Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound'

Legendary record producer Phil Spector goes on trial Monday, charged with the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. During the televised trial, you're sure to hear references about the "Wall of Sound." The term describes Spector's approach to producing hit records.


In Pasadena, California, a much delayed celebrity murder trial finally gets underway today. Music legend Phil Spector is charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. Spector, who some consider the greatest record producer ever, was the man behind such hits as "Walking in the Rain" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."

In coverage of the trial, which is airing live on Court TV, you'll probably hear references to Spector's Wall of Sound, that's his trademark production technique. We asked our senior producer, Steve Proffitt, to break down the Wall of Sound.

STEVE PROFFITT: Well first, here's what it sounds like in a 1963 Spector-produced recording.

(Soundbite of song, "Da Doo Ron Ron")

Ms. DOLORES "LA LA" BROOKS (Singer, The Crystals): (Singing) I met him on a Monday, and my hear stood still.

THE CRYSTALS (Vocal group): (Singing) Da doo ron ron, da doo ron ron.

Ms. BROOKS: (Singing) Somebody told me that his name was Bill…

PROFFITT: That hit, by the Crystals, is vintage wall of sound. While other producers tried to isolate instruments so each could be heard cleanly, Specter worked to get a big, flat sound. This hit, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, is thought by many to be the quintessential wall of sound, too.

(Soundbite of song, "Be My Baby")

Ms. RONNIE SPECTER (Singer, The Ronnettes): (Singing) The night we met I knew I knew I needed you so, and if I had the chance, I'd never let you go…

PROFFITT: Combining traditional rock instruments - electric guitar, bass, drums - with orchestral strings, harps, even glockenspiels and French horns, Spector created a symphonic pallet that was perfect for the era's jukeboxes and AM radios.

(Soundbite of song, "River Deep, Mountain High")

Ms. TINA TURNER (Singer, Ike and Tina Turner): (Singing) When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll, the only doll I ever owned…

PROFFITT: But the wall of sounds was more than just an unusual approach to instrumentation. Spector assembled a group of stellar musicians, including Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack. He created the wall using doubled and tripled string sections, multiple guitar and bass and piano players, as well as virtuoso singers like Tina Turner.

(Soundbite of song, "River Deep, Mountain High")

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) I know I love you baby, baby, baby, baby.

PROFFITT: Echo was an important ingredient. Spector used the legendary echo chambers at Gold Star Studio in Hollywood. Sound from the recording studio was fed to speakers inside specially constructed rooms with very thick and hard walls. Microphones then picked up the reverberated sound in the rooms and fed them back to Spector in the control room.

(Soundbite of song, "The Long And Winding Road")

Mr. PAUL MCCARTNEY (Singer, The Beatles): (Singing) The long and winding road that leads to your door…

PROFFITT: Spector applied his wall of sound to this Beatles song. Legend has it John Lennon invited him to do so without the knowledge of his fellow Beatle, Paul McCartney.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2 (Singer): (Singing) I've seen that road before…

PROFFITT: A remix of the song that eliminates Spector's embellishments was released on an album called "Let It Be… Naked."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Lead me to your door.

PROFFITT: Fans continued to argue about which version is better, but no one, it seems, doubts that Phil Spector's production techniques continue to influence the way music is made 40 years after his heyday.

(Soundbite of music)

The RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS (Vocal Group): (Singing) I need your love…

PROFFITT: Steve Proffitt, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

The RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS: (Singing) I need your love, darling you (unintelligible).

BRAND: More to come after this.

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