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The Phil Spector Story

The Wall of Sound and how it was built


The Phil Spector Story

Phil Spector at the controls in the mid-60s

Legendary producer Phil Spector is at the very least an equally legendary eccentric, and at worst a murderer. But before the decline and fall, he was the "First Tycoon of Teen," the man with the golden touch who took the girl group sound to the realm of high art and made it pay big in the process. However, his storied, echo-laden "Wall of Sound" didn't happen overnight, and his "little symphonies for the kiddies," as he called them, weren't even the full extent of his talent. This chronological playlist traces the arc of Phil's ascent, decay, and seemingly endless rebirth. (Click on a link to listen to the mp3 and buy it if you like!)
  1. The Teddy Bears, "To Know Him Is to Love Him"
    Surprisingly spare but still just as dramatic as his later productions, Phil Spector's first big hit came with his own group; that's Spector as one of the male backing vocalists.
  2. Ray Peterson, "Corrina, Corrina"
    His mastery of pop continues with this cover of an old folk blues standard, magically transformed with slightly Latin rhythms and super sweet strings.
  3. Ben E. King, "Spanish Harlem"
    Spector proved himself a foundation of Uptown Soul here, taking the former Drifters lead and reproducing the group's latter-day Lieber-Stoller sound to perfection.
  4. The Paris Sisters, "I Love How You Love Me"
    A favorite act of Phil's, this San Franciscan girl group trio nailed the breathy, almost forbidden eroticism he was looking for on this, their biggest ballad.
  5. The Crystals, "There's No Other (Like My Baby)"
    Barbara Alston takes the lead on this exquisite ballad, the first hit for Phil's new label, Philles. Later covered memorably by the Beach Boys.
  6. The Crystals, "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)"
    Actually written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King from the POV of their babysitter, Little Eva of "Loco-Motion" fame, who had her own domestic abuse issues, this dark ballad horrified radio stations and temporarily derailed Spector's momentum.
  7. The Crystals, "Uptown"
    An early example of Phil Spector overreaching pop radio -- too musically sophisticated, lyrically controversial, and emotionally adult to be the huge hit he needed.
  8. The Crystals, "He's A Rebel"
    With the Crystals back in New York, Phil decided to cut his latest record immediately, hiring Darlene Love and the Blossoms to use their name. It ironically becomes both girl group's biggest hit.
  9. Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts"
    The least known of the Philles groups, they nevertheless had a few minor hits in a somewhat retro doo-wop vein, this being the biggest. Darlene Love is again sitting in as lead.
  10. The Crystals, "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)"
    The real Crystals this time, although Dolores "La La" Brooks takes over from Alston on lead.
  11. The Crystals, "Then He Kissed Me"
    One of the greatest, most enduring, and most-covered girl group hits of all time, again with La La on lead.
  12. The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"
    Phil finds a new favorite group, one which will eventually replace the Crystals, not coincidentally because he's become smitten with lead Ronnie Bennett. Perhaps Phil and Ronnie's signature song.
  13. Darlene Love, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)"
    The hit Darlene should have had all along under her own name is a deep cut and the lone original on Phil's epochal Christmas album.
  14. Darlene Love, "A Fine, Fine Boy"
    Love's last charted single, an sassy uptempo girl group shouter that inexplicably missed the top 40 entirely.
  15. The Ronettes, "Baby, I Love You"
    The oft-covered followup to "Be My Baby" features Ronnie again on lead vocal -- but that's Darlene Love in the background this time, and, in one of her first pro gigs, Cher!
  16. Veronica, "So Young"
    This, on the other hand, is actually the full Ronettes, although it was released as a single credited only to Veronica. An example of the times catching up to Phil's new adult style.
  17. The Ronettes, "Walking In the Rain"
    Phil Spector's last hit with the Ronettes is one of their best, and sadly not a huge hit, though it did net Spector his only Grammy.
  18. The Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"
    Long by 1964 standards (3:45, though Phil cannily listed it as 3:05), structurally complex, and emotionally adult, this nonetheless became one of the producer's biggest hits. When Bobby Hatfield asked what he was supposed to do while Bill Medley sang the verses, Spector, with typical hubris, replied "You can go straight to the f****** bank."
  19. Darlene Love, "Long Way to be Happy"
    Phil took the success of the Motown sound to heart with another unappreciated Darlene lead.
  20. The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody"
    Though it had already been a huge hit for several artists in the Fifties, the application of his "Wall of Sound" gave Phil and the Righteous Brothers yet another timeless smash.
  21. Ike and Tina Turner, "River Deep - Mountain High"
    Though profoundly influential, Phil's brief stint producing Tina Turner (no actual Ike here) resulted in a truly epic single that nonetheless stiffed in the US, sending a depressed Spector into semi-retirement for a few years.
  22. The Ronettes, "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine"
    Too much of a downer to be released in 1965, this ballad is still one of the producer's biggest, at least from a wall of sound production standpoint.
  23. The Checkmates, Ltd., "Black Pearl"
    Coming out of seclusion, Phil returned to the charts immediately with this stirring, if already somewhat retro sounding, racial protest.
  24. The Beatles, "The Long and Winding Road"
    Paul McCartney famously hated Phil's treatment of what had been a simple piano-based ballad. The massive strings and choir personified Spector's late period, however, and got the group one more #1.
  25. George Harrison, "My Sweet Lord"
    George's All Things Must Pass triumph was largely due to the Spectorization of his simple yet powerful songs, though even Harrison eventually came to see it as overkill.
  26. John Lennon, "Angel Baby"
    This outtake from John's retro covers album Rock and Roll, recorded during some very excessive times for both men, shows how the music had also grown out of control.
  27. The Ramones, "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?"
    Phil comes out of retirement again to produce the originators of punk, a mismatch that nevertheless resulted in at least one thrilling retro homage.
  28. Starsailor, "Silence Is Easy"
    This, Spector's last production, sounds more like Britpop than a wall of sound, but it showed Phil hadn't lost his touch with a great song.
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