In the early 60s, pop was a hidden industry whose interface with the public existed only at performance level. The big money wasn’t around then and the record game wasn’t seen as a legitimate vocation for sons and daughters. In this subterranean milieu, income depended on factors that were both difficult to predict and control and it seemed a safer bet becoming a lawyer, a doctor or a dentist.
This was the awesome challenge facing 21 year-old Phil Spector as he barnstormed his way through recording circles, making an immediate impact with major hits such as ‘Spanish Harlem’ (Ben E King), ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’ (Curtis Lee) and ‘Corinna Corinna’ (Ray Peterson).
It all began for Spector with the Teddy Bears, an ad hoc vocal group he organised as a vehicle for his songs back in 1958. Events had moved fairly quickly in his life since he’d moved with his mother and sister from the Bronx to Los Angeles in 1953. By the time he’d graduated from Fairfax high School in 1957, Spector had become proficient on the guitar and turned his hand to song writing. Some crudely recorded demos including ‘Don’t You Worry My Little Pet’ (heard here) caught the attention of Doré Records who sanctioned further recordings resulting in the worldwide hit ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’.
Riven by personality conflicts, the Teddy Bears soon disbanded and Spector teamed up with Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood, the force behind twangy guitarist Duane Eddy’s hits. Placed in charge of Sill’s new signing Kell Osborne, Spector wrote and produced the gritty ‘That’s Alright Baby’. Spector then expressed a desire to move back East. As a favour to their old mentor, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller agreed to look after him. Alternating between coasts, Spector recorded the Paris Sisters, a vocal trio signed by Sill. His faith in Spector was more than justified when the trio’s ‘I Love How You Love Me’ climbed to #5.
Following a short stop at Liberty records – the only official staff post he ever held – Spector walked away to concentrate on his own Philles label. Four years had lapsed since he’d stepped untrained into a recording studio with three friends to record a hit almost by chance. Since then, he’d learned his craft, paid his dues and finally become his own boss. Now, at 23, he had the industry in the palm of his hand and only himself to account to.
“Phil Spector: The Early Productions” covers this formative phase of Spector’s career without duplicating too many hits available on other Ace comps. 12 of the generous 28 tunes are new to CD and both the sequencing and mastering make them a delight to the ear while the booklet is a presentational tour de force. Let’s remember him this way rather than the other.
By Rob Finnis