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Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes

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Album Review

Forming his own label, Philles Records, in 1961, allowed Phil Spector to sculpt pop music history. Spector had written, played guitar, and sung backup vocals on 1958’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (which hit the top of the pop charts that year) as part of the Teddy Bears, and worked for a time as part of the production team for Leiber & Stoller, co-writing “Spanish Harlem” for Ben E. King and playing guitar on the Drifters' “On Broadway,” and had produced minor sides for LaVern Baker and Ruth Brown, among others, but there was really little to distinguish him from any number of other hopefuls clustered around the pop music scene at the time. But Spector was driven, single-minded, and stubborn, and he had a sound in his head. Now with his own label in place, he set out to record a series of singles he termed “little symphonies for the kids” that are now regarded among the most distinctive and influential recordings in the history of pop music. Combining massed pianos, guitars, string arrangements by Jack Nitzsche, tons of layered percussion, and huge washes of echo, working with the West Coast’s best session players (including Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, and Harold Battiste — the so-called Wrecking Crew), and leaning heavily on his engineer Larry Levine to catch all of this in the small confines of Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, Spector developed his “Wall of Sound” production approach, controlling every aspect of the recordings until, even though he wasn’t singing or even playing an instrument, they became — in essence — Phil Spector records. This is not to diminish the singers he used — the Ronettes, and Ronnie Bennett (soon to be Ronnie Spector) in particular, in the case here. Spector may have created massive, airtight, and resounding soundscapes for his little symphonies, but Ronnie Spector gave them sass, ache, and backbone with her vocals and her not-a-good-girl-but-not-a-bad-girl attitude and image. Songs like “Be My Baby,” “(The Best Part Of) Breakin' Up,” and “Walking in the Rain” are undiminished classics all these decades later — each is included in this 18-track set, which also includes a Jeff Barry-produced track, “I Can Hear Music,” from 1966. Spector had his vision — the Ronettes gave that vision sex appeal. Listen to “Be My Baby” ten times in a row. You’ll still want to hear it again ten more times. For that song alone, the Ronettes are one of the greatest girl groups from any era — never have yearning and certainty combined with such brilliant sound.


Formed: 1959 in New York, NY

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '50s, '60s

The Ronettes weren't the most commercially successful girl group, but their music was some of the most groundbreaking in the field, thanks to their association with the legendary Wall of Sound producer Phil Spector. Their biggest hit, "Be My Baby," is widely regarded as one of the crowning achievements of Spector's oeuvre, and of girl-group pop in general. In fact, many critics have deemed it one of the most supremely romantic records of the rock & roll era; Spector's production frames the song's...
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