6 min readThe Ronettes – Be My Baby (1963)

This song is considered one of the best songs of the 1960s by Pitchfork Media, NME and Time magazines. Rolling Stone described it as a “Rosetta stone for studio pioneers such as the Beatles and Brian Wilson,” a notion supported by AllMusic who writes, “No less an authority than Brian Wilson has declared ‘Be My Baby’ the greatest pop record ever made — no arguments here.” Brian wilson said of the song:

This is a special one for me. What a great sound, the Wall of Sound. Boy, first heard this on the car radio and I had to pull off the road, I couldn’t believe it. The choruses blew me away; the strings are the melody of love. It has the promise to make the world better. I was in my car with my girlfriend and we were driving around… When all of a sudden this guy Wink Martindale — a disc jockey — he goes, “All right! Here we go with ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes.” It started playing … All of a sudden it got into this part—”be my, be my baby”—and I said “What is — what?! Whoa whoa!” I pulled over to the side of the street of the curb and went, “…My God! …Wait a minute! …No way!” I was flipping out. I really did flip out. Balls-out totally freaked out when I heard. … In a way it wasn’t like having your mind blown, it was like having your mind revamped. It’s like, once you’ve heard that record, you’re a fan forever.

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐑𝐨𝐧𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐬 - 𝐁𝐞 𝐌𝐲 𝐁𝐚𝐛𝐲 - 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞 [𝐇𝐐]

 

The Ronettes were Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett, her sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley, however Ronnie was the only member to sing on this record. Backing vocals were added by Sonny Bono, Cher, (The Blossoms) Darlene Love, Fanita James, Gracia Nitzsche, and Bobby Sheen, Ellie Greenwich (who, along with Jeff Barry, wrote this song). Greenwich and Barry, one time a married couple, wrote many popular hits of the 1960’s.

“Be My Baby,” released as The Ronettes’ first single, peaked at no. 2 on the Hot 100 in October 1963 — but its influence was much more enduring than even its record sales and radio play.

Assembled at Gold Star Studios on July 5, 1963 were some of the famous Wrecking Crew session musicians – Don Randi (piano), Hal Blaine (drums – the opening is one of his signature riffs), Frank Capp (also drums – Spector used two drummers at the session), Al de Lory (keyboards), Bill Pitman (guitar), Ray Pohlman (bass), Tommy Tedesco (guitar) and a young Leon Russell on keyboards. Hal Blaine on his opening drum beat:

That famous drum intro was an accident. I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick. Being the faker I was in those days, I left the mistake in and it became: “Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!” And soon everyone wanted that beat.

Produced by Phil Spector, who later married Ronnie Bennett, with his elaborately layered recording in what is now considered a quintessential example of his Wall of Sound production formula. The Wall Of Sound is famous for his idea of the studio as its own distinct instrument. To attain this signature sound, Spector gathered large groups of musicians (playing some instruments not generally used for ensemble playing, such as electric and acoustic guitars) playing orchestrated parts — often doubling and tripling many instruments playing in unison for a fuller sound —  and the prodigious use of echo. This was used on many recognised hits he produced during the 1960’s by the Ronettes and the Crystals; later he worked with artists including Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon, and the Ramones with similar acclaim. He produced the Beatles’ album Let It Be (1970), and Concert for Bangladesh (1971) by former Beatle George Harrison.

Many have tried to emulate Spector’s methods, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (a fellow adherent of mono recording) considered Spector his main competition as a studio artist. In the 1960s, Wilson thought of Spector as

…the single most influential producer. He’s timeless. He makes a milestone whenever he goes into the studio.

Wilson’s fascination with Spector’s work has persisted for decades, with many different references to Spector and his work scattered around Wilson’s songs with the Beach Boys and even his solo career. Spector’s Wall Of Sound inspiration and influence on Brian can be heard throughout the records of The Beach Boys.

Brian Wilson on Phil Spector and Be My Baby

Per the song’s now-mythic origin story, Spector made the orchestra rehearse the song 42 times before he started recording, and Ronnie spent three days getting the vocals right. At times she would practice in the ladies’ room so the musicians could get their work done.

While I was in there, I came up with all those “Oh oh ohs”, inspired by my old Frankie Lymon records. It took three days to record my vocals, take after take. The recording captures the full spectrum of my emotions: everything from nervousness to excitement.

“Be My Baby” has been covered numerous times and is invoked in Eddie Money’s 1986 song “Take Me Home Tonight”, on which Ronnie Spector sang and replies to “Just like Ronnie sang…” with her classic refrain and vocalizations.

Record producer Richie Zito brought Money the song “Take Me Home Tonight”, and Money would recall: “I didn’t care for the demo [but] it did have a good catch line. When I heard [a snippet of] ‘Be My Baby’ in it I said: ‘Why can’t we get Ronnie Spector to sing it?’ [and was told] ‘That’s impossible.'” Money invited his friend Martha Davis, lead vocalist of the Motels, to sing the lines from “Be My Baby” on “Take Me Home Tonight”: Davis encouraged him to try to recruit Spector herself and Money was eventually able to speak on the phone to Spector at her home in northern California: Money – “I could hear clinking and clanking in the background…She said: ‘I’m doing the dishes, and I gotta change the kids’ bedding. I’m not really in the business anymore, Eddie. Phil Spector and all that, it was a nightmare’…I said ‘Ronnie, I got this song that’s truly amazing and it’s a tribute to you. It would be so great if you…did it with me.'”

Eddie Money - Take Me Home Tonight (Be My Baby)

 

“Be My Baby” reached #2 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Singles Chart and #4 on the UK’s Record Retailer. It also peaked at number four on the R&B chart. The single sold more than two million copies in 1963. Ronnie Spector relates that the song was introduced by Dick Clark on American Bandstand as the “Record of the Century.” Barbara Cane, vice president and general manager of writer-publisher relations for the songwriters’ agency BMI, estimated that the song has been played in 3.9 million feature presentations on radio and television since 1963. “That means it’s been played for the equivalent of 17 years back to back.”

In 2004, the song was ranked 22 by Rolling Stone in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1999, it was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2006, the Library of Congress honored the Ronettes’ version by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry. In 2017, Billboard named the song #1 on their list of the “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time”.

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