Shining the spotlight on one of modern music’s most shadowy—and, frankly, most nutty—figures.
Alone and adrift in his California high school, an asthmatic, 98-pound outcast named Harvey Phillip Spector decides that the way to gain popularity amongst his peers is to drop the “Harvey,” learn guitar and start a rock band called the Teddy Bears. Next thing you know, it’s 1958, and, thanks in part to the Phil Spector-penned hit “To Know Him is to Love Him,” the slender savant is a piping hot, sought-after composer and producer. Over the next four decades, Spector went on to write and/or produce dozens of classic three-minute pop symphonettes for, among others, Tina Turner (“River Deep-Mountain High”), the Ronettes (“Be My Baby”) and the Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”), as well as albums for John Lennon and the Ramones. The majority of Spector’s work was immediately recognizable thanks to his use of instrumental layering, a technique that was ultimately dubbed “The Wall of Sound.” But Spector was a high-strung, paranoid train wreck who would just as soon pull a gun on you—just ask Dee Dee Ramone—as he would mix down your record—and truth be told, his personal instability is the primary reason that his life merits a 500-plus page dissection. In terms of his hit-to-miss ratio, Spector wasn’t exactly Ty Cobb—George Martin, Leiber & Stoller and Dr. Dre all arguably had better batting averages—but U.K.-based journalist Brown, a keen analyst, rightfully makes a case that Spector’s most important and influential work was unbelievably important and influential. Research-wise, Brown went above and beyond, at one point spending a fascinating, creepy day interviewing the reclusive Spector at his castle in Alhambra—an interview during which the subject wore a wig, a bathrobe and heels—and, later on, was questioned by the LAPD about Spector’s role in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. It’s this combination of dogged reportage and music savvy that makes this one of the most compelling, memorable rock-’n’-roll biographies in recent memory.
Brown’s passionate, über-detailed study of pop’s scariest visionary is just about as good as a music bio can get.