Phil Spector, Famed Music Producer Imprisoned in Slaying, Dies at 81

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Mr. Spector won gold when he started working with the Crystals, a New York group he signed with Philles Records, a label he and record manager Lester Sill founded in 1961, which merged their first names. Mr. Spector bought Mr. Sill out a year later.

After “There’s No One Else (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown” hit the top 20, Mr. Spector wanted the Crystals to immediately record Gene Pitney’s “She’s a Rebel”. To speed things up, he hired the Blossoms, a well-known backup group in Los Angeles, and recorded them under the name Crystals, with Darlene Wright (whose last name he changed to Love) at the helm. The record became Philles’ first No. 1 hit.

Mr. Spector mixed his singers at will. He designed Mrs. Love and another flower, Fanita James, to sing with Bobby Sheen on one of his more idiosyncratic hits, “Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah,” which has been attributed to the Bob B. Soxx group and the blue jeans. For the singles “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” he hired the original Crystals again, now with a new lead singer, 15-year-old Dolores Brooks, known as LaLa. Both songs reached the top 10.

The Crystals played with the Ronettes and Ms. Love on A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, a collection of Christmas carols. Now considered Spector’s masterpiece, the album was released on the day Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Mr. Spector withdrew it from the sale and sank without a trace.

With the Righteous Brothers, the wall of sound took on enormous heights, but Mr. Spector surpassed himself when he brought Tina Turner into the studio in 1966 to record “River Deep, Mountain High,” which featured 21 musicians and an equal number of backup singers were busy.

The record rose to the upper reaches of the British charts, but flopped in the US. Distraught, Mr. Spector retired from the music business for several years and entered a decade-long decline marked by erratic behavior, often with his extensive collection of handguns and heavy drinking.

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