Tuesday Tunes 40: Phil Spector


After bringing a (temporary?) halt to my revisits to the Sixties and Seventies I had been intending to revert to my habit of choosing a theme for these posts, and had actually decided on one for this week. However, when the news broke on Sunday that Phil Spector had died the day before I changed my plan: one of the biggest record producers of the period when I was growing up deserves a post to himself.

Spector is recognised as one of the most influential figures in the world of popular music: as well as producing – with his famous ‘wall of sound’ approach – he was also a songwriter, and scouted many of the acts who performed on the records he produced. He was a troubled figure, though, given to bouts of mental illness, and as you probably know he was, at the time of his death, serving a sentence of 19 years to life in prison, imposed in 2009 for the second-degree murder in 2003 of the actress Lana Clarkson, best known for her roles in five films directed by Roger Corman – the swords, sorcery and sex genre.

As a Brit growing up and getting interested in music during the Sixties, there is only one place I could begin this, with a piece of quintessential Spector:

Although that was credited on the record as being by Ike and Tina Turner it was actually just Tina. Spector didn’t want Ike involved with it, and bought him out of his previous recording contract to get what he wanted. The story goes that Spector’s perfectionism meant that the recording took hours, leaving Tina drenched in sweat and having to take off her shirt and sing in her bra! The song was a massive hit here in the UK in 1966, when it got to #3, but only made it to #88 in the US. I’ve never understood that, as it is, I think, a masterpiece of its genre. Despite saying that he was pleased with the critical reaction to the record Spector began to withdraw from the record industry: he was absent for two years after this and only made sporadic returns – about which there will be more, later.

My second tune is one for which Spector was a co-writer, as well as producer. Given its age – it came out in 1963 – I was a little surprised to find a delightful ‘live’ performance from that era:

It is just a simple girl meets boy story, and the lyrics are in keeping with Spector’s wish not to make them ‘too cerebral.’ The title was actually just a set of nonsense words to fill in the gaps, but Spector liked them and kept them in. That was a good decision: they make the song the little gem that it is. The reference to ‘Bill’ is actually a friend of Spector – Bill Walsh – who happened to drop into the office while the song was being written. It peaked at #3 in the US and #5 here, and I think it’s great!

My next choice for today is another of Phil Spector’s co-written songs, but is one that he didn’t produce – that role was undertaken by the other co-writer, Jerry Leiber,  and by Mike Stoller:

Apparently there is a demo version on which Spector played guitar when they pitched the song to the record company: a real rarity! This was Ben E King’s first hit record after leaving The Drifters and is, I think, really reminiscent of an era when pop music concentrated on the simplicity of its tunes. Again, it is one I’ve always liked – despite the fact that it was one of my Mum’s favourites. I wish I’d shared that snippet with her when I could. It reached #10 in the US but didn’t chart here, though it did manage to struggle to #92 after a re-release of Stand By Me became a #1 in 1987. You may well know the cover version by Aretha Franklin, and it was also recorded as an album track by Cliff Richard – no doubt you’ll be pleased to know that I have made absolutely no effort at all to find his version!

The final Sixties song in today’s selection is one that was a massive hit everywhere:

Talk about a pop classic! The enhanced sound on that video really brings out the majesty of the song, which was another of my Mum’s favourites, and another for which I also had a liking. The song was written by Spector, along with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Spector produced the record – which is cited by some as being the epitome of the wall of sound – I’d challenge that with Tina Turner! The song reached #1 in both the US and UK in early 1965, and has also charted on four further occasions here in the UK, including #10 in 1969 and #3 in 1990. There have been numerous cover versions, including those by Dionne Warwick, Hall & Oates and Long John Baldry, but the most successful was the competing version released by Cilla Black, which charted at the same time here. The two record companies had a friendly battle over the versions, which involved the Righteous Brothers being flown over for a week of publicity. It worked: Cilla Black only got to #2, which in my view was far higher than her weedy effort deserved anyway.

I said earlier that Spector withdrew for a couple of years after River Deep, Mountain High. His return was notable for his co-production of two early solo albums by former Beatles. The first of these to be released was George Harrison’s triple album, All Things Must Pass, in November 1970. From this track you can clearly hear Spector’s wall of sound influence:

That video was released much later – in 2002 – and features Emma Rubinowitz and Esteban Hernandez, from the San Francisco Ballet. I think it’s lovely. It was created following the 30th anniversary remastered release of the album, which I bought on CD despite already having the original vinyl version: it was well-worn! On its 1970 release the album reached #1 in both the UK and the US, as well as in Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. The recording of the album took much longer than anticipated. George had to take frequent breaks to visit his mother, who was dying of cancer at the time, and they had to contend with Spector’s erratic nature. As Wikipedia tells it:

‘Harrison later referred to Spector needing “eighteen cherry brandies” before he could start work, a situation that forced much of the production duties onto Harrison alone. At one point, Spector fell over in the studio and broke his arm. He subsequently withdrew from the project due to …. “health reasons”.’

It’s still a masterpiece in my eyes, though, and is probably my equal favourite solo post-Beatles album, alongside my next choice for today.

This last one is another on which Spector was co-producer. Here is the title track, which I think you may have heard before:

Spector is credited with influencing the lusher song arrangements compared with Lennon’s first solo album, and the whole thing is, in my view, a triumph. The album was released in September 1971, and was #1 in the UK and the US, as well as in Australia, The Netherlands, Japan and Norway, and #2 in Canada. This song was released as a single in the US, reaching #3. It was subsequently released in the UK in 1975 to promote the compilation album Shaved Fish, when it reached #6, and it became a UK #1 in 1980 following Lennon’s murder. Its beauty lies in the simplicity of its message, which is perhaps even more relevant today. It is probably a forlorn hope, but I think they could do a lot worse than blast this out over the PA system in Washington tomorrow, where I think it needs to be heard. Mind you, if any of the retards are turning up for a repeat performance of their previous effort I doubt that they’d listen: most of them don’t appear to be capable of rational thought.

