Sorry to leave Vegas for a moment. But I am huge geek level fan of the producer Phil Spector. Tina Turner’s voice was like a warrior’s gift from the Gods—like a magic spear or shield– given to a worthy champion. “River Deep, Mountain High” takes a pop song to the perfection of the greatest art with the help of a recording studio. There is a reason everyone from The Beatles to Leonard Cohen took notice of the original teen music tycoon.
And, yet tragedy and bad decisions and nastiness always dogged Spector. His first hit “To Know Him is To Love Him” was a teenage love song created from the words on his father’s tombstone. The ambiguities of that choice is symbolic of the larger legend created around him in the decades after his brilliance transformed music between 1958-1969. After his glory years, the humiliations and bad behavior predominated. Even The Beatles snubbed him removing his work on Let It Be to release Let It Be Naked. And, with that, McCartney erased Spector from The Beatles catalog. Most devastating of all, “Let It Be” mostly sounds better without his puffed and bloated arrangements.
The guns, drinking, temper and bad toupees are what Spector has been known for since 1980. That was the year of his last serious effort at recording; Spector overproduced The Ramones’ “End of the Century” to a degree so embarrassing no one doubted why he stopped working after the debacle. (Still, the album yielded the beautiful “Danny Says,” a precious and unique song in The Ramones catalog made vivid by Spector’s “Wall of Sound” ). Spector’s last musical endeavor was another embarrassment: the never-made-it band Starsailor.
The Starsailor sessions are not mentioned on the press release I got this morning announcing Spector’s comeback. This is the first full length (Starsailor was only some tracks) project in three decades:
“Spector’s first recording project in three decades comes out next month. It is the debut CD for his wife Rachelle Spector, which he produced and arranged.” The recording done, of course, between murder trials. Ah, romance. Titled, Out of My Chelle, the disc features “10 tracks of upbeat, mainstream adult pop, with hints of R&B, rock and dance. It is scheduled for release on the independent label Genius 4Ever Records with distribution through Rocket Science/RED. The album will be available for digital download on June 8 at Amazon, iTunes and other digital retailers and in stores on July 20.”
Anyone else think it is interesting that a producer who has yet to fully embrace stereo over mono has joined the digital revolution? These recordngs were probably made around the time Spector trashed Tina Turner as simply the person who Ike Turner (a heavily Spector influenced producer) lavished his gifts on to make a star. It was shameful for him to say that and not true. Name an Ike Turner hit without Tina? See, my point. And that reminded me of some similarly mean-spirited comments he made about his ex-wife Ronnie Spector who sang Spector produced hits for Ronettes like “Baby, I love You.” He noted his ex-wife was no Diana Ross. In short, there is a misogyny that is so ingrained into Spector’s words and actions that it not only impacts his art but makes one believe this man would kill a woman. Spector’s obsessiveness, his ability to relentlessly focus on a track, to build his “Wall of Sound,” into pure magnificence using an otherwise average pop song remains stunning. As a person, he seems to be where he belongs.
Over the years, Spector has had followers, most famously, Brian Wilson. Yet today’s producers from Dr. Dre to Rick Rubin seem to show no Spector influence at all. His songs have lasted as has their sound, but his approach to production is firmly in the past.
Meanwhile his wife is offering this repulsive sentiment in the press release:
“Her husband is currently in prison after being convicted of murder—a crime for which Rachelle, who is well-versed in more than 40,000 pages of testimony spanning two trials, steadfastly and convincingly asserts his innocence.”
Who is being convinced? Who is she convincing? Phil Spector threatened women (and men) with guns for years and when one died shot by his gun at his home like a Greek play, this was an ending entirely predictable.
One suspects the new Spector disc will be depressingly inferior pop that evokes Spector’s great art like a shade in Homer talking to Odysseus about his great days on the field of battle. Shades are sad. The press release describes the songs as a “blend shades of R&B, rock, dance and disco over a multi-layered pop instrumentation, but remain a distinct musical departure from the producer’s renowned ‘Wall of Sound’ orchestrations.” This reads like Spector finally left the 60s behind only to make a mid-70s record. How embarrassing; disco the new sound in 2010 is Spector’s view of catching up to the music of today?
I suspect, despite being a huge fan, I will pass on this release.