Around 1939: Phil Spector Is Born, Will Wow the World, Then Murder an Actress

Phil Spector would create the ‘Wall of Sound,’ but fail to fail to block his own worst inclinations .

David B. Green
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Music producer Phil Spector speaks outside a hearing in his murder case Friday, May 7, 2004, in Alhambra: He would be fund guilty five years later and sentenced to 19 years for the murder of Lana Clark.
Music producer Phil Spector Credit: Kevork Djansezian, AP
David B. Green

December 26, 1939 – or 1940 (there are sources for both dates) – is the birthdate of record producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector. Spector, who began producing music while still a teenager, is responsible for developing what one promoter called the “Wall of Sound,” a method of layering instrumental tracks one over another to give the music in a pop song a thick, orchestral sound, in which individual instruments became indistinguishable.

Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, tried to match Spector’s achievement in his band’s 1966 album “Pet Sounds,” for example, but admitted to The New York Times in 2013 that “Be My Baby,” co-written by Spector and recorded by the Ronettes, is “the greatest record ever produced. No one will ever top that one.”

Be my BabyCredit: YouTube

Spector was a professional success: Inaddition to the girl groups he produced in the 1960s, he oversaw production of music by mature artists like John Lennon and George Harrison, as well as the Beatles, the Ramones, Leonard Cohen, and Ike and Tina Turner. But hispersonal life has been messy, to say the least, characterized by mental illness, alcoholism and the omnipresent threat of violence. Finally, in February 2003, he shot to death a woman, Lana Clark, in his home, during a drinking binge.

To Know Him Was to Love Him

Harvey Phillip Spector was born in the Bronx, New York. Both his parents were Jewish immigrants who came as children from Ukrainian Russia. Benjamin Spector worked as a steelworker, and Phil’s mother Bertha Spector was a seamstress. There is some speculation that Bertha and Ben’s parents were first cousins.

Ben Spector committed suicide in April 1949. Three years later, at the invitation of relatives, Bertha moved to Hollywood, California, with Phil and his older sister, Shirley.

To Know Him is to Love HimCredit: YouTube

Phil became interested in music early, and received his first guitar as a bar mitzvah present. At Fairfax High School, he and several classmates formed a band that later recorded under the name of the Teddy Bears.

In April 1958, Spector and the Teddy Bears recorded their first single, “Don’t You Worry My Little Pet.” Its B-side was a Spector song, “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” sung by Fairfax classmate Annette Kleinbard.

Although the song is an anthem of a teenage girl’s love angst, Spector took the title line of “To Know Him” from the epitaph on his father’s gravestone, which reads, “Ben Spector – To Know Him Was to Love Him.” By December 1958, it was the number one song on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100.

You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin

Spector and John Lennon during a recording sessionCredit: YouTube

Spector soon had his own record label, Philles, and within several years, had co-written and produced songs such as “Be My Baby” (the Ronettes) and “Spanish Harlem” (Ben E. King). The Righteous Brothers’ 1964 hit “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” co-written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, became the most-broadcast song in America in the 20th century.

It was Spector who took the recordings from the Beatles’ final recording session and remastered them into the album “Let It Be.” Paul McCartney, who was not consulted on the re-engineering, was furious, but both John Lennon and George Harrison turned to Spector to produce their own solo albums.

However, by the 1970s, Spector had begun collecting guns, and there were stories of his drawing a gun in the recording studio when artists challenged his authority. Then, in 1974, he went head-first through his car windshield and was seriously injured. He became increasingly reclusive, and apparently was diagnosed with manic depression – and for some years, also had a serious alcohol problem.

In the 1980s, ‘90s and early in the 2000s, he largely stopped working. But by February 3, 2003, he had become more active again. That is when he met and brought actress Lana Clark to his home, after meeting her at the House of Blues.

It was there that early the following morning, she was killed by a single gunshot to her mouth.

Spector claimed that Clark had killed herself, and a first trial for murder ended in a hung jury in 2007. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009, after a retrial, and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. It was reported two years ago that, along with a number of other physical ailments, Spector had lost the ability to speak, due to laryngeal papillomatosis.