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Phil Spector: The Rolling Stone Interview

Page 6 of 8

You did some of the first, I hesitate to use the phrase, "message" songs. Like "Spanish Harlem." What was the reaction of the record industry at that time to that kind of thing?
That record was a monster. The Drifters . . . well, that was to be the followup to "Save the Last Dance for Me," and then Ben E. King decided that he'd been screwed, and wanted to go on his own. And then he chose that song, which drove me crazy, I said "You can't go out with that song, 'cause that's gotta be done by the Drifters or it'll never get played."

I had been in New York, I was born there and had lived out here in California a great deal of the time. I went back there and I wanted to do "Spanish Harlem." It really meant exactly what it said . . . That song had a lot of meaning to me and is still applicable today. It turned out to be a very very valuable copyright with all kinds of records resulting from it. They've offered all kinds of money for the copyright.

I think the record industry just accepted it. I don't think they knew it was a message or it wasn't a message. I don't think they knew anything. I think it was just there, but I don't think anyone really thought it was a hit; nobody did. Nobody really understood it at first, then it started to grow on people and it made sense. I don't know. I love it and it says a lot for me. Did you know it was Lenny Bruce's favorite song?

Of the records that you've been involved with, and you've done, which do you like the most?
Well, in the beginning I made a lot of records that I didn't put names on and nobody knows about, and it's better that way. But I did it because people in the industry somehow found out, and I needed the bread or whatever it was, and some of those records I can't give titles on, but I'm very proud of one of them. But of those that you know of, I would imagine "Be My Baby" and "Lovin' Feelin" are the most satisfying. "River Deep" is a satisfying record.

I mean I could tell you how "Lovin' Feelin" was made. I could tell you I'm the greatest fuckin' record producer that ever lived and that I'll eat up all these cats in the studio if they want to put their mouths right there and their money right there.

If I say Bob Crewe is not good, it puts more pressure on me, like to come out and really kill everybody with another "River Deep," which I really don't want to do. "He's A Rebel," it's fine; the "Da Do Ron Ron" is fine. I'm not interested in knocking everybody's brain'cause I'll always make a good record and it'll be better than all that shit out there today.

'Cause they really don't know how to record. They don't know anything about depth, about sound, about technique, about slowing down. One company does know something: that's Motown. They know how to master a record. You put on a Motown record and it jumps at you. That's one thing among many they know how to do. For sure. I know how they're doing it, but it's their bag. But a lot of their records are not mastered for the record player, they're mastered for the record player, they're mastered for the radio, which is a whole different thing.

So the more things you come out and you say–the more antagonistic you are, the more hostile you are–the more is expected of you.

So when you put out something, a lot of people think . . . "Are you ashamed?" Not ashamed, but like that "Da Do Ron Ron" thing. "Da Do Ron Ron" was where I was at that time, just like "Yellow Submarine" was where the Beatles were; I'm glad people remember those things . . . because if people didn't know where I was, then I would be nothin'. It's like when somebody dies–all the people do is yell "He died, he died." I yell "He lived." A hell of a lot more important than the fact that he's dead, is the fact that he lived.

So people tend to reverse it, and just like the Los Angeles Times plays on that reverse, so does the underground press. You never know what you're gonna read in the underground press for shock value. I mean you really just don't know. So I don't know how to express myself. Maybe that's why I don't do any interviews for anybody. NBC is doing a big thing now. Next month they're gonna come out with record producers.

Now I was gonna tape one and say "It's all a lot of shit and everybody's lousy," and all that, but I figure that if I'm goin' back in the record industry, I'll just antagonize thousands of disc jockeys who may see the show all over the country, and then they're gonna say, "Fuck Phil Spector, because, you know, he's an antagonistic prick," which is a lot of the reason probably for the fact that "River Deep" didn't make it. They wanted me to get out there and take 'em to dinner and "Who is this fuckin' millionaire, who does he think he is? Fuck his ass," you know. But in England they don't give a shit about nonsense like that. So the best thing to do is just like cool it for awhile, I figured.

I have to be smart enough to know that a $700,000 home that I can sell for $1,200,000 was bought from the record industry. So if I sit and make fun of the record industry, I'm stupid. But if I criticize it, I'm not so stupid because I also have cures for the criticism. I just don't put people down and say they're shits – I tell 'em I think I can do it better, and I think there's a better way.

People put you down for really criticizing, but I can literally tear apart nine out of ten groups. I have to tell you something is desperately wrong with most groups, I mean really bad, bad news. But if you antagonize a million people, and they say, "Well, what are you doing now?"–it's true, I'm not in the record industry, but that is what gives me credentials to criticize, but in a sense, it gives me none. I live off what I've done and my reputation is there, and it's unspoiled. I keep it that way.

