Phil Spector is among the greatest producers of rock and roll, and some would passionately argue that he is the greatest ever.
His ambitious approach to the art of record production helped redefine and revitalize rock and roll during its early-Sixties slump. On a string of classic records released between 1961 and 1966 on his Philles label, he elevated the monaural 45 rpm single to an art form. “Little symphonies for the kiddies,” he called them, and they were indeed dramatic pop records possessed of a grandeur and intimacy theretofore uncommon in rock and roll.
He was born Harvey Phillip Spector in the Bronx in 1940. He picked up guitar and piano in high school and began writing and recording original songs with classmate Marshall Lieb. Joined by a third friend, Annette Bard, they formed the Teddy Bears and had a Top Ten hit with “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” Spector was 17 years old. His creative genius as a writer/producer flourished, as he cowrote the classic “Spanish Harlem” with Jerry Leiber (of Leiber and Stoller), a soul hit for Ben E. King. In the early Sixties, he produced hits for such artists as Gene Pitney ("Every Breath I Take"), Curtis Lee ("Pretty Little Angel Eyes") and the Paris Sisters ("I Love How You Love Me"). In 1961, he co-founded the Philles label with partner Lester Sill, and was immediately successful with “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” by the Crystals.
Spector utilized the studio like no producer before him. In exploring its possibilities, he constructed a musical monolith known as the “Wall of Sound.” The chief ingredient in the Wall of Sound was a massive and cavernous roar created by the fusing of many individual instruments with maximum volume and liberal use of echo. Spector exhibited a singular knack for matching talented singers with expert session musicians and wonderful songs. He worked his charges through endless takes as he tried to realize the sound he heard in his head. Several of the many timeless Spector-produced hits that stand as a testament to his genius include “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel” and “Then He Kissed Me” (by the Crystals); “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain” (by the Ronettes); “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Unchained Melody” and “Ebb Tide” (by the Righteous Brothers); and “River Deep - Mountain High” (by Ike and Tina Turner).
After the glory days of Top Forty radio began waning in the late Sixties, Spector’s impact inevitably ebbed as well. However, he adapted to changing circumstances and went on to produce the Beatles (Let It Be), John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass), plus acts ranging from Cher to the Ramones.