Phil Spector is a killer and a sleaze, but he’s also a tragedy. When he was ten years old, his father connected a hose to the exhaust pipe of the family car. Later, his mother chased him around the kitchen, brandishing a knife and shouting, “Your father killed himself because you were a bad child.” He was small and asthmatic, bullied in school. At 20, he had his first #1 hit: “To Know Him Is To Love Him”, a title borrowed from the epitaph on his father’s grave.
The hits kept on coming; as a writer and producer, he was magic, both with black groups (The Ronettes, Crystals, Ben E. King and more) and white (The Righteous Brothers).In 1967, he released his masterpiece, River Deep Mountain High. Tina Turner sang her guts out, but everyone on that massive production was simply company for Spector. This was his Wagnerian opera, this was the “wall of sound” as it had never been heard before. Artistically, it’s thrilling. Commercially, it flopped. And after that, Spector was troubled, haunted and dangerous.
The creator who had been obsessed with making “little symphonies for the kids” now turned his attention to situations he could control. He allegedly locked his wife, Ronnie Spector, in a closet to teach her a lesson. Another time, he had a gold coffin constructed with a glass top and threatened her: “If you leave me, I’ll kill you and put you on display.” He held a gun to Leonard Cohen’s head and said, “I love you, Leonard” — to which Cohen responded, “I hope you do, Phil.” Add a mountain of cocaine and increasing isolation, and ruin was just a matter of time and place.
There are many morals to the Phil Spector story for those who like to see morals in biographies, but I prefer to turn away from this sad tale to what may well have been Spector’s most unlikely triumph.
And that’s not just my view. Read through the reviews, check the books and rock bards. Everyone says the same thing: the…. best… holiday… record… ever… made.
Is that beyond wonderful? And the richness of the music! A French horn. A monster string section. A choir of backup singers. Bells. And in the center, Darlene Love — Aretha before there was Aretha, testifying, begging, urgent as a holiday prayer. “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” — is that not one of the greatest expressions of the holiday spirit you have ever heard?
I’m not going to argue this. I’m just going to present as much of the album as I can find on YouTube. Listen…
And on the last song, Phil Spector thanks…himself.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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