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Wall of Sound

From Academic Kids

Wall of Sound is a phrase used to describe the effect created by the music production techniques of legendary record producer Phil Spector. During the Wall of Sound era, Spector gathered large orchestras of musicians (even for instruments not generally used for ensemble playing such as the electric guitar) playing orchestrated parts for a fuller sound. Not so well known is that at the heart of the Wall of Sound was a basement room fitted with microphones and speakers. This room acted as an echo/reverb chamber where echo from the hard walls of the room gave his productions their distinctive quality and resulted in a full sound when played on AM radio with an impressive depth rarely heard in mono recordings.

Songwriter Jeff Barry, who worked extensively with Spector, described the Wall of Sound as:

basically a formula. You're going to have four or five guitars line up, gut-string guitars, and they're going to follow the chords...two basses in fifths, with the same type of line, and strings...six or seven horns, adding the little punches...formula percussion instruments - the little bells, the shakers, the tambourines. Phil used his own formula for echo, and some overtone arrangements with the strings. But by and large there was a formula arrangement.

The Wall of Sound may be compared with "the standard pop mix of foregrounded solo vocal and balanced, blended backing." In contrast "Phil Spector's 'wall of sound' ('one mike over everything') invites the listener to immerse himself in the quasi-Wagnerian mass of sound:"

he buried the lead and he cannot stop himself from doing that...if you listen to his records in sequence, the lead goes further and further in and to me what he is saying is, 'It is not the song...just listen to those strings. I want more musicians, it's me (again Jeff Barry, quoted in Richard Williams 1974, p.91).

"This can be contrasted with the open spaces and more equal lines of typical funk and reggae textures [for example], which seem to invite the listener to insert himself [or herself] in those spaces and actively participate." (Middleton 1990, p.89)

One of the most famous uses of the Wall of Sound upon music is Spector's treatment to the Beatles' final studio album, Let It Be.

Source

  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335152759.
    • Williams, Richard. Out Of His Head. Abacus.

Wall of Sound also refers to the Grateful Dead's sound amplification and speaker system used until the mid-1970's, as well as the era in which that sound system was used. see: Grateful Dead

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