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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 17:40 GMT
Phil Spector: Off the wall?
Phil Spector: Charismatic and reclusive

Phil Spector, the legendary music producer charged with first-degree murder, is a complex, driven, figure, with a well-documented fascination for firearms.
Rolling Stone magazine called Phil Spector's mould-breaking singles "songs that last three minutes and forever". The producer himself has dubbed these his "little symphonies for the kids".

For lovers of 50s and 60s music, he produced the tracks which defined an age: the Ronettes' Be My Baby, the Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling and River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner.

The Ronettes
The Ronettes: Spector masterminded their hits
These numbers were loud, brash, even operatic in scale and tone. Above all, they featured Spector's signature, the vast and mighty Wall of Sound, with its multiple layers of overdubbed guitars, keyboards and percussion.

Before Spector, record producers were seen as little more than button-pushers; afterwards, they became stars in their own right.

But, for all his great triumphs, he has also grappled with the dark side of fame; with depression, self-doubt and irrational behaviour.

Harvey Phillip Spector was born at Christmas 1940 in the Bronx district of New York. A slight child who considered himself an outsider, he was only nine when his father, a steelworker, committed suicide.

Music provided a world in which Spector could allow his latent talents to flourish. While still in his teens, he teamed-up with two pals from high school to form the Teddy Bears.

Reinvented pop

Their first hit, To Know Him Is To Love Him - the title taken from the inscription of Spector's father's gravestone - became a rock 'n' roll standard.

Soon, he was working as an apprentice to the legendary song-writing team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.

His next hit, Ben E King's Spanish Harlem, which he co-wrote with Lieber in 1960, established Spector as a force in his own right.

The Wall of Sound became bigger than Spector's own artists

The Daily Telegraph's Mick Brown
Becoming a freelance record producer, he founded his own Philles record label, moved to the West Coast and, almost single-handedly, changed the recording industry.

Honing the Wall of Sound with the fabled Wrecking Crew - a group of session musicians featuring Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and assistant producer and backing singer, Sonny Bono - Spector piled up the hits with acts like the Crystals, the Ronettes and Darlene Love.

Troubled recluse

Spector enjoyed complete control over his works, writing, producing and recording - in chaotic sessions which he called parties - classic hits like Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me, Walkin' In The Rain and 1963's iconic Christmas Album.

John Lennon
John Lennon's Imagine was a Spector production
As the Daily Telegraph journalist, Mick Brown, to whom Spector recently gave his first interview in a quarter of a century, puts it, "The Wall of Sound became bigger than Spector's own artists."

But, by 1966, a new world was dawning. Albums were becoming more complex, singles were seen as less relevant.

Though it reached number one in the UK charts, the failure of River Deep, Mountain High in the United States marked a sea-change in Spector's life.

He went into seclusion for two years, amid rumours of increasingly bizarre behaviour.

He had reached the top, produced 17 hit records in the US and made millions of dollars, but it seemed that, at the age of 25, Phil Spector's star was on the wane.

It took no less an act than the Beatles to bring Spector out of retirement, to produce the group's swansong album, Let It Be.

I respect his work so much that one day I'd like to set it to music

Phil Spector on Lord Lloyd Webber
Paul McCartney disliked the lush arrangements which Spector brought to tracks like The Long and Winding Road and a new "de-Spectorised" version is due to hit the high street this autumn.

During the 1970s, Spector worked, to great success, with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass and John Lennon on the Imagine album.

Fiery temper

But his later attempts to impose the Wall of Sound on artists like Dion and Leonard Cohen were, at the least, ill-advised.

Before long, Spector retreated to his Californian cocoon once more, emerging only last year to produce two tracks by the band Starsailor.

Lana Clarkson
Lana Clarkson was found dead in Spector's mansion
Then there were the guns. The Ramones, John Lennon and his former wife, Ronnie, are among those on whom Spector is said to have pulled a weapon.

Indeed, he is reputed to have put a gun against Stevie Wonder's head during one fraught recording session.

Despite his celebrated long silence, Phil Spector has not been reticent in airing his views on popular music.

Of Andrew Lloyd Webber, he once quipped: "I respect his work so much that one day I'd like to set it to music."

Mick Brown says that he found Spector to be enormously gracious.

"I came away with the sense of someone who had struggled and won Having overcome his problems, he could say, 'I am still Phil Spector and I produce records'."

Today, however, with a murder rap hanging over his head, whether Spector - the man Tom Wolfe once called "the first tycoon of teen" - will produce any more records must be in some doubt.

See also:

07 Feb 03 | Americas
04 Feb 03 | Americas
05 Feb 03 | Entertainment
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