Spector finds that there is such a thing as bad publicity
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Michael Jackson court case three years ago was the revelation that the mother of the child at the centre of the case knowingly allowed her young son to sleep in the same bed as a middle-aged man – and, to put this as delicately as possible, a middle-aged man with a bit of “previous”.
It was less disturbing, but still not very edifying, to learn that following the court case, Jackson’s albums sold in the sort of quantities that hadn’t been seen since his Thriller heyday. No such thing as bad publicity – even if that includes a serious accusation of child molestation.
There has been no corresponding sales spike for Phil Spector, whose trial in Los Angeles on charges of second-degree murder was declared a mistrial this week.
I can – and will – argue the case that Phil Spector is at least the musical equal of Michael Jackson in terms of his own body of work and the influence he has had. While allowing for the fact that it’s not a very good idea to run to the record shop and buy a Phil Spector album because he faced second-degree murder charges, one would have thought the profile of the case might have generated a bit of debate about his musical contribution.
Regardless of the outcome of the process, there is no disputing that Spector is a musical genius as well as a disturbed person. His parents were first cousins – something that still troubles him – and he has, by his own admission, spent more time on the analyst’s couch than in the recording studio over the years. He does have a “thing” about guns and, tragicomically, he co-ordinates his guns with his costumes. His favourite is his Batman costume.
This is the man of whom John Lennon once remarked, after Lennon had witnessed him pulling a gun on Stevie Wonder: “It seemed an awkward way to threaten to kill a blind man.” Nevertheless, the biggest of the big stars have begged him to throw some of his magic dust on their albums.
Spector both wrote for and produced his bands. An early indication of his eerie genius was the release of Be My Baby – still three of the most magnificent minutes of pure pop ever committed to vinyl. He brought an almost orchestral style arrangement to the then nascent teen pop scene – his famed “wall of sound”. Dubbed “the Beethoven of pop”, he described his own work as “the creation of teenage symphonies”.
And, remember, he was creating this multi-layered sound in very rudimentary recording studios.
To really understand Spector’s genius, take one listen to his work on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling by the Righteous Brothers – it’s outrageously brilliant in its execution. And The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony was based on Andrew Loog Oldham’s orchestral arrangement of a Rolling Stones song – and Loog Oldham was well known as being “heavily influenced” (to put in politely) by Spector.
Spector produced The Beatles’ Let It Be, Lennon’s Imagine and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. He went into semi-retirement in the 1970s and emerged only to work on albums with The Ramones and Leonard Cohen. He pulled guns on both – “Whenever we had rows he would point [his .45] at us,” recalled Dee Dee Ramone, while Cohen has said that “Phil approached me with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder, shoved the revolver into my neck and said ‘Leonard, I love you’.”
At the time of his arrest he was on something of a comeback. He had just finished work producing an album by the British band Starsailor (I did say he was eccentric) and was loudly telling anyone who would listen around the clubs on Sunset Boulevard that the next band he was going to work with was Coldplay. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not going to be the one to tell it.
Phil Spector: no sales spike