grease soundtrack?
posted by Kattullus at 10:20 PM on September 8, 2007

I should mention that the reason it amazes me that Joan Baez is humming Summer Nights is that that the clip is 6 years older than the musical.
posted by Kattullus at 10:46 PM on September 8, 2007

I'm not familiar with the tune you're referring to, Kattullus, but it's entirely possible that the "Summer Nights" composer borrowed (?) it from Joan's humming!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:52 PM on September 8, 2007

The tune is perhaps better known as Summer Lovin' or Summer Love. Actually, I found a karaoke version on youtube, and listening to that, it's somewhat different.
posted by Kattullus at 11:01 PM on September 8, 2007

I should pick up a copy of Mick Brown's book. I feel as though Mick Brown has always been a part of my life, as one of those solid feature journalists writing about stuff that interests me. The only other Spector biog I've read, Out of his Head by Richard Williams, was very good, but was written an aon ago. But it was pretty clear from that that he was insane. I'm guessing that Brown will do a post-verdict updated paperback copy though, so perhaps I'll wait for that.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:56 AM on September 9, 2007

To me, there are two particularly troubling things:

1. The defense lawyers seem to have done a good job in muddying the waters, especially with respect to the blood spatter evidence. So good, in fact, that I doubt the jury will come in quickly with a conviction, if at all. I would not be surprised if the deliberation ends with a hung jury.

2. That version of "You Lost That Lovin' Feelin.'" That is astonishingly bad. Seriously, I am disturbed by merely seeing the first 45 seconds of that, good lord. Joan's amazing, but she's only got one gear, hardly the malleable Spector 'extra'.
posted by toma at 3:11 AM on September 9, 2007

Wait a minute, Pyramid Terminte, "River Deep, Mountain High" was planned as the ultimate expression of Spector's art, but it turned out to show only the emperor's new clothes. The song is flat, dead, it never achieves lift off. The problem is threefold. One, is that Tina Turner is a no-talent singer whose one-note range holds the attention for about 10 seconds in any song, and only a damned good song could keep you listening to her any longer. "River Deep" is not that song. It's pattern of tension and release is flawed. The sections A, B and C don't relate to one another, and while theoretically, the whole thing should be building up to one huge orgasmic payoff in part C on the words "river deep, mountain high," it doesn't happen. The payoff isn't worth the trip. The song takes you up an awkward staircase, with nothing at the top. Like a lot of overworked masterpieces from the late 60s, ("Heroes and Villians," for instance), the song is nothing more than a string of bridges looking for a decent verse or chorus to correct them.
Finally, Spector's production sucks every last bit of life out of the song. A lot of distant muffled chords played by unidentifiable instruments in what sounds like the Astrodome, with a barely discernable rhythm section adds up to moosh, baby, moosh.
"River Deep" is where Spector jumped the shark.
posted by Faze at 7:08 AM on September 9, 2007

Tina Turner proves my theory that God is in fact a black woman
posted by matteo at 7:54 AM on September 9, 2007

After this happened, I was reading an article and it said,

"In 1977, during a recording session for singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen's album Death of a Ladies' Man, violinist Bobby Bruce imitated Spector's lisp to his face. In response, Spector whipped out a pistol, pointed it at Bruce, and banished him from the studio."

Thing is, I KNEW Bobby Bruce at the time, I had hired him as a jazz violinist a couple of times & invited him to some jam sessions. And he's like the sweetest most grandfatherly adorable man on the planet. I saw him a week later and told him I'd read about him. He was shocked & asked me to send him the article. I told him that I honestly just couldn't picture ANYONE pulling a gun on him. He just nodded and said, "Yeah, that wasn't a very fun day."
posted by miss lynnster at 8:15 AM on September 9, 2007

Moral of the story, Phil Spector is long-time-crazy. But hooo-ey, I love love love his hair!
posted by miss lynnster at 8:16 AM on September 9, 2007

His Ellen Degeneres look, not so much.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:17 AM on September 9, 2007

