Tuesday 29 January 2002

Oh, baby

Be My Baby : How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to learn from Stephanie Zacharek’s glorious Salon essay that the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and I share the same “all-time favorite song.”

The RonettesBe My Baby.

Written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich with Phil Spector; recorded in July 1963 at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles; produced by Phil Spector; engineered by Larry Levine; lead vocalist Ronnie Bennett (soon to be Ronnie Spector), backing vocals by Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley.

“He didn’t care,” says Sonny Bono of Phil Spector in a BBC documentary. “He broke all the rules when he recorded then because he was the star, his song was the star, and the sound was the star. The artist was a secondary item.” Until he met Ronnie Bennett. Until together they created Be My Baby.

2:40 of transcendental pop perfection.

You hear it in those orchestral interludes that feel like caresses; in the assertive clacking of those castanets, a symbol of every exotic danger this exquisite woman poses; in the stark drumbeat that opens the song, like a heartbeat isolated from all the other sounds (breathing, hiccups, grunts) that a human body makes in the course of a lifetime, and held up high as the greatest one. The sound Phil Spector gave Ronnie and the Ronettes is lush but not heavy; a queen’s mantle made with something that must have been like love, by one cat who sure knew how to sew.

Reviewed by one babe who sure knows how to write. This is criticism of the highest order: fearless in its enthusiasm, inspired by a deep love and respect for its subjects, underpinned by a profound understanding of the dynamics of male-female relationships. Psychology, symbology, musicology, anthropology, and pathology. In 2,256 words Stepanie Zacharek nails it down flat.

Back to Mono lapel badgeIf you’re a fan, like me, you’ll want to track down a copy of Ronnie Spector’s book: Be My Baby : How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette. It was out of print when I bought mine a few years ago but abebooks.com currently has 145 copies listed. Foreword by Cher. Introduction by Billy Joel.

Even if you’re not obsessed, you still need to buy Back to Mono (1958-1969) , a boxed set of Phil Spector’s greatest hits. 60 songs cut between 1958 and 1969 on three CDs. Plus a bonus CD—the Yuletide special, A Christmas Gift for You . A lavishly illustrated booklet that includes Tom Wolfe’s classic profile, The First Tycoon of Teen. And… a “Back to MONO” lapel badge. I wear mine nearly every day.

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