Music History

Let's Stop Sugarcoating It: The Late Phil Spector Was a Murderer and Abuser

Phil Spector's 2009 mugshot,  after he was sentenced for the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
Phil Spector's 2009 mugshot, after he was sentenced for the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Handout/Getty
Phil Spector is dead, and the world is better for it.

Seemingly most nationwide press outlets have acknowledged the fact that the once-venerated producer was convicted of murder following the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson, but some have chosen to do so with callous soft-pedaling.

BBC was scathingly criticized on social media after they ran the since-revised headline, “Talented but flawed producer Phil Spector dies at 81.” On Twitter, Rolling Stone wrote, “The famed ‘Wall of Sound’ producer and architect of some of pop music’s most enduring songs whose legacy was marred by a murder conviction,” as if his legacy was the actual victim.

Spector was, above all else, a murderer who had loads of abuse allegations levied against him. According to his ex-wife, Ronnie Spector, he kept a gold, glass-plated coffin in the basement and used it to intimidate her into staying with him. Dee Dee Ramone alleged that Spector pulled a gun on him during a recording session. Other artists who have accused him of holding them at gunpoint include John Lennon, Leonard Cohen and Debbie Harry.

Said Ronnie in her 1990 memoir Be My Baby on her decision to leave her ex-husband in 1972: "I knew that if I didn't leave I was going to die there.”

It’s by the grace of God that Ronnie survived and lived to tell her harrowing account of his stomach-churning tyranny, but even more surprising is what she said regarding her ex-husband’s death, “He was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband.”

That, of course, is also a gross underestimation of just how vile Spector was, but since Ronnie has been one of his most outspoken accusers, she’s more than earned the pass that BBC and Rolling Stone seem to think they have.

Then again, she did make a salient point in the same social media post: “The music is forever.” Spector, after all, recorded a seminal 1964 album from Ronnie’s band, the Ronettes, called Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. He also gave rise to greats such as Cher and Glen Campbell, and his “wall of sound” approach to production was influential to artists such as The Beatles (whose album Let It Be Spector produced) and The Beach Boys.

Spector was no doubt a producer extraordinaire, and it certainly helped that he had a face for the mixing room, which is evident for the simple reason that he looked as if a Madame Tussaud’s sculpture of Paul Dano had been put in a microwave. In his later years, Spector looked like a homeless man at a Greyhound bus station feeling the warm spot of a chair that a woman had just sat in.

His dorky voice wasn’t pleasant to the senses either, yet Spector still saw fit to give an unsolicited monologue at the close of A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector.

“Hello, this is Phil Spector,” the asshat said with a full, misguided confidence that his listeners wanted to hear his pipsqueak helium voice over an immaculate instrumental of “Silent Night.” He continued, “It is so difficult at this time to say words that would express my feelings about the album to which you have just listened.”

Because of such a needless, awkwardly delivered spoken word message, the otherwise excellent album is — in a word that BBC’s editorial staff doesn’t seem to properly understand — “flawed.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.