100 Greatest Artists

64

Phil Spector

Illustration by Rob Day

There are three kinds of record producers. The first kind is the documentarian — someone like Leonard Chess, who goes into a bar on the South Side of Chicago, sees Muddy Waters with a six-piece combo, then pulls him into the studio the next day and says, "Play what you played last night." The second is the type who serves the artist; I would be so brash as to include myself in that category, along with John Hammond, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, and Bob Thiele — music fans who try to develop great singers.

Then there's the producer who does it all. Phil Spector could be the greatest of these. For Spector, the song and the recording were one thing, and they existed in his brain. When he went into the studio, it came out of him, like Minerva coming out of Jupiter's head. Every instrument had its role to play, and it was all prefigured. The singer was just one tile in this intaglio. Songs such as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" had wonderful singers, but they were tiles. Phil would get the track ready, then call upon the artist and say, "OK, now sing." There were songwriter-producers before him, but no one did the whole thing like Phil.

When I first met him, he was very young, sleeping on the couch at the Atlantic Records offices and using the switchboard after hours. He was brash, cocky and talented. I remember that if I would vouchsafe an opinion about something when we were together in the studio — a snare drum on a bridge of a song, or whatever — Phil would say, "Oh, man, I came here from California to make hits." It meant, "Shut the fuck up and get out of my face." But like Dizzy Dean used to say, "If you can do it, it ain't bragging," and Phil can do it: play piano and guitar, compose and produce.

His music is impeccable. Where it comes from, I don't know.

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