I hope you haven’t minded me diverting back to the Sixties and Seventies again, but I think Phil Spector’s musical influence merited a mention. There will be more tunes next Tuesday, and who knows what the news may have thrown up as a theme by then! Stay safe and well,  and do what your government tells you, if you can make sense of it 😉

 

34 thoughts on “Tuesday Tunes 40: Phil Spector

  1. hello music man clive
    nice way to have a tribute post to spector and the songs were enjoyable
    the video of the crystals had a huge culture stamp – from dresses to crowd to black and white
    and the majestic word for the “you lost the living feeling song” was a good word. and whew! pop hit was right and reminded me of a few movies.
    timeless song in a way and special that it reminds you of your mum! and now when i hear it i will be reminded of the take it easy blog !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You weren’t kidding when you said I would find some old friends here tonight! Only two I wasn’t familiar with, the first one, “River Deep, Mountain High”, and George Harrison’s “What is Life”. The rest I know and mostly love, my favourite of the group being “Imagine”, which I have played at least 4 times on my music posts, for it speaks volumes. Thanks for the great tunes and the trip down memory lane, Clive!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I wasn’t, was I! I’m not sure if the Harrison song was released as a single over there – here it was the follow up to My Sweet Lord and made #10. As I said in the piece I’ve never understood how River Deep wasn’t a big hit there – it only made #3 here but is as popular as ever and still gets played on the ‘golden oldies’ radio stations. Imagine is as relevant today as ever, sadly.

      Glad you enjoyed the trip 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Phil Spector influenced so many people. I have a hard time offering praise to someone who committed such despicable crimes. I understand that his mental illness may account for his actions. I have the same feeling toward Michael Jackson, someone whose talent puts him in a class by himself. I just can’t overlook the other stuff, but no one appointed me as judge and jury. I love all of your selections today, Clive, except the Ben E. King song never grew on me. Imagine is the perfect song to open 2021.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can understand your reluctance, Pete, but it’s hard to separate the monsters from their previous achievements, isn’t it? Glad you like them (mostly!) and I agree completely on the continuing relevance of Imagine. If only…

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A great selection of songs. I didn’t realise he co-wrote some of those. Love the George Harrison video. I did enjoy playing his Christmas album over the Christmas holiday.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Paul, glad you enjoyed them. I think most of us remember him as a producer (and murderer) but he co-wrote a few in his early days. The George Harrison video is great: the two dancers are fabulous. I played that one over Christmas too 😊

      PS I tried liking and commenting on your latest post, but my Google sign in didn’t work – I just kept getting an endless series of login screens! I was trying to say that you seemed to have all the avenues covered and I’m no expert but I think people respond to your enthusiasm about the music you share, so keep doing it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Clive . I can see you had some difficulty. I received four comments, two of which are live on my site and I have replied. I really don’t understand the relationship between my Blogger site and WordPress. I’m trying to convert to WordPress but I can’t make head nor tail of it.🤔😅

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, Paul. I’m glad some got through, as I wasn’t getting any sign of success! I guess it’s what you’re used to, but I’ve never had any problems using WP and it will be beneficial for you if you can transfer your blog across: it’s the biggest blogging platform by miles! I don’t know if it’s any good, not having needed it, but I know there’s an option to import blogs from other sites, including Blogger. But I’m guessing you may already have tried that…

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Although Phil Spector was a nut case, he certainly made a major contribution to the music world. I love all the songs you selected and I cry every time I see the video of Imagine. Such a waste to lose John so soon. I saw the Righteous Brothers perform live when they were much older. They had not aged well, and I wished I hadn’t attended as I wanted to remember them as they were. Bobbie Hatfield had trouble hitting the high notes and at one point I thought he was going to have a heart attack right there on the stage. I still love their music though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree on both counts! John was indeed a sad loss, and the video is so evocative. It’s always a shame when our musical heroes lose it – I’m lucky that none of the ones I’ve seen in latter years have suffered that fate!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m going to deal with these in order, but you can know you made my day with your choices and by the way, I shared Eve of Destruction as a favourite song of my mother’s but I never did tell her.
    So, Fantastic, Fun and Fabulous, Brilliant, Sensational, Sorry George I don’ know the answer,
    Great Lyrics even if not a big fan of the ‘Singer’ but, I’m fully with you that it should be blasted out on Tannoy with Give Peace a Chance throughout Washington DC tomorrow.They may be full of Terminal Stupidity but their hearing should be OK.
    Great Choices my friend.
    Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, David, I’m glad you liked the choices. There were many I could have gone for!

      Keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow goes peacefully and can be the start of a much needed healing process. The rest of the world needs that recovery to happen, not just the US.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. A great selection amongst many. Interesting that in the list as much as I love Imagine I think it’s the simplicity of What is Life that I prefer these days. That’s notwithstanding that I have played the grooves off Imagine, owning it on vinyl since it was released. I love Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High – It was one of many highlights of the Ike and Tina Turner Review show I say back in the 70s.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Michael. I tried to give a view of the breadth of his contribution. The What Is Life video just had to be in there, but I could have chosen any track from the album. You were lucky to see the Turners play live.

      Liked by 2 people

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