Spec­tor finds that there is such a thing as bad pub­lic­ity

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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

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