With all due respect, Matteo, Mahalia Jackson proves that God is in fact a black woman. Tina Turner proves that Ike Turner thought he was God when he pulled a random teenager out of the audience, renamed her Tina Turner, prostituted her, beat the crap out of her, and taught her to make her big legs tremble inside a mini-skirt. The woman screams. That's it. She's got a lot of energy (fearful energy, probably -- fear of Ike's fists, fear of poverty), but no chops. Whenever they hold the cosmic battle of talentless, screaming-meemie, mixed-up chick singers from the 60s, Janice Joplin will actually come in ahead of Tina Turner, becuase Janic Joplin actually had a two-note range. There's no question that Tina Turn has guts, soul and a survivor's instinct, but I suspect that the white musical establishment (beginning with the Rolling Stones), elevated her and kept her elevated because she is the only African-American female singer of whom it can be said that any white female singer is better. Genya Raven is better than Tina Turner. The Shaggs did better vocals than Tina Tuner. Mrs. Miller was a better singer than Tina Turner. As I've said in previous posts, you will never meet an African-American of an age who might be expected to know who Tina Turner was, who actually likes Tina Turner, or takes her seriously as an artist or performer. She's a kind of bubblegum sideshow for whites who are awed by some kind of "black chick" mistique. And even though I know she was powerless beneath the cowardly fists of Ike Turner, I can't help but associate her with the grotesque "whoop-whoop" chorus in Ike & Tina's version of "Proud Mary" -- taking what Bob Dylan has called one of the best songs ever written, and reducing it to a contrived, overbearing, insensitive parade of what were then soul music cliches -- a whole minstrel show in a single song.
But to get back to Phil Spector, there's no taking away from the gut-chilling brilliance of his pre-"River Deep" work -- from "Da Doo Ron Ron" to the Gene Pitney-penned "He's a Rebel" (I'd even support "He Hit Me (And it Felt Like a Kiss)" on the basis of its production -- (unfortunately, the song itself blows). But "River Deep" marked the end of all that. His post-production work on "Let it Be" vandalized the Beatles legacy for all time, and consituted his major crime against humanity up until the murder. And, bringing him up on lesser charges, "End of the Century" was the worst Ramones album ever up to that point. Compare the plain, straight-ahead movie version of "Rock and Roll High School," with the draggy, unfocused version on"End of the Century" (and that idiotic school bell that opens the song got really irritating really fast). The Ramones were actually morally superior to Spector, by that point, and that gave them the strength to slough him off and move on with their careers and actually make a few more good albums. Ike and Tina Turner, however, were right down in the cesspool with Spector when they did their work together, and only Tina survived -- commercially.
posted by Faze at 8:43 AM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Uh, so if Spector has held a gun to the head of what, fifty people by now, why did it take a dead body for the police to get involved? I can't believe that none of those people ever called the police or tried to enact revenge for such a traumatizing, shitty, insane act. You hold a gun to my head, you better kill me, because I wouldn't forget that shit, and I wouldn't let it go.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:48 AM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

growabrain's comment made this thread sing. (And not at gunpoint even!)
posted by maryh at 9:37 AM on September 9, 2007

Wow, seeing Mrs. Miller brought into this thread is something I never would've predicted! If anyone would like to know more about this paragon of bad singing, I direct you to an FPP I did on her last year: The inimitable Mrs. Miller.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2007

One, is that Tina Turner is a no-talent singer

that's a no-talent troll - less obvious, next time
posted by pyramid termite at 3:42 PM on September 9, 2007

OK, that Joan Baez and Phil Spector clip provided my surreality of the day, thanks very much, flapjax. And has anyone alerted ms. nickyskye that her adolescent swoon Donovan is on that intro?

Faze, the black people that I know love Tina. Although I am with you on the River Deep song.

In this Tina Turner tribute, Phil speaks at about 1.04; then a River Deep sequence starts at about 2:28, with another interview segement with Spector at 4:25.

Vintage Ike & Tina performing I Smell Trouble blues. More early Ike & Tina. Too bad Ike had to be such a shitheel.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:58 PM on September 9, 2007

As I've said in previous posts, you will never meet an African-American of an age who might be expected to know who Tina Turner was, who actually likes Tina Turner, or takes her seriously as an artist or performer.

If you said it in a million prior posts, that still don't make it so. All it took was mjj's brief comment above ("the black people that I know love Tina") to singlehandedly blow that particular argument right out of the water. And forgive me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Ike and Tina review tour for years to the wildly enthusiastic support of black audiences?

And while you're absolutely within your rights to not personally like Tina Turner's singing (different strokes and all...), to call her "no-talent" is absurd. There are all different kinds of singers in the world, and there's plenty of room for even the ones with a "one note range" (and even you must know that's a cheap shot). I love Mahalia Jackson and Tina Turner. And I'm certainly not alone.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:00 PM on September 9, 2007

I can only tell you that I talked to this man, in re to how I know this. It was for a personal project that still hasn't come to fruition, but ... Anyway, George Jackson, the co-writer of "Old Time Rock N Roll," had Tina Turner in mind as a the vocalist for that song when he worked out a demo of it with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. You still hear the musical backing from that demo on the song Seger recorded (although it's billed as being by Seger and "the Silver Bullet Band"). If anyone thinks the Seger version is superior to anything Tina could have done with the song, please raise your hand.

For the record, George Jackson happens to be a black man who grew up in the Mississippi Delta.
posted by raysmj at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2007

If anyone thinks the Seger version is superior to anything Tina could have done with the song, please raise your hand.

*hand remains unraised*

That would've been great with Tina on vox. She'd have put the oomph in it that the tune needed.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:44 PM on September 9, 2007

i don't suppose any of you have heard seger's version of river deep mountain high ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:29 PM on September 9, 2007

Actually, I have, but his version was renamed: "River Dry, Mountain Flattened".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:45 PM on September 9, 2007

well - there's a reason why he let drew pearson play lead in the silver bullet band, but other than that, it's pretty kickin'
posted by pyramid termite at 7:16 PM on September 9, 2007

I love a lot of stuff both Ike and Tina have put out... but River Deep, Mountain High leaves me cold. It just doesn't click for me. Incidentally, Ike Turner laid down a killer piano part on the last Gorillaz album, for the song Every Planet We Reach is Dead.
posted by Kattullus at 8:40 PM on September 9, 2007

Here's a page on Phil and the Teddy Bears.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:09 AM on September 10, 2007

Defence and prosecution to re-present their closing arguments to deadlocked jury.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:46 AM on September 20, 2007

MeFi FPP, September 26, 2007, regarding mistrial decision.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:56 AM on September 27, 2007

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