Styles & Forms | The Wall of Sound | Pop
No one had ever produced records like Phil Spector. There had been lavish orchestrations and raucous sounds, but until the early 1960s, the elements were clearly defined in recordings, with a fair amount of separation allotted to a limited number of rhythm and percussion instruments within the confines of a mainly monaural medium. Spector changed all that.
Applying copious amounts of live and tape-delayed echo to layers of percussion, strings, brass, vocals and an R&B-derived rhythm section, comprising drums and multiple basses, keyboards and guitars, Spector, together with arranger Jack Nitzsche and engineer Larry Levine, fused the individual components into a unified ‘Wall of Sound’, which, despite being monolithic, enriched the material to create timeless works of three-minute art.
Some of what Spector described as ‘little symphonies for the kiddies’ made him more famous than the semi-anonymous artists – for example, although she was not a member of The Crystals, Darlene Love filled in for their regular lead singer, La La Brooks, on the group’s US-chart-topping 1962 single, ‘He’s A Rebel’. Spector owned the band’s name, so he could do as he pleased. However, rather than overwhelming the passionate lead vocals, his productions invariably glorified them. To this end, he employed the very best songwriters, as well as a wide array of the industry’s foremost session musicians.
The Wrecking Crew
Working in LA’s Goldstar Studios, Spector’s ‘Wrecking Crew’, as it came to be known, comprised a solid core of luminaries, including drummer Hal Blaine; bass player Carol Kaye; guitarists Glen Campbell, Barney Kessel, Tommy Tedesco and Billy Strange; keyboard players Larry Knechtel and Leon Russell; saxophonist Jay Migliori; and multi-instrumentalists Sonny Bono and Nino Tempo. Many, many others also contributed to the sessions, ranging from King Curtis, Herb Alpert, Harry Nilsson and Lenny Bruce to Brian Wilson, Billy Preston, Cher and Dr. John. After running the musicians through each of their parts and rehearsing them incessantly, Spector would record countless takes until the sound approximated what he envisaged in his head; he would then complete the picture by way of the mixing process.
‘Phil was notorious for never giving the band five because he didn’t want anybody to move,’ recalled Bones Howe, who engineered a couple of Ike & Tina Turner and Ronnie Spector sessions. ‘He knew exactly where he wanted the instruments positioned, and it would take him such a long time to get the balance exactly the way he wanted. There’d be, say, a mandolin mixed in with the guitar section. … He had the band play the chart over and over and over again, like a tape loop. You know, the minute they reached the end they’d play it again, and he would go out and change people’s parts. It would sometimes only be zillionths of an inch of change to make the difference that Phil wanted, but he’d know when it all fell into place. The amazing thing about it was, when that happened...
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