Music producer Phil Spector has died

art v artist

Phil SpectorEvery 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?

Some songs

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

Cher is 70

“Their lounge act was so depressing, people started heckling them. Then Cher started heckling back.”

cher_2Two years back, on this date, one of my earliest online buddies, Greg Burgas, kvetched about me recognizing the late Joe Cocker’s 70th birthday. “It’s Cher’s birthday too. She’s 68 if I recall correctly. Much more important than Joe ‘Help me I’m constipated’ Cocker. Come on, Roger!”

Now the performer formerly known as Cherilyn Sarkisian is the big 7-0. But what shall I write? I have but one Sonny & Cher song on one compilation, and a Cher song on another. Though I realize I do own some Cher vocals:

“Cher met performer Sonny Bono in November 1962 when he was working for record producer Phil Spector… Sonny introduced Cher to Spector, who used her as a backup singer on many recordings, including the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ and the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”.”

As I recall, my sister Leslie owned the debut album of Sonny and Cher, Look at Us, featuring the massive hit I Got You Babe, written by Sonny. But while they, especially she, became fashion icons, they were soon perceived as uncool. So how was it that they eventually got a television show?

Sonny repeatedly cheated on Cher, and by the end of the 1960s their relationship had begun to unravel. According to People magazine, “[Sonny] tried desperately to win her back, telling her he wanted to marry and start a family.” They married after she gave birth on March 4, 1969 to Chastity Bono… That year, the duo spent $500,000 and mortgaged their home to make the film Chastity. Written and directed by Sonny, who did not appear in the movie, it tells the story of a young woman, played by Cher, searching for the meaning of life. The art film failed commercially, putting the couple.. in debt with back taxes. However, some critics noted that Cher showed signs of acting potential…

At the lowest point of their career, the duo put together a nightclub routine that relied on a more adult approach to sound and style… “Their lounge act was so depressing, people started heckling them. Then Cher started heckling back. Sonny … reprimanded her; then she’d heckle Sonny”. The heckling became a highlight of the act and attracted viewers. Television executives took note, and the couple began making guest appearances on prime-time shows, in which they presented a “new, sophisticated, and mature” image. Cher adopted alluring, low-cut gowns that became her signature outfits.

They got their own TV show, first as a summer replacement, then as an ongoing series. I watched. AMERICA watched. It was an entertaining schtick. Meanwhile, Sonny kept pitching music that was commercially unpopular, even as producer Snuff Garrett picked hits for her, such as Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.

After her split with Sonny, Cher had her own show. Then another show with her now ex-husband, all of which I continued to view. Recounting the ups and downs of her musical and love lives, including a brief marriage to Greg Allman, would be exhausting. Suffice to say that it was during one of her down periods that director Robert Altman selected for the Broadway stage production Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and then for the movie adaptation.

I saw a few movies featuring Cher, all in theaters, and she was consistently good. Silkwood (1983), about the union activist at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron plutonium plant near Crescent, Okla., who was “killed in a car crash while on her way to meet a reporter”; Mask (1985); Moonstruck (1987), for which she won an Oscar; and Mermaids (1990).

Now she’s Cher the icon, giving advice to the Kardashians about transgender issues after Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn. She was reportedly asked because of her experience when Chastity Bono transitioned to Chaz.


Ringo, I Love You – Bonnie Jo Mason. Phil Spector produced Cher’s first single under this pseudonym; it was commercially unsuccessful.

Do You Wanna Dance? – Caesar & Cleo. A late 1964 poorly-received single by Sonny and Cher.

Love Is Strange – Caesar & Cleo. Got all the way to #131 on the Billboard pop charts in 1965.

Let the Good Times Roll – Caesar & Cleo. Another non-hit.

Dream Baby – Cherilyn. Produced by Sonny, received airplay in Los Angeles.

All I Really Want to Do – Cher, Bob Dylan cover, #15 in 1965.

I Got You Babe – Sonny and Cher. “3 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States where it sold more than 1 million copies and was certified Gold. It also reached number 1 in the United Kingdom and Canada.”

Baby Don’t Go – Sonny and Cher, #8 in 1965

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) – Cher, #2 in 1966

The Beat Goes On – Sonny and Cher, #6 in 1967. The 2nd Cher-related song covered by Vanilla Fudge.

You Better Sit Down Kids – Cher, #9 in 1967

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves – Cher, #1 for 2 weeks in 1971

Half Breed – Cher, #1 for 2 weeks in 1973

Dark Lady – Cher, #1 in 1974

If I Could Turn Back Time – Cher, #3 in 1989

Believe – Cher, #1 for 4 weeks in 1998. The curse of Autotune took flight here.

TV: McLean Stevenson on the Cher show.

TV: Back in 1987, Letterman reunited the legendary duo of Sonny and Cher, to sit and talk on the couch — and to once again perform their classic hit, “I Got You, Babe.”

Coverville 1125: Cover stories for Bobby Darin and Cher.

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