The late and infamous Phil Spector made some timeless records over his career, but he was also a psychotic murderer who would later pull the trigger and take the life of Lana Clarkson in 2003. This vile act wouldn’t be the only time that the producer showed this kind of evil behaviour, with the Ramones finding out after he gave them the fright of their lives.
On paper, the Ramones and Spector’s slick production style shouldn’t work, and the two of them have little to nothing in common both from a sonic perspective, but also their personalities were designed to explode like a pack of Mentos in a bottle of Coke. However, the commercial yet critically adored production of Spector lured the Ramones to work with him despite his reputation for being someone you want to avoid on a personal level at all costs.
The New York punk heroes had four records under their belts before they collided with Spector, and although they were one of the most exciting live acts around, mainstream success always remained out of grasp. The idea was for Spector to keep the spirit of the Ramones alive on End Of The Century but deliver it in a more palatable manner which would get more eyes on the band than ever before.
The producer did succeed in making the album the most commercially successful of their career. Still, it didn’t entirely take the Ramones on to the level of superstardom that they perhaps first envisaged when they agreed to work with Spector.
The album is less rough around the edges than their previous work, but it wasn’t just their sound that Spector compromised. Through diluting their sound, the band successfully got more eyes and ears on to their work. However, the recording process was a nightmare from start to finish.
“Working with Phil was very difficult,” Johnny Ramone remarked in 1982. “Because I guess he’s a perfectionist, so he likes to spend a lot of time redoing things and re-listening and it’s very time consuming. It’s very hard for us. Rock n roll’s got to be very spontaneous and a little faster.”
He added: “The opening chord to our song ‘Rock N Roll High School,’ he spent 12 hours sitting there and listening to the same chord over and over again. I mean, it’s just not worth it. I mean, nobody else could hear the difference. The chord came out sounding okay, but 12 hours worth ain’t really worth it, you know?”.
Although 12 hours spent on the same chord does sound like hell for the Ramones – who could make an album in that time if it was down to just them – that wasn’t the worst of it.
In his autobiography, Dee Dee Ramone remembers the wildest point of the recording process when Spector pulled out a gun on him. “He levelled his gun at my heart and then motioned for me and the rest of the band to get back in the piano room,” the bassist wrote.
“He only holstered his pistol when he felt secure that his bodyguards could take over. Then he sat down at his black concert piano and made us listen to him play and sing ‘Baby, I Love You’ until well after 4:30 in the morning.”
Phil Spector was a horrendous individual, a person who used any trick in the book to control the musicians he was working with to follow through on his creative visions. This anecdote from Dee Dee provides a snapshot of the warped world that the producer built around him.
Unsurprisingly, End Of The Century would mark the end of the road for their creative pairing, yet, Spector’s behaviour would only get more heinous. In 2009, he would finally go to prison for the murder of Lana Clarkson six years prior, which is where he’d pass away in 2021.
His behaviour to artists like the Ramones should have acted as a warning sign about the grave crimes he could commit, but unfortunately, Spector was free to carry out his maniac conduct until it was too late.