By STEVE SEYMOUR
What should we think of Phil Spector?
A legendary music producer, Spector has brought joy to millions of rock 'n' roll fans with songs like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," "Be My Baby," and "To Know Him Is to Love Him."
He has also been accused of murdering actress Lana Clarkson in a case declared a mistrial last month.
Although the jury could not agree on Spector's guilt or innocence, many people are now taking a closer look at his lengthy and influential music career.
Millions know Spector through his 1965 hit for the Righteous Brothers. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" spent just two weeks at the top of the pop charts, but went on to become the most played song on U. S. radio and television in the 20th century.
Spector produced the song, which he had co-written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, for the blue-eyed soul duo. Baritone Bill Medley sang lead vocals on the classic recording, while tenor Bobby Hatfield, who died in 2003, joined him on the chorus.
According to Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" had been performed more than eight million times by late 1999, equal to back to back play for 45 years.
While the song's popularity is phenomenal, it was only one of many successes for Spector. Arriving in California in the late fifties, the young artist enjoyed a No. 1 hit with his first recording, "To Know Him Is to Love Him," which he wrote and produced for his group, The Teddy Bears. He had taken the title from the inscription on his father's gravestone.
The hits came often for Spector but the first one which caught my attention was by the Ronettes, named after lead singer Veronica Bennett. "Be My Baby," written by Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, dominated the charts as the 1963 school year began. When she sang, "For every kiss you give me, I'll give you three," many young men fell in love with Ronnie. At the very least there were three: Spector, Eddie Money and me.
Money felt compelled to have her reprise the "Be my baby" line during his 1986 hit, "Take Me Home Tonight;" while I got an autographed photo years later, signed "Love Ya, Ronnie," with three X's. Of course, Spector got the girl when he and Ronnie married in 1968, even if they divorced a few years later.
In a decade, Spector assembled dozens of hits while perfecting his "wall of sound" production technique, but he wasn't done yet. The Beatles were calling.
In Britain, Spector had worked his magic on the Top Ten hit, "Instant Karma" so impressing John Lennon that the Beatle invited the American to produce an album's worth of material the Fab Four had shelved the previous year. Spector added orchestra and choral elements to the songs which became known as "Let It Be." While Lennon and George Harrison were pleased with Spector's imprint on the recordings, it maddened Paul McCartney, who wasn't consulted regarding overdubbing on his own compositions. Still, the single "The Long and Winding Road" and the "Let It Be" album both reached number one. Despite McCartney's objections, it's hard to agrue with a hit.
Spector went on to produce two albums for Harrison, "All Things Must Pass" and "Concert for Bangladesh." Both were immensely successful. Lennon also hired Spector to produce a series of studio efforts for him, including "Imagine." But, during sessions for an oldies project in 1973, things began to go wrong. Spector allegedly waved a handgun around the studio, shocking the musicians, before disappearing with the master tapes to Lennon's "Rock 'n' Roll" album.
Some years after that fiasco, Spector refurbished his image by producing "End of the Century" for The Ramones, which included some of the group's best known songs.
The pop music world was still paying attention to Spector as his most important period began to recede into the realm of oldies radio. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Jan., 1988 and readily signed copies of a photograph taken of the event. He autographed an 8 x 10 for my wife Sue and me, writing "With warm regards, Phil Spector." Spector's signature is a distinctive group of swirls, exactly what you might expect from an man who wants his autograph to stand out from all others, like John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence.
After obtaining Spector's signature, we decided to add his four disc box set to our music library, despite a hefty $74.98 price tag. The 1991 retrospective included 60 songs from his 1958- 1969 prime as well as his highly regarded Christmas album, a masterpeice on its own. Just for good measure the package included a book and a pinback button declaring Spector's slogan: "Back to mono."
Today, that same collection retails for a lowly $19.98. The significant price drop might be because the music of that long-ago era no longer holds the allure it once did. Or it might be that the "Spector" brand name was tarnished during the four years he stood charged with second-degree murder.
Regardless of the outcome of any retrial, Spector, once the celebrated genius of pop gold, has gone from famous to infamous.