Although Phil Spector’s production style was significantly different from George Martin’s, his influence did make a mark on The Beatles’ recordings.
Paul used a fuzz box on the bass on ‘Think For Yourself’. When Phil Spector was making ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’, the engineer who’s set up the track overloaded the microphone on the guitar player and it became very distorted. Phil Spector said, ‘Leave it like that, it’s great.’ Some years later everyone started to try to copy that sound and so they invented the fuzz box. We had one and tried the bass through it and it sounded really good.
In 1966 Phil Spector signed a recording contract with Ike and Tina Turner, with whom he produced ‘River Deep – Mountain High’. Spector considered it to be his best work, but it was a commercial failure in the US. He temporarily withdrew from the music industry and became something of a recluse.
Spector returned to recording in 1969, signing a production deal with A&M Records. Although a Ronettes single, ‘You Came, You Saw, You Conquered’, wasn’t a success, he fared better with ‘Black Pearl’ by Checkmates, Ltd, which reached number 13 on the Billboard chart.
The following year Allen Klein brought Spector to England.
I think that Phil Spector approached Allen Klein and was trying to get some work, or somehow he was hanging out with Klein – probably because he knew Klein was in with The Beatles. I think Klein suggested to us that we should get Phil Spector to come and listen to the tapes of Let It Be.
Phil Spector made the kind of records that I like: the wall-to-wall sound. I was a big fan of his, and we had spent some time with him in the early Sixties, when he was in London. So I was all for the idea of getting Phil involved. Also, he’d been through a bad patch and he’d given up making music, and I think he was trying to get back into it. I saw it as a way of helping him back on his feet.
John phoned me one morning in January and said, ‘I’ve written this tune and I’m going to record it tonight and have it pressed up and out tomorrow – that’s the whole point: “Instant Karma!”, you know. So I was in. I said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in town.’ I was in town with Phil Spector and I said to Phil, ‘Why don’t you come down to the session?’
There were just four people: John played piano, I played acoustic guitar, there was Klaus Voormann on bass and Alan White on drums. We recorded the song and brought it out that week, mixed – instantly – by Phil Spector.
‘Instant Karma!’ was a success, and Lennon and Harrison invited Spector to work on The Beatles’ abandoned Get Back session tapes from January 1969. The recordings had been mostly produced by George Martin, and were intended to show The Beatles without studio trickery or overdubs. At least two attempts were made to turn the tapes into an album before Spector’s arrival.
I didn’t like Phil Spector’s Let It Be at all. I’d always been a great admirer of him. I always thought his recordings were fantastic – and he actually created some great sounds. But what he did with Let It Be was to do all the things, and not so well, that we hadn’t been allowed to do; and I kind of resented him for it, because to me it was tawdry. It was bringing The Beatles’ records down a peg – that’s what I thought. Making them sound like other people’s records.
Spector applied the Wall Of Sound techniques to a number of The Beatles’ songs. Although the back-to-basics policy was adhered to on the majority of Let It Be’s tracks, he applied heavy production to four songs: ‘Across The Universe’, ‘I Me Mine’, ‘Let It Be’, and ‘The Long And Winding Road’.
I like what Phil did, actually. He put the music somewhere else and he was king of the ‘wall of sound’. There’s no point bringing him in if you’re not going to like the way he does it – because that’s what he does. His credentials are solid.
Upon completing his work he sent each of The Beatles an acetate copy, along with a long letter explaining his decisions and promising to make any requested changes.
That made me angry – and it made Paul even angrier, because neither he nor I knew about it until it had been done. It happened behind our backs because it was done when Allen Klein was running John. He’d organised Phil Spector and I think George and Ringo had gone along with it. They’d actually made an arrangement with EMI and said, ‘This is going to be our record.’
EMI came to me and said, ‘You made this record originally but we can’t have your name on it.’ I asked them why not and they said: ‘Well, you didn’t produce the final thing.’ I said, ‘I produced the original and what you should do is have a credit saying: “Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector”.’ They didn’t think that was a good idea.