Spector of Death

Is Phil Spector mad, a genius or a murder suspect with decades of preparation? Read our results!

Feb 26, 2003 at 4:00 am
February 3, 1967. Eccentric UK record producer Joe Meek, said to be the British equivalent of genius pop producer Phil Spector, takes a sawed-off shotgun and blows his landlady down a flight of stairs before turning the gun on himself.

February 3, 2003. Phil Spector, from the looks of things, becomes America's answer to Joe Meek.

Although the details surrounding the death of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson are sketchy, Spector's long infatuation with pulling out guns for effect may have provoked the undesirable result. As Spector's former colleagues and recording artists appear before inquiring TV cameras to express shock over the 62-year-old's arrest on murder charges, it may actually be more of a shock that something like this didn't happen sooner. A recent interview with Spector, published in London's Daily Telegraph two days before the murder, is more chilling still. He refers to himself as "relatively insane" and says he's taking medication for schizophrenia, all the while denying he's even schizophrenic. "I have a bipolar personality," he's quoted as saying. "I'm my own worst enemy." Perhaps that wasn't a good omen for the British youngsters Starsailor, for whom Spector had recently emerged from seclusion to do some production work.

For many, the star producer's classic '60s and '70s recordings are a memento of pop's bygone innocence, an era that seems ever more distant now in light of recent events. So as hypersensitive oldies stations wonder whether it's fair to pull "Be My Baby" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" from their playlists if the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers themselves aren't in hot water, what better time for us to play "Rate the Spector Record" than now? Here are the most bizarre documented incidents of violence, megalomania and raging insanity from behind the Wall of Sound. We invite you, the court of public opinion, to decide whether Spector indeed was (A) a mad genius, (B) Mad magazine mad, (C) just plain mad or (D) mad-like-a-potential-murder-suspect mad.

We know where we stand.

To know grim is to love grim (1958): In tribute to his late father, Spector pens his first number-one hit by paraphrasing the epitaph on Ben Spector's headstone: "To know him was to love him." Spector was less than loving to the voice who sang the words to the Teddy Bears' hit. On hearing of Annette Kleinbard's near-fatal car wreck the next year, Spector muttered, "Too bad she didn't die." Hey, that's not nice! C

Never mind the Sex Pistols, here's Phil (1962): The future Tycoon of Teen keeps afloat in leaner times by asking for cash advances from record labels he signs on to do staff work for, then abruptly quitting before actually doing the work. He takes $10,000 from Atlantic Records, plus hundreds of dollars in long-distance calls. After getting a year's salary advanced to him ($25,000 plus a $5,000 signing bonus) from Liberty Records, he does little more than produce flop singles and play air hockey in his office. Before handing in his resignation, he snakes "He's a Rebel" out from under Liberty A&R man Snuff Garrett's nose and cuts it for his own Philles label with the Crystals. A

Let's dance the Screw parts 1 and 2 (1963): To rid himself of so-called parasitic business partners at Philles Records, Spector releases controversial Crystals records such as "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" (later covered by Hole) and "Please Hurt Me" to make them nervous and sell out. It works, and with one business partner left standing -- his mentor Lester Sill and the "les" in "Philles" -- Spector goes into the studio with the Crystals to cut a very special fuck-you record just for him. It features Spector's monotone lawyer urging Sill to "dance the Screw." A

The best part of breaking down (1964): Deathly afraid of flying, Spector believes that if a plane is full of losers, it is doomed. He is relatively calm on the Beatles' first transatlantic flight to the U.S., but passengers on an American Airlines flight later that year aren't so lucky. Spector begins screaming, "This plane is full of losers! It's not gonna make it!" Spector is banned from the airline for life. C

Beat my baby (1972): Once Ronnie says "I do" to Phil Spector, she doesn't have much of anything to do. Kept away from the recording studio and held a virtual prisoner in the couple's high-security mansion, Ronnie turns to alcohol to shut out Phil's shrieking verbal and physical abuse. One night, during a three-way punch-fest with Ronnie's mother, Phil announces that he has a solid-gold glass-top coffin reserved for Ronnie in the basement. What girl could resist that? D

Is this what I get for loving you, baby? (1973): Spector decides that the only way he'll pay Ronnie $1,300 a month in spousal support is to have three Brinks guards deliver the money in nickels. When he agrees not to do it again, the judge makes it clear that pennies are strictly out as well. C

(Don't) stand by me (1974): When John Lennon needs to record an album of oldies, he turns to producer Phil with the wrong choice of words: "I wanna be just like Ronnie Spector." Phil promptly ignores John in the studio and drives the ex-Beatle to drink. The Rock N Roll sessions finally collapse when Phil fires his gun into the ceiling and an enraged Lennon says, "If you're gonna kill me, kill me. But don't fuck with me ears." D

He's sure the ghoul I love (1974): Phil has a serious auto accident in 1974. On his release from the hospital, he spray-paints his hair silver and gold and hangs an oversize cross around his neck to distract people's attention from his unsightly facial scars. However, his efforts don't divert the Los Angeles Police Department's attention from Spector's entourage's collective gun arsenal. Although all are fully licensed, the group spends the night in jail, mainly because Spector looks like an extra from The Devil's Rain. C

Suspicious minds? (1975): Widespread inaccuracies picked up from the Associated Press wire service notwithstanding, Spector never produces Elvis Presley. He and some pals do, however, visit the King backstage in Vegas fully armed, producing some tense moments for the Memphis Mafia until the whole meeting devolves into a mutual gun-admiration society. B

Deaf of a layteeth man (1978): Maybe it isn't the right time for Spector -- volatile, boozing and depressed -- to be producing a Leonard Cohen album. It's during these sessions that Spector aims his gun at a violinist's head and orders him out of the studio for making fun of his lisp. D

Da-doo-run-run for your life! (1986): While trying to convince LaToya Jackson to let him produce her next record, he imprisons her in his house for four hours and freaks her out by giving her a key inscribed "Bates Motel" and asking her whether she'd like to go there with him. Cue screeching orchestral stabs! D