Harvey Phillip Spector (December 26, 1939 – January 16, 2021) was an American record producer, musician, and songwriter who developed the Wall of Sound, a music production formula he described as a Wagnerian approach to rock and roll. Spector is regarded to be among the most influential figures in pop music history and as the first auteur of the music industry for the unprecedented control he had over every phase of the recording process. After spending three decades in semi-retirement, in 2009, he was convicted for the 2003 murder of the actress Lana Clarkson. At the time of his death, he was serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.
Born in the Bronx, Spector began his career in 1958 as co-founder, guitarist, and vocalist of the Teddy Bears, penning their US number-one single “To Know Him Is to Love Him”. In 1960, he co-founded Philles Records, and at the age of 21, became the youngest ever US label owner to that point. Throughout the 1960s, he wrote, co-wrote, or produced records for acts such as the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Ike & Tina Turner. He typically collaborated with arranger Jack Nitzsche, engineer Larry Levine, and a de facto house band that later became known as “the Wrecking Crew”. Spector initially retired from the music industry in 1966.
In 1969, Spector returned to his career and subsequently produced the Beatles’ album Let It Be (1970), as well as several solo records by the band’s John Lennon and George Harrison. By the mid-1970s, Spector had produced eighteen US Top 10 singles for various artists, but following work with Leonard Cohen, Dion DiMucci, and the Ramones, he remained largely inactive and affected by personal struggles. His chart-toppers included “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (co-written and produced for the Righteous Brothers, 1964), “The Long and Winding Road” (produced for the Beatles, 1970), and “My Sweet Lord” (produced for Harrison, 1970). According to BMI, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” is the song that received the most US airplay in the 20th century.
Dubbed the “First Tycoon of Teen”,Spector’s records helped engender the role of the studio as an instrument, the integration of pop art aesthetics into music (art pop), and the art rock genre. His multi-artist compilation album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records (1963) is widely considered to be the finest Christmas record of all time. Spector’s honors include the 1973 Grammy Award for Album of the Year for co-producing Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh (1971), a 1989 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a 1997 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Spector number 63 on their list of the greatest artists in history.
Spector died in prison on January 16, 2021 due to complications from COVID-19.
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (originally released as A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records) is an album of Christmas songs, produced by Phil Spector, and originally released as Philles 45 in 1963. Spector treated a series of mostly secular Christmas standards to his “Wall of Sound” treatment, and the selections feature the vocal performances of Spector’s regular artists during this period. The album peaked at No. 13 on Billboard magazine’s special, year-end, weekly Christmas Albums sales chart in December 1963.
The album was reissued by Apple Records in 1972, with different cover art—a photograph of Spector dressed as a heavily bearded Santa Claus, wearing a “Back to Mono” button—and retitled Phil Spector’s Christmas Album. This version of the album went to No. 6 on Billboard’s special Christmas Albums sales chart in December of that year, which was its highest chart ranking. It was also in 1972 that the album made its debut on the UK Albums Chart; it would re-chart in 1983, peaking at No. 19. On the week ending December 15, 2018, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector entered the main Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time (at position No. 48), eventually peaking at No. 12 three weeks later (on the week ending January 5, 2019).
In 2003, the album was voted No. 142 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. In 2017, it was ranked the 130th greatest album of the 1960s by Pitchfork. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has cited this album as his favorite of all time. The album was included in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
The Stranger is the fifth studio album by American singer Billy Joel, released in September 1977 by Columbia Records. It was the first of Joel’s albums to be produced by Phil Ramone, with whom he would go on to work for all of his albums up until his 1986 album The Bridge.
The Stranger was released a year following Joel’s previous studio effort, Turnstiles, which had sold modestly and peaked low on the US charts, prompting Columbia to consider dropping Joel if his next release did not sell well. Joel wanted the album to feature his newly-formed touring band that had formed during the production of Turnstiles, which consisted of drummer Liberty DeVitto, bass player Doug Stegmeyer and saxophonist Richie Cannata. Seeking out a new producer, he first turned to veteran Beatles producer George Martin before coming across and settling on Ramone, whose name he had seen on albums by other artists such as Paul Simon. Recording took place across the span of three weeks, with Devitto, Stegmeyer and Cannata being featured in addition to other studio musicians filling in as guitarists on various songs.
Spending six weeks at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200, The Stranger is considered Joel’s critical and commercial breakthrough. Four singles were released in the US, all of which became top-40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, including “Just the Way You Are” (#3), “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “She’s Always a Woman” (both #17), and “Only the Good Die Young” (#24). Other songs, such as “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Vienna”, have become staples of his career and are frequently performed in his live shows. The album won two awards at the 1978 Grammy Awards, winning Record of the Year as well as Song of the Year for “Just the Way You Are”. It remains his best-selling non-compilation album to date, and surpassed Bridge Over Troubled Water to become Columbia’s best-selling album release, with more than 10 million units sold worldwide. It was ranked at No. 70 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
This installment of the History of Rock and Roll features:
- Hits of 1964
- Girl Groups of The Sixties
- Phil Spector Listening Test
- The Start of Motown
- Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
- The Beach Boys