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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Phil Spector's famous Wall of Hair
(photographer unknown)

Phil Spector was found guilty of 2nd degree murder in Los Angeles yesterday. The jury spent 30 hours deliberating but reached their verdict unanimously yesterday. This was a re-trial and concerned the murder of Lana Clarkson, an out of work actress, fatally shot in the mouth in Spector's home in 2003. He'll be sentenced on May 29th. His lawyer is threatening to appeal. It's a hell of a long time for the case to have dragged on, especially for the relatives of Ms Clarkson. (Spector, of course, has been in no hurry.)
What is 2nd degree murder? According to Wikipedia, in California it's "the default category" for a murder that may be pre-meditated or committed while perpetrating a felony but is not committed "in special circumstances" (as with killing a police officer etc) or killing a civilian in an unusually nasty way. I suppose fatally shooting someone in the mouth isn't unusually nasty. But according to the FindLaw website, 2nd degree murder is "ordinarily defined as 1) an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable 'heat of passion' or 2) a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender's obvious lack of concern for human life. Second-degree murder may best be viewed as the middle ground between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter."
Either way, if his appeal fails, Spector will serve about 15 years in prison but will be eligible for parole. He's 69 now.
Here's the entry on him from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (the end of which clearly now needs updating with the retrial news):
Spector, Phil [1940 - ]
Phil Spector, the world’s oldest boy genius, was born Harvey Phillip Spector in the Bronx on Boxing Day, 1940. He and his mother Bertha moved to Los Angeles when he was 12, three years after his father Ben’s suicide: an event that, more than any other, ‘explains’ Spector’s lifetime of disturbed behaviour. Mad, inspired record-producer; seven-stone weakling; gun-toting paranoic; teen tantrum king; abusive husband and father: this is Phil Spector on a good day.
He achieved immortality in the world of pre-BEATLES pop, making what he dubbed as ‘little symphonies for the kids’ - a lava flow of hit singles by the Crystals, the Ronettes, Darlene Love, the Righteous Brothers, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans and more besides - and spent the next forty years or so in dark and stormy decline.
He learnt piano, french horn, drums and guitar at school, and began writing songs with schoolfriend Marshall Lieb. With the splendidly-named Annette Bard (really Kleinbard), another schoolfriend, they formed vocal trio The Teddy Bears, and in 1958 recorded Spector’s composition ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’, its title taken from his father’s tombstone. It hit the US Top 10 and sold a million. Spector was 17 years old. Unforgettably catchy, it is an artfully naïve record, very sweet and very ‘white’. Even the upbeat B-side has a timid sensitivity, summed up in the comically solicitous couplet ‘Don’t you worry my little pet, don’t you worry and don’t you fret’.
All this was totally out of character for its creator. Spector’s own musical taste ran to jazz and rhythm’n’blues; as his later records would soon prove, he preferred thunderous bedlam to tender timidity and he was about as solicitous as a crocodile.
Four Teddy Bears follow-ups were flops, and so were records by the so-called Spectors Three. This was the first of many career reverses, and the ambitious singer and songwriter didn’t take it well. A murky period in Spector’s history followed. It’s said that he took advantage of a job-offer as interpreter in French at UN headquarters in New York to get his airfare paid but never showed up for work, instead meeting his backroom-boy heroes, Leiber & Stoller, who had written hits for ELVIS and for many black acts like the Coasters. More likely, he stayed in LA, worked as a typist while studying at UCLA and then at 18 re-entered the record-business, working under guitarist Duane Eddy’s producers, Lester Sill and Lee Hazelwood in Phoenix, Arizona, learning studio production before persuading Sill to send him to New York in 1960.
There he not only met Leiber & Stoller but co-wrote, with Leiber, Ben E. King’s classic ‘Spanish Harlem’. He also met Ray Peterson, star of the death record ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’, and produced his follow-up, ‘Corrina Corrina‘, Spector’s first hit as a producer. He was soon back in the charts with the Paris Sisters’ ‘I Love How You Love Me’, Gene Pitney’s ‘Every Breath I Take’ and Curtis Lee’s ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’, and doing freelance A&R for Atlantic Records. These conventional slices of pop gave no hint of the distinctive vision Spector was about to unleash.
The famous Wall Of Sound arrived in 1962, by which time Spector had bought out his partner and at 21 was sole owner of the record-label Philles. He brought together a team of session players, many of whom, like pianist LEON RUSSELL and guitarist Glen Campbell, would later be famous themselves. Spector bullied and hectored these people into a phenomenon - a hit-making machine that, under his dictatorial direction, turned out around 15 timeless classics, including ‘He’s A Rebel’, ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘Then He Kissed Me’ by the Crystals, ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby I Love You’ by the Ronettes, ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’ by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans and ‘(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry’ and ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ by Darlene Love. Spector was a millionaire before he was 22. Tom Wolfe called him ‘the first tycoon of teen’.
These records changed the rules. Instead of the music being mere ‘backing’ behind the vocals, it became exponentially multiplied, so that the mix of teenage angst and howling sexuality offered by the singers had to make itself heard above a torrid cacophony in which no distinction was possible between percussion and other instrumentation. Instead of the producer being an anonymous figure whose job was to transmit without interference the individual singer and song, Spector invented, at a stroke, the hauteur director of sound, dreaming up and hurling out three-minute Wagnerian operas in which the youthful and raunchy vocalists were almost as interchangeable as back-row violinists. So thoroughly were all these other talents mere tools in the fiery workshop of the maestro that to this day everyone knows the 1963 LP A Christmas Gift For You as Phil Spector’s Christmas Album. As Darlene Love recalls, ‘He wanted to build an empire for himself and be bigger than his artists. And it worked.’ More generous than Spector ever was, she adds: ‘You don’t know how some of those singers sounded without him. Phil made everyone sound good.’
