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Review: The Essential Phil Spector

Various Artists
The Essential Phil Spector
[Sony Legacy (2011, recorded 1958-1969)]

Sadly, legendary producer Phil Spector is probably better known today for his legal travails (he is currently serving a prison term after being convicted of second degree murder for the shooting of actress Lana Clarkson) than for his storied resume of pop hits. The Essential Phil Spector brings together 35 high charting tracks that Spector produced from 1958-1969, most having been released on his own label, Philles Records. Spector began his career as a performer, producing his own group, the Teddy Bears, which yielded his first #1 hit, “To Know Him is to Love Him.” After the Teddy Bears broke up in 1959, Spector began an apprenticeship with Lieber and Stoller in New York, during which he honed his studio skills, performing as a session musician, writing (he and Stoller co-wrote “Spanish Harlem” for Ben E. King), and producing records by artists like Ray Peterson (a smooth pop adaptation of the blues standard “Corrina, Corrina”) and Curtis Lee (the uptempo “Pretty Little Angel Eyes”).

Once Spector was on his own, he perfected the symphonic “Wall of Sound” created by having a roomful of studio musicians, often doubling or tripling parts on the same instruments to create a dense, vibrant sonic landscape. During this era, he used a steady group of exceptional studio musicians including drummer Hal Blaine, guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, sax player Steve Douglas, and many others that came to be known as the Wrecking Crew. During the early to mid-1960s, Spector produced hits by a number of artists, primarily girl groups including the Crystals (“Da Doo Ron Ron,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Then He Kissed Me”) and the Ronettes (“Be My Baby,” “Walking in the Rain”). Other charting acts during this golden era included soulful vocalist Darlene Love (“(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Wait Till Bobby Gets Home”), doo wop ensemble Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (“Not Too Young to Get Married,” “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?”), and the Alley Cats (the street chant “Puddin’ and Tain”).

As public tastes moved away from pop hits to rock acts in the mid-1960s, Spector’s hit machine waned, but he still managed masterpieces by the likes of the Righteous Brothers (“Unchained Melody,” “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”) and Ike and Tina Turner (“River Deep, Mountain High”). Although Spector continued to do significant production work for artists like the Beatles (singly and collectively), Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones, his magical string of hits waned after the demise of Philles in the late 1960s. The Essential collection includes most of Spector’s charting hits during that era, but completists might want to check out the more substantial seven disc Philles Album Collection also recently released on Legacy.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

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