Every December, I listen to the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono. Why December? Because his birthday was on Boxing Day. There are three discs of music he had produced from 1958-1969 by such artists as the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, and the Righteous Brothers. The fourth disc is the amazing album A Christmas Gift For You.
And yet it was increasingly clear that Phil Spector was a really awful individual. “In her 1990 memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette,” his ex-wife Ronnie “depicted Spector as an abusive husband prone to eccentric if not outright insane behavior.” He notoriously enjoyed playing with guns. Notably, a drugged Spector fired a gun in a recording control room, inches from former Beatle John Lennon’s ear in the early 1970s.
In 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was found dead at Spector’s mansion from a gunshot wound. “Despite telling his chauffeur that ‘I think I just shot her,’ as the chauffeur told police in an affidavit, Spector later recanted this.” Spector told police, and said “in interviews that Clarkson ‘may have accidentally taken her own life.’”
There was a hung jury in the first trial, ending in 2007. But he was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009. He died in a California prison on January 16, 2021.
Little Steven quote
How does one describe a certain musical magician who was so fundamentally flawed as a human being? The BBC blew it initially. The first version of the breaking news story on the BBC News website carried the headline: “Talented but flawed producer Phil Spector dies aged 81”. Flawed? “The BBC said the headline ‘did not meet our editorial standards’. The text was quickly changed to: ‘Pop producer jailed for murder dies at 81.'”
Stevie Van Zandt wrote on Twitter, “A genius irredeemably conflicted, he was the ultimate example of the Art always being better than the Artist, having made some of the greatest records in history based on the salvation of love while remaining incapable of giving or receiving love his whole life.”
There are so many examples of the Art better than the Artist, and it is always a source of conflict for people with moral centers. Shall I watch X’s movies? Or read Y’s books?
And more links in the Rolling Stone article.
Spanish Harlem –Ben E. King, #10 pop, #15 RB in 1961
Da Doo Ron Ron –The Crystals, #3 pop, #5 RB in 1963
A Fine, Fine Boy –Darlene Love, #29 RB, #53 pop in 1963
Unchained Melody –The Righteous Brothers, #4 pop, #6 RB in 1965; #13 pop in 1990
River Deep, Mountain High –Ike and Tina Turner, #88 pop in 1966; #112 pop in 1969. “The baroque pop epic he considered his masterpiece… stalled… in the U.S. (though it would hit Number Three in the U.K.) A resentful Spector secluded himself in his Hollywood mansion for two years.”
Black Pearl –Sonny Charles And The Checkmates Ltd., #8 RB, #13 pop in 1969