Photo – GAB Archive/Redferns
Phil Spector with George Harrison
Phil Spector, an acclaimed rock era producer whose sizable impact on popular music was overshadowed by his 2009 conviction for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson, died on Saturday (Jan. 16) at the age of 81.
While his legacy is forever intertwined with and tarnished by his actions, his impact on popular music via his “Wall of Sound” girl group classics is undeniable. Aside from his celebrated work with the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, Ike & Tina Turner and the Beatles, however, there are numerous songs – some indisputable classics, some lesser known oddities – that Spector contributed to in some way, whether through production, co-writing or studio session work. Here are 10 songs you may not have been aware he was involved in.
Ramones, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” (1979)
While the version that appears on the soundtrack to the willfully schlocky 1979 flick Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a Phil Spector remix of Ed Stasium’s original recording of the Ramones song (unreleased at the time), the group re-recorded it for the Spector-produced End of the Century album. Depending on which Ramone you ask, Spector did or did not pull a gun on them during the Century sessions; either way, the more polished (but still kick-ass) album cut is the one you’re most likely to hear, and the better one to boot.
John Ono Lennon, “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” (1970)
Once you know that Spector – who famously worked with Lennon on the Imagine album – also co-produced the single-only “Instant Karma,” you can’t unhear it: the ringing piano tone, the compressed blast of sweet sonics, and jangling rhythm are all vintage Spector specialties.
Cher, “Ringo I Love You” (1964)
A novelty Beatles homage released as a promo single at the height of Beatlemania, “Ringo I Love You” is an uncredited Phil Spector production with an unpolished garage rock vibe sung by a pre-fame Cher, who recorded it under the name Bonnie Jo Mason.
George Harrison, “Bangla Desh” (1971)
Spector’s work on George Harrison’s glorious “What Is Life” is no surprise, but it’s less known that he co-produced Harrison’s 1971 single, which helped raise international awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. Spector also produced the live The Concert for Bangladesh album, a surprise winner for the album of the year Grammy in 1973.
Dion, “Born to Be With You” (1975)
Early rock pioneer Dion DiMucci teamed up with Spector for contentious sessions that eventually produced 1975’s Born to Be With You. While the LP failed to connect at the time, its reputation as a post-heyday highlight for both artists has grown over the ensuing decades. In terms of production, Spector is clearly in a “Save the Last Dance for Me” mindset on the quietly magical title track.
Ben E. King, “Spanish Harlem” (1960)
While Spector didn’t produce this gentle soul classic (collaborators Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller did), he co-wrote it with Lieber just as he was starting to establish his industry bona fides. Ben E. King, operating solo from the Drifters here, turned it into an enduring hit with characteristic warmth and richness.
The Drifters, “On Broadway” (1964)
One of the few classics involving Spector that he didn’t co-write or co-produce, the Drifters’ Hot 100 top 10 about being broke in NYC features Spector on electric guitar, which you can hear most prominently at the top of this recording.
Yoko Ono, “No, No, No” (1981)
As Yoko Ono endured the unthinkable, she teamed with Phil Spector to produce Season of Glass, her 1981 album grappling with the murder of her husband. “No, No, No” is haphazard snapshot of fragility, uncertainty and instability as Ono attempts to make it through the world without her soulmate. Spector was quiet for most of the ’80s, but this one demonstrates he could have acquitted himself nicely enough handling production in the new wave/post-punk era, had he cared to.
John Prine, “God Only Knows” (2018)
No, not that “God Only Knows,” but rather a song that John Prine and Spector co-wrote in the late ’70s that never made it to the former’s Bruised Orange album. Even if it didn’t blossom for Orange, Prine returned to it decades later, recording it as the penultimate track on his final studio album, The Tree of Forgiveness.
Starsailor, “Silence Is Easy” (2003)
A legendary recluse in the early ’00s (this is before he was charged with a murder he would eventually be convicted of), Spector approached British alt-rock outfit Starsailor and asked to produce them, having been turned on to their music by his daughter Nicole. One of the few recordings completed before the notoriously difficult producer and band fell out, “Silence Is Easy” was a U.K. chart hit and the last bit of sublime studio gold to emerge from the fraught producer.