Phil Spector, Influential Music Producer, Dead at 81

Spector died in prison while serving a sentence for murder

Photo of Phil Spector
Photo of Phil Spector.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Some artists leave behind a complex legacy at the time of their death. That is very much the case when it comes to Phil Spector, who Rolling Stone reports, died on Saturday. As a producer, Spector laid the groundwork for decades of rock and pop music to follow. It’s almost impossible to imagine what the last 5 decades of music would sound like without his famed “Wall of Sound” production. But writing about Spector’s achievements shouldn’t cover up the more unpleasant parts of his life — including the fact that he died while serving a prison sentence for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson.

Writing at Rolling Stone, Keith Harris summarized Spector’s influential style. “His productions were dense and orchestral, accumulating layer upon layer of guitars, horns, keyboards, strings and percussion, often with multiple instruments playing the same note in unison,” wrote Harris. Spector’s productions of Brill Building-penned songs, played by a talented group of musicians, made for an apex of a certain type of pop craftsmanship.

Spector’s credits include hits from The Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles’ Let It Be and Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep — Mountain High.” Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes was married to Spector for several years; she has described him as being controlling and abusive during their time together.

As Harris notes, when Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, he was largely inactive; the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he produced albums for Leonard Cohem and The Ramones, represented the last truly active period of his career.

Clarkson’s 2003 death in Spector’s Alhambra mansion brought the producer back into the spotlight. His first trial, for second-degree murder, ended when the jury was unable to agree on a verdict. His second trial ended with Spector being found guilty, and he was subsequently sentenced to 19 years to life.

Reckoning with the death of a historically or artistically significant figure can also mean reckoning with them at both their best and worst. When looking back over Phil Spector’s life, this is especially apparent.

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