Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector, 1961-1966
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2011, Volume 18, #6
Written by John Metzger
Thu September 8, 2011, 05:30 AM CDT
Phil Spector’s actions over the past several decades have not made it easy for fans to appreciate his legacy. Fits of jealousy caused him to lock his wife Ronnie inside their Los Angeles mansion, and his drunken escapades with John Lennon culminated with Spector’s gun-firing shenanigans in the recording studio. Nevertheless, his reclusive nature allowed many to forget just how far off the deep end he had gone. The few appearances that Spector made largely led to the belief that he was a harmless old fool with a penchant for alcohol and other assorted concoctions.
With the death of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003, however, all of the old stories about Spector’s misdeeds began to resurface. His conviction of murder allowed them to gain traction. His legacy, now, is tarnished by the dark cloud that surrounds both his poor judgement and despicable actions. Yet, Spector isn’t the first artistic genius whose personal life has run amok. Although he certainly should be condemned for his behavior, the works that created should not be dismissed. After all, it is possible to separate the artist from his art.
Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector, 1961–1966 hardly provides a comprehensive overview of Spector’s contributions to the history of rock and pop music. Instead, it compiles 19 tracks that he assembled over the course of a five-year period in the 1960s. For certain, Spector wasn’t the star of the sessions; he let others — The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love, and The Righteous Brothers, among them — bask in the limelight. Rather, Spector lingered in the background, deftly guiding every piece of his mammoth jigsaw puzzle of sound into place.
There is no doubt that Spector utilized a formulaic approach, but it was one of his own making. His blueprint has since proven time and again to be ridiculously successful. For material, he tapped into the Brill Building scene, grabbing melody-heavy songs of teenage love from the collaborative partnerships of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (Be My Baby, Then He Kissed Me) as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling, He’s Sure the Boy I Love).
Nevertheless, the magic truly happened within Spector’s oversized arrangements. His "wall of sound" approach stood in sharp contrast to the simplicity of the songs’ lyrical and melodic structures. In Spector’s mind, bigger was better. Instead of one guitarist, he would employ three, and he would have all of them perform an identical musical passage in unison. A variety of percussion instruments — bells, tambourines, and anything else he could find — were added to the mix, and the entire process was captured in the echo chambers of Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles.
During the latter half of the 1960s, Spector’s reign over the pop music charts began to falter. Even so, his vision has managed to endure. He not only resurfaced to produce albums by George Harrison and The Ramones, but his stylistic approach also served as an inspiration to everyone from Brian Wilson to Bruce Springsteen. Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector, 1961–1966 highlights Spector’s brilliance. Although his legend has since crumbled, his genius remains impossible to dismiss. After all, there simply is too much music that never would have been made if Spector has not led the way.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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