Phil Spector was responsible for one of the greatest Christmas records ever made. Sophia Deboick tells the story and asks if we must reassess it in the light of his later murder conviction.
He was the one producer deserving of the overused term ‘genius’, but Phil Spector will spend Christmas – and his 80th birthday on Boxing Day – in a California prison for the murder of Lana Clarkson.
In early 2003 Spector shot the 40-year-old actress and model in the face at his Alhambra mansion hours after meeting her. His history of often alcohol-fuelled violence and coercion was already well-known.
His first wife, Annette Merar, spoke of relentless verbal abuse, while second wife Ronnie Bennett of Spector’s model girl group The Ronettes revealed how he sabotaged her career, kept her a virtual prisoner and repeatedly threatened to kill her after their 1968 marriage. Spector’s three adoptive sons have accused him of both abuse and neglect.
Professionally, Spector’s reputation was no better. Singer Darlene Love would recount how he released her recordings without proper credit and vindictively exploited a clause in her original contract to ‘buy’ her back and derail her attempts to re-establish her career.
In the studio, Spector was often controlling and unhinged – Leonard Cohen, who recorded with him in 1977, called the atmosphere around him ‘Hitlerian’ – and he was known to pull a gun at work just as Ronnie said he frequently did at home.
Several women would testify to having been threatened in such a way during the Clarkson murder trial.
Yet, Spector was the man responsible for some of the sweetest, most intensely romantic and joyful pop records ever made. And despite having produced albums for the greatest names in pop history – the Beatles, as well as John Lennon’s solo work – he considered his 1963 album of sugary Christmas songs, A Christmas Gift for You, one of the most important projects of his whole career.
Spector might have been accused of having delusions of grandeur, always being convinced of his own genius, but the sound he created achieved genuine grandeur and captured timeless emotions…
The New European, 19 December 2019, pp. 48-51.