But I can't comunicate with a lot of these people. I can't really bullshit with them. I don't have friends in the record industry. I don't talk with them. We don't jell; we don't communicate; because I'm too bitter I think.

What do you think of Apple?
I think it was a necesssity. Why should they split their money with Capitol so much?

Aren't they still doin' it?
Yeah, but they couldn't do it alone, because the distributors would kill 'em.

Would they?
Oh, sure.

Was Philles records a . . .
A self-distributor. I distributed myself. You see, the Beatles. would have made a mistake if they had left Capitol. They didn't have to. All their product was on Capitol. Capitol knows how to throw press parties, Capitol knows how to sell albums. They would have had to suddenly hire all people to do that for them. Like if Tony Bennett and Andy Williams came to A&M to negotiate a deal, in the end Jerry Moss would have had to tell 'em to stay where they are. They'd be stupid. They can't get from A&M what they can get from Columbia Records. Mathis made the biggest mistake by leaving Columbia. The Beatles wouldn't have been smart to start a new association. They would've been fighting their old Capitol product.

You would have had Capitol releasing old shit Beatle records, and the Beatles releasing new Beatle records. It would have been flooded again, it would've been that same old thing again, only this time somebody would've gotten hurt. So they got what they wanted from Capitol. They're ending up as if they owned their own company anyway. They're saving all the bookkeeping charges, saving all the personnel charges. Capitol's doin' all the work and given' them a lot of bread. A lot of bread. So they're just as smart to stay in that way.

You could say that the record industry is like controlled by people who really don't care about the music.
They don't, 'cause I can make you a millionaire tomorrow! In one day I can make you a millionaire. Just make me a record, I'll send it out to every distributor and I'll bill every distributor. On paper you'll be a millionaire, 'cause I'll ship five million of your records. On paper you'll be a millionaire, and if that record don't sell you'll only be a very quick millionaire, but if I do it enough times, eventually I'm gonna get lucky and eventually you will be a millionaire.

That's how RCA works. You know any group that gets $100,000 from a label advance–you know that label is frightened to death. Any label that puts the Archies out is frightened. Donnie Kirshner is a friend of mine, and he wants me to say nice things about him. but . . . that's shit, the Archies; that's pure, unadulterated shit. When I see and hear stuff like that I want to throw up.

Do you think there is any way of changing the record industry?
It's not that it's so bad, it's just like it's going to bore itself out. These groups are going to bore everybody to death. I mean, it's a pattern–make a Number One record, go on the Smothers Brothers' show; make a Number One record, go on the Dean Martin show; make a Number One record, go on Ed Sullivan. It's getting boring already.

I mean a few good songs are out, like I should name you a good song–a good song is "Games People Play" by Joe South. It's groovy. It's a groovy song. The best song of the year probably is "Heard It Through the Grapevine" or "Abraham, Martin and John." That's probably the best lyric and message love song, ideawise, yet NARAS won't even recognize those songs. They'll give it to that guitar player Mason Williams on Warner Bros. or Paul Mauriat or one of those guys.

"I heard it through the grapevine" is the most common saying; it's a great idea for a song. "For Once In My Life" is a great idea for a song; they won't even recognize this stuff. You see, I don't care about the groups: Just like who can care about the Chipmunks, let 'em make it, so what? Let the Archies make it, let the Monkees make it, so they're a lot of shit, so what? Let all these groups make it–let 'em cook, cook, cook forever.

But the people who have to change the industry are the people who are running the big time–the NARAS organization. Like it doesn't mean anything to me, but I've never been nominated. Now you say it must mean something or you wouldn't say it. Well, it means something 'cause, like Dylan has never really been nominated. The Beatles have only been nominated recently, because they wrote "Yesterday," and they just couldn't stop the power of that song. Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley and B. B. King–none of these cats have ever been nominated.

Excuse me, I was nominated once. I was nominated for putting thunder in "Walkin' In The Rain." That's what they nominated me for. Can you imagine that? People say I set standards in the record industry. Yet NARAS doesn't know I exist. They literally don't. The best rhythm and blues record of the year several years ago according to NARAS was Bent Fabric and "Alley Cat." I mean, can you imagine: Nancy Wilson was best R&B artist of the year! I mean, that's junk.

