Every once in a while, a record producer manages to establish themselves in the music industry as the kind of producer with the ability to influence the evolution of music as an art form to the same extent as most recording artists. Phil Spector is one such record producer. He established himself in the 1960s with a penchant for innovative sounds. He is also known for writing a fair number of the songs he produced for girl groups such as the Crystals and the Ronettes.
The 1960s, however, were just the tip of the iceberg. Spector also worked with a large number of influential recording artists throughout the 1970s. For instance, he worked with two of the Beatles, George Harrison and John Lennon. He also worked with legendary songwriter and performer Leonard Cohen, as well as the Ramones.
Spector was known for dissecting his songs, boiling them down into their key elements. When he worked on “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner or “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by the Righteous Brothers, he recognized that the voice was only a single instrument in an orchestra of sound. The voice had to be balanced with the other instruments and, as such, Spector would often lay down instrumental tracks before calling the singers into the studio. He dedicated massive amounts of time to each track, to the extent that he often had to sleep in his office at Atlantic Records so that he could revisit the switchboard late at night and continue working. His ability to combine sounds was furthered by the fact that he was also a composer as well as an instrumentalist, able to play both guitar and piano.
One of his most prominent contributions to the music world was the “Wall of Sound” method of production. This method, which became used by several 1960s soul groups as well as later rock musicians, showed that Spector was able to think about music in terms of the manner in which it would be heard. The Wall of Sound was meant specifically for jukeboxes as well as AM radios. The goal was to make the sound as dense as possible by using echo chambers to record big groupings of musicians at one time, often with multiple instruments playing the same part at the same time. This was used by a diverse array of groups long after Spector used it with groups such as the Ronettes and the Crystals. Other artists to utilize this technique include the Beach Boys, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Meat Loaf and ABBA. The term “Wall of Sound” was first used in reference to the Righteous Brothers single “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”
Spector pioneered other influential recording methods as well. One of the most notable is audio spill, something he came up with when recording “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” as performed by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. By switching off the electric guitar track, the guitar sound would spill onto other microphones. While still audible, it would take on a more hauntingly ambient sound.
Phil Spector is one of the most notable record producers of all time, having developed unique methods of audio production while writing many of the songs that made his artists popular. It’s hard to think of another producer who had as much influence, or even as much sheer attention to detail, as he did during the heyday of his career.
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