Phil Spector

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Los Angeles' producer Phil Spector influenced by Leiber & Stoller's string-based productions with the Drifters, invented a style of production named "wall of sound", best exemplified by the Crystals' He's A Rebel (1962, a Gene Pitney song that was sung by Darlene "Love" Wright and actually did not feature the group) and Da Doo Ron Ron (1963, by Barry & Greenwich), by Darlene Love's Christmas (1963, again Barry & Greenwich), perhaps Spector's noisiest production, by the Ronette's Be My Baby (1963, also Barry & Greenwich), by the Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling (1964, by Mann & Weil), the era's peak of pathos, by the Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack (1964, again Barry & Greenwich), and by Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep Mountain High (1966, another Barry & Greenwich composition). Spector was the Wagner of teenage emotion (and, hidden between the lines of all that pandemonium, of teenage lust).
(Translated from my old Italian text by Nicholas Green)

Phil Spector's "wall of sound" is one of the great inventions of the 1960s. This style of production transformed the song into a mini-symphony, not so much because of its use of orchestration (which was a must for pop music at the time) but because of the "thickness" of the counterpoint. Spector did not use one drum kit; he used three. Spector did not use one piano; he used two. And he superimposed bells, timpani, and triangles on them. This resulted in an exciting sound, regardless of the chorus or the rhythm. It was him, as a producer, who did the most to give his songs their charm. With Spector, the primary role shifted from the songwriter to the producer, from Tin Pan Alley to the recording studio. Spector gave the "producer" a compositional role at least equal to that of the songwriter.

Born in New York but having moved to Los Angeles at the age of 12 after his father's suicide, by the 1950s Spector was already - at a very young age, having been born in 1940 - playing guitar in a band with Kim Fowley on vocals and Sandy Nelson on drums. He was immediately an enfant prodige, making his debut at just 17 years old with the Teddy Bears, who reached the number one spot on the charts with To Know Him Is To Love Him (1958).

Spector learned his craft from Lee Hazelwood. In turn, he became a producer in New York, layering instruments upon instruments to create a roaring and relentless sonic undercurrent (what he called the "Wagnerian approach" to rock) that would envelop the listener in a sustained mass of sound.

Until 1961, his profession had made him commute between New York and Los Angeles (that year he wrote Spanish Harlem for the Drifters, Corrina Corrina for Ray Peterson, Pretty Little Angel Eyes for Curtis Lee), but that year he opened his own recording studio and hired worthy sessionmen Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer. Thus he launched, almost by accident, the Crystals, one of the first girl groups, and his style made them famous. The Crystals, rhythmic and fast-paced, stood out among the "girl-groups" of the time precisely because of those exhausting rhythms (beaten by hands and multiple drums, the unbridled chorus, and ear-splitting twinges of saxophone) and a boldly sensual look (heavy makeup and puffy hair). The Crystals epitomized the wild girls, closer to the punks than the good guys: in He's A Rebel (1962, written by Gene Pitney), through a break in the swirling wall of sound (with epic drumming by Blaine), Darlene Love declaims in a fierce and nearly provocative outburst "just because he doesn't do what everybody else does." The gospel hurricane of Da Doo Ron Ron (1963, by Barry & Greenwich) has nothing religious about it anymore. Then He Kissed Me is their rendition of a romantic song, but it sounds more like a military anthem.

In 1962, back in Los Angeles, Spector had unlimited means at his disposal (among others Glen Campbell on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, Leon Russell on piano, and the brilliant arranger Jack Nitzsche), and his "wall of sound" was also a hit machine for the Ronettes (Be My Baby, 1962) among many others, and he even invented another genre, the "blue-eyed soul" of You've Lost That Loving Feeling by the Righteous Brothers (1965, written by Mann & Weil). His masterwork of production, however, remains River Deep Mountain High (1966), written by Barry & Greenwich for Ike and Tina Turner. After that record Spector, who had become a millionaire at only 21 years old but who never forgave the record industry for the failure of his masterpiece, seemed fulfilled and greatly reduced his activity, even as his fame grew (he was also called upon by the Beatles to produce their last album and some solo albums by Harrison and Lennon). Today he lives as a recluse in his gigantic mansion in Los Angeles.

Back To Mono (Abkco, 1991) is a quadruple-CD box set summarizing his career as a producer.

The "wall of sound" was instrumental in transforming pop music into music for teenagers. This "wall" contained all of the frenzy and emotional impact that the youth of the 1960s were hungry for.

Plagued by mental turmoil and undermined by years of alcohol and drugs, in 2002 Spector was arrested for the murder of one of his actress friends. In 2009 (after six years of courtroom drama) he was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

Spector died in 2020.

