By Phyllis Pollack
Columbia Records will release four discs of remastered music that produced by Phil Spector. The four discs, slated for release on February 22, 2011 are ‘Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes,’ ‘Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of the Crystals,’ ‘The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love,’ and ‘Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966’ on February 22. Spector, whose star rose largely due to his innovative “Wall of Sound,” with its heavily layered arrangements, has been in prison since 2009 for the murder of Lana Clarkson.
Paradoxically, despite the fact these songs were recorded at a time when commercially released music was far more innocent and restrained, the sentiments conveyed on the upcoming Ronettes disc are far more clearly expressed than what is heard in much of today’s pop music.
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards described the Ronettes in his autobiography ‘Life,’ by saying, ‘The Ronettes were the hottest girl group in the world.” Arguably, their music is still the best “girl group” that recorded music has offered.
James Brown sang, “It’s a man’s world, but it needs a woman’s touch.” Nothing would prove to that be so true as these recordings, even with the musical genius of Phil Spector at the helm. The gifted female vocalists on these albums would flaunt their trademark vocal styles, and particularly so, Ronnie Spector.
Ronnie Spector (neé Veronica Bennett) was married to Spector from 1968 to 1973. The stunningly beautiful musical marriage with Phil Spector would not translate into a legal one, however. In her 1990 autobiography, ‘Be My Baby,’ written with Vince Waldron, Ronnie Spector details an abusive relationship, at one point writing, “I was so scared that I got up and ran out of the bedroom into the hallway. If Phil was going to kill me, I wanted him to do it where there might be witnesses.” Among its many claims of abuse, another passage says that Spector threatened to have her killed, relating a tale of Spector telling about a hit man that had “been paid to blow your brains out.”
In spite of all the fear and drama in her relationship with Spector, as was the case of Tina Turner with her husband Ike, she was able to execute fabulous recordings and performances.
The Ronettes, like the Crystals and Spector, himself, are Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Inductees. Comprised of Ms. Spector, her late sister Estelle and Nedra Talley, a cousin, the Ronettes began performing in1959, and were a popular New York City act before they were discovered by Phil Spector.
Long before the Runaways would proclaim themselves as being the first rock and roll women, the Ronettes were rock’s first “bad girls.” Ronnie Bennett and company were way before their time, with their heavy black eyeliner, miniskirts and heavily teased beehive hairstyles that would later be copped by the also superlatively talented vocalist Amy Winehouse more than four decades later.
With the feigned innocence heard on the upcoming Ronettes disc on tracks like “So Young” and “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love,” the group defined teen angst. The song was also recorded by Sonny and Cher. Spector arranged for group to travel to Los Angeles to lay down tracks at Gold Star Records, where he was recording at the time. It was at this first session that the upcoming disc’s opening track “Why Won’t They Let Us Fall in Love” was recorded.
Spector had tried to break up the group before signing them, wanting to only sign Ronnie. Despite his pressure, the three performers refused to give in to Spector. Therefore, he was forced to sign the three of them.
The multi-racial group never had to “cross over.” They would be an instant international sensation the same year, with the release of “Be My Baby” on Spector’s Philles label. The track landed on the top five of the rhythm and blues charts, and reached the Number 2 spot on Billboard Magazine’s Top Singles Chart on September 14, 1963, followed by more hits that would become staple radio hits, which they will likely remain in perpetuity. CONTINUE READING BELOW THIS ADVERTISEMENT.
Despite the popularity the group, Spector would work just as hard to isolate Ronnie and sabotage her career. Just three years after signing the group, in an effort to control and stifle the talented singer, he refused to let her tour with the group when they were asked to be the opening act for The Beatles.
Further obstructing her career, Spector eventually began to record songs with the group, but he would not complete and release them, further obstructing the Ronettes’ continued stardom.
As a result of the narcissistic wound he felt from the lack of success achieved by his 1966 release of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” Spector became a recluse. Congruently, he forced his wife to submit to the same lifestyle, effectively causing the group to disband that year.
The 1969 release of “You Came You Saw, You Conquerde,” was a single. It fundamentally only featured Ronnie, although it was packaged as a Ronettes song. No album was released associated with the single.
After leaving her husband in 1973 and being free of his control, Ronnie Spector began recording and performing and recording again.
With this as just part of the backstory, the music, itself, has a story of its own.
The backup vocals on tracks like Be My Baby, with its not so subtle drum cadences, and Ms. Spector’s opening, “Whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh,” will seduce even the most jaded person within earshot.
“The Best Part of Breakin’ Up” has brilliant harmonies from the group, reminiscent of the musical genius of the Beach Boys, with rock and roll cool that is particularly supplied by Ronnie in the song’s break, “Come on baby, come on baby.” A result of slick production and the gifted voices of the Ronettes, the back-up vocals become an integral part of the song’s rhythm.
That Spector wanted the focal point of the group to be on Ronnie becomes especially evident on “Do I Love You.”
The sentimental “Walking In The Rain,” “Please Hurt Me,” which was also recorded by the Crystals, “When I Saw You,” with its infectious sax solo, and the soulful “I Wonder” serve as essential musical snapshots of the early sixties. The seductive “uh”s at the end of “When I Saw You” captured the hearts of countless young males, including guitarist Lenny Kaye of Patti Smith fame, who wrote the Columbia release’s liner notes.
Spector would sample an ocean tide in the intro in the wistful song “Paradise.” Although the prophetic track “Is This What I Get For Loving You,” “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” and “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine,” could not end in the album’s next topic, “Paradise” for either the Ronettes nor Phil Spector, himself, because of his personal demons, he would leave a treasure trove of musical memories heard on this CD, courtesy of his work and that of the Ronettes. On “Everything Under The Sun,” backup vocals from the Ronettes are absent. Instead, there are male singers.
One of their most symbolic songs of the age, “I Can Hear Music,” became an even bigger hit when recorded by the Beach Boys three years later.
Despite the group broke up no longer recording, the Ronettes hits heard on ‘Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes’ remain timeless.