Album: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica
. . .
So, as always, the usual disclaimer about Phil Spector: he was an abuser and a murderer and by pretty much all accounts, an incredibly shitty person. And Ronnie Spector, who sang “Be My Baby” bore far more of his abuse than any person should have to endure. So, in conclusion, fuck Phil Spector.
That said, “Be My Baby” is a helluva record, and Spector gets credit for co-writing it and producing it, though one suspects that the bulk of the writing was done by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich and the bulk of the arranging was by Jack Nitzche. And, at least from my standpoint, the success of “Be My Baby” is down to two people: the aforementioned Ronnie and drummer Hal Blaine, who powers the song with one of the greatest drum performances on any pop record.
The irony of just two people putting “Be My Baby” over the top is, of course, kind of ironic, given that if you include the writers and arranger, over 20 people are credited on the record. But, of course, the Wall of Sound itself is kind of anonymous — I mean, yeah, in the way that tidal wave is anonymous — designed to be a big smooshing together of a shitton of instruments, so that any individual instrument is just part of the collective. Like the Borg.
But Hal Blaine blew the whole thing up with what he characterized as a mistake. Supposedly, he just forgot to play his snare on the two, so instead of boom-bap-bah-boom-bap boom-bap-bah-boom-bap we got boom-bah-boom-bap! boom-bah-boom-bap! Which made all the difference in the world.
And so that opening combined with Ronnie’s just slightly off opening vocal, and Blaine’s continual fucking with the beat as the first verse continues — his snare work is exquisite — sets up one of the great choruses in popular music, with all of the delayed momentum and tension of the opening and verse exploding into the chorus on the back of a big drum roll. Everybody sing!
So won’t you, please
(Be my, be my baby)
Be my little baby
(My one and only baby)
Say you’ll be my darlin’
(Be my, be my baby)
Be my baby now
And with that, “Be My Baby” is off to the races, building up tension on the verses, offering blessed relief on the choruses, as Ronnie’s voice got more irresistible and Blaine’s drum fills got longer and longer, especially after the breakdown near the end where they shut off the wall for a couple of measures to let Blaine play that beat all by itself one last time.
“Be My Baby” was an utter smash hit — making it to #2 in the U.S. and number #4 in the U.K. — and getting the Ronettes on the radar of folks like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones (who really tried to generate their own wall of sound), and Brian Wilson, who was apparently so freaked out when he first heard it on the radio he pulled his car over and freaked out in front of his girlfriend.
And, of course, that Blaine drumbeat has been stolen a zillion times in the past 60 years (I’ve stolen it many many times myself), and remains one of the greatest rhythmic inventions of popular music.
“Be My Baby”
“Be My Baby” live in 1965
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