J. Thomas J. Thomas Music producer & aspiring writer

In Mono

The peculiarness of an exceptionnally talented but self-destructive producer.

Phil Spector is one of those names which you might encounter regularly in different contexts without being able to put a face upon it. But you have, for sure, already heard (or even listened to) one of his little symphonies, whether he wrote or produced them.

The path to becoming a producer is always challenging, but also includes some favorable circumstances. By achieving success through a #1 hit with the Teddy Bears (though not being able to reiterate it), Spector gained access to studios and quickly his interest shifted towards recording songs instead of only writing them. He may have guessed that pop songs could use some more elaborate sounds to conquer the charts.

From then on, the studio became for Spector a musical instrument on its own. It led to periods of confinement where he could develop revolutionary recording and mixing techniques, which eventually resulted in what will be called the Wall of Sound: a rich highly-densed mono sound generated by echo chambers recording multiple instruments, especially orchestras. It’s like having your ears smashed by a full frequency range of unison instruments. The vocals presence suffered from it, but the song gained in sonic intensity.

Regular producers couldn’t have come up with such an unconventional sound. It had to be invented by an introverted power-longing being, seeking total control upon his work and somewhat his life. The frontier between Spector’s public and private matters were inevitably blurred, chatting with his soon-to-be wife Ronnie Spector through pop hits (Be my baby, Baby I love you, Breakin’ up, Do I love you?).

Clearly, a genius is considered superior to his fellow individuals, whether it’s in terms of intellectual ability or artistic creativity. But it usually has some “drawbacks”.
By Spector it was his unusual, or even frightening, conduct, a well-known mendacity and a domineering position. Like keeping his wife Ronnie home like a prisoner, fearing her potential unfaithfulness touring with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Or sending her, post-divorce, $3000 in 1 cent coins. Or pulling a gun at the Ramones during the End of the Century sessions. And eventually his murder of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.

The fame Spector gathered in the early 60′s through his successful works with the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers eventually rose his own expectations very high. And when these weren’t met for the release of what he considered his best work, River Deep – Mountain High , Spector withdrew from the music industry for a couple of years.

But Spector remained renowned for his unprecedented achievements. That’s why he was called to rescue the last issued (but not last recorded) Beatles album, Let It Be. And although this led towards much criticism from McCartney, Spector would later work with Harrison and Lennon on their post-Beatles solo works.

From then on, he started to live a secluded life.

Spector’s legacy is huge. It not only includes his direct impact on comtemporary music and modern recording techniques, but also the influence he had upon Brian Wilson’s masterpiece, Pet Sounds, an album which is weekly being paid tribute to.

I find it difficult to consider Spector’s work without the gloomy decay it spawned.
But maybe a genius’ approach to life is sometimes meant to bundle sparks of magic insight and dreadful human behavior.