Phil Spector’s Gentle Production Notes to George Harrison During the Recording of All Things Must Pass


It’s pret­ty well estab­lished by this point that Phil Spec­tor is dan­ger­ous­ly insane. But once upon a time, he was also insane in the best pos­si­ble way, will­ing to use meth­ods no oth­er record pro­duc­er would to cre­ate his sig­na­ture six­ties “wall of sound” with huge ensem­bles and off-the-wall effects that turned the stu­dio into an instru­ment. And for all his doc­u­ment­ed vio­lence, Spec­tor was also once a sur­pris­ing­ly gen­tle writer, as you can see in his notes to George Har­ri­son, made dur­ing the record­ing of Harrison’s Spec­tor-pro­duced triple-album All Things Must Pass. In his com­ments, Spec­tor coax­es Har­ri­son to work hard­er on his vocal per­for­mances and make his voice more promi­nent through­out the album’s eigh­teen stu­dio tracks.

Although he’d made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to The Bea­t­les as a song­writer, Har­ri­son was eager to do his own thing dur­ing the band’s demise in the late six­ties. All Things Must Pass is gen­er­al­ly thought of as his first solo album, but he had actu­al­ly released two pre­vi­ous records under his name, the 1968 film sound­track Won­der­wall Music and the exper­i­men­tal 1969 Elec­tron­ic Sound. Both of these, how­ev­er, are large­ly instru­men­tal, and Har­ri­son had yet to step out of the The Bea­t­les as a singer in his own right until All Things Must Pass in 1970. Spector’s notes make it clear that Har­ri­son was less than con­fi­dent in his vocal abil­i­ties. In the midst of his tech­ni­cal com­ments, Spec­tor fre­quent­ly refers to Harrison’s voice as “buried” in the mix. The let­ter as a whole is an intrigu­ing glimpse into Spector’s process and, I think, a glimpse of Har­ri­son work­ing to over­come his nat­ur­al ret­i­cence. After his list of notes on each track—some a sen­tence or two, some paragraph-length—Spector ends with a diplo­mat­ic sum­ma­tion that reit­er­ates his desire to put Harrison’s voice front-and-cen­ter.

George, on all the 18 num­bers I just men­tioned, this is what I feel are the most impor­tant items on each. Nat­u­ral­ly, wher­ev­er pos­si­ble, of main impor­tance is to get a good vocal per­for­mance by your­self. Also, if you do any of the back­ground voic­es, you should spend con­sid­er­able time on them to make sure they are good…. I think you should spend what­ev­er time you are going to on per­for­mances so that they are the very best you can do and that will make the remix­ing of the album that much eas­i­er. I real­ly feel that your voice has got to be heard through­out the album so that the great­ness of the songs can real­ly come through. We can’t cov­er you up too much (and there real­ly is no need to) although as I said, I’m sure excel­lent mix­es can be obtained with just the prop­er amount of time spent on each one.

The let­ter fin­ish­es on a very warm note:

George, thank you for all your under­stand­ing about what we dis­cussed, I appre­ci­ate your con­cern very much and hope to see you as soon as it is pos­si­ble.

Much love. Regards to every­one. Hare Krish­na,

Phil Spec­tor

Read the full let­ter here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Har­ri­son in the Spot­light: The Dick Cavett Show (1971)

Here Comes The Sun: The Lost Gui­tar Solo by George Har­ri­son

Ravi Shankar (RIP) Gives George Har­ri­son a Sitar Les­son … and Oth­er Vin­tage Footage

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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