Saturday, renowned rock music songwriter/producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector died in prison of natural causes at 81. He’d been in a prison health facility since 2013 for undisclosed reasons. He was serving a sentence of 19 years-to-life and wasn’t eligible for parole until 2024.
Spector, with his patented “Wall of Sound,” created some of the greatest and most influential hits of the early rock era, starting in 1958 when he scored his first #1 hit as writer/lead singer of the Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is To Love Him” (certainly the opposite of how people felt about Spector.) He produced many artists and created a number of groups, often with Darlene Love singing uncredited lead. His sessions were the beginning of the Wrecking Crew, the great musicians who appeared on hundreds of hits in the ‘60s. His style influenced everyone from The Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen to Meatloaf.
His groups included the Crystals and the Ronettes (led by his wife Ronnie Spector), and his many classic hits include “He’s A Rebel,” “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me” and the perennial Phil Spector Christmas Album (“A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records.”) Later famous Spector productions include John Lennon’s “Imagine,” George Harrrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the album “All Things Must Pass,” Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” (Spector considered it his greatest record, but it wasn’t a hit at the time), the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album (his production of that is still controversial) and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” which was named radio’s most-played song of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, he was notorious for private behavior that ranged from controlling to sociopathic. It caused his career to be mostly over by the 1980s. His wife Ronnie wrote on Instagram that he was “a brilliant producer but a lousy husband” who was “not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged. I still smile whenever I hear the music we made together, and always will. The music will be forever.”
He was infamous for waving his pistol in the faces of artists, which came back to haunt him in 2003, when nobody believed his claim that actress Lana Clarkson decided for no apparent reason to use his pistol to commit suicide in his living room.
As Antony says in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” In Phil Spector’s case, there is no way for the evil of the murder he committed ever to go away with time, but thanks to the recording studio, the good he did will live on forever. And so, the controversies and debates about him will also go on forever, along with the great music he created.
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