Over three decades since its heyday, Phil SpectorÆs Wall of Sound still stands as a milestone in recording history. It changed the course of pop-record producing and produced some of rockÆs best-loved music. Spector raised pop productionÆs ambition and sophistication by overdubbing scores of musicians -- five or six guitars, three or four pianos, and an army of percussion, including multiple drum kits, castanets, tambourines, bells and timpani -- to create a massive roar. Spector called it "a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids."
Spector was raised in the Bronx but moved with his mother to Los Angeles at age 12 after his father committed suicide. He began learning guitar and piano while at Fairfax High School, and at 16 played with local jazz combos. In high school, Spector met Marshall Leib, and in 1957 the two began writing songs. In early 1958, another friend, Annette Bard, joined them to form the trio the Teddy Bears. SpectorÆs choice of a group name was supposedly inspired by Elvis PresleyÆs hit "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear." In short order they had a Top Ten U.S. and U.K. hit with SpectorÆs first production, "To Know Him Is to Love Him," taken from the inscription on SpectorÆs fatherÆs gravestone ("To Know Him Was to Love Him"). The Teddy Bears appeared on national television, but when Spector disagreed with the record company on the groupÆs next release, he moved them to Imperial. There they cut a few singles and The Teddy Bears Sing!, which flopped, and soon broke up.
In the fall of 1960 Bard suffered severe facial injuries in a car accident. After recovering, she changed her name to Carol Connors and has written or cowritten a number of hit records, including Billy Preston and Syreeta WrightÆs "With You IÆm Born Again" and "Gonna Fly Now," the theme from the first Rocky film. Other films for which she has written music include SophieÆs Choice and Rocky III. Leib became a musician and producer, for, among others, the Everly Brothers. He has also supervised music for a number of feature films.
Spector then enrolled in UCLA, and also worked as a part-time court stenographer. He dropped out and moved back to New York, where he hoped to become a U.N. interpreter in French. But he soon returned to L.A., where he decided to reenter the record business. The 18-year-old Spector approached independent producers Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood and persuaded them to take him under their wing. At this time, he formed another group, the Spectors Three, but after several flops, they disbanded and Spector concentrated on producing.
In 1960 Sill and Hazlewood sent Spector to New York, where he worked with hitmakers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. With Leiber he cowrote "Spanish Harlem," a mammoth 1961 hit for Ben E. King. Spector also played the guitar break in the DriftersÆ "On Broadway." He became staff producer for Dunes Records and produced Ray PetersonÆs "Corinna, Corinna," a Top Ten hit. By this time he was also a freelance producer and A&R man at Atlantic Records as well as an independent producer. He produced Gene PitneyÆs "Every Breath I Take" and Curtis LeeÆs "Pretty Little Angel Eyes." Back on the West Coast, the Paris SistersÆ "I Love How You Love Me" and the DucanesÆ "Little Did I Know" followed. The youthful Spector was becoming an industry sensation.
While these late-1961 hits were still on the charts, Spector returned to New York and with Sill formed Philles (from Phil and Les) Records. He began recording a girl group called the Crystals, who hit in early 1962 with "ThereÆs No Other (Like My Baby)." Their next Spector-produced hit, "Uptown," was an even bigger success; and then came "He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)," which was banned in some markets because of its lyrics, and the million-selling "HeÆs a Rebel." Spector bought out SillÆs part of Philles in late 1962.
At 21, Spector was a millionaire. He began recording on the West Coast, where he crafted his Wall of Sound