Il "wall of sound" di Phil Spector e` una delle grandi invenzioni degli anni '60. Quello stile di produzione trasformo` la canzone in mini-sinfonia, non tanto per l'uso dell'orchestra (che era d'uopo nella musica leggera) quanto per lo "spessore" del contrappunto. Spector non usava una batteria, ne usava tre. Spector non usava un pianoforte, ne usava due. E vi sovrapponeva campane, timpani e triangoli. Il risultato era un sound eccitante a prescindere dal ritornello e dal ritmo. Era lui, il produttore, a conferire al brano il suo fascino maggiore. Con Spector il primato passa dallo scrittore di canzoni al produttore, da Tin Pan Alley allo studio di registrazione. Spector conferi` al "produttore" un ruolo compositivo almeno pari a quello dell'autore.

Nato a New York, ma trasferitosi a Los Angeles a 12 anni dopo il suicidio del padre, negli anni '50 Spector suonava gia` (giovanissimo, essendo del 1940) la chitarra in un complesso con Kim Fowley al canto e Sandy Nelson alla batteria. Fu subito un enfant prodige, esordendo a soli 17 anni con i Teddy Bears, che arrivarono al primo posto in classifica con To Know Him Is To Love Him (1958).

Spector imparo` il mestiere da Lee Hazelwood. Divenuto a sua volta produttore a New York, Spector comincio` a sovrapporre strumenti e strumenti per creare un suono di sottofondo ruggente e costante (quello che lui chiamo' "approccio wagneriano" al rock), in modo che l'ascoltatore rimanesse come avvolto da una massa sonora continua.

Sino al 1961 la sua professione gli aveva fatto fare il pendolare fra New York e Los Angeles (quell'anno scrisse Spanish Harlem per i Drifters, Corrinna Corrina per Ray Peterson, Pretty Little Angel Eyes per Curtis Lee), ma in quell'anno apri` il suo studio di registrazione e assunse sessionmen del valore di Hal Blaine e Earl Palmer. Lancio' cosi`, quasi per caso, le Crystals, uno dei primi girl group, e il suo stile le e lo rese famosi. Le Crystals, ritmate ed incalzanti, si distinsero fra i "girl-group" dell'epoca appunto per quei ritmi sempre massacranti (battuti dalle mani e da piu` batterie, il coro sfogato, e fitte lancinanti di sassofono) e per uno spavaldo look sensuale (trucco pesante e capelli gonfi). Le Crystals epitomizzavano le ragazze selvagge, piu` vicine al teppista che al bravo ragazzo: in He's A Rebel (1962, scritta da Gene Pitney), in un attimo di tregua del frastornante wall of sound (con epico drumming di Blaine), Darlene Love declama con impeto fiero e quasi di sfida "just because he doesn't do what everybody else does". L'uragano gospel di Da Doo Ron Ron (1963, di Barry & Greenwich) non ha piu` nulla di religioso. Then He Kissed Me e` la loro versione della canzone romantica, ma sembra piu` un inno militare.

Nel 1962, di nuovo a Los Angeles, Spector pote' dunque disporre di mezzi illimitati (fra gli altri Glen Campbell alla chitarra, Hal Blaine alla batteria, Leon Russell al piano e il geniale arrangiatore Jack Nitzsche) e il suo "wall of sound" divenne una macchina di successi anche per le Ronettes (Be My Baby, 1962) e tanti altri, e invento` persino un altro genere, il "blue-eyed soul" con You've Lost That Loving Feeling dei Righteous Brothers (1965, scritta da Mann & Weil). Il suo capolavoro di produzione rimane comunque River Deep Mountain High (1966), scritta da Barry & Greenwich per Ike and Tina Turner. Dopo quel disco Spector, che era diventato milionario (di dollari) a soli 21 anni ma che non perdono` all'industria discografica l'insuccesso del suo capolavoro, sembro` appagato e ridusse di molto la sua attivita`, benche' la fama aumentasse (venne anche chiamato dai Beatles a produrre il loro ultimo album e alcuni album solisti di Harrison e Lennon). Oggi vive recluso nella sua gigantesca villa di Los Angeles.

Back To Mono (Abkco, 1991) e` un boxset quadruplo che riassume la sua carriera di produttore.

Il "wall of sound" fu determinante per trasformare la musica leggera in musica per i teenager. Nel "muro" c'era tutta la frenesia e la carica emotiva di cui i giovani del 1960 avevano fame.

Afflitto da turbe psichiche e minato da anni di alcohol e droga, nel 2002 Spector venne anche arrestato per l'omicidio di una sua amica attrice.

In 2009 (after six years of courtroom drama) Phil Spector was sentenced to 19 years of prison for the murder of a friend. He died in 2020.

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