They're trying to change, and when we say change it, they say, "Well, why don't you come down to our meetings and help us change?" I said, "Well, if I'm gonna go to your meetings, I'd rather form my own committee and get the dues myself. Why the fuck do I have to help you get $50 a person? I'm formin' my own organization called PHIL, right? And everybody give me $100. What do I need you for?" That's what BMI did to ASCAP–fucked them right out of all that money. Got all the young writers that way.

I mean, there should be a producers' society. I was gonna form one. Get every producer to join my organization–and they all would – $1,000 entrance fees, Felix you're vice-president, and Bob Crewe you're secretary-treasurer, and now we're powerful, we go on strike and we don't make no records, right?

"Felix goes on strike unless he gets 8% of the Cream records." Now that's a strong idea, right? The publishers have it, the musicians have it. Fuckin' musicians walked out on the Joey Bishop –Continued on Next Page Show. You can't put them to work. They played records in the background. So they come back, but they were on strike. Now wouldn't that be somethin'? The songwriters have it. If you're a songwriter you join a protective association. If you're a publisher, writer, you join BMI.

Producers have nothin'. They go into a record company and get fucked left and right. Make a hit . . . who made the record "Little Star?" Who knows, man? Company's out of business now . . . great record, boom, goodbye, garbage, down the drain . . . But you have an association of record producers called RPI of America, Record Producers Incorporated of America, well you got somethin', you got a giant there. I was thinkin' of doin' it just for the hell of it.

If I get back in the regulars, I'm gonna do it. Engineers have it, everybody has it. We're gonna become a union; we'll join up with Hoffa and those Teamsters, get with them, and all that nonsense. Producers don't have nothin', man. I mean it's really a shame. Where's Eric Jacobson? He's fuckin' down the tubes somewhere. He had no protection. We should have had meetings and all the record companies should be sayin', "Oh God, the Producers of America are gettin' together again, shit, there's gonna be trouble, man, trouble." I wanted to do that long ago, but, you know, everybody thinks I'm joking around.

Everybody should be in some kind of a union, because the unions are the most powerful things. They almost put me out of business twice. I mean they put a black mark on me for overdubbing. That's it. I couldn't make a master, I couldn't even get a dub 'cause everybody was union. There was a letter sent out to all the unions, "Don't do business with this company." That's it. I called up – nothin'. Couldn't get arrested, couldn't hire a musician 'til I paid them $50,000 and some nonsense fees that they wanted for the dead musicians fund or the trust fund for dead musicans' wives or some shit. There is $28 million in that fund, and ain't nobody ever got none of it. Nobody knows . . . I ask all my musicians, where is all that money? They ain't never seen it.

Just like David Susskind says to me, "What's it like on Tin Pan Alley?" I said, "Where the fuck is Tin Pan Alley?" I mean you tell me where it is, and I'll go. I mean they live ass you and the people don't know. David Oppenheimer, big producer for CBS, man, he comes here and he's sittin' in my room and he says, "Are the young people really takin' over the record industry?" And he's sittin' in my house askin' me that question! He's got cameras on me, he's got the microphone on me, and he's askin' me if the young people are takin' over the country. Now why ain't the camera on him? I mean, they don't understand. I can't change the record industry just like I can't change Jerry Rubin or I can't change Ted Kennedy; it's impossible.

I feel like an oldtimer wishin' for the groovy young days, but I listen to the Beatles' album and I know they're wishin' for it too, because you can hear it. "Lady Madonna" was such a groovy oldtime thing.

And Dylan is yearnin' for those days, because this was the first time he was ever able to come out and not be influenced by the people around him. They probably didn't understand a thing Dylan wrote on John Wesley Harding, but they probably said "Yeah, man, yeah." He probably thought a long time before he did it. Instead of writing, "I've been sittin' in my mind, lookin' out the windows of the world"–that's what they were used to hearing–he just fucked 'em all up by writing just what he wanted to write. It must have been a big, big step for him, 'cause it's hard when your people around you are all tuned to one way of life, and then you just come and change it for them. He took a big risk, as an artist, by doing that. A big, big risk. He really deserves a lot more credit. He can't get anymore, I guess, but that was a big, big step for him to do that. 'Cause the people really wanted somethin' else from him.

Now in the production world, I may be similar to what Dylan is in the popular world, but I know people expect me to come up with another "River Deep" momentous production. But that's not where it's at. It's in pleasing yourself and making the hit records. That's all that counts. That's the only reason people come to see you. That's the only reason people want to talk to you and get your opinion, 'cause you're the best; 'cause you're makin' money and you're makin' a lot of hit records. If you don't work and you got enough bread, well then you're cool, too.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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