The making of a hit record
(CNN) -- Phil Spector first used Larry Levine as engineer on "He's a Rebel" in July 1962. A month later, Spector returned to the studio to record his next song, a radical cover of the Disney song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." As Levine tells the tale, it was that record that led to his position as Spector's favorite engineer.
CNN: How did you start working with him directly?
LARRY LEVINE: Stan [Ross, a Gold Star owner and engineer] was on vacation at the time Phil needed to record "He's a Rebel." ... [Phil] was fighting a release from Vicki Carr, who was coming out with the song at the same time. So Phil flew out and he used me out of not being able to use Stan, and it worked out pretty well.
So the next time he came in, he wanted to work with Stan again, which was about a month later, and it was on a weekend, and Stan didn't want to work that weekend, so Phil used me again for "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." ...
This was basically the first Wall of Sound orchestration. ... We were working for about close to three hours on trying to get set up on what he was hearing [in his head], and he was getting me to make each instrument a little more [louder], and a little more of this, 'til finally I was pinning [overloading] on the meter.
I finally got up enough courage and I just closed all the pots [volume knobs] down. And Phil took it in his usual good humor (chuckles). He started screaming at me and he said, "You can't do that, I just about had it, you can't do that."
And I said, I won't be able to record it, I had to do that.
And then I started bringing the instruments up one at a time and balancing them where I could record it. I got to the last microphone, which was Billy Strange's lead guitar, and Phil said, "That's the sound." And I said, I don't have Billy's mic on yet. And he says, "Don't turn it on! Let's record it!" And we never did turn it on.
I asked him for the name of the song, because I needed to slate it -- it had never been discussed up to that point -- and he said, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," and I thought he was pulling my leg. And he said, "No, it's really Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," and when I realized that it was and what I was hearing, I nearly fell down off my chair. ...
As I played it back in the studio for them, I mixed it. And what happened is, the voices were just a hair low at the beginning, and I wanted to do another one [mix], and Phil said, "No that's great, that's what it is." And that's what it was. ...
[Levine was enthusiastic about the recording.]
I made a dub for him to take back to New York where he lived. [Then,] when people would come in [to Gold Star], these people that I knew, I'd say, I'm going to play a tape for you, and if you tell me that there's a chance -- a chance! -- that it won't be a top 10 record, I'll eat the tape right there. And they'd look at me like I was crazy, 'cause nobody could predict with that kind of certainty.
I would take it in, and the control room was the greatest-sounding, exciting room I'd ever heard sound in. ... I would take people in there and I'd play this for them, and they'd never heard anything like it. ...
And Phil, when he comes back, [he says] "Well, I have to put this record out. You've played it for everybody in Hollywood and they all know about it, so I got to put it out." ...
And from that point on, I was Phil's engineer.