Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16: Phil Spector

Throughout the course of music history, many a performer and "music industry type" have fallen far from grace.  However, the fact remains that while they themselves may have done acts that are unforgivable; one cannot overlook the musical and historical contributions that they made throughout their career.  It is with this in mind that one must ignore the past decade of reality when discussing the massive impact and importance that Phil Spector has had on the entire world of music as we know it.  Whether it was due to the wide range of seminal bands with which he worked, or the hugely important advancements he made in recording style and technology, there has simply never been another individual who has moved music forward in a similar manner.  Having handled production duties for everyone from The Ramones to John Lennon to Ike and Tina Turner to a long list of others, few producers can post as diverse a catalog, and yet at the same time one can argue that it is for his musical style that he will be best remembered.  Truth be told, one can easily make the case that without the creative vision of Phil Spector, the entire musical explosion of the 1960's may have never occurred.  Furthermore, his recording style is still widely used to this day, and one simply cannot deny the pivotal role that Phil Spector has played in the past century of recorded music.

While most are well aware of the recording technique which made Phil Spector famous, the truth of the matter is that before he became a "formal" producer, he was actually a chart-topping musician and writer.  In 1958, Spector wrote and produced a song for his then band, The Teddy Bears, called "To Know Him Is To Love Him," and the song went to the top spot on the Billboard charts, selling more than one million copies in the process.  Months later, the group broke up and Spector found himself working alongside the legendary writing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  Along with the writing, Spector played guitar on a handful of studio sessions, and he can be found in the credits for various roles on songs like Ben E. King's, "Spanish Harlem," The Drifters, "On Broadway," and though most are unaware, it was Spector who produced the original version of "Twist And Shout" by The Top Notes.  Shortly after this period, Phil Spector decided to open his own recording label, and Philies Records was soon in business, churning out a handful of songs that remain "classic" to this day.  However, it was the actual sound that he began developing during this period that would become far more significant than and of the musicians whom he recorded, and as the 1960's got underway, Spector unleashed perhaps the most important recording innovation of the entire decade.

Referred to as the "wall of sound," Spector began the practice of bringing in a massive number of musicians into the studio, and "layering" each recorded track on top of one another.  By having so many musicians playing at once, there was a far larger presence to the overall song, and such a sound came through far better on AM Radio stations and jukeboxes, which were the primary musical outlets at the time.  Furthermore, using the "wall of sound" technique, the songs in question took on an entirely new mood, and there was a power within the songs that had never before been heard.  The key to making this sound work was the fact that in almost every case, after the initial recordings were complete, Spector would play the track back and rerecord it in an echo chamber.  Perhaps the most well-known examples of the "wall of sound" style are The Ronettes, "Be My Baby" and "Da Doo Ron Ron" by, The Crystals.  However, few will argue that if one seeks the ultimate perfection in this technical approach, it lies within Ike and Tina Turner's legendary take on "River Low, Mountain High."  At the same time, the "wall of sound" is used on almost every track on The Beatles' Let It Be record, and one can easily hear the commonality between these recordings.  To this day, the "wall of sound" technique is still widely used to give albums a unique sound, and there is simply no arguing that music was forever changed due to the vision and talents of Phil Spector.

No comments: