Monday, October 17, 2016

SHG: The Ronettes: "Be My Baby"

The Ronettes: “Be My Baby” Entered the chart on: 9/14/63 Peaked on: 10/12/63 Weeks at #2: 3 Song at #1: “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs

1963 really was the golden age of the “girl group” sound. Not only the Jaynetts, but you may have noticed tunes by the Angels, the Chiffons and the Crystals lurking in the top spot of past review subjects.

This one’s a Phil Spector production, the first to appear in Second Hand Goods. He co-wrote the tune with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who I believe also make their debut appearances on this feature. There’s a lot of superlatives attached to this tune, even more so than “Sally Go Round the Roses,” so it has quite a lot to live up to. Not that I have any doubts, I love this song! And like “There Goes My Baby” from four years earlier, it caused many to step up their game (not least, the previously-alluded-to Brian Wilson).

Now, before we begin the proper review, some of you are probably asking yourself why music of this era sounds the way it does. That’s because the main way these pop songs were disseminated was via the transistor radio. Phil Spector and his contemporaries were trying to make music that sounded good coming from a 2-inch speaker.

That said...

Ah yes, that much-imitated drum-handclap hook. With castanets adding accents! Exquisite! Jack Nitzsche, another pop music genius, arranged this, and it’s really superb. There’s a cello solo in the middle eight that kind of gets me right here.

I held back in talking about Veronica “Ronnie” Spector’s voice, which is an absolute treasure. She has this aching sob in her voice that makes listening to her an utterly compelling experience. The Ronettes didn’t have a huge amount of hits (this was undeniably their biggest), but Ronnie wound up being highly influential largely on the basis of this one song (Hell, Eddie Money coaxed her out of retirement to reference it in his “Take Me Home Tonight”). The backing harmonies are likewise sumptuously gorgeous, and it’s almost Mellotron-like in the way the backing singers meld with the strings, forming a kind of “additive synthesis” unison timbre.

That’s the magic of Phil Spector’s so-called “Wall of Sound.”

Pop perfection, it demands to be heard.

Rating: 5

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