Phil Spector on “Be My Baby” and The Wall of Sound
You know the song. It’s been featured in two of Scorsese’s classic movies, Mean Streets (seen below) and Goodfellas. Using his state-of-the-art “Wall of Sound”, Phil Spector (pre-insanity?) was able to give a very unique and unmistakable sound to the tracks (especially the percussion) he produced from 1961-1966. Spector elaborates:
“I always had ideas for the drum sounds that were different each time. There were times when Hal Blaine would sit for hours, and never play a lick, and/or wait outside the studio while I would get everyone else sounding the way I wanted; I would build instruments by instruments, adding them slowly, on top of each other, with the drums being last. And many times, if I couldn’t get the right drum sound, at the end of the session, after hours and hours of work, I would cancel the session, even though we had worked four or five or more hours.
“The drum sound I had in mind came about fairly quickly this time, albeit many hours after getting a ’sound’ on all the other musicians. I had the echo in place on everything else, and Gold Star’s echo was a nightmare to handle, as it changed from minute to minute. If someone moved, the echo would change, like the wind. So everyone had to remain as stationary as possible (much to their dismay), or the echo would change the sound I was trying to get. So when Hal Blaine would walk back into the room (because he wouldn’t be sitting there the entire four hours), nobody could move a microphone, and he couldn’t brush up against anyone, or anyone’s microphone. Unlike Motown’s studio echo, which was consistent, Gold Star’s was not.
“But on the day of ‘Be My Baby,’ the echo sounded real good, and more importantly, consistent. You can hear how consistent it is, on the ending of the recording, when I told Hal to solo on all the breaks and fills, which I thought would be very sexual to add to the sound of the recording. The echo was excellent that day: in particular, the echo from the overhead mike, which picked up the bass drum beautifully and filled the room up, which is why I decided to use it (the bass drum) as the intro. Normally, the bass drum beginning the recording would not have been loud enough, or big enough, and I worried if it would be loud enough to sustain the band coming in after it until the day the record was released.”