Phillips studied music at The High School of Music & Art in New York City, New York, and at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. While at Eastman, he began arranging music for the Rochester Civic Orchestra.
In 1958, Phillips began composing television and film scores. One of his first scores was for Columbia's 1964 movie, Ride the Wild Surf. He also founded Colpix Records and produced hits for Shelley Fabares, Nina Simone, and The Skyliners.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Phillips continued scoring films and television series including music for the films Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), The Seven Minutes (1971) and the television series The Monkees and Get Christie Love!.
In 1974, he began working at Universal Studios scoring television series. During this time, he scored music for the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, McCloud, and Battlestar Galactica. His Battlestar Galactica theme was featured prominently in the film Airplane II: The Sequel (1980). He also composed music for the television series The Amazing Spider-Man (which was for Charles Fries/Dan Goodman/Danchuck Productions) during this time.
In the 1980s, Phillips left Universal and began working at 20th Century Fox where he composed music for the television series Knight Rider, The Fall Guy and Automan.