Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ technique gave his artists’ music an infectious joie de vivre, but the man behind it was damaged, bitter and violent
Three years before his death in 2006, I interviewed Gene Pitney. Talk inevitably turned to Phil Spector. He had written Spector’s real breakthrough record – the Crystals’ 1962 No 1 He’s a Rebel – unequivocally one of the greatest singles in pop history, a perfect cocktail of soaring melody, echo-drenched production and Darlene Love’s exuberant vocal. A year before that, he’d sung Every Breath I Take, which, with its rumbling timpani, overload of backing vocals and dramatic orchestration, was one of the few early Spector productions to hint at the more-is-more Wall of Sound approach that would make him a legend. And, moreover, Spector was, as Pitney put it, “kind of a hot news item”: he was awaiting trial for murder.
Like a lot of people who knew Spector, Pitney seemed horrified yet oddly unsurprised at this turn of events, as if something like that was bound to happen sooner or later: the booze, the drugs, the evident instability, the obsession with guns and the history of violence towards women. Spector, he suggested, had been in trouble from the start. “I had dinner with him the first day he arrived in New York, and he said to me that his sister was in an asylum and she was the sane one in the family,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’”