Today is Ronnie Spector’s sixty-sixth birthday. Ronnie (born Veronica Bennett) formed the Ronettes with her sister and cousin. They originally found a performing home at the Peppermint Lounge in New York City, where they worked as dancers during the “Twist” craze in the early ’60s. Ronnie was the lady with the big hair and bigger voice that captivated Phil Spector.
Spector teamed up to provide the Ronettes with his patented “wall of sound” production just before the Beatles broke through in the United States. Among the hits that followed were “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” “Best Part of Breaking Up,” “Do I Love You,” and the Grammy-winning “Walking in the Rain.”
Several of the Ronettes’ songs caught the attention of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys performed beautiful covers of the Ronettes’ “So Young” on the “Beach Boys Today” album and “I Can Hear Music” on the “20/20” album. Brian Wilson has famously designated “Be My Baby” as “the most perfect” rock song ever. It inspired him to write “Don’t Worry, Baby” in response.
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote most of the teen-age anthems that became hits for the Ronettes. In 1966 they wrote “I Can Hear Music.” It didn’t do much for the Ronettes, but the Beach Boys (minus Brian Wilson, with Carl Wilson singing the lead) turned it into a hit in 1969. I love the way the song gives expressive form to the metaphor in its title. In the video above, Brian Wilson contributes a harmony backing to Spector’s performance of the song in 2000 for Jeff Barry’s “Chapel of Love” PBS special.
The Ronettes-era fun stopped around the time Ronnie married Spector in 1968. “I thought he’d be less jealous after we got married,” she recalls in her memoir, “but he actually got worse.” Spector confined her to his Beverly Hills mansion and turned her into a recluse. Ronnie escaped and has had a comeback or two since. She got around to telling her story in Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life As a Fabulous Ronette.
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