This is the song that launched Phil Spector's career. He was a 17-year-old senior in high school when he recorded this, and he quickly became a top producer after working with prominent songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. By the time he was 23, he had produced hits like "Be My Baby
" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
" and was already a millionaire. He became famous for obsessive attention to detail and a heavily layered sound, but was also mentally unstable. After producing the Beatles album Let It Be
and working on solo albums for George Harrison and John Lennon, he went into seclusion and worked only sporadically.
Phil Spector was inspired to write this in early 1958 by a photograph of his father Ben's tombstone that said "To have known him was to have loved him." Phil changed the tense of the epitaph on the tombstone and matched it to the music of "When the Red, Red Robin Goes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along." Benjamin Spector was a steelworker who killed himself 9 years earlier, when Phil was 9 years old. After he died, Phil's mother moved the family from New York to Los Angeles.
Along with some high school friends, Phil put together The Teddy Bears (named after the Elvis Presley song), and wrote this so their new vocalist, Annette Kleinbard, would have something new to sing at a recording session. They had an audition with Era Records head Lew Bidell, who thought they were "okay" but needed better material. Kleinbard didn't like the song, but agreed to sing it anyway. The group consisted of high school seniors Spector and Marshall Lieb, sophomore Kleinbard, and alumnus Sandy Nelson (who later had #4 hit "Teen Beat" and #7 "Let There Be Drums") on the drum kit. Although Lieb played piano at the recording session, Spector had asked another friend to do it: future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. Johnston turned Spector down because he had a date.
This was released on Dore Records as the B-side of "Don't You Worry My Little Pet" and released in August 1958. After a month, very little happened with the record on the local level. Dore tried again with the record - this time pushing "To Know Him Is To Love Him" as the A-side. Still nothing - it looked like doom for the single. Meanwhile, a radio station in Fargo, North Dakota, began playing "To Know Him Is To Love Him" regularly, and orders began coming in for the record. Then the record started getting airplay in Minneapolis. The record had sold nearly 20,000 copies when it entered Billboard at #88 on September 22. Lew Bedell called Dick Clark in Philadelphia to help him promote the record, which was only a Midwest hit, and Clark played it on American Bandstand on October 3, 1958. The following week, it entered the Top 40, and on October 29, The Teddy Bears appeared live on Bandstand. By December 1, "To Know Him Is To Love Him" was #1 in the nation. It ended up selling nearly one-and-a-half million copies. Spector finished the Dore contract by providing them with a second single, "Wonderful Loveable You" backed with "Till You're Mine."
The Teddy Bears left Dore for Imperial Records and released the album The Teddy Bears Sing
. It went nowhere and the group soon disbanded, with Spector joining Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood's Gregmark Publishing and forming a new group called The Spectors Three. Annette Kleinbard had a serious car accident requiring months of recovery time. She did recover and issued a single, "Alibi"/"What Difference Does It Make," on Imperial under the name Annette Bard. After that single failed, Kleinbard changed her name to Carol Connors (she hated her name because of Annette Funicello's presence in The Mickey Mouse Club
) and later gained fame as a songwriter ("Hey Little Cobra
" and "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)
The recording session was produced by Spector and took only 20 minutes and two takes, quite a contrast to Spector's later production efforts.
In 1964, a British singer named Cleo Sylvestre recorded a version of this song backed by The Rolling Stones. Released as a single, it was credited to "Cleo" and also included on the Stones compilation album Connection. This version was produced by The Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham.
Peter & Gordon (#24 in 1965) and Bobby Vinton (#34 in 1969) returned the song, as "To Know You Is to Love You," to the Top 40. BB King also had a #38 hit with "To Know You Is to Love You" in 1973, but it's not the same song - King's hit was co-written by Stevie Wonder.
Spector claimed that he learned a great deal from writing, recording and promoting this song. He learned that he didn't want to be a singer, and he also got a lesson in the brutal nature of the record business when he received only $3,000 out of the $20,000 he thought he had earned from the record. "I learnt about payola and distributors and manufacturing," Spector said. "I learnt about the Mafia."
Amy Winehouse recorded an acoustic version of this for the B-side of "You Know I'm No Good
," from her posthumously released Back to Black