He also revitalised the early-60s pop record, replacing the thin, exhausted platitudes of a hundred Bobbies and Johnnies with the tumult of musical armageddon and the erotic exotica of nubile girl groups with very short skirts and towering, sticky beehive hair-dos. For many fans, their first glimpse of the sultry Ronettes and first hearing of that up-front demand ‘Be my baby NOW!’ was a sexual awakening.
Yet at the same time, just as black Americans were beginning to march and stand up for their civil rights, Spector had the nerve to make records that were often racially androgynous. You couldn’t tell if the Righteous Brothers were black or white; you couldn’t tell the male-female mix of Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans.
Spector’s unique mastery of the sound-desk meant that his songwriting skill went unnoticed. Yet if he hadn’t been a producer, he’d still have been a rich, significant figure in pop as a writer or co-writer of classics, from his very first attempt, on across his Wall of Sound smashes (he co-wrote most of them), through ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ to Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep Mountain High’. In later years he co-wrote with Harry Nilsson, GEORGE HARRISON and LEONARD COHEN.
Spector was one of four pop figures customarily called a genius, and influenced at least one of the others, Beach Boy BRIAN WILSON. While Spector himself ‘retired’ at 25, furious that ‘River Deep Mountain High’ was a flop in America (it was a smash in Britain), the Beach Boys’ complex mid-60s recordings like Pet Sounds and ‘Good Vibrations’ owed much to Wilson’s admiration for Spector.
His influence was everywhere. THE ROLLING STONES’ early manager / producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, was a Spector wannabe. And if the Beatles and Stones made Spector seem old-fashioned, and the hits girl-group hits dried up, he bounced back when notorious music mogul Allen Klein put Spector and the Beatles together. By this point a legend and still only 30 years old, Spector was hired by Klein to remix Let it Be. McCARTNEY hated Klein issuing the re-mixed ‘Long and Winding Road’ as a single. Beatle publicist Derek Taylor says when Paul heard what Spector had done, he thought it was ‘the shittiest thing anyone had ever done to him, and that was saying something.’
After the Beatles split, LENNON used Spector on his first solo LP and then Phil produced the ex-Beatle solo album that wiped the floor with everyone else’s, George Harrison’s triple-LP All Things Must Pass. Spector-produced hits from these albums included ‘Instant Karma’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’, and in 1971 he produced the Concert For Bangla Desh organised by Harrison that brought together everyone from Ravi Shankar to Clapton and Dylan. (Dylan and Harrison, getting together in the studio the previous May, had tipped their hats to Spector with a fond but daft, Dylanised version of ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, on which 90% of the lyric remained out of his grasp.)
This was the first of only two real encounters between the two, though between the two has come the famous hoax of a rumoured 1965 Bob Dylan Christmas album, supposedly part-produced by Spector and titled Snow Over Interstate 80: a hoax perpetrated by UK music paper New Musical Express in 1975. (One of the tracks they claimed as included, ‘Silent Night’, was later recorded by Dylan: at an Infidels session in New York on April 22, 1983; this has never circulated, but, unlike Snow Over Insterstate 80, did exist.)
The other actual Dylan-Spector encounter was in 1977 when, on Leonard Cohen’s Spector-produced album Death Of A Ladies’ Man, Bob Dylan and ALLEN GINSBERG were back-up vocalists on one song, ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On’. This album was not a success, and nor were Spector-produced mid-1970s records by Dion and Cher.
People never gave up on Spector, though. In 1980 New York punk group the Ramones got him to produce their album End of the Century, and as late as 1996 he was warring with Celine Dion’s team over an abortive collaboration, declaring: ‘You don’t tell Shakespeare what plays to write, or how to write them, and you certainly don’t tell Phil Spector.’
Rather, he gave up on himself. He stayed locked inside the most wired, guard-dog infested mansion in all of Hollywood, and wore, as well as the obligatory dark glasses, a huge cross around his neck and a gun on his hip. Drug stories and arrests, bodyguard beatings and dangerous tantrums became commonplace around him, culminating in his indictment on a murder charge in 2004, after 40-year-old actor Lana Clarkson was found dead in early 2003, shot through the mouth at his home. Spector was freed on $1m bail. At the time of writing (January 2006), he has withdrawn a $1m suit against his own first trial attorney, lost his bid to rule out police testimony that he first claimed he’d shot Ms Clarkson by accident before claiming she’d killed herself, and announced that if acquitted he will, at age 65, marry 25-year-old fiancée Rachelle Short.
As writer Mary Harron put it, ‘He had one perfect moment in the early 60s, and never recovered.’

[The Teddy Bears: ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’, LA, 1958, Doré 503, US & Canada (London-American HL 8733, UK), 1958. Various Artists: A Christmas Gift For You, nia, Philles PHLP-4005, US, 1963. Bob Dylan & George Harrison: ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, NY, May 1-2, 1970, unreleased. The NME hoax article, dated only as 1975, is reproduced online (seen Jan 6 2006) at]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well nice picture but it was already an amazing curl of hair irl... So instead of unknown photografer you could just write Mr. Photoshop.

10:42 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Drove Phil for years. Was a very good to me. Jimmy aka Valkimo

4:13 am  
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