Phil Spector’s 1st No. 1 Hit Was Inspired by a Gravestone

Phil Spector gave the world a lot of beautiful music, however, one of his early hits has a very morbid origin story. It was inspired by a tombstone. Here’s the story of a hit song with a surprising connection to the Rocky franchise.

Phil Spector in the studio
Phil Spector | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Phil Spector’s song inspired by a gravestone is surprisingly pretty

Let’s start with a little background. In regards to his musical career, Spector is remembered for three reasons today. Firstly, he produced classic songs for girl groups like The Crystals and The Ronettes, some of which are Christmas staples. Secondly, he produced music for The Beatles during the later years of their career. Thirdly, he worked with John Lennon and George Harrison during their solo careers. It’s quite possible none of that would have happened without Spector’s first hit.

It all started with a gravestone. According to the book Phil Spector: Wall of Pain, Spector’s father’s grave was inscribed with the words “To Know Him Was to Love Him.” Spector took that phrase and made a slight alteration to it. Specifically, he changed the tense.

“To Know Him Is to Love Him”

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Spector’s stroke of inspiration resulted in a syrupy sweet love song called “To Know Him Is to Love Him” by The Teddy Bears. While Spector revolutionized the role of a music producer, he was actually a member of The Teddy Bears rather than just their producer. While short-lived, The Teddy Bears are remembered today because their one hit contains within it the seeds of Spector’s signature sound.

Phil Spector: garage band pioneer

Originally, however, the song didn’t sound so great. The lead singer of The Teddy Bears was Anette Kleinbard, who also performed under the name Carol Connors. Spector sang “To Know Him Is to Love Him” to Connors over the phone and she was struck by how awful his voice sounded.

He told her they’d rehearse the song the following day. The Teddy Bears had to rehearse in the garage of band member Marshall Lieb, making The Teddy Bears a garage band even if their sound was very different from your typical garage band. Connors sang the final version of “To Know Him Is to Love Him.”

‘To Know Him Is to Love Him’ has an odd connection to the ‘Rocky’ franchise

According to Stereogum, the track reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958. Spector would go on to have a legendary career and Connors would return to the pop charts as well. She co-wrote “Gonna Fly Know,” the triumphant track which became the theme for the original Rocky. That song reached the pinnacle of the chart in 1975, showing that she could adapt to the musical tastes of different eras. 

“Gonna Fly Nw

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Connors clearly had a lot of versatility, as she helped craft successful songs in multiple genres. Spector did as well, as his career would encompass genres ranging from doo-wop to folk to avant-garde music. And to think, that entire career was made possible by a tombstone.