Phil Spector died last week. To say he leaves a complex legacy is an understatement. He crafted some of the most unforgettable songs ever, and created a sound that will forever be synonymous with his name: The Wall of Sound. But he was also, by many measures, a horrible human being. He ruined the life and career of his one-time wife, Ronnie Spector. His wildly erratic behavior put the lives of people around him at risk. This caught up with him in 2003 when he shot and killed actress Lana Clarkson. He was convicted and remained in prison until his death from Covid.
He made incredible music, though.
“Be My Baby” – The Ronettes
“Then He Kissed Me” – The Crystals
For all his issues with women, Spector had a true gift for working with female-fronted groups. “Be My Baby” was his biggest hit with his wife Ronnie. “Then He Kissed Me” is the ultimate Phil Spector song to my ears.
Well, I should say the ultimate traditional Spector song. His 1963 A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector is one of the greatest Christmas albums ever made, and Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is one of the greatest Christmas singles ever made. You know how I am with playing Christmas music outside the season. Feel free to play it on your own time.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” – The Righteous Brothers
Spector also worked with Ike and Tina Turner and the Beatles, both as a group and in John’s and George’s solo work. To represent his non girl group work, though, you have to go with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” which was, by one measure, the most played song of the 20th century.
All three of these songs demonstrate the Wall of Sound sound. Spector built his songs upon layers and layers of music, often having the same parts played on multiple instruments to give the recording a dense, massive feel. There is always a strong emotional element in these songs that comes from that depth of the music.
“Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
Spector had nothing to do with the recording of “Born to Run,” at least directly. But a young Springsteen, knowing he needed a hit to get his career moving, pulled in everything he loved about Spector’s classic songs to build “Born to Run” into the huge, almost overwhelming, recording that turned it into one of the cornerstones of American Rock.
“The Woodpile” – Frightened Rabbit
On Inauguration Day, after hearing poet Amanda Gorman speak, I was struck by her closing lines:
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
That made me think of the final lines of “The Oil Slick,” the final track on Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse album:
There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through
There is love but its misery loves you
Still got hope, so I think we’ll be fine
In these disastrous times, disastrous times
That night I listened to all of Pedestrian Verse for the first time in ages. The feel of “The Woodpile” fit the moment, as it is a song about coming together and finding community in moments of emotional stress. Inauguration Day felt like that opportunity for those of us who have been stressed by the reign of our previous president. As I think about it this morning, there is even a Wall of Sound element to it, making it perfect for today’s playlist.
“Ooh Child” – The Five Stairsteps
My brother-in-music E$ sent me this video earlier this week. It is incredible. Seriously, there are 800 incredible elements of this video. I counted them.