Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)

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Stories Behind The Music -- Spector's Wall of Sound

There is considerable legend that goes with producer Phil Spector and his "wall of sound" recording techniques. To better understand where he was coming from, when he developed the wall of sound, one has to realize that at that time in the early 1960's, all hit tunes were made by airplay on AM radio, a medium that broadcast in mono.

While others were experimenting with stereo, mixing tracks and putting different instruments at different microphones, so they could be separated on a final recording, Spector, at his Phillies label, recorded in mono. He wanted the people out there, listening to AM radio, to hear the songs exactly as they sounded to him in the studio. It was all one big sound. He needed a sound so strong that even weak vocals would sound big. Spector would fill the studio with quality musicians, up to 30 of them.  He called his recordings "symphonies for kids".  

Spector, while a controversial and unpopular character in his personal life, was very successful in music. Over the years, he produced not only the early 1960's artists he is famous for but he also worked on a Beatles album and he worked, individually, with George, John and Ringo. Paul was not so keen on Spector's sound so kept his distance. BMI, the largest music licensing firm, considers a Spector production to be the most successful song ever recorded -- "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'.

While that is a brief introduction to Spector, the song that is generally considered to be the "first" of the wall of sound productions was by an all girl group. Actually, they were just a bunch of kids. They called themselves the Crystals and Do Doo Ron Ron went all the way to #3 in 1963.

 

That record was the beginning of the wall of sound. The Crystals would have other classic tunes over the years, including And Then He Kissed Me-- one of my favorites from the girl groups. Probably the most famous of the early wall of sound recordings was an effort by another girl group. Even Beach Boy, Brian Wilson, stated that he learned how to produce a record by listening to this #2 pop hit from the Ronettes. The year was 1963. 

Spector went on to marry Ronnie, the lead singer of the Ronettes. Suffice it to say that it did not end well. Ronnie eventually fled the house and charged abuse.

The song that is considered to be the, shall we say, "masterwork" of the wall of sound was River Deep, Mountain High, by Ike Turner (another big treat of a guy) and Tina Turner. It was released in 1966. While it was highly lauded, and, in the UK, it was considered to be the masterpiece that Spector had hoped for, it bombed in the USA. You will see Ike in the video but Tina is, of course, the only one to watch.

 

Spector, very angry at this rejection of the song, shut down his Phillies record label. However, that did not stop him from influencing the direction of music. After closing the label, he has worked with many different artists, as mentioned previously. This is, by the way, the same Phil Spector who made the national news a couple years back, when he was charged with a murder at his home. The first trial ended in a hung jury. From what I have read, the prosecutors plan to try him again on the charge.

For more "Stories Behind the Music" click on the guitar  

  Steven L. Smith

 Bellingham WA Home Inspections

  

Steven L. Smith

If you enjoy nostalgia and music of yesteryear, click on Elvis' gold record to visit This Day In History. To explore The Stories Behind The Music blog posts click on the electric guitar. 

 

        

 

 

 

 

Comment balloon 12 commentsSteven L. Smith • October 22 2008 12:44PM

Comments

Steven, I always wondered why I couldn't understand the words being sung by Tina Turner.  Now you explain it.  The wall of sound is too loud and will cover up either a good singer or a bad singer?  Right?  That must be when the music started being too loud.  And I thought it was just my bad hearing.  This is another excellent lesson. 

P. S.  Those background dancers were really energetic weren't they?

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) almost 10 years ago

Great information.  Thanks for the Blog.  AM radio was mono so the wall of sound was the best way to listen at the time.  I enjoyed the late 60's and early 70's that brought out bands like Led Zepplin on FM and how the music looped from speaker to speaker.  Or it may have been the organics I was using at the time.

Posted by Joseph Crespillo (Sellstate Realty First) almost 10 years ago
Barbara, You might be onto something there music vs vocals. The dancers of that era could sure move.
Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Joe,

Yes, by then FM had started having a strong influence. Before that time it was all AM. I remember when those of us in AM scoffed at the FM side. Nobody listened to them, it was all throw away.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Steven, thanks for sharing that, I honestly didn't realize that Phil Spector had worked with that many artists, I knew about the Beatles, but other than that I had no idea.

Posted by Tony & Darcy Cannon, The C Team (Aubrey and Associates Realty) almost 10 years ago

Gotta love the Crystals and the Ronnets----the best of the "girl" bands for sure

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Tony and Darcy,

Yes, I think his hay day was actually earlier than that -- when he was really influential.

Charlie,

I knew you would say that. I noticed their vinyl in with your Tiny Tim and Monkees albums

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Steven,  I was a DJ at an FM station during my college days in the seventies so after highschool I never listened to AM again.  Now all I listen to during the week is AM(talk radion) and on the weekends FM and Classic Rock.

Posted by Joseph Crespillo (Sellstate Realty First) almost 10 years ago

HHHmm, very interesting. I've never heard the term "Wall of Sound" and not sure I understand it.

Sean Allen

Posted by Sean Allen, International Financing Solutions (International Financing Solutions ) almost 10 years ago

Joseph, I spent nearly 30 years in broadcasting. Never worked FM. Had a few promos or ads played there, but never worked FM.

 

 Sean, think of it this way -- The noise Chuckie Bee Buell makes if an inspection cancels on short notice. That is a wall of sound.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Steve, the only "wall" you need to be thinking about is The Cast of the Amontillado  :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Beeman,

I will walk into a left hook. What in the devil is that? What are you talking about?

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

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