Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: 'Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader'

Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader is a humble enough looking book, but like its subject, this little anthology is stuffed with ideas. Editor Kingsley Abbott did a swell job of collecting an eclectic range of articles on the brilliant, bizarre producer. Spector’s life is pock marked with tales terrifying and too-strange-to-be-true, the full breadth of which is certainly too unwieldy to adequately convey in a pocket-sized, 200-page book. So Abbott smartly maintains focus on the man’s music rather than his criminal madness. Of course, Spector’s notorious volatility and unsettling idiosyncrasies creep into much of the material in Abbott’s book.

Following a brief introduction from the editor, things really get underway with a Nik Cohn piece published in a late 1972 issue of Creem. The writer weaves his and Spector’s expectedly strange encounters with a tidy, yet opinionated overview of the producer’s career. Sleazy and beautiful, “Nik Cohn Visits Mr. Spector” is the kind of Rock writing that simply doesn’t exist anymore.

Now that we have our outline of Phil sketched, the details are ready to be painted between the lines. Greg Shaw’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (History of Rock- 1982) provides a solid image of Spector’s early career and initial hits. Bob Finnis’s “Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound” (Radio One: Story of Pop- 1973) presents an essential introduction to that echo-swathed monolith of clattering percussion, throbbing basses, chiming acoustic guitars, shimmering strings, and punishing drums. Interviews with producers Phil Chapman and Mark Wirtz probe deeper behind the wall, revealing how, exactly, Spector created his inimitable sound. This stuff is interesting for listeners but downright educational for producers both novice and veteran.

Little Symphonies continues to fascinate with a pair of interviews with Ronnie Spector conducted two decades apart (she is far more comfortable criticizing her ex-husband in the later discussion), several pieces on the mono and stereo variations of Spector’s records, a Richard Williams article and an interview with May Pang that paint portraits of the chaotic studio atmospheres during Spector’s sessions with John Lennon, and an account of the even more chaotic End of the Century sessions written by Dee Dee Ramone, himself.

Varied, entertaining, and endlessly informative with a refreshing minimum of overlapping information, Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader provides a superb selection of Spectornalia essential for all Philophiles.

Get Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader at Amazon.com here.
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