The No. 1 Beatles Hit Phil Spector Stepped in to Produce

Phil Spector, the record producer who provided joy to countless music fans and terrorized many who knew him intimately, died at the age of 81 on Jan. 16, 2021. Spector passed away while serving a 19-years-to-life sentence for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.

As for Spector’s recorded output — records produced for the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, the Crystals, and dozens more — many of those songs will live for as long as people listen to music. And the list includes Spector’s work with The Beatles at the end of the Fab Four’s run.

By all accounts, Spector had his hands full when The Beatles asked him to sift through the tapes from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. But Spector was suddenly hot again after working with John Lennon on an early 1970 single, and he wanted to keep going.

Spector certainly did that when he produced one Let It Be track that turned out to be the last Beatles song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And it remains one of the band’s most recognizable ballads.

Phil Spector produced The Beatles’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ in early 1970

Beatles posing in 1969
The Beatles pose at their final photo shoot together. | Mondadori via Getty Images

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When Spector began work on Let It Be in early ’70, The Beatles weren’t even on speaking terms (at least as far as Paul McCartney was concerned). The group had effectively split in September ’69; all that remained was the public announcement of their breakup and reams of unreleased tapes.

But they had to finish Let It Be. With the premiere of the film documentary of the same name coming up, the Fab Four needed the album to go with it. Spector got cracking, and he spared nothing in bringing existing recordings as close as possible to his standard.

You can see his handiwork most clearly on “The Long and Winding Road.” On the tapes Spector got, John Lennon played the bass part so poorly some believed he intentionally sabotaged McCartney’s composition. To get it ready for release, Spector added an orchestral part along with a choir.

It may have been was heavyhanded, but Spector’s additions indisputably worked on the commercial front. After its single release, “The Long and Winding Road” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June ’70. By then, The Beatles were finished and never topped the pop charts again.

Spector also produced top-5 hits by John Lennon and George Harrison

Phil Spector and George Harrison
Phil Spector with George Harrison in 1970 | GAB Archive/Redferns

While McCartney expressed his disgust with the changes Spector made, the other three Beatles thought Spector did a fine job. And both Lennon and George Harrison hired Spector to produce their first solo albums after the Beatles’ breakup.

In Lennon’s case, he’d already gone through a test run with Spector on the “Instant Karma” single earlier that year. That echo-heavy, stomping track fit perfectly with Lennon’s wish for a stripped-down recording. And the entire session — mixing included — happened in one day. It hit No. 5 on the Hot 100 in March ’70.

After Let It Be, Spector went on to do Plastic Ono Band and Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. “My Sweet Lord,” the lead single of Harrison’s solo debut, hit No. 1 (along with the album) at the close of 1970. It turned out to be one of the biggest hits of Spector’s career.