Born: December 26, 1939;

Died: January 16, 2021.

WRITING in his Bob Dylan Encyclopedia some 14 years ago, author Michael Gray, observing that Phil Spector was very young when his father took his own life, says that that event, more than any other, “explains” Spector’s lifetime “of disturbed behaviour. Mad, inspired record producer; seven-stone weakling; gun-toting paranoiac; teen tantrum king; abusive husband and father: this is Phil Spector on a good day”.

A few years later, in 2009, after a retrial (the first one, in 2007, had ended in a hung jury), Spector was found guilty of the second-degree murder, in 2003, of Lana Clarkson, an actress he had met the previous evening, at his turreted mansion in a Los Angeles suburb. Clarkson had died of a gunshot wound to the mouth. Spector was sentenced to between 19 years and life. In 2014, in view of his declining health, he was moved from the California State Prison to a healthcare facility; he died at the weekend, aged 81, from complications of Covid-19.

Spector’s violent and controlling behaviour, and his obsession with guns, had long been known about. In 1990, his former wife Ronnie Spector (nee Veronica Bennett), who had been one-third of the 1960s hit group The Ronettes, wrote a memoir detailing her abusive marriage to him, and of his threats to kill her; their home was surrounded by guard dogs and barbed wire, and she was virtually a prisoner.

In the recording studio, Spector was reputed to keep a pistol on the recording console as he worked; it was said he fired a shot during one particularly rancorous session with John Lennon.

Leonard Cohen, who worked with Spector on his 1977 album Death Of A Ladies’ Man, had a turbulent time in the studio with Spector, who at one point pulled a gun on one of the musicians. After Spector disappeared, never to return, Cohen, according to Uncut magazine, wrote to a colleague, saying he “never wanted to meet that man Spector again. He is the worst human being I have ever met”.

A measure of Spector’s lasting reputation came yesterday on Twitter, when a US network television presenter wrote that she and her colleagues decided to describe him as a “convicted murderer” first, and music producer second.

Ronnie Spector herself tweeted: "Working with Phil Spector was working with the best. So much to love about those days. Falling in love was like a fairytale. The magical music we made was inspired by our love. He was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband. The music is forever 1939-2021".

Spector’s erratic behaviour has eclipsed his achievements as a record producer in the 1960s when, creating the celebrated Wall of Sound, he recorded joyful, symphonic hits with The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, and The Crystals, becoming in the process one of the most influential people in the music business.

He later worked on The Beatles’ swansong, Let It Be, which led to collaborations with Lennon and George Harrison, though Sir Paul McCartney loathed Spector’s Wall of Sound approach to some of the songs. A stripped-down version of the album was released in 2003.

Harvey Philip Spector was born in the Bronx, New York, on Boxing Day, 1939. His father, Benjamin, took his own life when his son was eight or nine years old. His mother, Bertha, moved with her son and daughter, Shirley, to Los Angeles. Spector went on to graduate from Fairfax High.

He was still in his teens when he had his first taste of chart success, producing To Know Him Is To Love Him, sung by the Teddy Bears, a group he formed with some school friends. Released in August 1958, the song – its title came from Spector’s father’s tombstone – sold a million copies in America and was a No 2 hit in this country. When the band broke up Spector got a position working with famous songwriters and producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at Atlantic Records.

By the early 1960s, Spector, having perfected his craft and was a dominant figure in the pop charts, thanks to his Wall of Sound – lavish, shimmering layers of instruments, painstakingly built up in the Gold Star studios in LA, where he worked with, among others, a band of musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. His many distinctive and enduring hits included The Ronettes’ Be My Baby and Baby, I Love You and The Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me and He’s A Rebel (though this was sung by another group altogether).

In the words of author Tom Wolfe, Spector became “the first tycoon of teen”; and the sound he created would influence and impress artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and The Beatles; Lennon is said to have described him as the “greatest record producer ever”. Spector himself said: “The records are built like a Wagner opera. They start simply and they end with dynamic force, meaning and purpose. It’s in the mind. I dreamed it up. It’s like art movies”.

Spector also produced two huge hits by The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, which he co-wrote with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Unchained Melody. He had another huge hit in 1966 with River Deep, Mountain High, sung by Ike and Tina Turner.

After an absence of a few years, he produced Let It Be, by The Beatles, as well as George Harrison’s triple-album debut, All Things Must Pass, and Lennon’s Imagine, Instant Karma (the first Beatle solo record to sell in excess of a million copies) and Happy Xmas (War Is Over). Spector also co-produced The Concert For Bangladesh live triple album, featuring Harrison and an all-star cast.

Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.