At the end of the 1960s, it seemed like Phil Spector had cemented his status as a legend in the world of music.
Born in the Bronx on Boxing Day 1939, Spector entered the '60s having spent the latter half of the previous decade in his band the Teddy Bears. The first of his many vocal groups, they had a US #1 hit with 'To Know Him is To Love Him', and during his time in the band Spector was tutored by record producer Stan Ross, who set him on the path of production.
He took to it well. During the '60s, he revolutionised recording with his 'Wall of Sound' method, something which he is known for perhaps better than the songs themselves. To put it simply, the 'Wall of Sound' used a dense orchestra of instruments, many of which were doubled or even tripled up to gain a richer tone, to create a full-on sound that would sound good over radios and jukeboxes. It was supplemented with reverb via an echo chamber, adding room to the sound. Speaking in 1964 about why he bothered to invent such an elaborate technique, Spector said that he "was looking for a sound, a sound so strong that if the material was not the greatest, the sound would carry the record. It was a case of augmenting, augmenting. It all fit together like a jigsaw."
We won't go into too much depth about the 'Wall of Sound' here; if you'd like to find out more, a quick search on Google will give you all the information you need. What we will add, however, is that he was vehemently opposed to stereo sound, saying it took the control of the sound away from the producer. Spector wanted to create a mosaic of sound and was more interested in looking at producing artistically rather than in terms of sound quality.
Despite his controversial views, his success at the time was unparalleled. Many bands and producers such as The Beach Boys, the Velvet Underground and Brian Eno have been influenced by him, with The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson (who also preferred mono sound) often attempting to emulate his production style. Even Bruce Springsteen and ABBA have cited him as an influence, and Wizzard's Christmas hit 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' bears a distinct resemblance to Spector's own Christmas songs from ten years before.
He wrote and produced plenty of hits with his vocal groups, The Ronnettes and The Crystals, both of whom featured on his world famous Christmas record, A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, which was later renamed A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. In hindsight, that may have been an error - but we're getting to that.
Having revolutionised record production and worked with the likes of the Ramones, Leonard Cohen and The Beatles (as well as George Harrison and John Lennon on solo albums), it certainly seemed as if Spector had cemented himself as a bonafide legend. It would take something truly spectacular to ruin his legacy, something horrific. He'd have to, let's say, murder someone, if he was to permanently extinguish his reputation.
Oh, hang on.
On February 3rd 2003, a gunshot rang out in Alhambra, California, where Spector lived in his mansion. Shortly after the shot, Spector came out of his mansion, gun in hand, and said to his driver "I think I've killed somebody."
That somebody was actress Lana Clarkson. Despite basically admitting it to his driver, Spector pleaded not guilty and argued to Esquire that it was a case of "accidental suicide". It took two trials (the first having a hung jury), but in 2009, Spector was found guilty of committing second-degree murder and sentenced to nineteen years to life.
It's bad enough on its own, but it seems likely that it was the culmination of decades of strange, dangerous and diabolical behaviour. For starters, the prosecution argued that this wasn't the first time he had drawn a gun on a woman, claiming he had done it on four previous occasions and on each occasion, he had been drunk and failing to accept the rejections of the women he was romantically interested in.
But that's not all. Having married a vocalist from one of his groups, he then cheated on her with another vocalist from another one of his groups. He then married this second one, Veronica Bennett, but according to her 1990 memoir, he imprisoned her in his California mansion. He tormented her psychologically for years and sabotaged her career by stopping her from performing live. In 1972, she escaped with the aid of her mother and during divorce proceedings, only gave up custody of their children because he had threatened to hire a hit man on her.
If that wasn't enough for you to cancel him yet, two of his sons have also claimed that he imprisoned them and, disgustingly, forced them to simulate sex acts on his girlfriend. That is biblically horrendous.
It's pretty safe to say then that, as a person, he was absolutely awful. The BBC described him in their headline as "talented but flawed", as if "flawed" cuts it. The man was a monster, no ifs or buts. Yes, many of those actions are alleged rather than confirmed, but neither his sons nor his ex-wife would have any reason to lie and even if they were lying, he remains a convicted murderer.
And yet bizarrely, defenders of Spector still exist. They will rattle on about his revolutionary recording methods, claim that Clarkson shot herself and attempt to bring up Spector's near-fatal accident in 1974 which may have affected his brain. Whilst there may be truth in this, he was still of sound enough mind to produce records and if that's the case, he was of sound enough mind to know not to murder someone. End of story.
Phil Spector died in a prison hospital and in the end, it is no less than he deserved. Your achievements in your career can only take you so far and as a human being, he was terrible. We will not be saying RIP to Spector. Instead, we send our continued best wishes to those who he harmed and affected, including his sons, his ex-wives and Lana Clarkson's family. May you all find some peace now.
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