Today is Ronnie Spector’s sixtieth birthday. Ronnie (born Veronica Bennett) formed the Ronettes and originally found a performing home with them at the Peppermint Lounge where they worked as dancers during the “Twist” craze in the early ’60s.
If you are in the vicinity of a certain age whose median is represented by that of the Power Line crew, you know Ronnie (backed by her sister and her cousin) as the big voice with the even bigger vibrato that captivated Phil Spector and to which he applied his patented “wall of sound” production just before the Beatles broke in the United States. You couldn’t escape the hits that ensued: “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” “Best Part of Breaking Up,” “Do I Love You,” and the Grammy-winning “Walking in the Rain.”
To my ears, the songs that most warrant your acquaintance today are the ones that caught the attention of the Beach Boys and resulted in gorgeous remakes: “I’m So Young” (on the Beach Boys Today album) and “I Can Hear Music” (on the Beach Boys 20/20 album). You may recall that Eddie Money briefly brought Ronnie back to the limelight with “Take Me Home Tonight” in 1986, the song into which he memorably dropped Ronnie’s retake of the musical phrase “Be my little baby.”
The fun didn’t stop until Spector married Ronnie, confined her to his Hollywood mansion, and subjected her to his reclusive nuttiness. Ronnie fortunately escaped; earlier this year Phil Spector returned to the headlines as the result of his being charged with murder. (Spector is represented by Robert Shapiro in the criminal proceedings.) That’s Ronnie in the middle below.
We must also take note of the birthday this week of Percy Mayfield, one of the great songwriters in American blues and soul music. He was an excellent performer in his own right. In 1950, his performance of his composition “Please Send Me Someone to Love” was a number one rhythm-and-blues hit. It has been memorably revived and rerecorded by many great vocalists including Paul Butterfield and Maria Muldaur among others; B.B. King and Gladys Knight recorded a memorable duet version. It is a powerful, touching song from the heart that speaks to us all.
In 1952 Mayfield sustained disfiguring injuries in an automobile accident that cut short his performing career. But his composing career continued unabated. He was the favorite songwriter of Ray Charles. Charles made a megahit of his “Hit the Road, Jack” and poured himself into recordings of many other Mayfield songs such as “The Danger Zone.”
My favorite performance of a Mayfield song is by Elvis. When Elvis seriously returned to the recording studio in Memphis in the first burst of activity after his 1968 television special, he recorded Mayfield’s “Stranger In My Own Hometown.” It is a great song to which Elvis gave a killer performance. (Track it down on any of the Elvis collections of the songs he recorded at the American Sound Studio in Memphis.) Mayfield died in 1984. The music survives.
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