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Famous Music Producers: Phil Spector

by Mel Clarke. Published May 7, 2009.

Phil Spector. Magnificent hair, killer mind, music genius, and murderer. You’ve all heard the news, and see this dishevelled old man with hair that any person with an afro would envy, finally being put away for murder after a trial that’s lasted several years.

His crushed velvet suits and his amazingly naff fashion sense can only lend you one clue as to the era he was heralded as one of the most legendary music producers in music history.

Haven’t heard of him?

Well consider this your cliffnotes version of music history for this week.

Phil Spector, born in 1939, born in the Bronx and moved to California after his father’s suicide, while Spector was age 10, began music quite early. Playing a guitar through his younger years, during highschool he formed a group of friends who played and released songs, all of which became known to a certain extent.

Forming the group The Teddy Bears, the song To Know Him is to Love Him hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1958, becoming Phil Spectors first hit. It was obvious from the age of 19 that this man would move onto great things and quickly.

From this point, Spector split from The Teddy Bears and tried his hand at record producing. From this moment, Spector had found his spot within the music industry and went on to produce and rearrange several classic hits that we know today. He was mentored by the top men in the industry, and was consistently churning out hits with smaller unknown groups.

Spector then began working on a production theory, that we hear almost every day now without even recognising its existance.

The Wall of Sound was a technique pioneered by Spector in the 1960s. The Wall of Sound is exactly what you’d imagine it to be: A heavy layered and dense recording of parts to achieve a thicker and fuller timbre which heightened the quality of music heard throughout radio and jukeboxes.

In this way, Spector would gather groups of musicians and have them play a piece of music in unison. He would also then arrange the music to be played as if it were in an orchestra, or even a piece of madrigal music with different keys and parts to create a magnificent arrangement of music.

This practice created so many different pieces and sounds of music that the technique is now common practice. Spector began to experiment with sounds and echoes to achieve all new experiences that noone had ever heard previous to his existance.

Before this creation, most music would have a very simple arrangment and no concept of a soundscape. A pop song would be predominantely the voices included (barbershop and girl group a capella was popular during Spector’s era), usually a guitar and a muted drum kit to give a beat and depth to the song.

Spector became known as the go-to guy for music producing and since this marvellous creation he has worked with the likes of the Beatles, the Ramones, Tina Turner and Leonard Cohen.

Unfortunately, Spector’s quirky personality may have seeped too far into insanity, as of the 3rd of February, 2003, Spector was arrested on suspicion of murdering a bar hostess in California. While he maintained throughout the trial that the incident was an ‘accidental suicide’, part of an accident allegedly involving a prescription drug withdrawal, alcohol, and temporary insanity.

Earlier this year, the jury on Phil Spector’s case declared him guilty, and will be formally sentenced later on this month.

It’s a shame that such an innovative producer could unfortunately cause the loss of life through his hands. While intimate details of what exactly happened are not fully known or understood – I think it’s fair to say that Spector’s crazy mind got the best of him in the end, and ended his impressive career.

That is just one producer i’ll be giving the basic history of, soon i’ll delve into where the term ‘rock n roll’ came from, and how that music got to the top.


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